Miffed, lanky Mike Rutherford stopped the show. “He threw down his bass and one of them came on stage and punched him. At which point we scarpered…” You’d have expected gig violence later in the ’70s with bands like Sham 69. But gentle progressive rockers Genesis? “It was a rite of progress,” says Steve, now 70. “It was part and parcel of that time. I doubt that element would turn up for old codgers like me now.” Worse was to follow in 1975. “We played Cascais, Portugal. There were firecrackers going off, people had guns… I was on stage absolutely terrified. There was a full-blown riot outside.
“The Communists were about to take power.
Army vehicles were overturned; there were fatalities.
“In Italy, troublemakers tried to break into arena shows and make them free gigs. Cars were set alight, riot cops arrived, punters were getting hurt. Our tour manager Regis had to wrestle a crowbar out of someone’s hand as they attempted to leap on stage…”
Things weren’t quite so tough at Charterhouse public school where Genesis were formed by Rutherford, singer Peter Gabriel, keyboardist Tony Banks, guitarist Andy Phillips and original drummer Chris Stewart.
Steve Hackett spent seven years as ‘a Genesis’
Steve Hackett on stage
But, like drummer Phil Collins, who replaced Gabriel on vocals, Steve Hackett had more humble beginnings.
He spent the first three years of his life in a pokey south London flat near Vauxhall, before the family moved to a flat on a housing estate in Pimlico which had the unaccustomed luxury of hot running water.
Steve joined Genesis by accident after placing an advert in Melody Maker which read: “Imaginative guitarist-writer seeks involvement with receptive musicians determined to strive beyond existing stagnant musical forms.”
Intrigued, Gabriel invited him to audition.
No pictures of Steve appear on early Genesis albums
Hackett spent seven years in the band, playing on classic albums such as Selling England By The Pound and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.
His shyness made him different.
No pictures of Steve appear on early Genesis albums; he wasn’t an attention-seeking guitarist on stage either.
“I saw myself as a single research facility into sound who happened to be working for a band,” he says. “I didn’t want to be the big I-am.”
Hackett pioneered guitar techniques such as tapping and sweep-picking.
Fans are ‘obsessed with what fuzzbox I used in 1917’
Even now, he says with a big grin, fans are “obsessed with what fuzzbox I used in 1917. I tell them I’ve got something better but they’re still looking for the holy Mellotron of Antioch…”
Success thrust him into the spotlight, however, with predictable results on US tours.
“Girls were phoning my room in the middle of the night saying, ‘Where’s the party? I’m here!’ Women threw themselves at us. Life changed.”
His dalliances with American groupies included a burlesque dancer, a female wrestling champ and a woman who fantasised about bedding horror icon Vincent Price.
“I remember one girl shouting out ‘A Genesis in my bed!’ at an inappropriate moment. I wasn’t me any more, I’d become ‘A Genesis’…”
The story gave Steve the title for his autobiography but these encounters left him feeling “deeply empty”.
He was far happier performing or recording.
Steve left Genesis in October 1977 after the Wind &Wuthering tour saying he “needed autonomy”.
To date, he has released 48 solo albums ranging from rock to classical via blues albums, collaborations and compilations. He doesn’t regret leaving before the band’s pop stardom.
And no scores are settled in his book.
When I ask about Gabriel leaving in 1975 he says: “It was difficult for Pete to be a star in a band where there was this kind of competitiveness; it could verge on the pathological.”
Steve Hackett on stage in Turin
Geneis before Phil Collins left
In Genesis Steve was dubbed “Hackett of the Yard” because “I bought a black raincoat, I wore it once but the nickname stuck. I had no dress sense. I still don’t. Right now I’m wearing turquoise shorts and a jazz T-shirt. I look a mess.”
The book also explores his family background.
Steve’s father Peter was a paratrooper but, he says, he “was Mensa-level bright, he should have been at Bletchley Park.
“He was a great all-rounder, great at sport, maths; he became a stenographer for Reuters and could coax a tune out of most instruments.
“He worked for Shell for years but gave up a desk job to become a full-time painter.”
Mother June, who worked as a police telephonist, was from showbiz stock; her father’s sister was a music hall turn who performed as Gertie the Pride of the Guides, hoisting up her skirt and proudly displaying her bloomers.
“Mum’s side were Polish – a tribe of Jewish musicians who escaped the pogroms to Portugal and then the East End where they anglicised their name to Davis. They were let in during a less xenophobic time.”
Organic multiculturalism is “the hope for the world”, he says. “We should be proud of how Britain sank the slave trade. We need to celebrate our culture but think globally. The Beatles are a quintessentially English band but they worked with other musicians and influences. That’s got to happen all over again.”
Steve Hackett on stage in Italy
Steve grew up in London, although the Hacketts emigrated to Vancouver when he was seven.
“We came back after four months, putting us in huge debt. The trip was mind-boggling. Out of the smoke and into the big wild world… the icebergs, the prairie, the Rocky Mountains, passing places with names like Moose Jaw… amazing.”
He went to Sloane Grammar School in Chelsea but his musical education began earlier.
“I was two when I had my first harmonica. I used to play the same tune over again, trying to isolate the notes. By the time I was four I had a repertoire – God Save The Queen, TheYellow Rose Of Texas, Oh Susannah, Davy Crockett…”
Hackette spent the first three years of his life in a pokey south London flat
His father gave him his first acoustic guitar.
In his teens he was in awe of guitarists such as Peter Green, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck.
He recalls a 1967 gig at Olympia with Hendrix and Steve Howe on the same bill as Eric Burdon, Pink Floyd, Soft Machine and Traffic.
“You could go and see a world-class blues guitarist any night of the week.”
He worked as a surveyor’s assistant and in a print factory before becoming a full-time musician.
Steve Hackett on stage
Happily married to his third wife, the author and scriptwriter Jo Lehmann, Steve has one grown-up son from his first marriage.
A workaholic, he is finishing another album, with a live recording of Selling England By The Pound due in September.
“The fingers are working wonderfully,” he smiles. “You always worry you’ll lose skills with the passing of time, or wake up blind or deaf.
“I come off stage with my ears ringing. I don’t wear ear monitors, I want it to be loud. I’m old school, I need noise!”