Tag Archives: Cat Stevens

August 9th 1975

“Dixons. Gave in notice. Bloke gave me SME headshell. Played new LPs in evening. Fairport Convention – great. Pete Wingfield – Good. Alex Harvey – not good on first listen”

So, Dixons lost the best hi-fi salesman they ever employed. In entirely unconnected news, I resigned from Dixons.

My final day of standing doe-eyed under the blisteringly hot spotlights in the department (not really knowing what the hell I was doing) did offer me an unexpected bonus with a grateful customer gifting me an SME headshell for my record deck. As I recall, installing it really DID make a difference to the sound, those collection of holes evidently an intelligent design tweak. I can remember hanging onto this headshell for the longest time, transferring it from deck to deck as my hi-fi habit grew in the ensuing years. So, thank you nameless stranger!

It looks like I spent my last day’s Dixon’s earnings on some new tuneage… most probably from Francis Records using my newly restored staff discount…

Let it be known that I REALLY don’t care for Fairport Convention. Folk/Rock – as their genre is often described – invariably leaves me stone cold, and all that plinking and plonking (plus the peculiar habit of artists sticking their finger in their ear to sing) often grates.

However, “Rising for the Moon” wasn’t a straightforward folk album (which is why I was drawn to it) the band eschewing their roots and instead performing a collection of songs that veered closer to acoustic rock than anything else. Think “Cat Stevens” rather than “The Dubliners”.

Despite Sandy Denny’s wibbly-wobbly vocal style I liked the title track in particular and held onto this LP for years afterwards before eventually falling out of favour with its content. When I was intrigued enough to listen to it again it proved quite the elusive item and – to be honest – haven’t bothered since. Maybe I should see if I like it better as a 52-year-old farty than as a spotty teenager?

Pete Wingfield is perhaps the ultimate One-Hit Wonder, his “18 with a Bullet” as fantastic a perfect pop song now as it was when it was released back in 1975.

I would certainly have bought “Breakfast Special” on the strength of that hit – not the first time I would have succumbed to the brilliance of one single and splashed out on the accompanying album. However, unlike many other occasions this would be one where I would not be let down by the other cuts.

“Breakfast Special” is – at least in my opinion – an overlooked pop masterpiece, chocked full of superb and sublimely catchy tunes and easily as good as anything (the likes of ) 10cc were putting out at that time. Check out “Whole Pot of Jelly” and “Shadow of a Doubt” for proof!

Thankfully, Wingfield’s career has not been limited to the proceeds from his one solitary hit single – which ironically landed on the Billboard Hot 100 chart at… erm, Number 18. He’s played with the likes of BB King, The Everly Brothers, Van Morrison, The Hollies and Paul McCartney, and has produced seminal albums such as Dexy Midnight Runners’ “Searching for the Young Soul Rebels”, The Kane Gang’s “Bad & Lowdown World” and The Proclaimers’ “Sunshine on Leith”. He has also written smash hit singles for others, including Olivia Newton-John’s “Making a Good Thing Better” and The Pasadenas’ “Tribute (Right On)”

It’s a shame that his public persona is limited that one song but better to be known for one thing than no thing I suppose? As a treat here’s a BLISTERINGLY fine reggae version of “18 with a Bullet” by Derrick Harriot on the ever-reliable Trojan Records label in 1975. I didn’t discover it until several years later but adore it almost as much as the original…

My diary has retrospectively embarrassed me many times before, and will doubtless do it many times again.

This is one of those times. To deem the SAHB’s “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” as “not good” is nothing short of a travesty and I herewith apologise.

As a forthcoming diary entry will report though, all is not lost!

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Cockney Rebel 1975 Tour Programme (VII)

Page 10

Things I did not know (rather, forgotten) about the Rebel band members…

Stuart Elliot used to play drums for Adam Faith.

Jim Cregan played with Cat Stevens.

George Ford was amongst the backing vocals on John Lennon’s “Power to the People“. How cool is that?

More tomorrow…

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(1974 Albums) Cat Stevens – Catch Bull at Four / Buddha & the Chocolate Box / Teaser & the Firecat

I have already expressed my embarrassment over not liking Cat Stevens the first time I heard him back in January 1973.

By way of defence I can only add that my musical head must have been so very packed with ‘prog’, that a singer/songwriter warbling about simple things like love and peace must have sounded ‘dull’. Not for ever though, thankfully.

