About: Al Stewart
Ask Al Stewart to sum up where he is now, musically
speaking, and you’re likely to wind up two steps behind where you started; this
is by no means an unusual circumstance in conversation with Al, keenly aware as
he is that making a leap forward often entails taking a step backward.
Sometimes it’s into the library stacks where the late historian Ms. Tuchman dug
for material. Sometimes it’s into the record stacks where the late rocker Mr.
Cochran made his mark as a teenager singing his “Summertime Blues” so many
In many ways, the summertime of Stewart’s 2009 much more
resembled his summer of 1969 than it did the summer of 1979, when his
multi-million-selling “Year of the Cat” and “Time Passages” were staples of FM
radio, and he was touring with saxes, synths, singers, and all the
accoutrements pop stardom brings. “I don’t think I ever knew how to be in front
of a band,” says Al, a little modestly. “I always felt I was loitering there
while they were doing all the work.”
With the release of Uncorked, Al and musical partner Dave
Nachmanoff take a trip through Stewart’s musical back pages, both in terms of
the musical catalogue (they did have nearly 20 albums’ worth of songs to pick
from), and in terms of performance style. After all, Al made his bones in the
massively fertile folk scene that was London in the late ’60s, and he numbers
among his contemporaries the likes of guitar wizards Bert Jansch and John
Renbourn, singer-songwriters Roy (“Hats Off To”) Harper and Richard Thompson,
and a former flatmate named Paul Simon, who went on to some celebrity upon
returning to America.
Recorded live during a springtime East Coast swing, Uncorked
is the first live acoustic disc Al’s done since 1992’s Rhymes In Rooms, and
both he and Nachmanoff made a conscious decision not to replicate any of the
tracks from that disc, even if it meant leaving off such standards as “On the
Border” and the two aforementioned Top 40 hits. “Because I’ve learned all of
Al’s songs, we had an opportunity to revisit some of the tunes that hadn’t been
featured in more recent years,” says Nachmanoff. “I think at this point, we can
actually do three or four full shows and never play the same songs twice. And
while Al usually comes in to a gig with a set list in mind, often times, we’ll
just throw it out and go with the flow.”
As a consequence, it sounds like the duo isn’t merely
playing well (fact is, Al’s guitar work is actually even better now than it was
back in the day, thanks to the acoustic touring configuration that brings his
musical contributions more to the fore), it sounds like they’re having fun. And
if the title tracks from albums like Last Days of the Century and Bedsitter
Images don’t immediately conjure images of major-label milestones, that’s just
fine with Al. “It’s much more enjoyable for me to hear myself and for the
audience to hear the words,” says Stewart. “And the audience seems to agree.
The way I look at it, if I can still get everybody on their hind legs at the
end of a show cheering, then I’ve won.”
Like Uncorked itself, that’s vintage Al.
The making of
“Sparks of Ancient Light” (2008)
Elvis at the Wheel - 2008 - (Official Video)
A Beach Full of Shells - 2005 (Full Album)
Down in the Cellers - 2000 From “Down in the Cellar” (Audio)
Marion of Chatelaine - 1995 From “Between the Wars” (Audio)
Laughing into 1939 – 1995 From “Between the Wars” (Audio)
Feel Like – 1993 From “Famous Last Words”
Ghost of Charlotte Corday – 1993 From “Famous Last Words”
Last Days of the Century – 1988 (Live)
Roads to Moscow – 2013 (Live in Montreal)
Carol – 2014 (Live Fairport)
Midas Shadow – 2009 (Live)
Year of the Cat – 2013 – (Live at the Royal
Year of the Cat – 1976 - (Live)
On the Border – 1976 - (Live)
One Stage Before – 1976 (Audio)
Broadway Hotel – 1976 (Audio)
Flying Sorcery – 1976 (Audio)
Nostradamus – 1974 - (Fan Video)
Past, Present Future - 1974 - (Full Album)
Al Stewart – Official Website
Al Stewart - MySpace
Al Stewart - Facebook
Al Stewart - Twitter
Al Stewart - Wikipedia
Al Stewart – Official Store
Al Stewart - iTunes
Al Stewart - Amazon
Al Stewart – CD Baby
Career: (Extracted from Wikipedia)
Al 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
Early albums (1967–1973)
Stewart's debut album Bedsitter Images was released on LP in
1967 (though technically his first recording was 'The Elf', released by Decca
in 1966, which sold an estimated 496 copies). A revised version appeared in
1970 as The First Album (Bedsitter Images) with a few tracks changed, and the
album was reissued on CD in 2007 with all tracks from both versions. His first
recording of any kind appears on Jackson C. Frank's first album, 1965's Jackson
C. Frank, playing guitar on "Yellow Walls".
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".
