Paul Jackson Music

Paul Jackson Music

Friday, 28 June 2013

#10: Record Store Years

Visiting record shops is something I don’t do as much as I would like to or as much as I used to. These days shopping is quite a different experience from that of my teenage years, and rural Kent offers less in the way of vinyl emporiums than the Yorkshire towns I grew up in in the mid-eighties. Though a record shop in Tunbridge Wells was kind enough to  order in for me  a double vinyl edition of Kraftwerk’s “Tour De France Soundtracks” album a few years ago, it is now an infrequent activity, whereas in my younger years, “the record shop” played an active role in my vinyl adventures.
When I started buying records I was living in Elland, West Yorkshire, from where you could catch a bus to either Halifax in one direction, or Huddersfield in the other. Each town offered a variety of record stores which I would regularly visit at weekends and in school holidays.
It is one thing to vividly remember these shops, but another to remember the records I bought in them; I wouldn’t want to portray myself as some sort of music geek. (!)
Initially these would be family trips out and I was lucky enough at the age of seven to be allowed to buy the Adam and the Ants “Prince Charming” LP. A year later, my mum took me to a record shop in Halifax for the sole purpose of letting me buy Adam Ant's “Goody Two Shoes” single. There was also a large vinyl record section in Asda supermarket where we would do our ‘weekly shop’. One day, instead of being allowed to buy a Star Wars figure, I chose Adam Ant’s “Strip” LP.  All of these ‘record buying’ moments were memorable occasions. (Surely they don’t count towards being a music geek though, do they?).

A little while later I would start travelling into ‘town’ either on my own or with friends. In my later teens meeting my friend Chris on the bus for a day of record perusing became a regular venture complete with fast food meal intervals and then tea back home while we rifled through our purchases.
Occasionally our destinations would stretch a little further to Bradford, Leeds, Wakefield and Keighley after I had made careful studies of the Yellow Pages and phone directories listing all the record shops I could find. But Halifax and Huddersfield were the main ports of call for several years.

A short walk from the bus station in Huddersfield took you to the main high street where Our Price offered the latest chart releases and a good stock of back catalogue. Here I would pester the staff for news on pending releases from artists I liked. Next door was Woolworths that had a wall of shelving displaying each 7” single in the Top 40 starting with No.1 at the top left. I remember looking through a pile of newly released Frankie Goes To Hollywood “Welcome To The Pleasuredome” albums and wondering if I would be allowed to buy on. I also sifted through the basket of Streetsounds Hip Hop Electro albums and choosing which one to buy this week. And I also remember buying an LP of Ennio Morricone music featuring a picture of Clint Eastwood on the sleeve that looked out at me from the rack.  

Tucked away in the shopping arcades were shops such as Bostock Records; a smaller unit with a wealth of vinyl releases. There I bought Adam Ant’s “Friend Or Foe” album in 1982 (We’re verging on nerd territory now)
Further along on another main shopping street stood EGS records which arrived at the end of the eighties and would offer very low priced back catalogue material. 99p for Thompson Twins’ “Here’s To Future Days” album complete with a remix 12” single inside is still one of the best bargains I’ve ever found. Here I also purchased the import double pack of Pet Shop Boys “Actually” and the 12” of “Always On My Mind”. (Okay, I am what I am). EGS also used to sell sealed bags of 7” singles and 12” singles as a kind of lucky dip. You didn’t know what was inside until you’d paid and stood outside ripping the bag open to see if it was worth the purchase. The best I did was two KLF 7” singles; “Kylie Said To Jason” and “What Time Is Love?”.
Over the road was Fulcrum records; a tiny shop that stocked mainly dance music releases. Here I bought “Rofo’s Theme” by Rofo, Marc Almond’s “Jacky”, Digitalis’ “Accepting” and, most notably, the German language release of Kraftwerk’s “The Mix” album.
A few doors down was Big Tree that had a good stock of new and back catalogue records. Although it seems early on, I’m pretty sure it was from here I bought Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” album in 1984 and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” which was still selling well two years after it was released.
There were also music sections in other shops such as WH Smith where I bought new releases such as Streetsounds Hip Hop Electro volume 13 in 1986, and singles including Cliff Richard and the Young Ones’ “Living Doll” (Comic Relief version) and Band Aid “Do They Know It’s Christmas”.

