Al Stewart
 
 
 
   
  Al Stewart - Biography  

 

Al Stewart aka Alastair Ian Stewart was born in Glasgow, Scotland on 5th September 1945. His father, Alastair Stewart, a WWII RAF pilot was killed in action during March 1945, aged twenty-five. Following his birth, baby Al and his mother lived with his paternal grandfather, a bank manager, in Greenock, near Glasgow. When Al was three, Stewart’s English born mother, Joan, decided to relocate south of the border and she settled in London, moved to Wilmcote [Stratford Upon Avon] and finally made Bournemouth her home. In his teens Al attended public school in Gloucestershire. During this period he showed an interest in music, bought an electric guitar and began writing songs. After leaving school, through the second half of his teens, Al was, for a short time, a member of Tony Blackburn’s band, The Sabres. Blackburn later enjoyed a successful career as a pirate radio and Radio 1 dj. In Bournemouth, Al was also a member of The Trappers and Dave LaKaz and the G Men.

On February 1st 1965, Al passed his driving test. The following day he moved to London with the intention of joining a pop band. Having gone to meet a friend at the folk music venue, Bunjies, he ended up playing one song – Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changing” - scored a residency and, literally overnight, became a folk musician. It was only late February 1965. Armed with an Epiphone guitar, Al was soon performing in folk clubs across London and the south-east counties. During those early days in London, Stewart roomed with two visiting American musicians, Paul Simon and Jackson C. Frank. Frank’s girlfriend at the time was Sandy Denny, then, still a part time singer and full time nurse. With one Stateside duo album under his belt, in England, Simon cut a solo album for CBS and produced Frank’s self-titled solo debut aka “Blue Run The Game.” Al made his recording session debut when he contributed to Frank’s “Yellow Walls.” These were heady days for folk music, with the transition from traditional to contemporary sounds, enhanced by a rock beat, in full swing. In 1966 Stewart, now managed by Roy Guest, signed a recording deal with Decca Records but only one single “The Elf” b/w “Turn Into Earth” [+], released that August, resulted from the relationship. By the following year, like Simon & Garfunkel, Al was a CBS recording artist and his heavily orchestrated eleven-song debut “Bedsitter Images,” released on October 6th, garnered good reviews but sold poorly. The album featured the seven-minute long closing track “Beleeka Doodle Day.” When CBS issued a remixed version as “The First Album,” three cuts were dropped, and replaced by “Lover Man” and “Clifton In The Rain.”

Al’s second album “Love Chronicles” further stretched the creative envelope, with the eighteen minute long album title cut, occupying most of Side 2. Toward the end of the song, Al delivered the “f” word. The session players included Jimmy Page and Ashley Hutchings [Fairport Convention], and the now defunct weekly UK music publication Melody Maker voted this folk-rock collection Album of the Year. While album sales increased, the numbers were far from significant, and that situation prevailed through his other CBS releases up to the Alan Parsons produced “Modern Times” [1975]. “Manuscript” on “Zero She Flies” was a precursor of Al’s [ongoing] lyrical fascination with historic events, while he wasn’t to know while penning “Electric Los Angeles Sunset” that he would eventually find fame and fortune once the American West Coast became his base. “Past, Present And Future” [1974] was exclusively given over to historic songs. The Janus label issued “Past, Present And Future” and “Modern Times” in the States.

When CBS didn’t renew his contract, Al moved to California and working with Alan Parson, recorded “Year Of The Cat.” The album, a Janus release in the States, proved to be a worldwide success. RCA Victor issued the title in Europe. “Time Passages” and “24 PCarrots,” issued Stateside by Arista, also proved to be commercial successes. Al’s road band during this period, A Shot In The Dark, cut one self-titled album for RSO Records in 1981. The double vinyl album “Live – Indian Summer,” his final Arista release, contained one side of new studio recordings and three sides of already familiar songs cut at L.A. venue, The Roxy.

The synthesiser rich “Russians and Americans” [1984] was a RCA release in Europe, and appeared on the Passport label in the States. The El Sugundo, California based Enigma Records issued “Last Days Of The Century” [1989]. Sadly, the label closed soon afterwards, and with album sales going from lean to practically zero, during this period, Al and his band ended up performing in venues such as Nevada casinos. Early the following decade Stewart took the decision to tour as a solo act, or, at most, with an accompanist. On the live recording “Rhymes In Rooms” [1992] Al was accompanied by, long time associate, Peter White on piano, accordion and guitar. Mesa issued the disc in the States, while in the UK the release witnessed the start of an ongoing relationship with EMI. Famous Last Words [1993] was meant, at the time, to be Stewart’s final album. Tempted to continue, “Between The Wars,” his third Mesa release, marked the beginning of a studio/live partnership with Laurence Juber [Wings]. When the Mesa label collapsed, Stewart signed with Mirimar Records and Juber produced “Down In The Cellar,” but the label suffered a financial collapse just prior to release, and it was left to EMI in Europe to save the day. These days, Al’s CBS, RCA and Enigma back catalogue is available through EMI.