It was voted "Folk Album of the Year" by the UK music magazine Melody
Maker and features Jimmy Page and Richard Thompson 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
In 1970, Stewart and fellow musician Ian A. Anderson 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 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 rediscovery of the claimed seer's writings by referring
to selected possible predictions about 20th century people and events. While
too long for mainstream radio airplay at that time, the song became a hit on
many US college/university radio stations, which were flexible about running
Such airplay helped the album to reach No. 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
Joseph Stalin's purges.
Alan Parsons years (1975–1978)
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.
In a highly positive retrospective review of Modern Times,
Allmusic senior editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine described the album as
"exquisite". Erlewine wrote that the album "establishes Stewart's
classic sound of folky narratives and Lennonesque melodies, all wrapped up in a
lush, layered production from Alan Parsons. The production gives epics like the
title track a real sense of grandeur that makes their sentiments resonate
Modern Times produced Stewart's first hit single,
"Carol". The album reached No. 30 in the US and received substantial
airplay on album-oriented stations 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 Records 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 been his
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."
The most remarkable fact about this album is that Stewart
had all of the music and orchestration written and completely recorded before
he even had a title for any of the songs. He mentioned, in a Canadian radio
interview, that he has done this for six of his albums, and he often writes
four different sets of lyrics for each song.
Both albums reached the top ten in the US, with "Year
of the Cat" peaking at No. 5 and "Time Passages" at No. 10, and
both albums produced hit singles in the US ("Year of the Cat" No. 8,
and "On the Border", #42; "Time Passages" No. 7 and
"Song on the Radio", #29). Meanwhile "Year of the Cat"
became Stewart's first chart single in Britain, where it peaked at No. 31. It
was a huge success at London's Capital Radio, reaching number 2 on their
Capital Countdown chart. The overwhelming success of these songs on the two
albums, 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.
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 No. 24 single with
"Midnight Rocks", the album sold less well than its two immediate
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, the highly political
Russians and Americans (1984) and the upbeat pop-oriented Last Days of the
Century (1988), which appeared on smaller labels and had lower sales than his
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
(co-writer of "Year of the Cat"), who died the year of its release.
After parting ways with his longtime collaborator of almost
twenty years, Peter White (who was credited on every studio and live album
between Year of the Cat and Famous Last Words and also served as his regular
songwriting partner), Stewart joined up with former Wings guitarist Laurence
Juber (who was also producer) and followed up with a concept album, 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. Juber would end up producing and be credited on all of
Stewart's subsequent studio albums.
In 1995, Stewart was invited to play at the 25th anniversary
Glastonbury festival, taking to the same stage he had graced in 1970 at the
In 2000, Stewart released Down in the Cellar, 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, and so turned
to fine wines.
In 2005, he released A Beach Full of Shells, which was set
in places varying 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 most recent albums, by Laurence Juber. Here he weaves tales of William
McKinley, Lord Salisbury, and Hanno the Navigator. A video for the song
"Elvis at the Wheel" was released in December 2013.
Stewart and guitarist Dave Nachmanoff released a live album,
Uncorked, on Stewart's label, Wallaby Trails Recordings, in 2009. They played
the Glastonbury Festival 40th anniversary in June 2010 on the acoustic stage.
Stewart sang a duet with Albert Hammond of Hammond's
"It Never Rains in Southern California" on Hammond's 2010 album
In 2011, Stewart sang a duet with his guitarist and opening
act Dave Nachmanoff on Nachmanoff's album Step Up. The song, "Sheila Won't
Be Coming Home", was co-written by Stewart and Nachmanoff.
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