There was also a record section in the basement of Woods music shop that stocked mainly instruments and sheet music. There I bought the soundtrack to the Granada TV series “Sherlock Holmes”, by Patrick Gowers, much to the bemusement and horror of a friend I later bumped into on that day who was focused solely on hip hop music. He couldn’t work out how I could be into the Sherlock Holmes incidental music as well as Run DMC.
Bradleys Records had branches in both Huddersfield and Halifax and it was in the former branch I bought chart singles such as Wham’s “I’m Your Man” when it hit No. 1 in 1985, and also album releases by Doug E Fresh and Whistle.
My cousin introduced me to another record shop in Huddersfield called Dead Wax that was in the Byram Arcade. As we climbed the stairs he told me to picture a room filled with as many records as I could possibly imagine… and then double it. That was Dead Wax. A medium sized room filled floor to ceiling with stacked boxes of vinyl. It was quite a job to navigate around the shop and find the sections you wanted to look through. Quite often you’d have to ask the guy behind the counter for a particular artist and he would reach somewhere and hand you a pile of Pet Shop Boys 7” singles or something. Sadly there was a fire at the shop and for a long time after there were boxes of damaged stock for sale at reduced prices with bits of ash at the end of the sleeves. Last time I went to visit, several years ago, the shop had been replaced by a hairdressers.

Over in Halifax there were the two Groove record shops ran by Jeff and Dianne; Groove and Groove 2. I remember buying the second single by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince called “The Magnificent Jazzy Jeff” as well as several other single releases. On a Monday morning in 1990 I can remember standing outside Groove 2 records waiting for them to open and the arrival, and opening, of the cardboard boxes of new releases. I was about to go away on a course, via my school, and there was time to nip to town and buy the new Pet Shop Boys single, “So Hard”, on 7” and 12” formats.
For part of the year I had a Saturday job in the Halifax branch of Woods music shop which was round the corner from Square Records ran by Alan. My lunch break from Woods would usually involve me nipping round there for a good rummage through the boxes.
Square Records later moved to the Piece Hall which, at that time, was awash with independent shops of all kinds before rising rents squeezed the traders out. One of them was occupied by Wall Of Sound where on buying Kraftwerk’s “Radioactivity” LP, both myself and the owner Elliot were convinced it was scratched when he played it in the shop, until we discovered that the first track was called "Geiger Counter" and the clicks were actual part of the track. Here I also bought New Order’s “Blue Monday” 12” single, many years after it was released but it seemed to be a necessary purchase a few days before I would move to Manchester.

Over the years I have heard from friends of which shops have disappeared and which shops are still there. They remain great memories, and in the same way the character Rob in Nick Hornby’s “High Fidelity” novel and film has biographical recollections of each record in his collection, many of the singles and albums I have here in this room still conjure up pictures of the shops I bought them in, the people I bought them with, and the staff I bought them from. 

Friday, 21 June 2013

#9: Recording Update - Track progress

Only an update on recordings this week so nothing too drawn out.
I've continued work on the "Tonic Proud" project and thought it would be a good idea to keep a record of its progress here on the blog for those interested. I'll reveal the full titles when they are near completion.

#1 ["T.C"]
A track that has been mentally building for around eight years now. I didn't have all the sounds I wanted back then so I never progressed with it. But in the last five years my musical sound palette has expanded and I can now get it closer to how I envisaged it. So I recently did a rough guide demo to build on while I work on the sounds and other musical parts.

#2 ["L.T."]
An old track I've always wanted to redo in it's original arrangement. I've started putting it together bit by bit now based on the original programming that I had kept. Whether or not I can pull off the lead part when it comes to it remains to be seen.... or heard even.

#3 ["C"]
#4 ["A"]
Both of these tracks were written in the mid nougties where I tried out rough demos. In the last few months I've reconstructed them and managed to get them nearly finished except for the lead parts.

