Al Stewart

Long before it became infamous for an utterly bonkers roundabout cluttered with a forest of traffic lights and confusing road markings, Canford Bottom was just a nonconsequential part of the parish of Colehill in Wimborne. It was here that the Stewart family, mother Joan, step-father Basil and only son Alastair set up home in a quaint thatched cottage at the end of a quiet country lane.

Born Alastair Ian Stewart in Glasgow on 5th September 1945, Al’s father, also an Alastair and an RAF officer, was killed in action during World War Two, six months before his birth. At the time Joan was living with her stern father-in-law in Greenock, but after the birth of her son, his overbearing manner forced her to leave Scotland in 1949 and move south to her blitz damaged family home in Chelsea. The condition of the house made life difficult for Joan and her young son and after barely escaping with her life when a ceiling collapsed around her, she moved to Stratford-upon-Avon, where Al attended the private Croft House School followed by Browne Prep School. At eleven he was sent to Wycliffe College in Stonehouse, Gloucestershire as a boarder. While he was enduring an unhappy existence in a school he detested, his mother married her partner Basil and they moved to Bournemouth where they ran the small Buttery café. Eventually the couple moved to Canford Bottom where, on one of his visits home, Al travelled into Bournemouth and bought his first guitar from Minns Music in Gervis Place for fifteen shillings. It was on this guitar that he wrote his first song, a simple ditty called “Lay Your Bones Down Jones”. Back at school, the influence of Lonnie Donegan spurred Al into forming a skiffle group called The Snowballs with three of his peers and performed at school concerts. Over time, they expanded their repertoire to include rock ‘n’ roll and pop hits of the day and changed their name to The Sunbeams. During a summer holiday in the late fifties, Al traded in his guitar for a superior Hofner bought with the money he earned while working at a branch of Fortes in Westover Road, Bournemouth.

On one of his many forays into Bournemouth town centre on the bus, Al spied a reverb unit in the window of a secondhand shop in Moordown. The device failed to impress him but Jon Kremer, son of Monty Kremer the shop’s owner did, as they both shared a passion for the author John Wyndham, guitars, records and The Shadows. Jon would eventually open Bus Stop Records in Westbourne, next to the Grand Cinema where he traded for forty years. The pair became inseparable and would frequent the many clubs and cafes around town such as the El Cabala coffee shop in Old Christchurch Road, Le Disque A Go! Go! in Holdenhurst Road and the Pavilion Ballroom, where they regularly attended the ‘Big Beat Night’ on a Tuesday and worshipped at the feet of the Sands Combo starring Bournemouth’s local star in the making, Zoot Money. Al also found himself in the orbit of Robert Fripp for a short time, as Fripp gave the budding guitarist a dozen lessons from a cramped room at the back of Don Strikes shop in Westbourne. Not that Al found the tuition particularly helpful, as the future King Crimson founder attempted to teach him convoluted jazz chords which he equated to trying to learn algebra at school, two things he never had to use in his life.

Pavilion Ballroom (1)
The Pavilion stage where Al Stewart made his Bournemouth debut with Tony Blackburn and The Sabres (Photograph John Cherry)

From the outset, Al was looking for a way into the local music scene while working as a junior drapery sales assistant in the department store Beales. One evening a gig came his way out of the blue as a stand in for the indisposed guitarist in Tony Blackburn’s Rovers. He made his first appearance at the Pavilion after learning the Rovers set in thirty minutes, cooped up in the poky dressing room backstage. A couple of months later, Blackburn attended a gig at the Beacon Royal Hotel by the Kapota All Stars and proposed that their bass player, Pete Ballam, form a band to back him at the ‘Big Beat Night’ as his original group had deserted him. Pete gathered together drummer Barry Barnes, guitarist Geoff Westwood and Al for rehearsals in Pete’s parent’s front room in Longfleet Road, Poole. The group that would become The Sabres, perfected a routine of warming up the dancers with a set of covers and the odd Stewart original, before introducing the star of the show decked out in a glittery lamé jacket. Blackburn would run through a repertoire of recent pop hits such as “Spanish Harlem”, “Dancing Shoes” and “How Do You Do It”, sometimes while writhing on the floor in front of his admirers, before The Sabres brought the evening to a close. As is often the case, the singer thought the guitarist was too loud, however, it was a moot point as their short time together came to an acrimonious end over their payment. Tony and the night’s promoter, Jan Ralfini, conspired to pay the band below union rate and rather than accepting their lot, the group stuck to their principles and quit.

