Al Stewart: Wikis

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Al Stewart

Al Stewart performing at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California., Feb. 13, 2010
Background information
Birth name Alastair Ian Stewart
Born 5 September 1945 (1945-09-05) (age 64)
Glasgow, Scotland
Origin Wimborne, England
Genres Rock
Folk rock
Pop
Occupations Musician, Singer-songwriter
Instruments Vocals, guitar
Years active 1966–present
Website AlStewart.com

Al Stewart (born Alastair Ian Stewart, 5 September 1945) is a British singer-songwriter and folk-rock musician.

Stewart came to stardom as part of the British folk revival in the '60s and '70s, and developed his own unique style of combining folk-rock songs with delicately woven tales of the great characters and events from history.[1]

He is best known for his hit 1976 single "Year of the Cat" from the platinum album Year of the Cat.

Though Year of the Cat and its 1978 platinum follow-up Time Passages brought Stewart his biggest worldwide commercial successes, earlier albums such as Past, Present and Future from 1973 are often seen as better examples of his intimate brand of historical folk-rock - a style to which he has returned in recent albums.[2]

Stewart was a key figure in a fertile era in British music and he appears throughout the musical folklore of the age. He played at the first ever Glastonbury Festival in 1970, knew Yoko Ono pre-Lennon, shared a London apartment with a young Paul Simon, and hosted at the legendary Les Cousins folk club in London in the 1960s.[3]

Stewart has released eighteen studio/live albums and two limited edition albums of B-sides and rarities between Bedsitter Images in 1967 and Sparks of Ancient Light in 2008, and continues to tour extensively around the US and Canada, Europe and the UK. In 2009, he released "Uncorked - Al Stewart Live with Dave Nachmanoff" on his independent label, Wallaby Trails Recordings.[4]

He has worked with Alan Parsons, Jimmy Page, Rick Wakeman, Tori Amos and Tim Renwick and currently plays with Dave Nachmanoff and former Wings lead-guitarist Laurence Juber.

Contents

Early life

Though born in Glasgow, Al Stewart grew up in the town of Wimborne Minster, Dorset, England after moving from Scotland with his mother. After that, as he sings in the song "Post World War II Blues" (from Past, Present and Future): "I came up to London when I was 19 with a corduroy jacket and a head full of dreams."

Having bought his first guitar from future Police guitarist Andy Summers, Stewart traded in his electric guitar for an acoustic guitar when he was offered a weekly slot at Bunjies Coffee House in London's Soho in 1965. From there, he went on to compere at the legendary Les Cousins folk club on Greek Street, where he played alongside Cat Stevens, Bert Jansch, Van Morrison, Roy Harper and Ralph McTell.[3]

It was at this time that Stewart also met a young Yoko Ono, who persuaded him to part with the only £100 he had in the world to put towards her film entitled No 4, a compilation of naked bottoms[citation needed].

Career

Stewart's first record was the single "The Elf" (backed with a version of the Yardbirds' "Turn into Earth"), which was released in 1966 on Decca Records, and included guitar work from Jimmy Page (later of the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin), the first of many leading guitarists Stewart worked with, including Richard Thompson, Tim Renwick and Peter White. Stewart then signed to Columbia Records (CBS in the UK), for whom he released six albums. Though the first four of these attracted relatively little commercial interest, Stewart's popularity and cult-following grew steadily through albums that contain some of Stewart's most incisive and introspective songwriting.

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Early albums

Stewart's debut album Bed-Sitter Images was released on LP in 1967; a revised version appeared in 1970 as The First Album (Bed-Sitter Images) with a few tracks changed, and the album was reissued on CD in 2007 by Collectors' Choice Music with all the songs from both versions.

Love Chronicles (1969) was notable for the 18-minute title track, an anguished autobiographical tale of sexual encounters that was the first mainstream record release ever to include the word "fucking".[5] It was voted "Folk Album of the Year" by the UK music magazine Melody Maker, and also features Jimmy Page on guitar.

His third album, Zero She Flies followed in 1970 and included a number of shorter songs which ranged from acoustic ballads and instrumentals to songs that featured electric lead guitar. These first three albums (including The Elf) were later released as the two CD set To Whom it May Concern: 1966–70.

In 1970, Stewart jumped into a car with fellow musician Ian Anderson and headed to the small town of Pilton, Somerset. There, at Michael Eavis's Worthy Farm, Stewart performed at the first ever Glastonbury festival to a field of 1,000 hippies who had paid just £1 each to be there.