Stewart now lives in Marin County, California with his wife Kristine and daughters Violet [born 1994] and Daisy [born 1998]. Stewart is one of the world’s acknowledged experts on French wine. The independent label Appleseed Recordings released “A Beach Full Of Shells” in the States in late June 2005, while EMI released the disc in other markets. In the early fall of 2005 EMI in the UK issued a five disc retrospective of Stewarts career, all the way from “The Elf” to tracks taken from the recent “A Beach Full Of Shells.” “Sparks Of Ancient Light” which surfaced in the late summer of 2008 was also an EMI/Appleseed release, and the fourth consecutive recording to be produced by Laurence Juber.

Note.
[+] - Penned by Paul Samwell Smith, bass player in The Yardbirds and later an album producer.

Discography :
Solo -
“Bedsitter Images” [1967] ; “Love Chronicles” [1969] ; “Zero She Flies” [1970] ; “The First Album” reissue of 1967 debut with two different tracks [1970] ; “Orange” [1972] ; “Past, Present And Future” [1974] ; “Modern Times” [1975] ; “Year Of The Cat” reissued on CD in 2001 with bonus cuts [1976] ; “Early Years” two album retrospective of Al’s early CBS recordings [1977] ; “Time Passages” [1978] ; “The Live Radio Concert Album” U.S. only promotional release [1979] ; “24 PCarrots” reissued on CD in 1992 with studio cuts from “Indian Summer” [1980] ; “Live – Indian Summer” double vinyl album of live and studio recordings [1981] ; “Russians And Americans” [1984] ; “Last Days Of The Century” [1988] ; “Rhymes In Rooms” live recording [1992] ; “Famous Last Words” [1993] ; “To Whom It May Concern” 2CD compilation of 1967, 1969 and 1970 albums + rare 1966 Decca single [1993] ; “Between The Wars” [1995] ; “Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time” official fan club release, now out of print [1996] ; “Live [At The Roxy Los Angeles 1981]” CD version of the live recordings from “Live - Indian Summer” [1997] ; “Down In The Cellar” [2000] ; “Time Passages Live” a CD reissue of 1979 U.S. only promotional release, enhanced by one track [2002] ; “A Beach Full Of Shells” [2005] ; “Just Yesterday” 5 disc retrospective box set issued in UK [2005] ; “Sparks Of Ancient Light” [2008] :
with Dave Nachmanoff - "Uncorked" [2009] :

Arthur Wood
Copyright Kerrville Kronikles 05/05, 10/05 & 08/08.

 
   
  Al Stewart - Album Reviews  
   
  “Sparks Of Ancient Light” Appleseed Recordings  
   
 


Stewart’s early solo outings, given to a diarists approach lyrically, reached an ‘orgasmic’ climax with the eighteen minute song “Love Chronicles.” A few albums later Al, rather successfully, began delving into the major events [and minutia] in world history for his song lyrics……and the rest, as they say is “his story.” Al’s latest collection was produced by former Wings guitarist Laurence Juber, who previously helmed “Between The Wars” [1995], the fermented grape themed “Down In The Cellar” [2000] and “A Beach Full Of Shells” [2005].

Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil aka “Lord Salisbury” was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on three occasions. Stewart’s focus at the outset of “Sparks Of Ancient Light” is on the year 1896, the second year of Cecil’s third and final term as the nation’s leader. During Cecil’s second term, passing of the 1889 Naval Defense Act saw unprecedented peacetime expenditure [$35 million, worth $2.15B these days] on expanding the Royal Navy’s fleet. History, meantime, has assessed Salisbury’s foreign policy [+] – of deliberately not engaging with near neighbours in Europe - to be one of “splendid isolationism.” Adding further factual detail to the foregoing skeleton, Al’s lyric references an ageing Queen Victoria, Oscar Wilde who had been incarcerated the previous year for gross indecency, while “in some window a red flag flies in a meeting room” and the ensuing line “You will know changes soon” infer a future revolution in some foreign land. In an earlier verse “You will know changes soon” is preceded by the line “Iron wheels in a cobbled mews” thereby cleverly alluding to the impending era of the mass-produced pneumatic tyre and machine laid tarmac road surfaces. Replete with brass and string sections, there’s a Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour” feel to the cut.

Having furnished a two-hundred word insight into the opening track on “Sparks Of Ancient Light” there’s eleven more to go, so let’s move on albeit in briefer mode. In post World War II America prosperity came in the form of numerous status symbols, major and minor, and “[A Child’s View Of] The Eisenhower Years” is a mostly positive and nostalgic recollection of that era. Mostly positive, as there’s mention of “G.I.’s in Korea,” “politicians who fan the fears” – naming no names Joseph Raymond, and how, during 1957, another nation – remember that red flag? – launched “A metal ball that flies….” As for the ensuing “The Ear Of The Night,” do my aural receptors deceive me? Is, or is not, the acoustic guitar intro reminiscent of Davey Graham’s “Anji” a staple for many aspiring guitarists four decades ago. Once Al gets to the lyric, is transpires that it’s one leavened with tons of teen testosterone. Oh those humorous, fumbling memories!