Brangore Village Hall 1
Bransgore village hall where The Trappers rehearsed and played countless gigs during 1963 (Photograph John Cherry)

The band struck out on their own as The Trappers and replaced Tony Blackburn with another Tony, Tony Barrett from Westbourne. The new group rapidly gained a loyal following from their heavy schedule of dates at Le Disque A Go! Go!, the Cellar Club in Poole, the Ship Inn at Wool, the Bure Club and Bransgore Village Hall which also doubled as their rehearsal room. Over time, the group became disenchanted with Barrett’s less than impressive singing skills and his liking for a tipple and slimmed down to a quartet. Al took full advantage of his new position in the band by taking over the vocals and slotting more of his ever-expanding repertoire of original songs into the set. In September 1963 the group tried their luck in a ‘Best Band in Dorset’ competition held at the drill hall in Weymouth, but they came in a disappointing second to Joe E. Martin and the Crescendoes. It wasn’t until much later that they discovered the event was rigged in favour of the Weymouth based group and that they didn’t stand a cat in hell’s chance of lifting the trophy.

Al Stewart and the Trappers Bransgore
The Trappers at the Bransgore village hall circa 1963 Left to Right: Barry Barnes, Al Stewart, Geoff Westwood, Pete Ballam & Tony Barrett vocals

The aforementioned Crescendoes were formed in Weymouth by vocalist Joe Hodgkins a.k.a. Joe E. Martin and the Luboff brothers, Dave and Tony, in 1963. By 1965 they were touring the clubs and bierkellers of Germany with a different line-up of Joe Hodgkins and Dave Gumbrell a.k.a. Harry Gee on second guitar, the only Weymouth members left and a Bournemouth contingent of Terry Squires on guitar, drummer Kenn Westwood and Pete Ballam a.k.a. Jack C. Peters on bass. The quintet released a lone self-titled album and four singles on the Metronome label, one of which, “Little Egypt”, was a hit in Germany. In 1966 the band broke up and left the fleshpots of Frankfurt and Hamburg behind and returned to England. However, Joe Hodgkins and Kenn Westwood had a rethink as they were still receiving offers of work from club in Germany and kept the group going, by Westwood forsaking the drums to become second vocalist and recruiting guitarist Keith Collins, bassist Roger Deacon-Smith and drummer Dave ‘Eddie’ Edwards from the South Coast 5ive plus John Goldsworthy-Higgs on rhythm guitar. The South Coast 5ive were originally formed by Kenn Westwood’s guitar playing brother Geoff, who recruited Keith Collins from The Trappers after he had replaced Al Stewart in the winter of 1963, plus The Trappers drummer Barry Barnes, later to be replaced by Dave ‘Eddie’ Edwards. Mike Domay on twelve string guitar and bassist Roger Deacon-Smith completed the line-up. In 1967 The Cresecendoes morphed into The Fadeyevsky Family, named after a region in eastern Russia, and became known for playing Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Beach Boys and Four Freshmen covers due to the six excellent vocalists in their ranks. The band broke up a year later.

The Crescendoes Discography
The Cresecndoes Singles

Heidi-Heidi-Ho (Minnie the Moocher) c/w Chance of a Lifetime: Metronome (M 466) 1965

Little Egypt c/w Run Joe: Metronome (M 800) 1965

Uncle Willy c/w Not For Me: Metronome (M 825) 1965

Han’s Knees c/w She Looks Just Like My Baby: Metronome (M 870) 1965

The Crescendoes Albums

The Crescendoes: Metronome (MLP 15.200) 1965

The Crescendoes: Go Down (GDR 44007) 2001 CD with eight bonus tracks

Meanwhile, back in Bournemouth in August 1963, The Beatles were in town for a weeklong residency at the Gaumont cinema. Wanting to meet their heroes up close, Jon Kremer and Al concocted a scheme to blag their way backstage for a meeting with the group under the pretence of being representatives for Rickenbacker guitars. Their ruse fooled the stage-door attendant, despite their tender ages, and were ushered to the dressing room where The Beatles were holed up between performances. The pair couldn’t believe their luck when John Lennon came out into the corridor and chatted to them about guitars and handed over his famous black Rickenbacker for Al to try. For the full story on how the encounter unfolded and more on Al Stewart’s teenage years with his best friend, read Jon Kremer’s excellent book, Bournemouth A Go! Go!.