On the back of his growing success, Stewart released Orange in 1972. It was written after a tumultuous break-up with his girlfriend and muse, Mandi, and was very much a transitional album, combining songs in Stewart's confessional style with more intimations of the historical themes that he would increasingly adopt (e.g. "The News from Spain", with its prog-rock overtones, including dramatic piano by Rick Wakeman).

The fifth release, Past, Present and Future (1973), was Stewart's first album to receive a proper release in the United States, via Janus Records. It echoed a traditional historical storytelling style and contained the song "Nostradamus," a long (9:43) track in which Stewart tied into the re-discovery of the claimed seer's writings by referring to selected possible predictions about twentieth century people and events. While too long for mainstream radio airplay at that time, the song became a hit on many U.S. college/university radio stations, which were flexible about running times.

Such airplay helped the album to reach #133 on the Billboard album chart in the US. Other songs on Past, Present and Future characterized by Stewart's 'history genre' mentioned American President Warren Harding, World War II, Ernst Röhm, Christine Keeler, Louis Mountbatten, and Stalin's purges.

Alan Parsons years

Stewart followed Past, Present and Future with Modern Times (1975), in which the songs were lighter on historical references and more of a return to the theme of short stories set to music. Significantly, though, it was the first of his albums to be produced by Alan Parsons, and Allmusic regard it as his best. It produced his first hit single, "Carol", and received substantial airplay on album oriented stations and reached #30 in the US, some 30 years before Bob Dylan would release an album of the same name.

Stewart's contract with CBS Records expired at this point and he signed to RCA Records for the world outside North America. His first two albums for RCA, Year of the Cat (released on Janus in the U.S., then reissued by Arista Records after Janus folded) and Time Passages (released in the U.S. on Arista), set the style for his later work, and have certainly been his biggest-selling recordings.[6]

As Stewart told Kaya Burgess of The Times: "When I finished Year of the Cat, I thought: ‘If this isn’t a hit, then I can’t make a hit.’ We finally got the formula exactly right."[3]

Both albums reached the top ten in the US, with "Year of the Cat" peaking at #5 and "Time Passages" at #10, and both albums produced hit singles in the US ("Year of the Cat" #8, and "On the Border", #42; "Time Passages" #7 and "Song On the Radio", #29). Meanwhile "Year of the Cat" became Stewart's first chart single in England, where it peaked at #31. The overwhelming success of these songs, both of which still receive substantial radio airplay on classic-rock/pop format radio stations, has perhaps later overshadowed the depth and range of Stewart's body of songwriting.[7] Stewart himself has frequently expressed disappointment[citation needed] with the quality of his recordings during this era, commercial success notwithstanding.

1980s

Stewart then released 24 Carrots (#37 US 1980) and his first live album Live/Indian Summer (#110 US 1981), with both featuring backing by Peter White's band Shot in the Dark (who released their own unsuccessful album in 1981). While "24 Carrots" did produce a #24 single with "Midnight Rocks," the album sold less well than its two immediate predecessors.

After those releases, Stewart was dropped by Arista and his popularity declined. Despite his lower profile and waning commercial success, he continued to tour the world, record albums, and maintain a loyal fanbase. There was a four-year gap between his next two albums, Russians and Americans (1984) (which was highly political) and the upbeat pop-orientated Last Days of the Century (1988), which appeared on smaller labels and had lower sales than his previous works.

1990s

Stewart followed up with his second live album, the acoustic Rhymes in Rooms (1992), which featured only himself and Peter White, and Famous Last Words (1993), which was dedicated to the memory of the late Peter Wood (famous for co-writing "Year of the Cat"), who died the year of its release.

Stewart followed these up with a concept album, with Between the Wars (1995), covering major historical and cultural events from 1918 to 1939, such as the Versailles Treaty, Prohibition, the Spanish Civil War, and the Great Depression.

In 1995, Stewart was invited to play at the 25h anniversary Glastonbury festival, taking to the same stage he had graced in 1970 at the first ever festival.

21st Century Al

Stewart bade farewell to the 20th century with Down in the Cellar in 2000, a concept album themed on wine. Stewart had begun a love-affair with wine in the 1970s when, he admitted, he had more money than he knew how to spend[citation needed], and so turned to fine wines.

With the arrival of a new century, Stewart has returned to his inimitable brand of historical folk-rock. In 2005 he released A Beach Full of Shells, which was set in exotic places from First World War England to the 1950s rock'n'roll scene that influenced him.

