Honestly, flute driven prog-rock albums are not normally at the top of my list of things to listen to – unless they involve John Hackett ... and then they become a priority!
For those of you who can’t place the name, John Hackett is probably best known for his work with brother Steve Hackett (ex Genesis guitarist), and has spent much of his musical career on the road as part of Steve’s touring band – but, in addition to that, John boasts an extensive musical history of his own, having been involved in many truly fantastic projects, as well as enjoying a successful solo career ...
Cue the new 2 CD deluxe release of “We Are Not Alone” from The John Hackett Band, which in true Hackett fashion does not disappoint.
CD 1 : is the brand new studio album “We Are Not Alone” : There is something immediately familiar about this album – it feels like a hug on a bad day – I would even go so far as to describe it as ‘musical comfort food’ ... except for track 8 – “Jericho”.
Frustratingly, for me anyway, “Jericho” is to this album, what coffee Revels are to chocolate (except, perhaps for people who like coffee Revels?).
“Jericho” aside, there are many highlights to behold – from the epic opening number “Take Control”, big brother Steve’s guest harmonica on “Never Gonna Make A Dime”; throughout the captivating instrumentals of “Blue Skies Of Marazion” and “Ossians Lament”, and the jazzier vibe of “Queenie And Elmo’s Perfect Day” ...
8 out of 9 tracks that I wasn’t tempted to skip is testament enough to how splendid the album is, on the whole.
What makes it so great? Well first there’s the musicianship – some truly glorious guitar playing from Nick Fletcher, and Hackett’s disarming vocal style, instantly puts the listener at ease.
And then maybe it’s the teeny tiny echoes of Yes, Supertramp, Pink Floyd, Santana, even a nod in the direction of ‘Voyage of The Acolyte’ ...
But maybe it’s not, because essentially what you have here is a record which features 9 perfectly balanced instrumental and vocal numbers ; encompasses a number of styles, crosses genres, and all in all bears the rather unique hallmark of the one and only, John Hackett.
CD 2 : Is a live album “Another Live” – Recorded at The Classic Rock Society on May 7th 2016, it’s more or less a coupling of John’s previous albums “Checking Out Of London” and “Another Life”.
It is just what you would expect from a live album, and demonstrates how well the dynamic of these 4 musicians works on stage, as well as in the studio. It’s also a real bonus if “We Are Not Alone” is your first venture into John’s work – giving you 2 other albums too! You can never beat being at a performance, but this is the next best thing.
Okay, so you know me ...
I had to find out more about how this album came about, and grabbed a rare opportunity to chat to John Hackett himself :
HR : The John Hackett band is essentially a quartet – Yourself, Nick Fletcher, Duncan Parsons, and Jeremy Richardson – all four of you write your own material, but none of the songs appear to have been written together for the recording, rather they are credited to one or other of you – so how did you decide what was going to be included?
John Hackett : The strength of the album is that with only a couple of exceptions we had performed all the pieces live before recording them. The way it worked is that we would bring suggestions to the rehearsal room and the band would try them out. As everyone in the band has considerable experience writing and recording this inevitably meant bringing fairly complete compositions. It was soon obvious if a new piece could slot into our current live set or if best kept for a solo project. With “Never Gonna Make A Dime” for example I had written this as a fairly slow song. I didn’t think it was particularly good. I played it to the guys in a simple piano and vocal arrangement and within a few minutes like in some cheesy movie they were rocking it up. It soon became a no-brainer for inclusion in our shows and the album.
“Castles” was a song I had written some time ago and similarly didn’t think it was anything special. I imagined it as a blues with the kind of energy of that John Mayall’s “Bluesbreakers” album with the young fiery Eric Clapton reading the Beano on the front cover.
I had recorded a demo with me playing the guitar solo on a Les Paul I had borrowed from my brother Steve. But when we tried it as a band with Nick playing a blistering guitar solo it was exactly as I had wanted it to sound.
So unfortunately there is a sad end to the story – I didn’t get to play the solo, and Steve asked for his Les Paul back!
Similarly Duncan’s piece “Queenie and Elmo’s Perfect Day” was a flute melody I had always liked and wanted to record. So when we got the band together it fitted in perfectly, especially as it gave the band free reign for improvisation.