The foamy brine is the focus in “Hanno The Navigator,” which relates the voyages of this Phoenician seaman [a land located in modern day Lebanon, Syria and Israel] who, circa 450 B.C., explored the west coast of Africa. The sound of the electric guitar on the instrumental break midway through this cut is straight out of The Shadows/Hank Marvin songbook of solos [*]. As for the cover artwork that was undoubtedly inspired by this composition, c/w with lines of barely visible ancient hieroglyphs set in the firmament beyond the vessel. Where the latter song is Stewart oldest historic excavation on “Sparks Of Ancient Light,” “Shah Of Shahs,” which follows, is the most contemporary. The deposition of the Shah of Iran ushered in, nearly three decades ago, the era of the Ayatollahs – thereby ending two and a half consecutive millennia of reigning Shahs. History repeatedly attests that ‘regimes’ rise but eventually fall, as reflected in the verse “The prisoner in the palace does not understand, The ingratitude around him, After all he’s done and planned, But if this is the way it must be, then he’ll be damned, If he will let them take away his perfect dream.” So which ‘reGime’ will be the next to fall?

Less historically specific, and focused on the innocence/naivety of youth the closing line of the politically infused “Angry Bird” – there’s mention that “radical penguins led you astray,” and of “the avian fringe” – poses the question “What were you thinking, angry bird?” Intentionally marooned on an island in the “southernmost ocean so cold,” the “The Loneliest Place On The Map” narrator recalls the precise instant that love died - “It’s all as remote, As the wintry smile that you gave, As you buttoned your coat.” The lines “The stranger comes to town, And he is greeted like a prince” launches “Sleepwalking” wherein a con man rapidly fleeces the rich and famous, while the world of ‘what might have been’ and ‘if only’ is explored with “a minute left to go” in “Football Hero.” Condemned to watching replays of his failure to score a goal, the words must forever ring in this footballer’s ears “he should have passed the ball.” While driving through Arizona, in the melodically urgent “Elvis At The Wheel,” the King experiences a religious conversion. Having alluded, indirectly, to communist Russia on a number of occasions, the clouds in this instance take the form of Joseph Stalin’s face – thereby, in 20th century rock’n’roll shades of pink and black, drawing a parallel with Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. As much as “Elvis At The Wheel” is surreal, the ensuing, penultimate album track, “Silver Kettle” explores some futuristic time wherein the lovelorn principal character attests that he “…wouldn’t have been born, At any other moment in this world.” Also set in 1896 – AI finishes as he began! – the delightful waltz paced “Like William McKinley” finds the undaunted narrator, who has just received some correspondence from aboard – “News From Spain” perhaps? - reference how the man who was destined to become the 25th President of the United States conducted a successful election campaign from his ‘front porch.’ Which, it transpires, is precisely how the narrator intends conducting his affairs.

Could there be an element of self-deprecating humour in the album title? Considering that the musical fare on “Sparks Of Ancient Light” replicates early Stewart historical glories such as “Past Present And Future” and “Modern Times” that contention just about flies. I’m certain the disc features a number of deliberate musical nods to the past, and more than I have mentioned. Following the days when Al enjoyed mass popularity he has continued to beaver away at this art, and while past collections delivered no discernible clunkers, the fluent mix of material on “Sparks Of Ancient Light” simply works like a dream.

Note.
[+] – A policy also pursued, a few decades earlier, by Benjamin Disraeli when he served as Prime Minister.
[*] – Like America’s instrumental combo The Ventures, except The Shadows were British.

Score 9 out of 10

Arthur Wood.
Copyright Kerrville Kronikles 09/08.

 
   
  with Dave Nachmanoff UNCORKED Dave Nachmanoff Music  
   
 


Al Stewart live recording featuring lead guitarist Dave Nachmanoff.

If you’re familiar with the fact that Stewart is an acknowledged wine connoisseur and collector, and recall his nectar of the grape themed song collection DOWN IN THE CELLAR (2000), then you’ll appreciate the title of this live recording. The full title is UNCORKED - AL STEWART LIVE WITH DAVE NACHMANOFF and is available via numerous download sites and can be purchased in CD form via Nachmanoff’s web site.

If you’re familiar with Stewart’s lyrical canon you’ll be well aware of his penchant for lyrically embracing historic events and characters. UNCORKED opens with a seven-minute plus segue of Last Days Of The Century from the 1988 album of the same name, and Constantinople from the earlier 24 CARROTS (1980). Controversy and possible corruption surrounding the American presidency is nothing new, evidenced by WARREN HARDING, who held the post from 1921 until his death from a heart attack two years later. A submariner’s life is the focus in Life In Dark Waters, and the disc closes with an almost six-minute rendition of Old Admirals another briny themed tale. Tagged on to the end of the latter is Al’s recollection of moving to New York with the aim of ‘becoming a star,’ and how he ended up being a roadie for Simon & Garfunkel. 