“Teaser and the Firecat” is my second-favourite Cat Stevens album. (Top spot is definitely reserved for “Tea for the Tillerman”)

“Teaser..” yielded no less than three chart singles. The worst of them is the anthemic and somewhat bleating “Morning has Broken“, Cat’s interpretation of an old Christian hymn. The other two are much better: “Moonshadow” is a beautifully uplifting acoustic number, whilst “Peace Train” remains, even to this day, as strong an anti-war song as you’re ever likely to hear.

Of the rest of the cuts, opener “The Wind” is a short but stunning guitar duet wherein Cat sums up his personal philosophies about life, and “If I Laugh” is a straightforward, but sublime ballad. The others cuts really don’t do a lot for me, although I realise that “Bitterblue” is a favourite of many Cat fans.

Where “Teaser…” was pretty instant, “Catch Bull at Four” is an album that grew on me over time. Despite repeat playing however, it took me many years of listening to realise that it is an LP which is openly bi-polar.

Side 1 is all upbeat and optimistic. “Sitting” sets the scene, with all that happy, happy piano and words of growth and hope, and “The Boy with a Moon & Star on his Head” talks about finding love that was thought lost. “Angelsea” – a tribute to his wife – saw Cat flirt with synthesizers for the first time, and to great effect. The sound on this cut is so very dense and involving, and I just LOVE that drumming!

Silent Sunlight” finds Stevens in a contemplative mood and Side 1’s closer “Can’t Keep It In” is a wonderful open expression of (again) love and optimism. (It proved to be the album’s only hit single, reaching #13)

Side 2 by contrast feels a complete downer. “18th Avenue“, for all its wonderfully theatrical flourishes, seems to suggest Cat is already worrying about his old age and impending lack of mental comprehension. “Freezing Steel” finds him scared about being kidnapped and “O Caritas” ( a beautiful song sung in both Greek and English) has Cat concerned he won’t live long enough to find spiritual fulfillment.

The dour mood continues with “Sweet Scarlet“, a piano ballad that seems to suggest a lost love, and the album is then wrapped up with “Ruins” where Stevens predicts ecological disaster for the planet, loooooong before it was trendy to do so. (Helloooo, Sting)

1973 saw Cat Stevens release “Foreigner”, an unweildy and excessively pretentious album wherein he tried to merge his sound with that of authentic Black American ‘soul’ music. Despite its chart positioning – reaching Number 3 in both the US and UK – it was not an LP which stood the test of time and soon fell off people’s collective radar. (With the exception of “How Many Times” I pretty much hate it)

The follow-up album, 1974’s “Buddha and the Chocolate Box” was, thankfully, a little easier on the ear. Despite its religious overtones, it is an album which I personally still have a lot of time for.

One thing (the otherwise disastrous) “Foreigner” did seem to achieve was to allow Cat to break away from his beloved “acoustic” roots. This is highlighted by the multi-instrumental and multi-faceted “Music”, which contains the ludicrously joyful chorus of
“New Music, Music, New Music
Sweet Music can lighten us
Can brighten the world, can save us”
35 years later and I still sing along – usually out loud – to the sentiment.

The single, “Oh Very Young” is a little tribute to Buddy Holly. “Sun/C79” has always been one of my favourites of Cat’s output. I love how the rhythm blows hot and cold and how Stevens emotionally remembers “she was back in C79” with a little scream whilst explaining to his (imaginary?) son who his mother was and where he met her.

Ghost Town” is peculiarly offbeat (including offbeat lyrics too), whilst “Jesus” doesn’t tell us anything new and is, by far, the worst cut on Side 1.

Ready“, starting Side 2, is always a song that sounds as if it being played WAY too fast and “King of Trees” is lyrically a little too suspect for my liking. By contrast, “A Bad Penny” is all too clearly the words of a man wanting to turn his back on the ‘rock & roll lifestyle” and the closer “Home in the Sky” suggests he’s ready to walk away, actually ending with the words “bye bye“. Somewhat prescient given later events.

Between 1975 and 1978 Cat Stevens would release three more albums – “Numbers”, “Izitso” and “Back to Earth” – none of which attainted the heights of his early seventies material. In 1978 he changed his (real) name from Steven Demetre Georgiou to Yusuf Islam and abandoned his musical career for almost three decades.

