Heavy Load: Steve Hackett

Steve Hackett has crammed a lot into his 64 years. He is now on his third marriage and, with a career that begun in the late 60s, he’s been one of the most influential figures in progressive rock. As the guitarist in Genesis between 1970 and 1977, London-born Hackett featured on landmark albums such as Foxtrot and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. As a solo artist he has recorded 27 albums of experimental music – and describes his latest, Wolflight, as “a journey of surprise and ambush”. The quintessential English gentleman rock star, Hackett sips tea – white, one sugar – as he discusses his work, his life and the meaning of it all…

What’s surprising about your new album?

The sheer audacity of it. It runs the gamut from folk to classic to pop, rock… Combining many styles has always been my calling card.

**Wolflight – what exactly does that mean? **

It’s the hour before the dawn, when wolves hunt. It’s spookier than twilight. I’d be up

at five in the morning, working on my music.

Getting up so early, did your missus give you a bollocking if you woke her?

No, she’s very understanding. I’d stagger out of bed and into the next dream. Logic hasn’t arrived at that point. It’s a magical time. People of a psychic persuasion would say that you’re channelling then, and it does seem as if all sorts of unlikely things kick in when I’m open.

Are you of a psychic persuasion?

I did pursue that stuff at one point, but I got wary of having any form of guru. Am I a believer? Do I believe in other realms? Am I still a hippie in that way? Absolutely, yes. But I don’t belong to any tribe. I’m a tribe of one.

Do you believe in God?

I thought that Lennon said it best: “If there is such a thing as God, we’re all part of it.”

If not a musician, what would you be?

A failed rent boy.

I certainly wasn’t expecting that answer.

No, I thought I’d throw that in for a laugh. I failed at many things. After school I was sacked from a few jobs – working for a solicitor, a surveyor, in a factory…

What can Steve Hackett do that nobody else can?

I’m not very practical. I couldn’t build you a shed that would stand up. But I can laugh at myself every day. It’s the healthiest thing you can do – laugh every day.

You can play guitar. What makes a good player?

You’ve got to love it. There are times when you’ll be disappointed, moments of crisis in your own playing, when you feel you can’t move forward. We all suffer from these limitations. But the love of it need never go away.

Have you done a lot of drugs?

I did my share. But I had friends who fell prey to drugs. It was a salutary lesson, watching people become schizophrenic and fall apart.

Was there one bad experience that turned you off drugs?

I took some cocaine at a party and I don’t know if it was cut with heroin but I could tell that I was nearly having a heart attack. I made a decision: that I was never going to put anything up my nose that was stronger than nose drops for a cold. I’ve never had any form of addiction, other than tea. The Nazis could have tortured me just by taking away my tea.

Where do you stand politically?

I’ve voted for all three major parties, but these days I’m voting for the left, because there are too many people hurting in this country.

What was your biggest waste of money?

There was a laser that Genesis invested in. It cost a hundred and twenty thousand pounds and then didn’t work.

What’s the lowest point of your career?

When I left Genesis, I had the occasional hit single, but they were taking over the world, and I couldn’t possibly compete. But I realised there was a reason for walking out on a successful band. It meant that I owed my allegiance to no one – just to the music.

What’s the worst review you’ve had?

I’ve had great reviews, but the one you always remember is the bad one. It was for [1979 solo album] Spectral Mornings. It said: “Nobody listens to this kind of rubbish any more.”

What is your greatest regret?

I do healing, and I wish I were better at it.

What kind of healing is that?

It’s what goes on in the world of the invisible. There’s so much out there we don’t know about. Some people have the power to heal. Most of the time people are quite suspicious of it, so I don’t push it. If anyone wants me to help, I will. I’ve had healing done on me. The older you get, you start to lose more friends, and people who are terminally ill have refused any help I might give them – as it’s not something that’s from their doctor. But if I were them, I would try anything.

What is the meaning of life?

To have a great time and to make sure others have a great time too. And to drink as many cups of tea as you possibly can, without your bladder bursting.

And what will be written on your tombstone?

See you on the other side.

Wolflight is out March 30 via InsideOut. Steve tours the UK from October 6.

Paul Elliott

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2005, Paul Elliott has worked for leading music titles since 1985, including Sounds, Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. He is the author of several books including the first biography of Guns N’ Roses and the autobiography of bodyguard-to-the-stars Danny Francis. He has written liner notes for classic album reissues by artists such as Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and Kiss, and currently works as content editor for Total Guitar. He lives in Bath - of which David Coverdale recently said: “How very Roman of you!”