Listen to this track by progressive rock guitarist, composer, and one-time Genesis member Steve Hackett. It’s “Ace of Wands”, the lead track from Hackett’s debut solo album, 1975’s The Voyage of the Acolyte. This is an album he recorded and released while still a member of Genesis, and with the help of two of his bandmates; Phil Collins plays drums and sings lead on a number of tracks, and Michael Rutherford plays bass, and second 12-string guitar.
What can be gleaned from this track is just how important Hackett’s playing is to the classic Genesis sound; angular, yet lyrical, and evocative of a certain spirit of the time that actually pulls the whole genre into focus. Hackett takes his influences of rock and classical music, and synthesizes an approach to both, making the music on the record extremely evocative of a something that suggests a wordless narrative unfolding, like a soundtrack to a film that the listener makes up as the music plays. That’s what prog always strives for, after all!
On this track, “Ace of Wands”, Hackett comes in like a lion with all of his strengths upfront. We get all of the progisms of multiple time shifts, spacey keyboards, and double-tracked harmonized electric guitar lines, all kept in sonic check by one of my favourites of Hackett’s textures; his pristine 12-string guitar. Hackett’s ability to create atmospheric set-pieces as accessible as any record he’d helped to make with Genesis serves him very well here. His work here also shows that Hackett is adept at creating cohesive statements as a solo artist. It would be this last factor which would lead him to a crossroads as an artist while recording and touring with Genesis later on.
When this album was recorded, Hackett was still Genesis’ guitarist. This may explain why this song, and the record on the whole sounds very much like material that could have been included on, say, A Trick of the Tail, or Wind & Wuthering. But two years later, by 1977, and after a tour, Hackett left Genesis for reasons that his materials were allegedly being overlooked when it came to deciding on what was going on the next record. Indeed, allegedly the track “Please Don’t Touch” which would appear on Hackett’s second solo record as the title track had been put forward as a Genesis number, and rejected. A full-time solo career made sense.
Hackett’s solo career would be highly respectable and stretching over the decades from the 1970s to the present day, with a number of records that were in line with his work of the classic Genesis period like this first one is. But many were not. The guitarist followed his muse wherever it took him, even if it didn’t lead to the same pop music success of his former bandmates. Hackett was not that kind of artist in any case.
His path certainly included chart-aimed rock music, when he briefly teamed with Yes guitarist Steve Howe in the prog-inspired supergroup GTR in 1986-87. But, it also included further developments of his range as a classical guitarist and composer, with solo albums centered around neo-classical compositions. Later, his output would include explorations into ‘world music’, blues, and guitar with orchestra-styled albums too.
Having said that, Hackett’s musical curiosity wouldn’t stop him from revisiting his materials created while with Genesis on the Genesis Revisited album, much of that material being very popular with crowds today, with Hackett still being an active live musician and touring extensively with a new band.
Take a look at this extensive interview with Steve Hackett, wherein he talks about his recent tour, his collaboration with Yes bassist Chris Squire, and about his early days with Genesis, a time when his nerves on stage were an issue during his first year with the band.