Stewart subjectively shifts focus with the recollection of losing a lover in the older song News From Spain – originally released only on 7” single - and follows with the even earlier Bedsitter Images, a recollection of life in late 1960’s London. In Auctioning Dave, one of Al’s between song interludes, he amuses the audience with a tale of taking Dave for the night, including the Meridian, Mississippi elderly, oil widow who returned him “clothing in tatters and absolutely covered in oil.” Nachmanoff’s tasteful contributions on lead guitar are up front throughout this collection, allied to his occasional background vocal.

Score 7 out of 10

http://www.davenach.com/products.html  

Arthur Wood.
Copyright Kerrville Kronikles 11/09.

 
   
  Al Stewart – Features  
   
  “13” - Almost A Catalogue Redux  
  Part 1 - "Bedsitter Images" to "Modern Times"  
 
Revised 1970 front cover of Al Stewart's 1967 debut album "Bedsitter Images."

The Illinois based label Collectors’ Choice Music recently reissued, with bonus tracks, a significant proportion of Al Stewart’s forty-year catalogue of folk-rock/singer-songwriter recordings. A total of thirty-two ‘bonus tracks’ are distributed across twelve of the thirteen reissues, while there are no additions to the live/studio recording “Indian Summer.” Before we look in detail at these reissues, let’s take a look at Al’s genetic roots and early life.

Original front cover of Al Stewart's 1967 debut album "Bedsitter Images."

Alastair Ian Stewart was born in Glasgow, Scotland on 5th September 1945, the son of an English born mother and a Scottish father, and RAF pilot, who perished during the closing months of WWII. When Al was aged three his mother returned to England, initially lived in London subsequently spent time near Stratford-Upon-Avon, and finally settled on the south coast of England in Bournemouth. Schooled privately in Gloucestershire, during his teenage years Al bought an electric guitar and began writing songs. Following school Al played in Bournemouth based pop bands for a time, but on February 1st 1965 he passed his driving test and the following day moved to London. Straying into Bunjies one night, a London folk music club, Al’s musical focus veered from pop to folk soon afterwards.

Accompanied by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Dylan had ‘gone electric’ at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – on Sunday 25th July, to be precise - and soon afterwards CBS house producer Tom Wilson added electric backing to an acoustic version of Paul Simon’s “Sound of Silence” [a track on the mid- October 1964 Simon & Garfunkel CBS release “Wednesday Morning 3 A.M.”]. The ‘electric’ version reached # 1 on the American Pop Chart just prior to Christmas that year. Backtracking a little…..while Garfunkel studied for a Masters degree in mathematics at Columbia University, Simon had arrived in the U.K. during April 1964. Over the ensuing months he toured the nation’s folk clubs, before returning home and cutting the aforementioned acoustic duo album. Simon toured the U.K. once again during early 1965, and that May cut “The Paul Simon Songbook” for the English division of CBS. In addition, Simon produced, rumour has it at his own expense, “Blues Run The Game” the 1965 EMI released debut album by fellow American, the late Jackson C. Frank [d. 1999]. Al played acoustic guitar during the sessions, reputedly his first experience of working in a recording studio. For a time Stewart and Simon shared a house in London – well, rooms in mentor Judith Piepe’s flat. Following a brief flirtation with Decca Records [now MCA] the label issued, during August 1966, one Al Stewart single, “The Elf” b/w “Turn Into Earth.” Stewart went on to sign a solo recording deal with CBS Records.

Al Stewart early 1970's

Stewart’s eleven-song debut album, “Bedsitter Images,” was issued during September 1967, and although critically lauded, the collection failed to generate significant sales. Roy Guest, Al’s manager, had produced the album. By 1970, with two further solo albums under his belt, Al began to enjoy a modicum of commercial success in the U.K., prompting CBS to revise the cover artwork and issue a remixed edition of his debut album bearing the inspirational title, “The First Album.” Collectors’ Choice have employed the 1970 version of the album artwork. For the reissued version of this heavily orchestrated collection, CBS dropped three of the ‘original’ tracks – “Scandinavian Girl,” “Cleave To Me” and “Pretty Golden Hair” – replacing them with the pop sounding “Lover Man” penned by Mike Heron, and Al’s ‘holiday in a day’ “Clifton In The Rain.” Both versions of the album closed with the rambling autobiographical, seven-minute long “Beleeka Doodle Day” which included the lines “I had a week once in Italy, With Mike and Robin and some songs” – a reference to Mike Heron & Robin Williamson of The Incredible String Band. The Collectors’ Choice edition of “The First Album”/“Bedsitter Images” contains all the tracks from the 1967 and 1970 releases, and is further enhanced by the inclusion of Al’s “Go Your Way” plus a thirty-second long ‘parody’ titled “My Contemporaries” based on the Pete Townsend composition “My Generation.” Of the latter pairing, the somewhat intense, two minute long “Go Your Way” is the rarer item, dating from a 1965 ‘studio downtime’ recording session that took place at the BBC thanks to a female friend of Stewart’s. It appears that three tracks were cut during the session and this is the first occasion any have surfaced in the public domain. A major coup no less……

Rear cover picture from "Love Chronicles," featuring Stewart and his early solo career muse Mandi Newell.

