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Melody Maker
Saturday 23rd March 1974
Courtesy of Linda Crafar 

 

Cat On The Prowl

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Cat Stevens is back-with an 'oldstyle' album and a 5 week tour. He talks to Chris Charlesworth.

CAT STEVENS, never one of our most prolific or hard working artists begins a flurry of activity this week. On Monday evening he opened a five week tour in Glasgow that will ultimately take him to four continents, and record shops will ship his new album "Buddha And The Chocolate Box" in a few days time.

Stevens is an artist whose career seems to consist of short bursts of energy followed by lengthy periods of relaxation. He’s never one to rush into things or hurry a production, and has reached that comfortable stage where he can afford time over his work.

More significantly, his following remains loyal despite the small output. In this respect he’s Britain’s answer to Paul Simon — quality before quantity is the name of the game.

The new album marks return to pre-1973 style of his two most successful albums, "Tea For The Tillerman" and "Teaser And The Firecat."

Stevens entered another phase with his last set "Foreigner," "Catch Bull At Four" acting as a bridge between the two styles. "Foreigner" wasn’t as commercially popular as his previous efforts, and the new record seems like a deliberate attempt to recapture his former style.

It's an excellent album, more enjoyable, than "Foreigner," and packed with those pretty songs that typified "Teaser" and "Tillerman," though the arrangements are considerably more ambitious. His guitar-picking buddy Alun Davies returns to the fold, as does producer Paul Samwell-Smith. Neither worked on "Foreigner." (The nucleus of his working band Is Davies, Gerry Conway on drums, Jean Roussel, keyboards, and Bruce Lynch, bass.)

There’s a wealth of diversity, unusual instrumentation and girly backing singers. Mostly the music is gentle and lilting, rather than raunchy, but it's lusher than anything Stevens has produced before. I’ll be very surprised If it isn’t more popular than both "Foreigner" and "Catch Bull."

Stevens himself is well pleased with the results of his last four months, which is the time it has taken him to produce "Chocolate Box." He admits to feeling a little nervous now that it’s eventually coming out and because he hasn’t appeared live in a long while.

But it was a relaxed Steve on Monday morning, just an hour before he was due to catch a plane to Glasgow for the opening show on the tour. He still smokes too many cigarettes, but seems happy to be re-united with his old band.

"Right now, just before the album comes out, I feel a bit panicky about it, as if it’s a mistake, but everybody’s reaction has been good so far," he told me as he inspected the cover of the album.

It was, apparently, the first time he’d seen the finished sleeve which contains a number of illustrations by him.

He agreed that the new album Is more like his earlier material.

"Yes, I knew that people wanted to hear that kind of -stuff again and I wasn't scared about doing it again at all. I felt that ‘Foreigner’ detached me from a lot of people who generally listen to my stuff. I figured I’d better come back and show that I can still write the stuff they want, but I’m not going to do it all the time. It was what I wanted to do anyway, because after ‘Foreigner‘ I felt I needed another change. Alun (Davies) and Paul (Samwell-Smith) came back and I felt great about that. "

The stand out track on the album, "Oh Very Young," has been chosen as a single and on this Steve duets with Suzanne Lynch, the wife of his bass player.

"She’s coming out on the road with the band and she has a beautiful voice," says Steve. "We tried all sorts of things on that track, including a banjo, but the girl’s voice was the best. It took us four months to make the album, but that wasn’t working all the time. We were spasmodic about it, and that is why I think each track has turned out an individual in itself. When you make a record all in one week, things tend to sound the same. I’ve linked up the tracks on this record with little bits of notes in between and I think this makes it flow more. Some of the material is quite old. One track I wrote three years ago, but mostly it's just ideas and little riffs I’ve discovered sitting around at home or on tour.

‘Oh Very Young’ was very recent. I wrote it when I was feeling happy and it’s turned out a very optimistic song."

There are tacks where Steve seems to expose personal feelings. On the closing track on side two, "Home In The Sky," be sings of music being like a lady and, knowing Steve’s association with high class chicks, I inquired of any meaning behind this.

"The philosophy behind that is that I’ve realised that I can't have a dual relationship between my music and a lady that I love. I can’t split myself like that, I brought them together in that song. There's a Japanese goddess called Benten and she’s the goddess of music and art, and the idea is that if, in Japan, you have a good relationship with somebody she might get jealous and take away your artistic talent. That’s a very simplified version of what happens with me. Art comes from yearning and if you're not yearning you're not creating."

On tour Steve will be playing most of the material from the new albums. He says he found the material from "Foreigner" difficult to get across on stage as it was very much a "studio" album.

There will be snatches from that album, though, as well as some of his favourites from previous albums. He’ll still do "Father And Son."

"I know that if I go and see an artist like, say, Stevie Wonder, I’ll be disappointed if he doesn't play some of his early materiel. But I’ll also be interested to hear new things that I haven’t heard before. You have to strike a balance. The show lasts about two hours, but Linda Lewis is on stage with me and she’ll be doing a few numbers. As a whole this is the biggest tour I’ve ever done, starting in Glasgow and finishing In Tokyo."

