The Well - February 09

I remember feeling very frustrated after watching a supposedly revealing programme about Michael Jackson. It didnít mention how he writes his music or what instrument, if any, he uses or where he gets ideas for lyrics - presuming he does write his own. There was no mention at all of any sources of inspiration or what Michael may choose to listen to in the back of the limo or after a hard day washing his elephants at Neverland. In short, it completely evaded the creative process - other than the small insight that he occasionally likes to sit in a tree to meditate... but who doesnít?

Where does a certain Stephen Richard Hackett get his ideas and how do his songs take shape? It is remarkable that Steve can manage to write and record his music so quickly and cover such a diverse range of styles; but how does he do it? Can The Well shed any light at all on the inner workings of such a prolific composer..?

Like lots of writers Steve seems to be a sponge, absorbing the nuances and moods around him, such as when he returned so full of musical ideas after a recent trip to Egypt. He may sometimes give the appearance of being deep in thought, but he notices far more than one might think. Itís Steve who remembers people's names and details and Steve who can weigh people up with startling accuracy. For example, we were all surprised when he recently picked out Jo Cummins - the inspirational forum member and yet to be discovered stand-up comic, who is at present courageously battling against cancer - from a crowd of dancers at a Level 42 gig. Only last night Steve recalled in fine detail the strange events at Rod Stewart's birthday party in Los Angeles back in the 70's and his fond memories of Pattie Labelle, who was on the same touring circuit as Genesis at one point.

A notebook is never far from Steve's hand and snippets of conversations are often jotted down for future use. Steve is receptive to many influences, including a text he recently received from someone in the apartment of 'Mr. Dusk magazine', Mario Giammetti, containing a single line that he particularly liked - now the title of a new rock epic recorded with Roger King. Communicate with Steve and you may end up in a song.

Steve is an avid reader and watcher of films who can quote extracts and ideas from a range of authors and movies. An evening with Steve rarely passes without some sort of literary or film allusion. The same can be said of Ant Phillips, whose punning and word-play can sometimes make Oscar Wilde seem a tad drab. But let's not think there is an aura of pretentiousness here Ė many an allusion could easily refer to a Carry On film or Norman Wisdom classic. Last nightís film for discussion was 'The Killing of Sister George', which Steve recalled in vivid detail. I was struck too by Chris Squire's sense of British humour, rooted somewhere in the 1970's - even when I gave him a lift home and he spent most of the journey on the phone to Keith Emerson, while his friend was in the back seat on the phone to home in Las Vegas because his dogs had apparently set off his burglar alarm. SO rock and roll...

Steve has made many references to his interest in the afterlife and recently took a gang of us along to a 'Demonstration' at the Spiritualist Association in 33 Belgrave Square - once the home of Conan Doyle - in which the medium showed uncanny accuracy and was seemingly able to put some of us in touch with spirits on the 'other side'. It was a remarkable experience which left me - until then a complete cynic - very confused indeed.

After such an enlightening and emotionally draining experience we all trooped off for a well-needed drink at the Grenadier pub close to Hyde Park Corner - where I once had the grave misfortune of witnessing a man trying to break the world record for eating pickled onions! - and then on to a meal at the re-furbished Bombay Brasserie in Gloucester Road, where I almost instantly passed over to the 'other side' when I saw the size of the bill! In the car Steve played some new tracks, commenting on how he'd like to crank it up here, add more vocal there, put real strings there...

Inspiration: where does it come from for Steve? Here a few examples. On Spectral Mornings - an album inspired by his interest in the afterlife - 'Tigermoth' was taken from a character called Lord Dowding, who was both the Commander in Chief of the Battle of Britain and a firm believer in the afterlife. It's interesting to note that a film again linked to the possibility of an airman's afterlife, 'A Matter of Life and Death', is one of Steve's favourites. Its title in the States was Stairway to Heaven!! There is a wing of the Spiritualist Association dedicated to Dowding.

C.S.Lewis, an inspiration for more than one of Steve's compositions, had an outer-body experience in the First World War; Steve loves his fertile imagination, his vivid depictions of other worlds, his sense of humour and his brilliant character portraits. 'Till we have Faces' was inspired by C.S.Lewis's book of that title and Narnia, of course, was inspired by 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'. Steve likes to recreate that sense one can have from a book of character portraits and vignettes, in the way that Sergeant Pepper did. As Steve said, "You can smell the popcorn and candyfloss in Mr. Kite." Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca directly inspired Steve's song of that name. Again, he was linking with the characters, both seen and unseen... and "behold this dreamer", a line in 'Many Sides to the Night', was from a title of a book about dreams by Walter de la Mare... Recently, however, Steve's lyrics have taken a far more personal slant, so expect some raw, almost confessional content on the next album...

Oh, and ask Steve about his bizarre taxi ride from Centre Point in London to Richmond with the psychic driver, who predicted his future and even named names...! He was even able to predict where albums would peak in the charts...

Steve's greatest muse is surely his partner, Jo Lehmann, who is a very skilful wordsmith and a constant source of love and encouragement. 'History is a vinyl record stuck in a groove.' Surely one of the best lines from Wild Orchids.

Okay, but HOW does Mr H turn all these ideas and inspirations into songs? One day he'll have a chord sequence floating around in his head and the notebook will be out - then a couple of days later we'll be in the car and thereís a new track belting out of the system. Magic.

Some sort of divine alchemy seems to occur between Steve and Roger, but perhaps that is best left for another blog...

The Well. London, February 2009.