Controversy ensued, following the release of Stewart’s, Roy Guest produced, sophomore effort “Love Chronicles” [1969]. Bar one song, the second side of the 12” vinyl album featured the autobiographical album title track, which, if you made it all the way through Al’s eighteen-minute sexual odyssey, meant, toward the close, you would hear him utter the word “fucking,” in the context of sexual congress. The latter apart, the now defunct weekly music publication Melody Maker voted “Love Chronicles” their Folk Album of the Year. Dispensing with strings on this occasion, Guest’s production possessed a conventional electric folk-rock sound, and the session players included members of Fairport Convention [some used pseudonyms, for instance Marvyn Prestwick = Richard Thompson] and Jimmy Page [Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin].

Front cover of Al Stewart's 1969 sophomore album "Love Chronicles."

Thirteen of the sixteen, at the time, previously unreleased tracks that composed the 1996 ‘limited edition’ Al Stewart fan club release “Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time” reappear on these Collectors’ Choice reissues. The three ‘bonus tracks’ on “Love Chronicles,” are “Jackdaw” and “Fantasy” penned by Al, plus “She Follows Her Own Rules” co-written with Peter White, leader of Al’s 1980’s road band Shot In The Dark. “Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time” included the light and airy “Jackdaw” a late seventies demo that was, at one stage, under consideration for inclusion on “24 Carrots.” The song title spawned a fanzine, published by Al’s English based biographer, Neville Judd. The other two ‘bonus tracks,’ dating from a decade later, were recorded in White’s North Hollywood home studio.

Stewart’s third CBS release “Zero She Flies” [1970], the final title to be produced by Guest, witnessed Al’s lyrics, as far as the track “Manuscript” was concerned, explore an episode from history while also managing to embrace personal touches, for instance mention of his grandfather and Mandi Newell, Al’s muse. The lyric traced the events that led to the declaration of WWI. World history became a lyrical source that Stewart would ‘mine more fully’ a couple of albums further down the line. Al and long-time girlfriend Mandi appeared on the “Love Chronicles” rear liner shot. One of the three ‘bonus tracks’ on the edition of “Zero She Flies” is a remixed edit of “News From Spain,” the connection being that between the release of Stewart’s sophomore album and the initial “Zero She Flies” sessions, the couple had split up with Mandi decamping to Carvajal in Spain. There was a short rapprochement followed a visit Al made to Spain, and his song “News From Spain” captured the events surrounding an affair where the flame of passion was slowly dying. The song appeared as a fully fledged track on Al’s next CBS outing, “Orange,” while the remixed edit previously appeared as a ‘bonus’ on the 1992 BGO Records reissue of Al’s sixth and final CBS album “Modern Times.” Regarding the other Collectors’ Choice ‘bonus tracks,’ Al’s “Stormy Night” dates from 1974 and features Simon Nicol and Richard Thompson, while the initially a cappella Steeleye Span sounding arrangement of the traditional “Lyke-Wake Dirge” was recorded some five years later. According to Thane Tierney’s liner notes, Al apart, the contributing voices include Joan Baez’s late sister Mimi Farina [d. 2001], her sometime recording companion Tom Jans [d. 1984] [+], Dave Dyke a close friend of Al’s, and, possibly, Heather and Royston Wood [ex-The Young Tradition].

Front cover of Al Stewart's 1972 album "Orange."

Front cover of Al Stewart's 1970 album "Zero She Flies."

The first of two consecutive productions by John Anthony, “Orange” [1972] saw Stewart record his second cover song, Bob Dylan’s “I Don’t Believe You” [*]. “Orange” is permeated by positive and negative memories of Mandi. She features in the album opener “You Don’t Even Know Me,” and later in the aforementioned “News From Spain,” “I’m Falling” and the closing track “Night Of The 4th Of May.” The first of three ‘bonus tracks’ on “Orange,” “Soho [Needless To Say]” made its debut as a ‘fully fledged track’ on Al’s next recording “Past, Present And Future” [1974]. In later years the song resurfaced twice, in a live setting, and both those versions appear on the Collectors’ Choice reissues. However, Al cut a fourth version that Tierney describes in his liner notes as ‘folk-hop.’ In terms of its history it previously appeared on “Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time,” on the U.K. released 5 CD Al Stewart career retrospective “Just Yesterday….” [2005] and Al once again ‘folk-hops’ on this reissue. CBS released three singles that drew tracks from “Orange,” and the first teamed “News From Spain” with “Elvaston Place.” In terms of the continuing Al/Mandi saga, Elvaston Place was the location of the basement flat they once shared in Central London’s fashionable South Kensington district. The 1992 BGO Records reissue of “Modern Times” included the foregoing 7” single tracks. The third ‘bonus track’ on the Collectors’ Choice edition of “Orange” is another cover song, Paul Anka’s “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.” Buddy Holly released a single version of the song just prior to his death, and during early 1959 it scored the Texas bred performer a U.K. # 1 and a U.S. # 13. Al Stewart’s version dates from the late 1980’s.

U.S. front cover of Al Stewart's 1975 album "Modern Times."