Al Stewart Dave La Kaz and the G Men
Dave La Kaz and the G Men on Bournemouth beach circa 1964 Left to Right: Dave La Kaz (Dave Woodfield), Al Stewart, Derek Scammel, Terry Squires & Bev Strike

In the winter of 1963 Al moved on to pastures new, joining Dave La Kaz and the G Men, replacing The Soundtracks bound bassist, Mike Piggot. The remaining G Men were composed of Dave La Kaz a.k.a. Dave Woodfield on vocals (he had recently come from The Bluetones replacing original vocalist Bill Napier), Terry Squires on lead guitar, Derek Scammel on drums and Don Strike’s son Bev, who switched to bass from rhythm guitar on Piggot’s departure, leaving Al to fill the void on guitar and Vox Continental organ. Through their association with Avon Entertainments based in offices above a shop on the corner of Old Christchurch Road and Fir Vale Road, Dave La Kaz and the G Men became one of the most popular and busiest groups in the area. The money wasn’t great, twenty-five quid a night between them, but some of the gigs were. A support slot with the Rolling Stones at Reading Town Hall, where The Stones ignored them apart from a friendly Brian Jones, a one-off gig at the swanky Dorchester Hotel in London and sharing stages with Bruce Forsyth and the comedian Frankie Howerd in cabaret, were all memorable experiences.

While he was with the G Men, the band recorded a demo disc, “It Was Not When She Smiled” at Dubreq Studios in London, the first Stewart composition to be committed to vinyl, although the singer on this occasion was Dave La Kaz. A couple of months later Al entered the small Wessex Sound Studios in Yelverton Road, Bournemouth with guitarist Terry Squires, bassist Pete Ballam and future Uriah Heep drummer Lee Kerslake to record a cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’” backed with another Stewart original, “The Sky Will Fall Down”. For the recording, he called the band The Al Stewart Group. By the time of recording, Bob Dylan had become a huge influence on Al and would shape his writing, both lyrically and instrumentally, for years to come. As an experiment, he ventured up to London and tried tipping his toe into the world of solo performance by undertaking a couple of low key pub gigs. On his return he left the G Men and picked up short tenures with The Master Sounds and The Monks from Wimborne, but by February 1965 the lure of the capital had become too strong and he left the provincial Bournemouth scene for good. Initially, he rented a room from friends of the family in Fulham and picked a job with the stationery retailers W. H. Smith to help pay the rent.

Musically he was still looking for a way into a group situation and auditioned for The Paramounts, who would later become Procol Harum, the Bo Street Runners, plus the lesser-known Primatifs and Simon and the Surreys. But it all came to nothing. However, a Bob Dylan concert at the Royal Albert Hall in May 1965 completely changed his perspective, as he traded in his Gibson Les Paul electric guitar for an Epiphone acoustic and set about becoming a British version of his idol. A chance one-off performance at Bunjie’s Coffee House in Litchfield Street, Soho landed him a regular Friday night slot hosting folk nights with another Bournemouth born performer, Peter Bellamy. Coupled with regular gigs at Les Cousins, another recently opened folk club down the road in Greek Street, he was soon mixing with other artists on the emerging folk scene such as John Martyn, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Sandy Denny, Davey Graham, Nick Drake, Roy Harper and Ralph McTell, plus visiting Americans Joni Mitchell, Arlo Guthrie and Jackson C. Frank. Frank invited Al along to CBS Studios in Regent Street to accompany him on the song “Yellow Walls”, which appeared on his self-titled debut album. The producer of the session was Paul Simon, who Al shared digs with in the East End. He also became friendly with a rather odd Japanese artist called Yoko Ono, after he invested £100 in her eighty minute film of approximately one hundred naked bottoms called Number 4.