Instead he immersed himself in the Muslim faith, briefly courting controversy over the years with poorly timed remarks about author Salman Rushdie and the 9/11 attacks on America. He also got in the news for being denied entry to the USA when it was discovered he was documented on the Transport Security Adminstration’s ‘no fly’ list, supposedly due to “concerns of ties he may have to potential terrorist-related activities“.

As if to highlight USA Immigration’s apparently mandatory requirement to be bureaucratically bumbling, ignorant and stupid in equal measures, it actually took a complaint from Britain’s Foreign Secretary to the US Secretary of State to finally straighten things out. It later transpired that the TSA had ‘the wrong spelling’ in their database…. a mistake which took them a full two years to rectify before Yusuf could fly again.

In 2007 – as Yusuf Islam – he released the commercial “An Other Cup” album which, at least in part, did hark back to his glory years.

He’ll always be Cat Stevens to me though, and these three albums (plus the aforementioned “Tea for the Tillerman”) perfectly spell out just how good he was. He was one of the few acts I never saw live in concert, although a few years ago we did catch an acoustic show recorded (I think by the BBC in the seventies?) on TV which showcased his material. I’ll admit I sat on the sofa and sang along to far more songs than I thought I would remember!

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January 22nd 1973

“Got Tarkus bak” / “FOUND HISTORY BOOK (This’ll go down in ‘istory)” / “Went up Nigs, Mal there – listened to ELP (grate) + Cat Stevens (ugh)”

Uppercase for FOUND HISTORY BOOK eh? That means it was a MUCH bigger deal than earlier posts about its loss may have suggested.

Oh, and a ‘joke’ about the discovery. I’ll bet Tommy Cooper was quaking in his boots.

The final part of this entry has me slapping my head with a certain amount of shame.

Naturally I would have said ELP were grate in fact it may have been the case that I forced Nig & Mal to listen to them? – but to castigate the (IMHO) mighty Cat Stevens with a lousy ugh is deeply embarrassing to me now.

If I was a betting man – which, it has to be said, I am sometimes – I’ll lay odds that the Cat Stevens album we listened to that night was “Catch Bull at Four

Cat Stevens was born Steven Demetre Georgiou in 1948 and spent his early life living above the restaurant his family owned just off London’s Piccadilly Circus. He learned to play the piano in his early teens, extending his skills to the guitar at 15 years old, when he also started writing his own songs.

He started playing them in pubs and coffee houses in and around London, changing his name to “Cat Stevens” when he realised that he couldn’t imagine anyone going into a record shop and asking for an album by “that Steven Demetre Georgiou” (He was right)

He recorded a few demos for Deram Records, which led to a contract. He then had three hit singles in a row. “I Love My Dog“, “Matthew & Son” and “I’m Gonna Get Me a Gun“, of which only the first would come to represent the eventual ‘Cat Stevens sound’. (The other two, however, are MAGNIFICENT slices of 60’s orchestral beat, loved by aficionados like myself)

On the strength of his hits, he toured with the (somewhat varied) likes of Jimi Hendrix and Englebert Humperdinck, and was marketed very much as a ‘pop star’.

Things changed drastically in the late 60’s for Cat. His album “New Masters* inexplicably flopped and in 1968 he became very ill with both tuberculosis and a collapsed lung.

His approach to life altered during his convalescence. He became a vegetarian, took up meditation and generally became more spiritual. It is said that during this period of ‘self-awakening’ he wrote the vast majority of all his subsequent recorded songs.

Unhappy with his ‘pop star’ status and wanting to work on a more folksier sound, he swapped record labels, signing for Chris Blackwell‘s influential Island Records. (Licensed to A&M in the USA)

The move was a resounding success. His first album for Island, “Mona Bone Jakon“, yielded the hit single “Lady D’Arbanville”, whilst the follow-up “Tea for the Tillerman” sent his signature sounds into the international stratosphere, selling ‘gold’ in both the USA and the UK, helped along by more hit singles like “Wild World

A brief romance with Carly Simon preceeded the release of the “Teaser & the Firecat” album in 1971. This was very much a tour de force which yielded a trio of massive hit singles in the shape of “Peace Train“, “Morning has Broken” and “Moon Shadow

Which brings us to “Catch Bull at Four“, a release that reached Number 1 in the USA, number 2 in the UK, eventually sold almost 3 million copies, yielded a couple of hit singles (in “Can’t Keep It In” and “Sitting“)….. but was reviewed as “ugh” by first-time listener TRO!