For whatever reason, in terms of album chronology, Collectors’ Choice have chosen to pass on releasing Stewart’s ‘history heavy’ song collection “Past, Present And Future” [1973]. The album, Al’s fifth, was released in U.K. by CBS, and the same year in the States by the Janus label, and then in 1982 by Arista Records. Although Epic Records [the CBS subsidiary] had released “Love Chronicles” in the States during 1970, the Janus release marked a significant step forward in promoting Stewart’s career in the U.S. market. Enough said let’s move straight on to Al’s sixth, and final CBS recording “Modern Times” [1975] produced by Alan Parsons. The cover artwork used in the U.K. differed totally from that used in the States, and it’s the latter version that Collectors’ Choice have used, while enhancing their edition with three ‘bonus tracks.’ The first, “Swallow Wind,” was recorded a few months prior to commencing the “Modern Times” sessions, and made its debut as the B-Side of the 1974, 7” single that led with “Nostradamus,” the closing track on “Past, Present And Future.” “Swallow Wind” was included on the 1992 BGO Records reissue of “Modern Times.” The other ‘bonus tracks’ appended to the Collectors’ Choice edition of “Modern Times,” are – “A Sense Of Deja Vu” which was recorded at the same time as “Swallow Wind,” while The Band inspired “Willie The King” is a “Modern Times” out-take – the latter pair appeared on “Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time.”

U.K. front cover of Al Stewart's 1975 album "Modern Times."

Concurrent with recording “Modern Times” Al recruited guitarist Peter White, and although he didn’t perform on the recording, as we shall see next week, White would make a significant musical contribution to Stewart’s music over the ensuing decades. With Janus Records taking control of Al’s career in the States, “Past, Present And Future” peaked in the Billboard Album Chart at # 133, while “Modern Times” made the far more respectable # 30. America appeared to be calling, and a wind of change was beginning to blow through Al’s life…………

to be continued.

Notes.
[+] – In 1971 A&M Records issued “Take Heart” a duo recording by Tom Jans and Mimi Farina.
[*] – Sub-titled “[She Acts Like We Never Have Met]” the song had appeared almost a
decade earlier on “Another Side of Bob Dylan” [1964].

Arthur Wood.
Copyright Kerrville Kronikles 04/07.
 
   
  “13” - Almost A Catalogue Redux  
  Part 2 - "24 Carrots" to "Down In The Cellar"  
 
Front cover of Al Stewart's 1980 album "24 Carrots."

Last week, chronologically, we surveyed the contents of five of the thirteen enhanced Al Stewart albums recently reissued by Collectors’ Choice Music. With the exception of “Past, Present And Future” which Collectors’ Choice have not reissued, those albums – respectively, # 1 to # 4 and # 6 - represented the extent of the Al Stewart catalogue released in the U.K. by CBS Records. Album # 5, “Past, Present And Future,” was significant in that it marked the launch, on the Janus label, of a serious foray by Stewart into the American market. “Modern Times,” Al’s final U.K. recording for CBS, was also a Stateside release by Janus Records. What’s more, promoted by Janus, both had charted. In March 1974, supported by the band Home, Al toured the States opening shows for ELO, George Carlin and Alan Price [The Animals].

Stewart went on to sign with RCA Victor in the U.K., but remained with Janus in the States for “Year Of The Cat” [1976] then transferred to Arista Records label for “Time Passages” [1978]. The initial sessions for “Year Of The Cat” took place in the U.K., but the recording was completed in Los Angeles during the summer of 1976. The sessions over, Al decided to stay in America and began relentlessly touring coast-to-coast with his band. “Year Of The Cat” and “Time Passages,” both Alan Parsons productions, have not been reissued by Collectors’ Choice. They proved to be Al’s most commercially successful outings, with the “Year Of The Cat” single peaking at # 8 on the Billboard Chart during early 1977. “On The Border” was also released as a single, while the title track from “Time Passages,” co-written with Peter White, reached # 7 on the Billboard Singles Chart during the closing months of 1978. “Song On The Radio” reached # 29 on that chart during early 1979. For the record, during 2001, EMI Records issued an enhanced version of “Year Of The Cat.” The three bonus cuts were, a 1979 live rendition of “On The Border” recorded at Chicago radio station WKQX [the session that spawned Arista’s initially promotional only “Blue Album” [%]], “Belsize Blues” [which also appears on the Collectors’ Choice reissue of “Down In The Cellar” more of which later] and the informative, ten-minute spoken narrative “Story Of The Songs.” The ‘songs’ in question being, the nine numbers that originally featured on “Year Of The Cat.”

