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304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
Bluesdoodles was delighted to have a slot to talk to Steve Hackett before the release of his second lockdown album Surrender of Silence on the 10th of September 2021 as a Limited Edition CD+Blu-ray Mediabook in hardcover slipcase, Standard CD Jewel case, Gatefold 2LP+CD & LP-Booklet and Digital Album via Inside Out Music.
BD: Two contrasting ‘Lockdown Albums’ acoustic Under A Mediterranean Sky taking the listener on a virtual journey by the power of music. Surrender of Silence, a complete contrast opening with an overture of intent with The Obliterati, electric power harnessed. Do the albums reflect different stages and emotions we have felt during this long period of Pandemic uncertainty?
SH: Oh yeah yeah I think that’s coloured the work is properly polarized one is escapist two romantic and a virtual journey the other one is more angry with more social comment and it’s a bit like a ‘sheet metal orchestra’ in places it’s got all those styles but they are very different to each other they are like honouring different gods that are polar opposites really one is romantic and the other one basically isn’t.
SH: I am interested in your name by the way Bluesdoodles is that because you’re Blues orientated or something else? BD: Well I am Blues orientated but love a wide range of music. I have for a long time had blue in my hair and I have a marvelous Labradoodle Othello, So joined Blues and doodles together. I never wanted to be curtailed by genre’s, wanna be trapped into only writing about XY or Z I’m now going into have the freedom to expand the scope of my blog. SH: Definitely not cliched! BD: Yes I wanted to stand out from the crowd.
BD: Back to Surrender of Silence and the second track, Natalia picks up from the opening number with guitars and with powerful orchestration with hints of Paul Dukas Sorcerers Apprentice and then the vocals and lyrics that are a symphonic poem to Natalia’s life. Leading on through the album. How did you create the tracks to have musical tensions and lyrical force?
SH: The original idea came about with my wife, Jo it must be between five and seven years ago we were in Moscow then Petersburgh, very interesting places, both very different. Natalia is supposed to represent the sort of stunted or studied soul of Russia and I thought about this for a long time. I thought how can I do this with a rock song it’s not going to really fly it’s not rock material. Then I had the idea of Prokiev’s Romeo and Juliet and how the rhythm changes and becomes the heavy slow rhythm and the way the chord changes happened as a dissonant unexpected things. Each verse she’s actually a different person all names Natalia she dies at the end of each verse over a over 1000 year. The number is all things Russian, the sound of the Red Choir, full of military stuff to the romantic music of so many of the of the composers that I listen to, Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Prokofiev, Stravinsky. Roger and I came up with an orchestration between us with the wonderful viola playing from Christine Townsend and we got an orchestra out of it. So that gives you some idea how goes it goes from a doodle, a rough idea to one or two people writing something and then it becomes a team so at the end of the day we had how many humans on it? Myself, Roger, Christine and Amanda Lehman who also is on vocals so with four people and lots of technology over time we did it. I thought it was the real flagship track for this album, But I was worried that it’s you two or three minutes in before you get a note of guitar and so the idea of doing the kind of overture or underture of some of the same themes at the front was a way of coming in guitar heavy and then going orchestral. To give you identity in other words guitarists album got literal beginning then very much symbolic imaginative down the line BD: It is a fabulous track SH: Glad you like it. Yeah, we went to town on that one. Roger also likes dissonant music, his own preferred stuff would be Witold Lutoslawski, he tend to like the atonal stuff even though he’s brilliant at doing the romantic stuff in recent years he’s been taking lessons so that he can play Chopin so I know that there is a romantic in there. When we first started talking about what we like to music we agreed that we both like to Bach and we thought but there hasn’t really been anyone to touch Bach in terms of being that clever, Everyone else is in with a chance including those composers some of them, Borodin and Mussorgsky were not professional which is extraordinary.
BD: How important is Roger King’s programming and orchestral arrangements to the shape of sound of Surrender of Silence?
SH: I’m an instinctive player and Roger he is very much schooled and all the rest and so he’s George Martin to my Beatles really that’s how I see it. Beatles were imaginative writers but it does help to have someone who can steer the car or anchor the dreams and it provides all that detail. We work side by side negotiate every note until it’s right. For all of us he is hugely important. I think that he is basically a genius and he seems to have telepathy with me and he’ll think of things I hadn’t thought of. Sometimes just little things that will help an arrangement you think that’s enormously clever you know almost as if it was fated. We don’t always agree mind you. He’s no he’s no – yes man. He could be very hard to please but I respect him for that and I think there’s respect on both sides he can express himself on paper and theoretically, we work together until we get something that I know that I’m very proud of when it when it works. Think of Star Trek and Spock there’s logic to all of his arguments. He is brilliant and to have someone of his calibre is lovely and all the musicians that I’ve worked with in the past, and in recent years means we have a very imaginative team I know that you can do lots of kinds of music so we can dip in and out of genres, Yeah I’m very proud of very proud of the team they are a formidable force.