Steve still maintains that he’s always changing and his career is unpredictable. He agrees that It’s unlike him to undertake a tour of this magnitude, but insists that he never really knows what’s going on around him anyway.

"I just go along with things and if It feels right at the time I say ‘yes.’ Basically I didn’t know the tour was going to be this big but now it turns out it will be huge. I can predict up to a point what I would like to think and maybe that comes true or it doesn’t. But I’m still changing all the time. You can never gauge what’s going to happen next with me and neither can I. Every day I feel different. I always like to be surprised."

I mentioned that "Foreigner" hadn’t been as commercially successful as his previous album. He dryly observed that his accountant had pointed out the same thing.

"I wasn’t really disappointed because I knew before it was released what kind of album it was. The reaction to it more or less fitted in with what I thought would happen. ‘Foreigner’ was a very necessary album for me. If it wasn’t for ‘Foreigner’ there would be nothing to relate the new album to. Having a constant sound, like Glen Campbell or someone, bores me silly, so it’s good to have changes. It’s mysterious, and I like mysteries. I don’t know where the hell ‘Foreigner’ came from anyway. It was exactly what the title said, a foreign record for me. It didn’t fit in with my usual pattern. I don’t want people to judge me by my looks, my appearance or my image, or whatever I manage to get across, but by the music. Maybe that’s why I put out ‘Foreigner,’ to have a break from the predictable. "

Steve says that during 1974 he will travel and work a lot to avoid being complacent.

"I feel that this album will make it and if it does I don’t want to be sat around doing nothing. I don’t want to be sitting around talking with people about the album; I want to be on stage playing it or doing another one. I think the next one will probably come very quickly. With me a long album is years, and a quick album about a year. It’s possible I’ll have some new songs written by about halfway through this tour, but there won’t be any unrecorded material included in the sets. I like to give my musicians a strict thing to work in, then they can do what they want within those boundaries. Did you know that Indian music, which sounds the free-est of all music, is actually the most regulated of all? I think the things we play from ‘Foreigner’ could get loose on stage, but most of my music Is pretty regulated, We’re doing ‘Later’ from the ‘Foreigner’ album, but we don’t know yet whether it’ll last three minutes or seven. Things like that have still to sort themselves out. Max Middleton may come in to play piano, and Jim Cregan, Linda’s (Lewis) guitarist may want to come in and play on some numbers. If that’s the case, It's cool with me. The total band, including all the extra singers, is now about 12. There's no strings but I bought a little synthesiser and it didn’t work properly, so that's out. I’m a bit nervous because it’s seven months since I last did anything, and that was an American TV show. I didn’t think It was too good compared to the shows over here. "

Steve's faint Cockney accent tailed off as a car arrived to take him to Heathrow for the first of many flights in the near future. Steve took a last look at the Japanese garden he’s building at the rear of his house, picked up a number of cases, containing guitars and odd percussion instruments and set off for the car.

"Wish me luck," he said. "I might need it. "

 

 


Snippets from Melody Maker -Saturday 23rd March 1974

 

Look Here Guide To Weeks Events Page 6

Cat Stevens

Thursday 21st March Odeon Newcastle
Saturday 23rd March Empire Liverpool The bedsitter idol returns
Sunday 24th March New Theatre Oxford
Wednesday 27th March Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Thursday 28th March Theatre Royal Drury Lane
 

 Any Questions? Page 34

Cat And The Fairy Tales

Q: Is it true that Cat Stevens wrote a book of fairy tales, and if so, what is the title and where can I get it?

What is the instrumentation used on the "Tea For The Tillerman" album and where can I get the music for Cat Stevens’ records? — W. V. Maris, Amsterdam, Holland.

A: The book Cat wrote is titled "Teaser And The Flrecat " and it is an extension of the story which is encapsulated in the album illustration. It costs 1.60 including postage and is available from Miss Val Davies, c/o the Cat Steven's fan club, which Is known as the Cat Stevens Fantasy Ring. Address is 27 Curzon Street, London W1. The instrumentation on "Tea For The Tiilerman" was Cat Stevens (guitar and keyboards), AIun Davies (2nd guitar), John Ryan (bass), Harvey Burns (drums), Jack Rostein (solo violin) and strlngs arranged by Del Newman. The record was produced by Paul Samwell-Smith. Music for Cat’s albums has been published in the form of fan books, and these are Foreigner (1.25), Catch Bull at Four (1.50), Teaser And The Flrecat (1) and one which incorporates songs from "Mona Bone Jakon" and "Tea For The Tillerman" (1.25). All these should be available at any music shop in the United Kingdom, but it might be difficult to get them In Holland. If so write to Freshwater Music, 155-157 Oxford Street, London WI.

 
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