The first time I heard Al Stewart was when I bought Jackson C Frank’s wonderful groundbreaking album simply call Jackson C Frank, in 1965. What a wonderful album that was. It was at the forefront of the British contemporary Folk Scene along with the likes of Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Donovan and Roy Harper. It was produced by Paul Simon long before he was well-know and featured a young Al Stewart on second guitar on a couple of tracks.
I went on to frequent Bunjies and Les Cousins, as part of my merry experiences of the sixties, and came across Al Stewart many times and greatly enjoyed him too.
My main focus was the fiery Roy Harper with his incredible power and lyrics of social criticism.
Al was a force back in those heady days. At one point I remember Melody Maker pitting him against Roy in one of their silly campaigns. They loved battles between artists – Stones and Beatles being the prime one. I could not see the point. I liked them both. Sometimes I preferred one and sometimes the other.
While Al never met the heights of Roy’s barbed epics, he did produce some great songs and was great to see live. I still have all those great early albums and Al did me the honour of signing them all.
Al’s first album – Bedsitter Images – suffered from a poppy production but the next few did away with most of that.
From seeing him quite often in the late sixties and early seventies I went decades without seeing him at all. I had a family and didn’t get out so much. Al had a huge couple of albums (Year of the Cat and Time Passages) and was playing big venues and he’d moved to America.
So I was quite interested to see that he was coming to Hull. He was playing with Dave Nachmanoff on second guitar, who was superb.
Well forty five years had made a bit of a difference. He did not look the same – but then none of us do. But he was very relaxed, even though suffering from jet-lag, had a great chilled personality, a great laugh and came out with some wonderful stories about Robert Fripp, Jimmy Page and Bert Jansch.
The set was all songs from Year of the Cat onwards and I would love to have heard a few of those old Folk songs again, but you can’t have everything. You can never have everything can you? His songs, full of historical reference, were all of a high standard and were entertaining on many levels. I like a singer who engages the brain as well as the gut.
It was a great set. I thoroughly enjoyed it – much more than I thought I would. His charming personality shone through. His songs were well-crafted. His voice was still great. Dave’s guitar was an excellent supplement. We had a great evening.
Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos but I did anyway.
I had a little chat with him afterwards. It was good to see him.
I couldn’t help thinking that he looked more like a bank manager than a survivor of the sixties underground Folk scene. Ho hum. What time does to us. But I’ll definitely look out for him again.