Al Stewart Les Cousins 1965
Al Stewart at Les Cousins in 1965

In August 1966 Al released his Mike Leander produced debut single, “The Elf”, in a one-off deal with Decca. Inspired by Legolas the elf from Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, it’s reminiscent of the slight psych / pop Donovan was churning out around the same time. The B side is of interest due to the appearance of Jimmy Page playing guitar on a version of The Yardbirds “Turn Into Earth”. The following January he signed with a new manager, Roy Guest, a failed folk singer with plenty of contacts and the gift of the gab, who sent Al around the country on an endless treadmill of one-nighters to raise his profile. He also negotiated a record deal with the large American CBS label, the home of Al’s hero, Bob Dylan. His first album, Bedsitter Images, was produced by the untested Guest who, to Al’s dismay, stymied the recording with a muddy mix and a twee thirty-five-piece orchestra conducted and arranged by Alexander Faris. To aid promotion, Guest staged a prestigious overambitious and ultimately loss making concert at the Royal Festival Hall with the Sinfonia of London. The show failed to attract a large audience, and the album died a death. Al disliked the original Bedsitter Images so much, that he he remixed it, re-jigged the running order, added a couple of new songs and re-released it in a new sleeve three years later.

Despite the false dawn, he kept up his gigging commitments at Bunjies, Le Cousins, the Troubadour and the Marquee in London, plus various clubs, colleges and universities around the country. He also appeared on high-profile bills at the Royal Albert Hall with the Watersons and Roy Harper, the Royal Festival Hall, this time as part of a bill with Joni Mitchell, Fairport Convention and Jackson C. Frank, the ‘Woburn Music Festival’ with Jimi Hendrix, Family and Pentangle amongst a host of others and the 7th and ‘8th ‘National Jazz and Blues Festival’s’. For the latter, he hired Fairport Convention as his backing band. TV and radio appearances, particularly John Peel’s Top Gear show, brought his brand of highly personal song writing to a wider audience and for a guest spot on My Kind of Folk in September 1968, he was backed, for the first and only time, by fellow Wimborne resident Robert Fripp along with Michael and Peter Giles and Ian McDonald, in fact an embryonic King Crimson.

Bournemouth Gardens where the liaison mentioned in the song “Love Chronicles” took place

His follow-up album, Love Chronicles, became notorious for its epic nineteen minute title track. The song focused on Stewart’s fumbled sexual encounters, most notably the time he popped his cherry in the pleasure gardens of his hometown. The song was also infamous for being the first time the word ‘Fucking’, and a mention of Bournemouth, appeared on a mainstream recording, a rather unfortunate pairing for the town. Apart from the furore kicked up over a strategically placed F-bomb, the album featured excellent lead guitar throughout by Jimmy Page and sympathetic backing from pseudonymous members of Fairport Convention dodging contractual obligations. The record became a favourite of students and bedsit romantics who could identify with its angst-ridden lyrics. Voted ‘Folk Album’ of the year by Melody Maker and feted by the NME in a gushing review which declared, “This singer pours his life and times into the tracks and shows why he is one of the best singer songwriters on the folk circuit today”, Love Chronicles stands as one of his finest early works.

By the time he followed up with Zero She Flies in 1970, Al was amid a traumatic breakup with his long-term girlfriend, Mandi. The songs were written before the split but recorded while he was in a fug of depression. The album was similar in content to his previous release, apart from the song “Manuscript”, which stood out due to its First World War references, a portent of what was to come lyrically later on in his career. Although recorded during a difficult time in his life, the reviews were still upbeat with Disc & Music Echo stating,Stewart writes very pretty songs that are strong at the same time. His lyrics are good with some lovely images and ideas, especially on the title track. Inevitably he will be compared to Dylan, but as it’s such a nice album it doesn’t matter”. Later that year Al headed down to the tiny village of Pilton in Somerset, to play the ‘Worthy Farm Pop Festival’, Michael Eavis’s opening gambit in the world of open air rock shows that eventually evolved into the ‘Glastonbury Festival’. On a bill that included Tyrannosaurus Rex, Keith Christmas, Stackridge, Quintessence, Sam Apple Pie and the Amazing Blondel, Al played to a small crowd of 1,500 people who had paid £1, which included as much free milk as one could drink. He closed the year out with a successful five-week college tour and a ‘Christmas Concert in Aid of the Conservation Society’ at the Royal Albert Hall with The Strawbs and Hardin & York.