#5 ["L.I.D."]
I finished the backing of this several years ago but haven't yet managed to write the lead part successfully. Every now and then I rewrite it in the hope that one day I'll be happy enough to record it properly.

#6 ["I"]
A version of this track was finished about nine years ago but I always had plans to expand on it. I've now more or less finished the main track except for the lead.

#7 ["D.Y.M."]
For years this was just an eight bar looped demo that I didn't know what to do with. In recent years I've added a chorus section to it and more recently I tried to rework the track. Initially it wasn't working out and I considered scrapping it. The following week I gave it another try and it started coming together so it's now a near complete backing track I'm happy with,

#8 ["A.T."]
The idea for this track was born about three or four years ago and has gradually had bits mentally added to it. However I've not yet tried doing any recording or programming for it.

#9 ["T.M."]
Another track that I've not yet started recording but have worked out an arrangement for it.

#10 ["D"]
An old track I've wanted to rework for many years now. I reprogrammed and rerecorded this in the last few months and I'm quite pleased with it.

#11 ["G"]
This track has been fully composed and arranged in my head for nearly nine years and it has never once changed or had anything added to it. But to this day I have yet to put down a single note onto the sequencer for it. So I'm quite looking forward to finally realising the original concept and hopefully capturing the sound I've had ingrained in me for so long.

So there we have it. Not too exciting or interesting to read but for those like-minded few I will update the above text from time to time. Then hopefully before the end of the year I'll upload something to listen to. 

Thursday, 13 June 2013

#8 Musical 'moments'

Among the many pop records I like there are a select few that contain a particular moment which I like to call… Well I don’t actually know what to call it really. It’s a peak point. A lift. Or maybe I should just call it ‘the moment’. It’s the point when there is some change or surge in the musical recording, arrangement and performance that raises the goose bumps and ‘shivers the spine’. It’s not something that occurs in all my favourite songs, and it’s not always something that I look for in a record. But when I find it, it’s hard not to keep going back to the beginning of the song and listening to it again. And regardless of how many times you’ve heard the song, the effect is always… always the same. It’s not specifically always connected with the composition, or a particular arrangement of the song, but for me it’s in the recorded and mixed version of a particular performance or studio production. The same band may perform the song live but I won’t always get that ‘moment’ in the same way because I can’t help comparing it to the version on the record.
The ‘moment’ can usually be a mixture of a familiar melody and chord change coming back in a bigger arrangement, or even just a key change, or sometimes something new happening. The ‘moment’ only works in context of the record for me. Jumping to that point in the song, regardless of how well you know it, never results in the full goose bump effect. It’s important to hear it at the moment it’s placed in the song knowing what it has followed. Context is key. 

A few of my current favourite ‘moments’ of ‘piloerection’, I believe is the technical term, are below.

The Divine Comedy “Generation Sex”  
This driving pop tune has a great arrangement throughout of brass, organ, timpani, harp and band that builds and sweeps along. If there are strings in the main part of the song, I can’t really hear them. But when the song drops back to the sampled speaking, there then occurs at 2.23 (on this linked version) a big surge of orchestra with strings high up in the air right at the foreground with the guitar solo. The whole coda then goes through a new chord sequence before bringing the track to a close.  Every time I hear the record, at a suitable volume,  2.23 is the ‘moment’ for me.

Pet Shop Boys “Left To My Own Devices”
In 1988, Neil and Chris teamed up with Trevor Horn for this lavish production of symphonic house pop with Richard Niles conducting a huge orchestra over multiple layers of sequencer lines. Anyone who knows this record must surely know ‘the moment’ I’m going to talk about.
After an orchestral introduction, the track kicks into a dance pop track with orchestral elements sitting in the background until the big orchestral break over a VI – VII – I chord progression (always a winner) swoops into action (2.37 on the linked file).
Pet Shop Boys sample this moment for their live concerts when they perform this as it’s such an important part of the song. Except in 2004, at the Trevor Horn 25th anniversary concert, they performed it with Trevor Horn’s band and full orchestra. So all aspects of the arrangement including a lot of the musicians and singers on the record were there in full glory.

