Former Genesis and GTR guitarist Steve Hackett will perform on Friday, September 13 at the State Theatre. Hackett was in Genesis at a time when bands weren’t afraid to build epic tracks with wildly diverse sections, when you could find your band on the same label as R.D. Laing and UK poet laureate Sir John Betjeman. The centerpiece of Hackett’s current tour is Genesis’s 1973 album Selling England By the Pound, which he will play in its entirety. Hackett spoke to the Ithaca Times about that album and the rest of Friday’s concert.
Ithaca Times: You’ve said that Selling England By the Pound is your favorite album.
Steve Hackett: It’s my favorite Genesis album, yeah, that’s right. It’s from a time when John Lennon said we were one of the bands that he was listening to. I assume it was that album he was talking about. At that time, we were just leaving New York, and we couldn’t get a gig anywhere in the States apart from some club dates lined up two weeks later in Los Angeles. The fact that he gave us that level of sanction meant absolutely nothing at all to media and press. I guess I’m just telling people about that now, and it’s not common knowledge. That’s just the way it is.
IT: Why do you like it?
SH: Well, I think it’s full of surprises. At the time we did it, the opening track, “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight,” goes from Scottish plain song with Peter Gabriel singing acapella right at the beginning. Then it goes into something anthemic and Elgarian, a bit like Edward Elgar. And then it goes into something that sounds like a collision between Mozart meets Prokofiev meets fusion band. And it includes techniques such as tapping and sweep picking and octave jumps. And that’s just for starters. And then it ends with the quietest jam any rock band ever did.
SH: And that’s just the first track. And then we’ve got the track that became our first hit single, a short, eccentric little track called “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe).” And they’re poles apart, these tracks, it’s another territory and it’s always surprising, whether you like it or not. You don’t really know what style of music is coming up, so it’s every single style you can imagine.
IT: But Selling England broke through commercially.
SH: Selling England broke through in a much bigger way in the UK, but I think internationally we still had a long way to go.
IT: The upcoming show isn’t just playing that album.
SH: It’s the 40th anniversary of my solo album Spectral Mornings, much beloved by fans. That was really the beginning of my interest in what became world music. I was using Chinese koto on it and various other things. I’m doing the majority of that album, the highlights from it, and I’m doing stuff from my latest album At the Edge of Light, which charted in 12 countries. So I do about three tracks from that and I do most of Spectral Mornings, and the second half, we do Selling England in its entirety, plus we include a track that Peter Gabriel wrote for Genesis originally back in ’73. It didn’t make it on to the album, it was an unfinished masterpiece. I finished it off with his blessing some years later. It’s like a deleted scene, or a director’s cut.
Read more with Steve Hackett