In 2008, he released Sparks of Ancient Light produced, like his previous album, by Laurence Juber. Here he weaves tales of William McKinley, Lord Salisbury and Hanno the Navigator, without losing any of the wit and crispness of delivery that made him famous.

Stewart and guitarist Dave Nachmanoff released a live album, Uncorked: Al Stewart Live with Dave Nachmanoff on Stewart's label, Wallaby Trails Recordings, in 2009.[8]

Residence

Born in Scotland, raised in Dorset and propelled to fame in London, Stewart moved to Los Angeles in the late 1970s. He married in the mid-90s, and he, his wife and their two daughters moved to Marin County.

Historical references

Stewart's historical work includes such subjects as:

  • World War I pilots - "Fields of France", from the album Last Days of the Century
  • The career of Admiral Sir John Fisher of the World War I Royal Navy inspired "Old Admirals", from Past, Present, and Future
  • The Wehrmacht's invasion of the Soviet Union in World War II is the focus of "Roads to Moscow", from Past, Present, and Future. There are references to both Wehrmacht General Heinz Guderian and also to the German Tiger tank and to the brutal treatment of returning Russian soldiers, which is drawn from Alexander Solzhenitzn's book The Gulag Archipelago.
  • Both the Basque separatists in France and the crisis in the former republic of Rhodesia are referenced in "On the Border", from Year of the Cat
  • The Soviet Union is the focus of "In Red Square", from Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.
  • "Sirens of Titan", from Modern Times is a musical precis of Kurt Vonnegut's novel of the same title.
  • The English sailor Sir Richard Grenville is profiled in "Lord Grenville", from Year of the Cat.
  • The French Revolution is addressed in the song "The Palace of Versailles", from Time Passages.
  • The assassin of Jean-Paul Marat is the subject of "Charlotte Corday", from Famous Last Words.
  • The subject of Nazi war criminals hiding in South America is featured in "Running Man" from 24 Carrots.
  • The scandals of the foreshortened Warren Harding administration are the subject of "Warren Harding" from Past, Present and Future.

On occasion, Stewart has set poems to music, such as "My Enemies Have Sweet Voices" (lyrics by the poet Pete Morgan) on the 1970 album Zero She Flies. During his 1999 UK tour, Stewart invited Morgan to read the lyrics as he performed this song in the Leeds City Varieties Theatre show of 7 November 1999.

Discography

Albums

Singles

  • Year of the Cat (1976, #8 US, #31 UK)
  • On the Border (1977, #42 US)
  • Time Passages (1978, #7 US)
  • Song on the Radio (1979, #29 US)
  • Midnight Rocks (1980, #24 US)
  • King of Portugal (1988)
  • Don't Forget Me (1993)[11]

Stewart has also released many compilations, which mainly feature his radio hits and some of his more unknown songs.

References

  1. ^ Brocken, Michael (2003). The British Folk Revival, 1944–2002. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.. p. 110. ISBN 978-0754632825. OCLC 51389150. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=2gU4URxmuQ4C&pg=PA110&lpg=PA110&dq=%22folk+revival%22+%22al+stewart%22&source=web&ots=0YUVTh02v8&sig=E4Xs_ypZ7aPpd5GxakI8ZtwH1f8&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=3&ct=result. 
  2. ^ Brown, Joe (February 18, 2009). "Al Stewart: Heady concert to engage history in singer’s lyrics". Las Vegas Sun (Las Vegas). http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2009/feb/18/heady-concert-engage-history-singers-lyrics/. Retrieved February 19, 2009. "...Stewart says on the phone from his home in Los Angeles." 
  3. ^ a b c Kaya Burgess (2009-05-12). "Al Stewart, the return of the cat". The Times (London). http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/music/article6267857.ece. Retrieved 2009-05-12. 
  4. ^ Al Stewart at Appleseed Recordings
  5. ^ Gelder, Ken; Thornton, Sarah (1997). The Subcultures Reader. London: Routledge. p. 413. ISBN 978-0415127271. OCLC 34513133. http://books.google.com/books?id=1jHcXUTNmIw. 
  6. ^ "Al Stewart's passing time very well after 'Time Passages'", St. Petersburg Times, January 11, 1979, retrieved from Google News Archive
  7. ^ "Living in the Past", Miami New Times, October 12, 1995
  8. ^ Breaking news from Dave Nachmanoff and Al Stewart, July 23, 2009 (retrieved July 24, 2009)
  9. ^ Alstewart.com
  10. ^ famousfolk.com
  11. ^ Don't Forget Me at Allmusic

External links


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