Marc Almond “My Hand Over My Heart” 
Staying with Trevor Horn, he produced this track for Marc Almond in 1991 for the album Tenement Symphony. There are actually a couple of ‘moments’ in this. One is just simply a key change. The song is so full of orchestral colour as well as a choir that a surge in the arrangement doesn’t seem possible. Surely there’s no room! But a big keychange moment on a repeated chorus takes the track somewhere and my neck hairs are at attention. (3.20). The other ‘moment’ for me isn’t actually a surge in the music but almost the other way. Following what sounds like a big finale landing on the biggest orchestral and choral chord in pop history, the track kicks back in for a more laid back instrumental outro moving through various chords. (4.16)

The Divine Comedy “Our Mutual Friend” 
Returning to The Divine Comedy, Neil Hannon and Joby Talbot being masters of the orchestral pop arrangement, this song not only contains a goose bump ’moment’ but can often go hand in hand with an assault on the tear ducts. The whole arrangement from start to finish is so beautiful and pulls the heartstrings that you know you’re going to be in trouble should a ‘moment’ occurs. And it’s the orchestral high register strings and mid-range horns that do the job (3.44).

Adam And The Ants “Scorpios”
This is actually mainly for a one bar drum solo that leads into a short instrumental coda of the song. The whole song has an amazing brass and flute led arrangement and sounds like no other pop record I’ve ever heard. The record company wanted it to be a single but Adam couldn’t envisage a video or visual side to the song enough. The true visionary he is. So it remained only an album track, but what an opener to an album. The only live version of this I’ve heard doesn’t feature an orchestra so the ‘moment’ occurs only on this recording (2.28). It’s a fleeting moment but it does the job.

Benjamin Britten “Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra”
Now I’ve been saying that ‘the moment’ for me is connected with the recording and arrangement as much as the composition. When it comes to ‘classical works’ (in the general sense), these can be performed, interpreted and arranged in many different, and often subtle, ways depending on the choice of orchestral players, conductor and, when it comes to sound balance, the venue. This is a piece I first heard as a teenager and I’ve loved it ever since. The version I first heard and continue to play is the recording of Benjamin Britten conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. That is the version embedded in me that I can’t help but compare other versions to. So for me the ‘moment’ occurs on that recording. All the performances of it I’ve heard over the years either on record or in concert are aiming for the big finale in much the same way, but there’s something about the balance and mix of instruments on that first recorded version I heard that remains definitive for me. By comparison, other versions may be too fast in some places, the brass may be dominating too much in one part, the sound of the horns isn’t the same… all sorts of things jump out to me as being markedly different from the Britten recording.  The piece is quite a bit longer than the other examples above and the only version I could find close to it is in two parts on YouTube. I can’t find a link to the actual Britten recording and therefore I can’t point you to what is ‘the moment’ for me, but this version conducted by Michael Tilson-Thomas does a pretty good job. It is a little distorted but the excitement shines through I feel.
The piece opens with an arrangement of Purcell’s majestic Rondo theme before Britten takes you through various orchestral sections for variations on the theme and general 'playing-about'. Then at 5.31 (of part 2) we get the Fugue by Britten starting with piccolo and building up bit by bit until the full orchestra is unleashed into one big party. Then at 7.24, the 'moment' occurs where underneath this energetic and fast paced orchestral fugue, the brass come in with a rousing reprise of the Purcell theme.  The time passed between the introduction and this point is quite important as the familiarity of the repeated main theme, after such a lengthy journey through variations, is essential for its effect on my being.

Part 1

Part 2

So there are just a few moments, peaks, high-points, that occur on a selection of records I enjoy listening to. It’s not an integral part of whether I like a record or not, as a lot of my favourite records don’t have anything like it. And I wouldn’t want every record to have a ‘moment’ either. I like it being just a special occurrence that pops up every now and then on a record. Appreciated in small doses with some element of surprise. 