During 1971 his fee grew from a respectable £25 a night to, on occasions, a whopping £500 as the venues grew from tiny smoke filled folk clubs and colleges to prestigious halls such as the Lyceum and Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. One of the provincial shows was at the Bournemouth Winter Gardens on 27th October with Steeleye Span and Andy Roberts, his first hometown gig for over six years. Over the autumn months, Al entered Trident Studios with the keyboard wiz Rick Wakeman, the country rock band Quiver and various members of Brinsley Schwarz to record album number four, Orange. Over the last year his muse had deserted him because of depression, but for the new album he took on the breakup head on with songs that dealt with the failed relationship. Despite the punchier, folk rock feel conjured up by new producer John Anthony, some critics thought Orange was just treading water, while others were still on board with the Disc & Music Echo affirming,The thought of Al Stewart going electric is enough to bring his most ardent fans out in a cold sweat. But fear not, for Al has produced an album well up to his remarkable Love Chronicles. His voice still has that fey quality, and his guitar playing has improved immeasurably. Al’s strong point has always been his lyrics and like his other albums this is full of tales of love, tales which can be related to anyone’s life”.

The following year he returned to Trident with almost the same bunch of musicians and recorded Past Present and Future, his first album to be released in America. The record marked a huge shift in his song writing from bedsit introversion to a broad, all-encompassing historical slant which became his trademark for years to come. Each song represented a decade in the 20th century, for example, “Post World War Two Blues” which begins in an autobiographical vein, before veering off into the Profumo scandal and Churchill’s annoyance at Mountbatten for giving away India. The two best songs are the longest, the eight minute “Roads to Moscow” which tackled the rarely acknowledged Russian human sacrifice in the defeat of the Nazi’s and a sprawling ten minute epic that focused on the famous soothsayer “Nostradamus”, which although too long to play on mainstream radio, proved to be a hit on the burgeoning FM stations in the US. Al’s new American manager, Luke O’Reilly, wangled the American release of the album on the tiny Janus label which, despite a miniscule promotional budget, pushed the album up to a modest number one hundred and thirty-three on the Billboard Rock Albums Chart. To heighten his profile across the pond, Al undertook a solo tour of the east coast, playing second billing to some of the most popular rock bands of the time. Although the gigs went mainly unnoticed and fell under the radar of the all-important rock press, he vowed to return with a full band. Which he did with the remnants of the progressive rock outfit Home, who were on the verge of splitting up after their vocalist walked out.

Modern Times was the first of a trio of albums produced by Alan Parsons, a successful partnership that cracked Al in the States and catapulted him into the charts. Recorded at Abbey Road, the album spawned his first minor US hit, “Carol”, a portrait of a promiscuous, drug fuelled groupie he observed during one of his first forays to America. The success of the single helped propel the album up to a respectable number thirty in the Billboard Top One Hundred. Stand out tracks included “Sirens of Titan”, named after a 1959 book by one of Al’s favourite authors Kurt Vonnegut, the mellow ballad “Not the One”, the rocking “Apple Cider Re-Constitution” and the title track inspired by the Charlie Chaplin film of the same name. To aid promotion he assembled a new band with keyboard players Peter Wood and Peter White, bassist Mark Griffiths, drummer Roger Swallow and his guitarist of choice Tim Renwick, who would later be replaced by Snowy White.

In 1975 Stewart set about recording his breakthrough album Year of the Cat back at Abbey Road. After a long gestation period, it finally hit the shops the following year on a new label in the UK, RCA, reaching number thirty-eight in the album charts. In the US the record put Al on the map by climbing up to number five on the Billboard Chart and produced two big selling singles in the title track, a co-write with Peter Wood, making number eight and the flamenco infused “On the Border”, which stalled just outside the top forty. Year of the Cat can still be heard regularly on the radio today alongside timeless classics such as “Layla” and “Hotel California” however, the success has dogged Al in his homeland as he has been branded a ‘One Hit Wonder’, despite the fact that the record only made a lowly thirty one in the top fifty.

