Steve Hackett to play ‘Selling England by the Pound’ and more in NJ

Steve Hackett interview 2020

RICK PAULINE

Steve Hackett has shows coming up in Englewood and Collingswood.

Steve Hackett says he’s been “incredibly busy” lately, putting the finishing touches on his biography and touring. His Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited 2020 Tour comes to BergenPAC in Englewood, March 7 at 8 p.m.; and the Scottish Rite Auditorium in Collingswood, March 13-14 at 8 p.m.

Regarded by many as one of the most influential guitarists of his time, the former Genesis member has never been one to rest on his laurels. He is performing his 1979 album, Spectral Mornings, on the tour, as well as his favorite album from the Genesis catalog, 1973’s Selling England by the Pound.

The latter was “from a time when we were struggling to get shows in The States,” he said. “We’d just played New York and we were leaving to go straight to Los Angeles because that was the only place that would give us a date and that was in two weeks’ time. As we were leaving, Peter Gabriel said to me, ‘I just heard John Lennon giving an interview to WNEW and he said that Genesis was one of the bands that he was listening to.’ So … the whole albums-based ’70s Genesis is somehow John Lennon approved.

“I realize the band became something else later on. We had a hit single off Selling England” — “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” reached the Top 40 in England — “and then it was years before the band had another hit, so that was a bit of a one-off. What I love is the breadth of the album and the stories — obviously its Englishness, but the opening track, ‘Dancing with the Moonlit Knight’ … if there ever was a favorite Genesis track of mine that would have to be it, because it goes through so many changes. It really lives up to the term progressive music because it doesn’t sit still from the word go. It’s like a time-lapse film going from the past right through to the present and it’s ever more relevant with all of the issues that are raised in it. The wordplay, the musical references are so wide. It’s a great tune. It shouldn’t really work because it’s got so many influences, but for me it does.

The cover of the Genesis album, “Selling England by the Pound.”

“I also wanted to do a grand slam show and I thought that if I did two favorite albums in their entirety …. I chose Selling England by the Pound because it was my favorite Genesis album, and Spectral Mornings because it was its 40th anniversary last year and we ended up doing most of that. But of course At the Edge of Light, my most recent studio album, took off in the charts in 12 different countries, so it was an embarrassment of riches in a way and I felt that I had to honor that and address that.

“This year it’s the 40th anniversary of (Hackett’s solo album) Defector, so I’m doing a few things from that as well. Last year we were doing (Genesis songs) ‘Dance on a Volcano’ and ‘Los Endos,’ so we thought this year that we’d change it because we’re going back to some of the same places. So we switched it to doing ‘Musical Box’ and ‘Watcher of the Skies’ from the Genesis era, but there’s plenty of time for my solo stuff as well, believe me. We do a long, comprehensive three-hour show. You can’t do everything because there isn’t enough time to do everything all at once. There have been a lot of albums from Genesis, a lot of albums on my own, lots of different styles. But this is a cross section of stuff.”

Looking back, Hackett couldn’t help but chuckle about Genesis’s early struggles for commercial acceptance. But hard work and perseverance helped win over what would become a loyal fan base. And they received a little help from a popular television show along the way.

“I think a lot of that Genesis stuff wasn’t always a case of instant conversion for people,” he said. “It took a long time before we were really taken into America’s Heartland. We were able to tour in certain areas; we weren’t able to tour the South for a very long time until we did ‘The Mike Douglas Show,’ and the effect of that nationwide family show suddenly brought changes. We were suddenly able to play Showco’s home town; they were the outfit that provided our lights and our sound and they were based in Dallas. We just weren’t able to do it prior. It was a very different kind of homegrown music that was coming out of that area and here we were, this typically British band that had unfathomable lyrics and a far cry from down home rock ‘n’ roll.

“Thankfully the walls came down but it was a result of a lot of touring. I’m always grateful for those breaks, and without that, would it have taken off for us? I think no, we might have stayed at college radio level or clubs perhaps.”

So does life on the road ever get old or tedious for him and the band? Does he ever find it a challenge to breathe fresh life into old material? How does this quintessential prog-rocker deal with the daily grind of being a touring musician?

Genesis in the ’70s (from left, Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Steve Hackett and Peter Gabriel).

“I like being on the road,” he said. “I like the challenge of it. It’s not relaxing getting onstage, but it’s enlivening. You know that you’ve got to be on your mental game. You know that you’re gonna wrestle with the same things every night, but it’s worth it when it comes off. It’s its own currency, whether you make money at it or not. It might feed you and put food on the table, but if it doesn’t do that, it is still food for the soul, and if you don’t make a living at it, chances are you haven’t bartered the muse. You know, that very thing that engaged you in the first place.

“Nobody knows when they’re going to get their big break that’s going to make it the mainstreaming of what was once a hobby. It’s almost imperceptible when it happens and I always say never give up because it might just be around the corner, that big break that you’ve been looking for.”

He says he particularly loves playing at the Scottish Rite Auditorium. “There’s something about the atmosphere of the place,” he says. “Some say it’s haunted and some of the guys in the band have had rather extraordinary experiences there, but I always think that the place acts like an amplifier.

“There are some places that have acoustics that act like an amplifier, so whatever you’re doing that’s amplified, the hall gives it back in droves. So when you hit those bass pedals and the building starts shaking … yeah, you’re never going to be quiet at The Scottish Rite. It’s a very powerful gig. We always see a lot of friends there and we’re looking forward to it tremendously.”

For more information, visit hackettsongs.com.

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