Friday, 7 June 2013

#7 “Hip Hop and Rapping In the house”

Following on from blog #5, this week I dug out some more studio recordings from my time at Salford University, and shared them online with some old uni pals who were either involved in them or were doing something similar at the time.
One of them was a hip hop track I put together as part of a studio recording assignment. Hip Hop music has played a big role in my musical upbringing and makes up a generous portion of my record collection. But I had never successfully recorded a track in that style and this seemed a good opportunity. I enlisted a drummer, bass player and a rapper and worked out the basics of an arrangement with a view to adding extra bits on top later. Course colleague, Phil, provided the rap lyrics and vocal and I recorded them all live in the studio. In a later session I added keyboard parts and then Phil returned to the control room armed with a turntable and some records. There he overlaid some scratching and cutting and the extra ingredients needed for the track. It worked out quite well and was great fun to do. That was really the first time I had been up close to record scratching and mixing done properly.
My own experience with hip hop music and culture never really left the house. 

The earliest memory I have related to rap music actually came from Adam Ant. In 1981, at the age of 7, I became a huge fan of Adam and the Ants and after buying the ‘Prince Charming’ album, I continued to follow their musical adventures in magazines such as Look In and TV Tops and on television. One of their singles was "Ant Rap" which unlike their other songs, consisted of only vocal and drums. Except the vocal style wasn’t quite singing and it wasn’t quite talking, but something in between. I learned this style was called rapping and I can’t recall having ever heard it before. 

I’m pretty sure I would have heard other examples over the next couple of years but my next ‘hip hop’ memory was in 1983. I was watching the Royal Variety Performance on TV and there I saw a dancers called the Rock Steady Crew performing their single and doing some of the most amazing dancing I had ever seen. They played an enormous role in bringing more of the hip hop culture to the UK.  

Then 1984 came along which, for me, was the golden year.

I began to hear more records and soon acquired albums such as "Breakdance - You Can Do It" and "Breakdancing" which both featured instructional pull out leaflets on how to breakdance. So behind closed doors in the comfort of my own home and not hurting anyone (except maybe myself), I would play the records and attempt to pop, lock, moonwalk, break, spin and freeze. 
These records featured classic tracks from artists such as Run D.M.C., Grandmaster and Melle Mel, Rock Steady Crew, Malcolm McLaren and Herbie Hancock.
In 1985, I saw Doug E Fresh on Top Of The Pops perform “The Show” and went out to buy the single. By that time I was reading Smash Hits magazine which featured lyrics to a lot of the records that were released. I later discovered that the printed song lyrics were transcribed by the Smash Hits staff rather than provided by the artists. So for quite a while I thought Doug E Fresh’s DJ’s were called ‘Jerome and Valerie’ as was printed in the magazine. It wasn’t until I bought the album many months later that I learned they were called ‘Chill Will and Barry Bee’.
I would turn paper round money into records and soon started buying hip hop compilation albums including “Breakin’” soundtrack,” "Ultimate Trax” series,  “Word!” series, “Rap It Up”, “Fresh New Beats”, "Hip Hop And Rapping In The House" and, most significantly,  the "Streetsounds Electro" series. The Streetsounds albums would compile imported tracks mixed together by Herbie "Mastermind" Laidley. The transitions and segues of Grandmaster Flash into Afrika Bambaataa on Electro 13, or The World Class Wreckin' Cru into Mantronix on Electro 9, or Ultimate III into M.C. Chill on Electro 12 are still some of my favourite moments on vinyl today. I remember a big basket of these records on sale in Woolworths in Huddersfield, or on the W.H. Smith racks. One week I might buy Electro 12, the next I’d find Electro 10, another I’d buy Electro 14, and soon got to know the records of many more artists such as MC Chill, Ultimate III, Fat Boys, Sir Mix A Lot and so on. In the summer of ’86 there was advertised a big Streetsounds hip hop concert in London’s Wembley Arena called UK Fresh ’86. I so wanted go to and see  a lot of these acts perform on stage, as well as witness breakdancing, DJing and all the things I had only read about or seen on TV.