BD: Your blending of traditional rock ensemble with traditional western orchestra staples of Violin, clarinet with to our ears exotic instruments including tar, dizi and oriental zither gives a unique sound board. What drew you to the range of instruments you use on your albums.
SH: When I was young I only really listen to guitar or before that I was a harmonica player for 10 years but then I never really heard anything else. I didn’t hear the drums, never mind the humble triangle and then over time I came to realize that there was no such thing as useless instrument they all played their part and I became a fan of all instruments. Then on my travels I made friends with lots of people all over the world and some of them played fantastic instruments that I’d never heard of and I’m adding to that list compatriots even though they might live on the other side of the globe. I would coordinate performances in one place, London is a window on the rest of the world. Because of lockdown we haven’t been able to really access those places physically so there haven’t been so many people showing up. So how to record them? They send things from their places and so it’s kind of hand across the water. I love the fact that we just work with a guy from Tajikistan who played the Dutar, which I’d never heard of until recently and I can’t remember how it happened but we were watching stuff on on computer of this fantastic instrument that only has two strings. These guys strum it furiously and it’s a little bit like Spanish flamenco. Then you hear similar things being done with with two strings. Malik Mansurov who plays the Tar from Azerbaijan, I was introduced to him by Hungarians that I’ve worked with over the years. I fell in love with his playing instantly he plays at this stuff called Mugham which is a bit like Arabian Jazz it’s common to Azerbaijan, Iraq, Iran and Turkey. He was the guy who introduced me to the jutar but then it was it was interesting working with him it was as if you were getting someone who had the sort of sensibility of Ravi Shankar on sitar meets John McLaughlin on guitar so huge technique fast blinding runs but at the same time these wonderful magic notes for the coming out of his tiny stringed instrument. I just work with friends from all over the globe. That’s what drives a lot of the songs you know a kind of travelogue as your songs, your dreams get made into something more substantial and it’s been a great journey all of it wonderful.
BD: You are Back out on tour this Autumn, with Genesis Revisited – Seconds Out and More, will any of the tracks from this album creep into the setlist?
SH: I will be doing a couple of tracks from the new one not because I think that the other tracks aren’t worthy. I always like to balance old versus new. That which is known and approved versus that which is new and still on trial tends to be something that I deal with by giving people what they want of course. I like to give fans a year to hear and become familiar with new music. The Genesis Revisited Tours been going for quite some years now so I tend to do a set of solo things then I do a set of Genesis. This time from Genesis 1977, way back in the day is a double album so you know in it even in its present form it’s about 90 minutes worth of pure Genesis stuff. I will also be doing full-length versions, so I will be around the 90-minute mark. We will find out when we do rehearsals and get absolute timings. I’m looking forward to getting out the front door pandemic has really made Cinderellas of us all, with we can’t do this – we can’t do that and I’m quite pleased at this point to be saying yeah and play. Of course, going out it’s a risk. We know that it is a risk, but it’s got to be done and will be operating in a bubble. Normally I’d be meeting fans doing VIP things pressing the flesh saying hi to new friends and old ones. So I will be backstage and fans out front. It will be like the doctors waiting room in the surgery and the dentist will see you now Sir! We have to do this because if anyone catches anything suddenly the whole tour is off for 10 days and obviously so with some trepidation but I’m also very excited about doing it I’m looking forward to getting out and doing what I do best. BD: I think the venues are doing their best to be safe and secure. The larger venues like Saint David’s Hall in Cardiff have the advantage of space. SH: Yeah, our keyboard player Roger a couple of weeks ago went to something at the Royal Albert Hall, sitting amongst all those people at a big concert and people were masked up in the corridors but once they were seated they were taking their masks off and all that and you know it comes down to those issues of personal freedom versus protecting everybody including yourself, But personally I’ve been jabbed, and just to let you know I don’t set the policy at these venues every venue has its own policy and I’m hearing from a lot of venues that they’re saying they will only accept fully vaccinated two jabbed people, that’s not something that I chose to impose, that’s just the way they want to do it.
BD: All to soon the sands of time ran out. With many questions left unasked I thanked Steve for sharing this insight into his music all that was left was to listen to the album again. Bluesdoodles review will be posted soon.
Steve Hackett “Surrender of Silence” track listing:
1. The Obliterati (02:17)
2. Natalia (06:17)
3. Relaxation Music For Sharks (Featuring Feeding Frenzy) (04:36)
4. Wingbeats (05:20)
5. The Devil’s Cathedral (06:31)
6. Held In The Shadows (06:20)
7. Shanghai To Samarkand (08:27)
8. Fox’s Tango (04:21)
9. Day Of The Dead (06:25)
10. Scorched Earth (06:03)
Steve Hackett shares writing credits with both Jo Hackett and Roger King on several tracks. All tracks were recorded by Roger King and produced by Steve Hackett with Roger King at Siren.