Al Stewart - Early 21st Century

Al Stewart - Early 21st Century

We return to the Collectors’ Choice series of reissues with “24 Carrots” [1980], which featured four songs co-written with Peter White, including the Fall 1980 # 24 Billboard Singles Chart entry “Midnight Rocks.” With Parsons’ focus on recording and touring with The Alan Parsons Project, Chris Desmond, who had engineered parts of “Time Passages” was engaged as Al’s co-producer for “24 Carrots.” The album was reissued by EMI Records during 1992 and included the five studio cuts from, chronologically, Al’s next official release “Live - Indian Summer” [1981]. Stripped back to its original nine-track format by Collectors’ Choice, their edition of “24 Carrots” features three ‘bonus tracks’ that were recorded pretty much concurrent with the album sessions. The first, a Stewart/White co-write “Candy Came Back” previously appeared on “Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time.” Concurrent with recording “24 Carrots,” Al’s five-piece road band Shot In The Dark [Peter White (guitar, keyboards), Krysia Kristianne aka Krysia Kocjan (vocals), Robin Lamble (bass) [$], Bryan Savage (saxophone, flute), and Adam Yurman (guitar)] recorded their self-titled debut album. Co-produced by Al and Chris, Savage apart, all the band members, as well as Al, contributed material to the ten song recording and it was released by RSO Records during 1981. According to Tierney’s liner note, the “Candy Came Back” backing track was the same as that used on the Shot In The Dark, Side 1 song “All My Life,” Al merely added his own lyric about a ‘former star’ making a comeback. “The Ringing Of Bells” penned by Stewart is a song about lost love, while, featuring a Chuck Berry style guitar riff, the “Tonton Macoute” lyric is best categorised as dark – “Anything that you say that’s not right, You’re floating in the river at night.” The song title is a Cajun term by derivation, but is probably best known, politically speaking, as the name of the militia that supported Haitian dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier [1907 - 1971] during the 1960’s reign of terror he inflicted upon the populace of his homeland.

Front cover of Al Stewart's 1981 album "Indian Summer"

Al’s 1981 U.K. RCA Victor release “Live – Indian Summer,” originally appeared as a sixteen song [5 studio/11 live], double vinyl album. Reissued on CD during 1997 by EMI Records as “Live [At The Roxy Los Angeles 1981],” the disc only featured the live tracks, while the Collectors’ Choice version marks the first occasion on which all the original tracks appear. In the States “Live – Indian Summer” marked Al’s final release for Arista Records, and while they financed the “Russians And Americans” sessions, it was Passport Records that finally released that album in the States.

Front cover of Al Stewart's 1984 album "Russians & Americans"

When the Mike Flicker [Heart] produced album “Russians And Americans” [1984] was released on Passport [U.S.] and RCA Victor [U.K.] each version featured nine tracks. The U.K. version opened with “Lori Don’t Go Right Now” and also featured “The Gypsy And The Rose” but neither cut appeared on the U.S. version, which, instead, included “The One That Got Away” and “Night Meeting.” “Russians And Americans” proved to be Al’s final RCA Victor release in the U.K., while Passport was soon caught up in a bankruptcy suit. The Collectors’ Choice edition of “Russians And Americans” features eleven tracks, enhanced by three ‘bonus tracks.’ Two of those tracks previously appeared on “Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time,” respectively, “In Red Square” co-written by Al and Peter White, and Stewart’s own “How Does It Happen.” The former is, subjectively, a recollection of twentieth century Russian leaders who enjoyed their moment of glory, while the latter focuses on a woman with ‘low social esteem.’ During the early 1980’s Robin Williams took the lead role in the movie adaptation of John Irving’s 1978 international bestseller “The World According To Garp.” Al’s song of the same name was an attempt to break into the field of movie soundtrack songwriting. As things turned out, Lennon & McCartney’s “When I’m Sixty-Four” got the gig on the film soundtrack.

Front cover of Al Stewart's 1988 album "Last Days Of The Century"

The short-lived Enigma record label was responsible for the worldwide release of Stewart’s “Last Days Of The Century” [1988]. Collectors’ Choice have added three ‘bonus tracks’ to the original twelve song release, and the first of those is a longer demo, lyrically sketchy, vocal version of the Al Stewart/Steve Recker collaboration “Ghostly Horses Of The Plain,” which appeared as an instrumental, track 11, on the original release. This demo version previously appeared on “Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time.” Tori Amos rose to prominence as a solo artist during the early 1990’s, but concurrent with Al cutting the Joe Chiccarelli produced “Last Days Of The Century,” in an adjacent studio Joe was producing Tori’s, Atlantic Records released debut, “Y Kant Tori Read” [1988]. Amos added a background vocal to Al’s “Red Toupee,” and hitting it off the pair collaborated as writers. Their pop sounding “Ten Cents” and “Dreaming,” the latter a tale of old love re-ignited make their public debut here.

Front cover of Al Stewart's 1992 album "Rhymes In Rooms"

While Stewart had been able to sustain touring with a road band during the 1970’s and 1980’s by the closing decade of the 20th century that was no longer financially viable. The Michael Fagrey produced “Rhymes In Rooms” [1992] was a ‘on the road’ live recording that featured Al and Peter White. The album gathered together recordings made at the legendary McCabe’s Guitar Store in Santa Monica, California [#], the similarly famous Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia and Banana Hall, Osaka, Japan. Following the demise of the Enigma label, “Rhymes In Rooms” appeared on Mesa Records in the States, and on EMI Records in the U.K. Where the majority of the Collectors’ Choice enhanced reissues are blessed with three ‘bonus tracks,’ “Rhymes In Rooms” only features a pair. Rewritten, Al’s “Warm Californian Night” subsequently mutated into the song “Timeless Skies” on “Time Passages.” The other ‘bonus track’ is a live recording that teams Elvis Costello’s “London’s Brilliant Parade” with a quick, closing reprise of “Caroline, Goodbye” penned by Colin Blunstone [The Zombies]. It appears that Blunstone an audience member that evening.