But as a 12 year old in a small town in West Yorkshire, there were some logistic issues so I when Electro 13 came out I ordered a UK Fresh 86 programme on the merchandise leaflet inside the record sleeve. There I could glance at the line-up of acts I would have loved to have seen.
I moved from Smash Hits to Hip Hop Connection magazine and watched movies such as Wild Style, Breakin’ and Beat Street. I’d read and seen depictions of New York street corners, parks and subways awash with breakdancers, rappers and DJ’s which seemed rather a long way from where I was.

I did attempt to scratch and mix on two mismatched record players in my bedroom but to no great success. The closest I got to doing anything hip hop related was performing a rap track in music class in around 1987 where  we were given the task of getting into groups and writing and performing a song. I teamed up with my class mate, and like-minded hip hop fan, David, and with my keyboard’s preset rhythm accompaniments, we put together a song. David controlled the keyboard and I took the microphone to perform “Gettin’ Fresh”. It’s funny how naivety can go hand in hand with having balls of steel to get up and perform in front of school friends. I would frequently get together with David, and also my cousin, Darren, to buy and play hip hop records, and although I did write a bunch of rap lyrics on paper, they never went any further and I retreated to being an observer rather than a participator.
Bits of electro would creep into my live electronic dance sets when I performed in the late 90's and in 1999, I performed a live set of hip hop electro tracks with sequencers, synths and a sampler in Manchester, just prior to my move to London. Not something I had done before or since but was the closest I got to mixing and cutting.

I finally managed to attend a live hip hop event in 1996 when Grandmaster Flash performed at the Hacienda in Manchester and later attended  the Breakdance championships and the DMC Technics DJ championships in London in 2000. I also came close to attending UK Fresh 2003 – a celebration of the Streetsounds Hip Hop electro series to feature Doug E Fresh, Furious Five, Kurtis Blow, Whodini and others, but it was sadly cancelled not long after I bought a ticket.  

As rap became more fused with dance music rather than electro , and the influx of  so called ‘gangsta  rap’ began, I started to lose interest. The hip hop music I had grown up with seemed to be heavily dominated with MC’s rapping about how good they were at rapping, what they were wearing, and how good their DJ was on the turntables and on occasion even name checking the equipment they were using. 

"Quick as a flash I'll pop upon the scene, Break out the Casio and the drum machine"("It's My Beat" by Sweet Tee and Jazzy Joyce)

"It's not an 808 or a Drumulator, It's a DMX and it's much greater"("World Class" by The World Class Wreckin' Cru)
All of which I found to be great fun and at times quite funny.
"I can understand things most rappers sayBecause rapping is my thing and I do it everyday"("Holiday Rap" by M.C. Miker G and D.J. Sven)
It all seemed to be light hearted fun with lots of energy and full of characters. In later years it seems to have moved away from the electro and DJ elements I’d always favoured. Not in every case, but the type of hip hop records I like seem to be very few and far between. But that’s the way the genre has developed and moved through the generations.

Eminem is one of very few rap artists I find interesting and more recently Rizzle Kicks’s performance of "Mama Do The Hump" on the Jonathan Ross show in February 2012 reminded me of how much fun hip hop used to be.  With the exception of a few tracks here and there, my intake of new hip hop has reduced significantly.  

The hip hop I was brought up on is now referred to as ‘old skool’ and is still held in high esteem by fans and artists, though actually 1984 seems to be noted as the year when it changed from 'old' to 'new school'. I still play the” Breakin’” soundtrack, the Streetsounds Electro albums, and many tracks from that era and I still love and appreciate them in the same way as I always did.
So in that studio at university in 1996, I decided to have another go at recording a hip hop track. Even though I didn’t prominently perform on the track, it was as close as I was going to get to producing a piece of it.
While I never mastered rapping , scratching or even the ‘windmill’, hip hop music has continued to make up some part of my musical DNA.

"Grandmaster Flash - To my cool buddy Paul"

Saturday, 1 June 2013

#6 “You Should Have Listened To Al”

Discovering the music of a new artist, or even a long established artist for the first time, happens in a variety of ways. Either via a song on the radio or seeing a band live and investigating them further. A less common way has been through performing in a covers band where instead of just admiring the surface of a song, you actually get under the hood and explore its inner workings.
In my late teens, I became friends with a fellow musician who, being a few years my senior, had a musical palette pre-dating mine featuring  artists and musical genres  that weren’t on my radar.

