At The Top
By Ray Fox-Cumming
Alun Davies was a hard working session guitarist looking forward to the
rare treat of a Sunday off at home with his wife and kids, when Paul Samwell Smith rang up
and asked him to give up his precious Sunday to do some session work on an album he was
producing. Alan was reluctant: he didnt want to give up his day off, had plenty of
other interesting work to keep him occupied and didnt think much of the past
work of the artist concerned.
But Paul persisted.
AIun eventually gave in and that, three years ago, was the start of a close
friendship and working relationship with Cat Stevens that has lasted through five
world tours and five albums (four of Cats and one of
"The album they were
working on then," recalled Alun, "was Mona Bone ". I think that
on that first session we did Lady DArbanville and I
was knocked out by it."
In the three years
that Alan has been Cats guitarist their names have become inextricably
linked, so when Alans first solo album 'Daydo was released this year
at more or less the same time as Cat's 'Catch Bull At Four,' his work was bound to be
compared to Cat's. But while people were busy pointing out the similarities between
their phrasing and overall sound, the differences tended to become overlooked.
Whereas Cats lyrics are expressions of emotion, Alun's strength lies in narrative
and this basic difference is indicative of a difference in their personalities.
Cat, or Steve as he is
known to his friends, is the more introvert, recording his feelings in song, while Alun,
more outgoing, more sure of himself, is a man who likes to document his past
experiencesbe it in the form of diaries, a succession of stamps on his passport,
Perhaps surprisingly, Alan
is Steves mentor rather than the other way round.
me to know more than he does, which isnt always true," Alun explained,
"but whereas he isnt very interested in stepping outside what he
already knows, I am. I read a lot and sometimes I buy him books Ive
particularly enjoyed and mark passages Id like him to read, but I
dont think he ever bothers."
"After his illness,
Steve was a bit of a recluse. He needed bringing out of himself. I got him out of, himself
and introduced him to drink! For someone to get to know him now would be very hard. He has
his close circle of friends and thats his world as he wants it."
AIun has recently returned
from accompanying Cat on a four-month long world tour, the high spots of which he has
faithfully recorded in a sketchbook that serves as a scrapbook-cum-diary.
"I enjoyed it
immensely, though we were all very tired at the end, Steve particularly, After all, it was
his tour and I think it took a lot out of him. I dont know what his immediate plans
are, but I think he should take a sabbatical away from music. "I cant stand the
usual tour syndrome getting up, eating, watching TV in the hotel, going to
the bar, then to bed and then on to the next place the next day. I have to get out and go
somewhere. On the tour I was always banging my fists on the table, saying things like
'Come on, you've got to come and see the Grand Canyon, you may never get the chance
again. Maybe because I kept making them all get up and do things they found me hard
to live with, I don't know."
"On tour everything
had to be just right. If a roadie set up the gear carelessly, hed really cop it from
Steve, unless he knew how to stand up to him. Steves a perfectionist. When we were
recording 'Catch Bull At Four' we spent 40 hours on one track, Cant Keep It
In. It hung like a cloud over us for ages. I nearly went mad: I'd go out of the
studio, pace up and down and end up banging my head against the coffee machine out of
sheer frustration. I couldn't see anything wrong with the first take, but I was really
impressed that, after all that time we spent on it, Steve could still make it better.
"On the other
hand, when we recorded 'Peace Train' on the 'Teaser' album, Steve did one take of the
vocal, played it back once, then went straight back and did the double tracking vocal
perfectly the first time. I'd have had to listen to it for hours to be sure of getting it
'Tea for the Tillerman' was my favourite album of Steve's. It was so spontaneous and quick
in the making. I loved doing that album. I got very bored doing 'Catch Bull' because I
think it took too long and we worked in three different studios on it.
talking about his music. In Australia he only gave two press conferences which caused bad
feeling among the press. I think he feels that his music says it all and that by talking
about his music he might somehow betray it. I think he also feels that people expect him
to say things that are clever and worries that he might not be up to it."
"In Australia Steve
really wanted to give them a show because they expect it, so although Im not much
concerned about clothes, along with the others, I went out and got some gear." He
pointed to his shoes, made of patchwork crocodile and very much on their last legs (pardon
the pun). "I felt embarrassed wearing these at first, but I think they look more me
now," he said, smiling down at the shreds of crocodile skin taking leave of the
Leaving the subject of Cat
Stevens and the world tour, the conversation turned to Aluns solo work.
"Im proud of
Daydo. After all, it was my first solo album and Ive heard a lot worse,
but I find it hard to listen to it now without wishing that Id done a lot of
things differently. I much prefer to play to the new improved versions. "
Before the world tour,
Steve asked Alun if hed like to play a couple of his own songs during the set.
"I said 'yes great' at
first," said Alun, "but after a while I changed by mind. It would have made a
break in Steves set and it might have seemed a bit patronising, Of course, my
record company went spare about it but Im sure I did the right thing. The only
alternative would have been to do an opening set first, but it would have meant taking my
own musicians and that just wasnt practical."
Alun started out as a
picture restorer and eventually gave it up, because the work was "too
predictable," but he has retained his interest in art and when he came to start work
on his second album, it was natural for him to design the cover first, think of a title
and then work inwards. Four songs are now complete, the rest well on the way and he hopes
to begin recording at the end of January. Then when its released (hopefully, around
April) he aims to go out on the road with his own band.
"Im not leaving
Steve though," he added quickly. Since we share the same manager, he works things out
so our commitments dont clash. "I want to tour abroad as well," he said.
"You know, if you worked for three years just in Britain, it would be a very boring
existence, because the circuit here is quite smalland there are so many bands
working it, that it would not provide you with much of a living."
Warming to the subject of
touring, which he loves. Alun was full of praise for roadies.
greatest people in the world. They have to be so many thingsnot least of all father
confessors. They really have a lot of power, a bad roadie could finish a band."
If the kind of success that
Cat enjoys came his way Alun doesnt think it would turn his head.
"I think Ive got
over the ego thing now."
The success that he has had
so far has brought him, his wife and children, a comfortable home in Surrey, and hes
just bought a period farmhouse in his native Wales, where he aims to spend
quite a lot of time once hes finished having it done up.
At home in Surrey, if
hes tinkering around with his guitar and suddenly gets an idea, his wife is sent
rushing off in search of the tape recorder and the kids all have to shut up while he gets
it down, so as the Welsh retreat is to be a place of work, it seems a modest indulgence.
But then Alun Davies is a disarmingly modest person.
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