Where Stewart had generally allowed four-years to elapse between the release of his solo recordings, he was ‘out of the starting gate’ again within a year. “Famous Last Words” [1993] remained with Mesa Records in the States, while the independent Permanent Records issued the recording in the U.K. The track “Charlotte Corday” was another Stewart/Amos collaboration, and a leftover from the projected second Enigma album. The three Collectors’ Choice ‘bonus tracks’ featured here previously appeared on “Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time.” “The Coldest Winter In Memory,” which also turned up on the retrospective “Just Yesterday….,” finds Al further pursue his fascination with ‘Old Russia,’ the focus being the early eighteenth century Great Northern War between Russia and Sweden. “Blow Your Mansion Down” is a demo produced by Michael Fagrey that features an impressionistic lyric, while the Peter White produced “In The Dark” portrays a marriage in a state of crisis - the lyric references an African visit undertaken by the Prince of Wales and his late wife Diana.

Front cover of Al Stewart's 1993 album "Famous Last Words"
Front cover of Al Stewart's 1995 album "Between The Wars"

With Peter White beginning to enjoy commercial success as a solo artist, for “Between The Wars” [1995], Laurence Juber, late of Paul McCartney’s Wings was recruited as his replacement. Following a short tour the pair decamped to Juber’s Studio City, California studio, The Sign of the Scorpion. The resulting thirteen-song recording, which focused lyrically on major and minor events worldwide during the period 1918 - 1945, was produced and arranged by Juber. Most of the songs accurately portrayed events by date and detail, although Al displayed tongue in cheek humour in “The League Of Notions” – the League of Nations being a ‘between the wars’ precursor of today’s United Nations. The Collectors’ Choice edition features two ‘bonus tracks’ that appeared on “Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time.” A lyrically light-hearted, melodically upbeat affair “The Bear Farmers Of Birnam” is a live recording made in Paris, France, while at a mere ninety-five seconds long the ‘song sketch’ “Merry Monks,” recorded in Juber’s studio, features a “Greensleeves” style acoustic guitar intro and lyrically opens with “Merry monks are shallow as the waters of a ford, Sing a spiritus sancti in the covens of the Lord.”

Front cover of Al Stewart's 2001 album "Down In The Cellar"

And finally, we arrive at the thirteenth and final Collectors’ Choice reissue. It was probably a little known fact among the mass populace, prior to the release of “Down In The Cellar” [2001], that Al is a wine taster/collector/connoisseur with three decades of experience under his belt. Produced and arranged once again by Juber, while the subjective focus is wine, Al lyrics trace its effects on humankind in factual and fictional situations. So far in this feature I’ve highlighted two occasions where, post a Stewart album release, the label has sunk financially. EMI Records issued “Down In The Cellar” in the U.K., while his new American label, Miramar Records, managed to go belly-up just prior to its release. A number of Miramar finished copies filtered into the public domain, and the Collectors’ Choice edition features their ‘intended’ artwork. The EMI liner booklet picture had Al standing beside racks of wine bottles. The “Down In The Cellar” reissue features two ‘bonus tracks.’ An Stewart/White co-write, “Dark Side” dates from the mid 1990’s and possesses a Jekyll/Hyde lyrical theme – as the track fades Al appears to commence singing the next verse! You may recall my mentioning that “Belsize Blues,” another of Al’s former London pied-a-terre songs, previously appeared as a bonus track on the 2001 EMI reissue of “Year Of The Cat.”

Al’s most recent solo release “A Beach Full Of Shells” [2005], produced and arranged by Juber, was released by the American imprint Appleseed Recordings. So there you have it folks, compilations apart and heaven knows there have been legions of them as far as Al Stewart is concerned, between 1967 and 2005 he ‘officially’ released seventeen albums and over the last two weeks we’ve focused on the thirteen ‘enhanced titles’ that Collectors’ Choice have reissued, and in particular the thirty-two ‘bonus tracks’ contained thereon.

Note.
[%] – The “Blue Album” was, finally, officially issued in the States by BMG Records during 2002, while in the U.K. EMI included it as Disc 5 of the retrospective “Just Yesterday….”
[$] – Robin is brother of the Fairport Convention drummer, Martin Lamble, who perished when the band’s van crashed on the way home from a May 11th 1969 gig at Mothers a venue in Erdington, Birmingham, U.K. Richard Thompson’s then girlfriend, Jeannie Franklyn, also died in the accident. Martin was a session musician on Al’s “Love Chronicles.”
[#] – Folk music is a small world. In 1985 Richard Thompson married Nancy Covey, who, for many years prior to that, had been the booker at McCabe’s.

Arthur Wood.
Copyright Kerrville Kronikles 04/07.