Martin had performed solo as a singer and guitarist and invited me to accompany him at a couple of forthcoming gigs. Together with mutual friend Thomas,  who happened to be an old school pal of mine, we formed Inside Edge, a vocal, piano, keyboard, guitar trio. At the rehearsals, Martin would bring a selection of songs he wanted to play and we would listen to them, work out an arrangement and then rehearse them.
Among the songs were a couple by an artist called Al Stewart who I had never heard of. Even his Top 40 hit from the late 70’s “Year Of The Cat” had passed me by. So straight away I was introduced to new songs while arranging and playing them.  This had been common practise when playing in the large soul band I had joined at school, where much of the repertoire of soul, blues and pop songs had already been arranged by the music teacher. However, here in Inside Edge we were working from the ground up.

Al Stewart had been part of the British folk scene in the 60’s before moving to the states in the late 70’s and becoming an established recording artist. He has since released many albums that move between pop, rock and folk with lyrics that go beyond usual love songs instead dealing with characters and events from history and a variety of other subjects.

We rehearsed “On The Border” and “Flying Sorcery” from his ‘Year Of The Cat’ album, and added them to our set. I was soon drawn into Al’s back catalogue, borrowing cassettes of concerts and very soon visiting the “S” section of various second-hand record shops to see which of his albums I could find.

Martin and I would continue performing gigs at a few pubs and clubs, incorporating more Al Stewart songs into the set including “Carol”, “Strange Girl” and “Year Of The Cat”. Martin sang and played guitar while I played keyboards along with midi sequenced backing tracks.  Usually the idea of performing covers is so the audience has something familiar to listen to. However, we were playing covers of songs that were actually quite obscure in the main so we may as well have been playing original material, which we did as well.

In 1994, Al did a tour of the UK with Peter White, who had been musical director on a few of Al’s earlier albums. We went to see Al’s show in Leeds and now having become very familiar with his songs, I was quite excited to be seeing the great man perform them live. This was, however, only an acoustic show. After hearing his previous concerts with a full band I would have liked to have seen a similar set up for this tour. But with Al and Peter’s guitar playing being very full, rich and energetic, it sounded so good there was no room to complain.  I continued to catch Al on tour over the next few years in places such as Bradford, Leeds, Hebden Bridge, London and  Croydon, where he performed either solo or with one other guitarist. The songs, his performance style and his on stage patter were all first class and made for a great concert each time.  

In 2006, Martin and I went to Al’s 60th birthday concert at the Barbican in London. This was to be a special evening featuring some special guests including Peter White contributing piano and guitar for a few songs. By the final song, “Roads To Moscow” there were around eight performers on stage including guitarists, bass player, piano player and backing singers. It sounded fantastic. By that time, I had accepted the fact that he would probably never tour with a full band line up, and this ‘acoustic ensemble’ was probably the closest I would get.
That was the last time I saw Al perform and though I’ve missed subsequent tours, I have always intended to try and catch him again. While recently visiting Al’s website I saw he was coming back to the UK this year for a tour with guitarist Dave Nachmanoff.   I figured it would be good to see him play again and had a look to see if he was doing any gigs closer to where I lived.
And then I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Among the listing of acoustic shows around the country, there was one listing different from the others for a show at the Royal Albert Hall in October. It is to be Al performing the “Year Of The Cat” album in full….. with a band. A favourite artist performing a favourite album in a favourite venue … with a full band line up led by musical director, Peter White.
Now there has been many a gig I have regretted missing over the years and I just couldn’t have this one on that list. So now I have a ticket I will be spending the next few months feeling the anticipation building up.

This blog could have just been me sharing news I was going to see Al Stewart in concert this October and he was someone I liked a lot and that was that.  But the context of the show, and where it sits in my musical history with Al, I felt was worth noting…  if only in just a few lines of text.

"Year Of The Cat" 1977 performance

"On The Border" 2001 performance

"Roads To Moscow" 2013 performance