1986, HANCOCK'S HALF HOUR
The comedian Tony Hancock spent his childhood and teenage years in Bournemouth 

The song “Year of the Cat” was originally inspired by the comedian Tony Hancock, who spent his formative years in Bournemouth. His mother Lily and father Jack, moved to the town when Tony was just three years old in 1927 and finally settled at the Durlston Court Hotel in Gervis Road (now the Hotel Celebrity) in 1933. Hancock learnt his trade treading the boards in Bournemouth at the Avon Road Social Club, the church hall of the Sacred Heart on Richmond Hill, the Theatre Royal in Albert Road and the Boscombe Hippodrome, before he enlisted into the RAF during the war and gained experience as an entertainer working for Ralph Reader’s ‘Gang Show’. After demob, he worked at the Windmill Theatre in Soho and appeared on radio in Workers Playtime, Variety Bandbox and Educating Archie. In 1954 he was handed his own show, Hancock’s Half Hour, which translated successfully to television, and by the time the show became the more concise Hancock, he was the biggest comedy star in Britain. However, Al Stewart saw the comedian at the Bournemouth Winter Gardens in September 1966 when Hancock’s career was on the skids brought about by alcoholism, depression and a self-doubt in his own ability. Al was struck by how forlorn and pathetic the comedian looked as he rehashed old routines, fluffed lines and lost his audience. Ten years later Al wrote a lyric based on the performance called “Foot of the Stage”, but changed its title and content to “Year of the Cat” after he was told by his American record company that they didn’t have a clue who Hancock was. Tony Hancock committed suicide in an Australian hotel room a broken man in 1968, less than two years after that fateful Winter Gardens show.

On the back of the success generated by Year of the Cat in the States, Al moved to Los Angeles where he made his home in the Hollywood hills. However, it took two years to write and record Time Passages, a period that gave his new American record company, Arista, the jitters as they thought his profile would slip out of the public’s conscientiousness. As things worked out they needn’t have worried, as he repeated the success of his previous album by reaching number ten and thirty-nine in the US and UK, respectively. His chart profile also remained high in the American singles charts as the title track became his biggest hit, peaking at number seven and the follow up, “Song on the Radio”, broke into the top thirty.

During 1978 and 1979 he toured extensively with his new backing band, Shot in the Dark, who became an entity in their own right recording a lone, unsuccessful, self-titled album in 1981 produced by Al and Chris Redmond. The same team also worked on Al’s next opus, 24 Carrots, at Davlen Studios in Los Angeles. The album carried on the trend of performing better Stateside than back home, as Britain was in the grip of a New Wave epidemic. Two songs, “Paint by Numbers” and “Mondo Sinistro”, revealed a harder edge while “Constantinople” and “Murmansk Run / Ellis Island” kept up the epic, historical themes. After a live album, Live / Indian Summer recorded at the Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles, he parted company with his band, split from his long time manger Luke O’Reilly and disappeared from the live circuit for nearly a year.

He returned in the new decade, with former Shot in the Dark member Peter White accompanying him on acoustic guitar, and over the next three years continued to tour the world maintaining a loyal fan base. The pair collaborated on the overtly political Russians and Americans in 1984, overseen by Heart producer Mike Flicker, who gave the record a radio friendly eighties sheen. His next release, Last Days of the Century, appeared on Enigma, an odd choice, as the label was home to the Heavy Metal bands Slayer, Poison and Stryper. This time out yet another new producer, Joe Chiccarelli, scuppered the album with eighties defining booming drums and cheesy synthesizers. The record sank, along with his doomed record label, Enigma. His next offering and second live album, Rhymes in Rooms, was a much better proposition featuring stripped down acoustic versions of some of his earlier songs, backed with sympathetic accompaniment from Peter White.

