Maybe we’ll hear a song on the radio by this guy today. After all, it’s the day of the year of the cat…happy birthday Al Stewart! The literate Scottish folkie turns 77 today.
Last week we mentioned how there were two fine bands – the Proclaimers and Jesus & Mary Chain – that were built around a pair of Scottish brothers with the name “Reid.” Well, turns out there were also two highly successful Scottish singer/songwriters named “Stewart” who came into their own in the ’70s – Rod and Al. Rod sold more records and likely had more women swooning over him, but Stewart may have been the one who won critic’s hearts. He’s put out 19 studio albums from 1967 through 2008 but is best known for the album and single “Year of the Cat.” That album and its follow-up, Time Passages, both went platinum in the U.S. and gave him top 10 hits in the States and Canada with the title tracks. Stewart developed his musical chops as part of the London folk scene of the late-’60s along with Van Morrison and Cat Stevens, Andy Summers (who was in the Police years later) as well as briefly being Paul Simon’s roommate when the New Yorker moved to England. Along the way he played the first Glastonbury Festival, and met Alan Parsons, who produced a trio of his records including the two smash hit ones. Perhaps not uncoincidentally, when he switched producers in ’80 for 24 Carrots, sales dropped significantly.
Stewart’s singles seldom sound like conventional pop hits. He’s said “I don’t like repetition” when it comes to music and while others are singing about love and old Chevys, Stewart has written songs about things like travel (his two best known songs, “Year of the Cat” and “Time Passages” both refer to travel and being in exotic places) World War I battles, the Spanish Basque separation movement, Lord Mountbatten, Kurt Vonnegut novels and the French Revolution. As he puts it, “making a leap forward often entails taking a step backward.”
77 or not, he’s currently on the road, playing shows in Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois later this month and in Britain in October.