Cat: Then & Now

Stevens converted to the Islamic faith in 1977, his pop career faltered and he changed his name to Yusuf Islam. He stayed out of the headlines until 1989 when he made an unfortunate and ill-advised statement in support of the Islamic fatwa on author Salmon Rushdie. Needless to say his prior protestations of ‘peace’ on so many beautiful songs were undermined and he became somewhat ‘hated’ by the press and certain ignorant elements of society.

More recently he has gently nudged his way back into public consciousness and returned to the studio to record “An Other Cup“, an album which is ‘classic’ Cat Stevens in sound, but feels a little laboured and ‘old fashioned’ in construction. He’s returned to live performances too, including turning up at the “Peace One Day” concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 2007.

Like I’ve said, I feel embarrassed about my review of “Catch Bull at Four“. I adore almost the entire Cat Stevens output up to (but not including all of) “Izitso” in 1977. To have castigated him so readily in 1973 is an insult to both Cat Stevens and my own pair of ears! Maybe proof that “first listens” don’t always count (as I tend to otherwise believe)

* Trivia Corner:- The”New Masters” album included the song “The First Cut is the Deepest” which Stevens sold to PP Arnold. Arnold had a massive hit with her version, and it was later also covered with *ahem* considerable international success by Rod Stewart, James Morrison, Sheryl Crow and others. However, Cat sold the song for…… £30! *oops!*

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Number Ones of 1972 (Part 5)

…[continued from Part 4]

You know when you write about a year in these terms – all the number ones – you wonder whether it gives a realistic representation of the music everyone listened to.

In terms of sheer public popularity I guess it does, but in my own personal world I feel there were many different songs – which didn’t reach Number 1 – that I would play over and over again from my weekly tape recordings of the Top 30 show.

So along with the likes of “School’s Out”, “Claire”, T.Rex, Slade, “Son of my Father”,  Lieutenant Pigeon, plus all the Prog rock and pop already mentioned in my 1972 diary entries, would the following songs also stand up and take bow for providing a suitable distraction to the arguments going on at our house…

• America – “A Horse with No Name
• Argent – “Hold Your Head Up
• Blackfoot Sue – “Standing in the Road
• David Bowie –  “John I’m Only Dancing
• David Bowie –  “Jean Genie” 
• David Bowie –  “Starman
• Alice Cooper – “Elected
• Dr Hook – “Sylvia’s Mother
• Electric Light Orchestra – “10538 Overture
• Family – “Burlesque
• Roberta Flack – “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
• Gary Glitter – “Rock & Roll Part II
• Hawkwind – “Silver Machine
• The Hollies “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress
• Hot Butter – “Popcorn
• Elton John – “Rocket Man
• John Lennon & Yoko – “Happy Xmas (War is Over)
• Lindisfarne – “Lady Eleanor
• Melanie – “Brand New Key
• Mott the Hoople – “All the Young Dudes
• Johnny Nash – “I Can See Clearly Now
• Redbone – “Witch Queen of New Orleans
• Lou Reed – “Walk on the Wild Side
• Rolling Stones – “Tumbing Dice
• Roxy Music – “Virginia Plain
• Paul Simon – “Me & Julio Down By the Schoolyard
• Ringo Starr – “Back Off Boogaloo
• Status Quo – “Paper Plane
• Stealers Wheel – “Stuck in the Middle
• Cat Stevens – “Can’t Keep it In
• Temptations – “Papa Was a Rolling Stone
• 10cc – “Donna
• The Who – “Join Together
• Stevie Wonder – “Superstition

1972 was therefore a year that had me listening to all kinds of music, creating a varied love for it that would not only supply me with an eventual career (of sorts) but a lifetime of many happy memories.

Meanwhile, (I love a good “meanwhile”) 4000 miles away, my future wife who had started her own musical education early was finding that Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” was proving to be an awkward choice for her classroom’s show and tell session.

Both of us can now only hope that the 8 and 14-year-old kids of today carry forward the same kind of interest, love and enthusiasm for music into their middle and old age as we have.

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