Chalbury (9)
The tiny All Saints Church in Chalbury, Dorset where Al married his partner of three years Kristine in 1991 (Photograph John Cherry)

In 1991 Al undertook a European tour which took in Poole Lighthouse and ended at All Saints Church in Chalbury, Dorset, where he married his partner of three years, Kristine. His lifelong friend Jon Kremer was best man and amongst the family and guests were former Wimborne resident Robert Fripp and the American songstress and sometime collaborator, Tori Amos. For 1993’s Famous Last Words, he returned to his folk roots utilising acoustic instruments on songs such as “Angel of Mercy” and “Trains”, while “Night Rolls In” and “Don’t Forget Me” retained some eighties trappings. The following year he played his last gig with Peter White and moved with his wife and daughter to San Rafael County, just over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.

Between the Wars, the first collaboration with former Wings guitarist Laurence Juber, covered major events from 1918 to 1939 such as Prohibition, the Great Depression and the Spanish Civil War. The same year Al, along with Keith Christmas, was invited back to Worthy Farm for the 25th anniversary of the ‘Glastonbury Festival’ where he joined new kids on the block Oasis, P J Harvey and Portishead. Five years later Juber collaborated again on Down in the Cellar, where Al combined his passion for music and wine on tracks such as “The Shiraz Shuffle”, “The Night the Band Got the Wine” and “Under a Wine Stained Moon”. Thirteen songs lavishing praise on the grape wouldn’t be everybody’s glass of vino but to Al, a passionate wine connoisseur, it made perfect sense, even if it wasn’t his wisest move commercially.

At the end of a twenty date UK tour in 2001, Al was frustrated that a gig in Bournemouth couldn’t be arranged and tasked Jon Kremer with booking the small Mr Smiths on Poole Hill in the Triangle. On the night, the venue was packed with friends from the sixties including Allan Azern, the former manager of Le Disque A Go! Go! and former Trappers guitarist Geoff Westwood, who joined Al for a rendition of “Walk Don’t Run” by The Ventures. Al was accompanied on the night by local keyboard player and owner of Room With a View Studios Steve Smith, Geoff Westwood’s brother Kenn on drums and the Europa String Choir.

Al Stewart
Al Stewart today

Since the new millennium Al has recorded just two studio albums, 2005’s A Beach Full of Shells and 2008’s Sparks of Ancient Light, both with Laurence Juber. However, his concert commitments have kept him busy, and the live Uncorked, with the American singer song writer Dave Nachmanoff in 2009, is a testament to that. In 2010, he was back at Glastonbury yet again as part of the 40th anniversary.

Over the last decade, Al has returned to the Bournemouth area twice. In 2014, he delighted a sold-out audience at the Tivoli in his hometown of Wimborne, the first time he ever appeared at the venue. While he was in town, Mr and Mrs Charleston, who bought the former Stewart family home in Canford Bottom, invited him back to look around the cottage where he spent his teenage years and to see the garden shed where he rehearsed all those years ago. Three years later he was back at the Pavilion in Bournemouth where he accompanied Tony Blackburn as a member of The Sabres back in 1962. This time he was the star of the show and was ably supported by long-time collaborator Dave Nachmanoff, onetime Sutherland Brothers and Quiver guitarist Tim Renwick and saxophonist / percussionist Marc Macisso. While he was in England, he was presented with a ‘Lifetime Achievement’ accolade at the ‘BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards’ ceremony held at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The statuette was presented by his old band leader Tony Blackburn, and in his acceptance speech he acknowledged the musicians who had inspired him, namely Lonnie Donegan and Bob Dylan. The nearest Al got to the area on his 2019 tour of the UK was the Salisbury City Hall, where he performed with his new backing band from Chicago, The Empty Pockets.

Al Stewart family home
Mr and Mrs Charleston at the Stewart’s former home in Canford Bottom (Photograph Bournemouth Echo)

Al remains a resident of Marin County with his wife Kristine and two daughters Violet and Daisy and still keeps in contact with friends from Bournemouth, especially his lifelong buddy Jon Kremer. He likes to play pinball machines in his spare time, and collecting and tasting vintage wines is still a passion. He is best known for his use of language, shunning the uninspiring “Moon in June” pap churned out by most pop hacks, he favours an articulate style of writing, inhabiting his songs with biographical detail and historic events. His music has a tendency to be classed as folk rock, although occasionally he has dabbled with progressive rock overtones. His voice has a fey, home counties resonance, that gives his music an unmistakable Englishness which is at odds with his Scottish birth and teenage years spent in Dorset, but it gives his music an uniqueness that is all his own.

