Taken from The Sunday Times (June 10, 2018)
Steve Hackett: My earning power with Genesis was a revelation
The guitarist made his name with the rock group in the 1970s — and enough to buy a London townhouse
by York Membery
Still rocking: Steve Hackett has made 30 solo albums since leaving Genesis in 1977. The band ‘shared the songwriting credits, so the royalties were pretty good’. PhotoCredit: TOM STOCKILL
The guitarist Steve Hackett was a member of Genesis in the 1970s, playing on some of their best-known songs such as Firth of Fifth and Supper’s Ready. The band was formed in 1967 by singer Peter Gabriel and four fellow pupils at Charterhouse, a public school in Surrey. They were joined in 1970 by Phil Collins on drums.
Hackett was recruited the following year, after Gabriel spotted an advert he had placed in Melody Maker: “Guitarist/writer seeks receptive musicians determined to strive beyond existing musical forms.”
Hackett, 68, who grew up on the Churchill Gardens estate in Pimlico, southwest London, was struck by his bandmates’ privileged backgrounds. “They seemed to have their own language and back story,” he said. “They liked to rehearse out in the countryside living together in a cottage, which was strange for me, a real city boy.”
In 1977, following the release of the band’s Wind & Wuthering album, Hackett left to pursue a solo career, and has since released a number of albums. Although the band went on to greater commercial success after he left, he says he does not regret his departure: “Creative fulfilment for me has always been more valuable than money.”
Hackett brings his eight-date Genesis Revisited tour, in which his band is joined by a 41-piece orchestra, to Britain in October.
He lives in Teddington, southwest London, with his third wife, Jo.
How much money do you have in your wallet?
About a hundred quid.
What credit cards do you use?
I mainly use a debit card — I don’t like owing any money, I’d rather get on with the creative stuff. I like to have plastic but I like to have cash, too, to get myself out of trouble as quickly as possible.
Are you a saver or a spender?
I’m a saver and a spender. I’m not extravagant, but I spend where necessary. If you take a six-piece band, plus crew, out on the road, as I do, you need a lot of money up front just to pay transport and freight costs.
Hackett, front, with Genesis in 1975. PhotoCredit: JORGEN ANGEL
Do you own a property?
We’ve got a 1970s two-storey house in Teddington. It has four bedrooms now but will soon have five — we’re building up into the loft. I bought it a couple of years ago for just under £1m. Thankfully I’m mortgage-free. I record a lot of new material in my living room. I’ve owned recording studios in the past but you don’t need to these days: your studio is the same size as your computer screen.
Are you better off than your parents?
Yes. My late father, Peter, who became a professional artist after working in an office, and my powerhouse of a mother, June, who’s now in her late eighties, were both hard-working but struggled. I grew up in a succession of council flats.
My mother’s family originally came from Poland but fled to England to escape the pogroms of the 1880s. They started out in London’s East End, worked like crazy and made their way in the world. I’m proud of my Jewish heritage, which has given me much of my drive.
How much did you earn last year?
I don’t know. I reinvest a lot of the money I make in my stage show, so people head home after a gig saying: “Wow, what a show!” People assume I make loads of money from my tours, but I don’t. If you hire an orchestra to tour with you, as I will do again this year, the best you can hope for is to break even.
When did you first feel wealthy?
When I recorded my first solo album in 1975, while still in Genesis, I spent half the £20,000 advance on making the record and the other half on a deposit on a £35,500 townhouse in Holland Park, west London. So I felt quite flush at that point. By then we had just released the album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and had hit the big time. We’d just done a big tour of Britain and America but, after nine months on the road, found ourselves in a financial hole to the tune of £250,000. It’s often a case of the better the show, the less the profit.
The townhouse turned out to be a very good investment. I sold it in 1984, as I wanted to move out of central London.
Have you ever worried about how you were going to make ends meet?
The worst time was probably after my divorce from my second wife [the Brazilian artist Kim Poor]. I became desperate financially. I found it hard to sleep because I was so worried — I was living through a fog of anxiety. Before Genesis I did five years of dead-end jobs that didn’t pay much. Then I stuck the ad in Melody Maker that Gabriel saw. We hit it off and the rest is history.
What was your first job?
When I was 12, I spent a summer working in the amusement arcade at Battersea Funfair. I was paid peanuts but it was a great experience. My first job after leaving school at 16 was working as a filing clerk for the examinations board — I held that down for about six months. Playing the guitar had been an obsession from 14 and once I started dreaming about a career in music, I knew it was time to leave.
What has been your most lucrative work?
The success of my solo stuff has gradually caught up with my Genesis work and both my solo and Genesis material is popular live. I recorded a mere seven or eight albums with Genesis but I’ve made about 30 solo albums.
When I was in Genesis we shared the songwriting credits, so the royalties were pretty good. Touring is my main bread and butter these days and my Genesis Revisited tours of the past few years, in which I perform tracks from the classic Genesis period alongside some of my solo work, have proved very successful.
Do you invest in shares?
I haven’t so far. I don’t think I’ve got a head for that sort of thing.
What’s best for retirement — property or pension?
They’re both a good idea. I need a roof over my head and I have a private pension that brings in a regular income.
What’s been your best business decision?
Inviting my wife, Jo, whose background is in film and theatre, to join me in business. Love brought us together, but the business side of things has gone from strength to strength.
And your best investment?
I bought a classic Goldtop 1957 Les Paul guitar for $800 from a guy who came backstage after a Genesis show in America in the early 1970s. I was offered £40,000 for it some years ago but having been played on so many Genesis tracks, I’ve been told it could be worth as much as £100,000. I have had three guitars stolen while on the road, so it would be tempting fate to take it on tour.
What about your worst investment?
The rest of Genesis and I made a collective investment in a laser for the Wind & Wuthering stage show. It cost £120,000 to develop but failed to function, so it was goodbye £120,000!
What’s your money weakness?
Stringed instruments. I recently bought a Dobro metallic guitar — which conjures up the sound of America’s Deep South — for about £400. I also got an oud, an Iraqi lute, for a couple of hundred quid. I spend a lot of money on travel, too. I’m increasingly influenced by world music.
What’s your financial priority in the years ahead?
I want to continue to be able to play live and travel without any financial worries. I also think it’s important to support charities close to one’s heart, in my case Save the Children.
What aspect of the tax system would you change?
I think taxes on the very wealthy should be higher to help support things such as the NHS. We led the world in having a welfare state postwar and it looks like we’re in danger of not being the country my parents subscribed to. I’d also like more tax breaks given to help reinvigorate British industry.
What would you do if you won the lottery jackpot?
I’d make a very considerable donation to children’s charities such as Save the Children and Action Aid, which I’ve supported for many years. I’d probably also buy a bigger house and plough more money into the shows.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt about money?
That it gives you a degree of security and freedom, but it’s important not to let it take you over — it’s a means to an end.