Famously, the classified ad placed by Steve Hackett that led to him joining Genesis in 1970 sought a band to “strive beyond existing, stagnant musical forms”. He certainly helped to define the then-emerging form of prog rock and if it’s stretching a point to consider his solo career as cutting edge, its longevity demonstrates the facile nature of fashion and the unimportance of media popularity.
His first record, Voyage Of The Acolyte, came out 40 years ago, in the year before punk rock. He has spent those decades since quietly accumulating a distinctive catalogue – as a curator of the legacy of Genesis’s early years, and in building a live audience that is once again sustaining him throughout a long tour just as this 10-CD and four-DVD box collating his early solo work comes out. It’s a career arc that suits this least flashy, most self-effacing of musicians. Hackett has never changed so much as his haircut as the rest of the world has sailed by.
Premonitions, packaged to a high standard and including a 68-page book, is of course for the hard-core Hackett-head, and although it involves the re-purchase of the six original albums from his time with Charisma, there are new riches to be enjoyed. Alongside sharp Steven Wilson remixes of Spectral Mornings and Please Don’t Touch sit three live CDs, the pick of which is from the Theatre Royal; his 1981 Reading Festival set; and plenty of rarities.
The best of those is a 17-minute version of Shadow Of The Hierophant from Voyage Of The Acolyte, a song that Genesis are said to have rehearsed during the sessions for their Foxtrot album before handing it back to Hackett.
This early solo material demonstrates Hackett’s importance to Genesis. Although his compositions can be lengthy and divert into dark extemporisations – Star Of Syrius, for example – his guitar playing is full of those lush and golden tones, fluid and melodic, that infused so many of Genesis’s indelible moments.
Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford appear briefly on Voyage Of The Acolyte, Randy Crawford and Steve Walsh on Please Don’t Touch and Ian Mosley on Highly Strung, an eclectic assortment that demonstrates the range of Steve Hackett’s appeal.
This set is not for the uncommitted and its rewards can be slow to reveal themselves, but his music has depth and soul, for all of its excesses.