For a comprehensive overview of his music, try the 2006 double CD, Al Stewart: The Definitive Pop collection on Rhino.

Al Stewart The Definitive Pop Collection 2006
Al Stewart Discography
Al Stewart Singles

The Elf c/w Turn Into Earth: Decca (F12467) 1966

Bedsitter Images c/w Swiss Cottage Manoeuvres: CBS (3034) 1967

Electric Los Angeles Sunset c/w My Enemies Have Sweet Voices: CBS (4843) 1970

The News From Spain c/w Elvaston Place: CBS (5351) 1970

Amsterdam c/w Songs Out of Clay: CBS (7992) 1972

You Don’t Even Know Me c/w I’m Falling: CBS (7763) 1972

Terminal Eyes c/w Last Days of June 1934: CBS (1791) 1973

Swallow Wind c/w Nostradamus: CBS (2397) 1974

Carol c/w Next Time: CBS (3254) 1975

Year of the Cat c/w Broadway Hotel: RCA (2771) 1976

Sand in Your Shoes c/w Lord Grenville RCA (PB-5073) 1977

On the Border c/w Flying Sorcery: RCA (5019) 1977

Time Passages c/w Almost Lucy: RCA (5121) 1978

Song on the Radio c/w A Man For All Seasons: RCA (5139) 1979

Mondo Sinistro c/w Merlin’s Time: RCA (RCA 2) 1980

Paint By Numbers c/w Optical Illusions: RCA (RCA 17) 1980

Indian Summer c/w Pandora: RCA (RCA 149) 1981

Lori, Don’t Go Right Now c/w Accident on 3rd Street: RCA (414) 1984

King of Portugal c/w Josephine Baker: Virgin (ENV 4) 1988

Al Stewart Albums

Bedsitter Images: CBS (63087) 1967

Love Chronicles: CBS (63460) 1969

Zero She Flies: CBS (63848) 1970

Orange: CBS (64730) 1972

Past Present and Future: CBS (65726) 1974

Modern Times: CBS (80477) 1975

Year of the Cat: RCA (LP 3015) 1976

Time Passages: RCA (LP 3026) 1978

24 Carrots: RCA (PL 25306) 1980

Indian Summer: RCA (K 9001) 1981 Live recording

Russians and Americans: RCA (PL 70307) 1984

Last Days of the Century: Enigma (DI 73316) 1988

Chronicles: Best of Al Stewart: EMI (CDP 7963702) 1991 A retrospective

Rhymes in Rooms: EMI (CDP 7983732) 1992 Live recording with Peter White

Famous Last Words: Permanent Records (PERMCD 15) 1993

Between the Wars: EMI (3710) 1995 With Lauren Juber

Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: AMR 1996 Limited fan club release

Down in the Cellar: EMI (5314262) 2000

Time Passage Live: BMG (46960) 2002 Live recording

A Beach Full of Shells: EMI (3113442) 2005

The Definitive Pop Collection: Rhino (R2 70807) 2006 Double CD retrospective

Sparks of Ancient Light: EMI (2348702) 2008

Uncorked: Wallaby Trails Recordings (WAL 001) 2010 Live recording with Dave Nachmanoff

Albums with Al Stewart as a Guest

Jackson C Frank Jackson C Frank: Columbia (33SX 1788) 1965 Al played on one song, “Yellow Walls”

John Martyn The Tumbler: Island (ILPS9091) 1968 As producer

Shot in the Dark Shot in the Dark: RSO (2394 297) 1981 As producer with Chris Desmond

Albert Hammond Legend: Sony (88697813082) 2010 Al duets on one song “It Never Rains in Southern California”

David Nachmanoff Step Up: Troubadour Records (TR011) 2011 Al duets on one song “Sheila Won’t Be Coming Home”

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