“Take Control” the opening track I wrote specifically for the band and the album. I wanted something that would go through a number of changes . It is really in two parts the lyric being the link so there is plenty of scope for time signature changes, guitar solos and changes of texture.
HR : 2 out of 3 of the instrumental numbers were written by guitarist Nick Fletcher, the 3rd in collaboration with yourself – how did you two meet and subsequently begin performing and writing together?
JH : I first heard Nick playing solo classical guitar without the aid of a microphone or Marshall stack in the fantastic acoustics of Sheffield Cathedral . I thought his playing was absolutely wonderful and wondered as you do that day, if we might ever work together. Like myself, Nick started out in rock then studied classical guitar, so maybe I heard a kindred spirit. We did some concerts together as a guitar and flute duo but it wasn’t until the release of my previous album “Another Life” that I found out what a fabulous electric player he is. I had decided to play some of the songs solo at the album launch with just me singing and playing piano but as it got closer to the time I wasn’t so sure if I could make it work. Anthony Phillips had played on one track of the album called “Satellite”. I knew he was going to be there that night so I felt a little nervous…. Nick was round at my house, I played him a few songs, he picked up a Stratocaster and suddenly it was so much easier.
Duncan joined us on percussion so we performed as a trio for the launch. And then it was simply, “Well, where’s the bass player? We could form a band!” Duncan immediately suggested his old school friend Jeremy.
So that’s how we all got together – quite by accident really.
HR : The song “Jericho”, was written by Jeremy Richardson, and in my opinion changes the vibe of the album a little – given that you sing lead vocal on the other four tracks, why didn’t you sing this one too? ( I had to ask!!)
JH : “Jericho” was written by Jeremy and sung by him with Duncan as part of our live set. It really suits his voice so there was never any question who would sing the lead vocal on the album. On stage Jeremy and I take a fairly equal share of the vocals which comes over particularly on the second CD (it is a double album package) “Another Live” recorded live at the Classic Rock Society in Maltby in 2016. He is a terrific singer with a harder edge to his voice when he needs it which contrasts well with my sound.
HR : “Never Gonna Make A Dime” features your brother Steve on Harmonica. You’ve worked together quite extensively – how come you were both so inspired to become musicians?
JH : It was our dad Peter Hackett who sparked our interest in music. We came back from Canada while dad stayed on for a while to work. He arrived back with an enormous black box which looked more like a coffin but actually contained a guitar. He had played bugle as a boy, then clarinet and harmonica though his main interest was painting. Mum didn’t play anything but always showed a great love of music. She is 87 now and still comes to our rock concerts. Steve and I have been blessed to have parents who have always supported us in our music careers, and Steve in his role as the older brother, has always been kind enough to include me.
You’ve collaborated with many other musicians too, but if you could have anyone, living or deceased, perform with you on stage – a dream line-up – who would it be?
If we were talking football I would probably start with Pavarotti in goal.
Well, of course, I would have to say my current band. But I wouldn’t mind having J.S. Bach on keyboards as long as he didn’t get any powder from his wig on my synths!
JOHN HACKETT BAND
John Hackett, Nick Fletcher, Jeremy Richardson, Duncan Parsons, and special guest Steve Hackett (Harmonica on “Never Gonna Make A Dime”).
DISC ONE: WE ARE NOT ALONE
1. TAKE CONTROL PARTS 1 & 2
2. NEVER GONNA MAKE A DIME
3. BLUE SKIES OF MARAZION
4. SUMMER LIGHTNING
5. QUEENIE AND ELMO’S PERFECT DAY
7. OSSIAN’S LAMENT
9. WINDS OF CHANGE
DISC TWO: ANOTHER LIVE
John Hackett, Nick Fletcher, Jeremy Richardson, Duncan Parsons
LIVE AT THE CLASSIC ROCK SOCIETY 2016:
1. ANOTHER LIFE
2. LOOK UP
3. LIFE IN REVERSE
6. BURNT DOWN TREES
7. QUEENIE AND ELMO’S PERFECT DAY
8. POISON TOWN
10. EGO AND ID
11. MR MAGNOLIA
13. OVERNIGHT SNOW
14. STELLA15. FOREST
19. RED HAIR