The Record Mirror
June 5, 1971
Cat Stevens tells Keith
Altham about. . . . . . .
The Honest Way For It To
MR STEVENS is, one might
suppose of a young man who has survived the horrors of being initially conceived as a teen
idol at 18 and collapsing two years later with one lung in urgent need of repair
not to mention the brain damage to re-emerge after a medically enforced
rest two years subsequent as one of our most significant young composer-artists, a very
He has the kind of bad
angel looks, which Fellini likes to work into his films, and although he appears to have
himself in control outwardly you sense a degree of mental turmoil behind the dark liquid
eyes. He has an almost shattering grasp of the abstract, which includes a basic
appreciation of Einsteins theory of relativity and perches nervously on the brink of
his own nervous energy.
He joined me at his
publicist London apartment on a sunny afternoon some few minutes late due to a short
appearance in court over a minor motoring offence for which he was acquitted and proceeded
to enthuse about the weather.
"I love this kind of
weather," he said indicating the sunshine through the windows. "Its not
too hot but just warm enough to make you feel comfortable without making you feel ...
whats the word?" He collects words.
"What does that
mean?" he asked unabashed.
"Too tired to work -
apathetic I suggested.
he agreed and prior to the ordeal of yet one more interview requested some smoked salmon
sandwiches from the pub nearby. We had one more false start when the phone rang ~ and he
took time out to chew off a roadie who was not together when he should have been.
I told you
about Top of the Pops two weeks ago its your job to see that everyone else knows,
lets get moving."
We discussed the
transformation from his teen idol days of Mathew And Son, Gotta Get Me A
Gun etc. to the present more subtly and personal expression of Mona Bone
Jakon and Tea For The Tillermen.
"I suppose it must
seem like that to people," said Steve somehow I can never bring myself to
address him as Cat which is my hang-up not his. "Really it was a very
gradual process for me and took place quite naturally over a long period of time. By the
time people were talking about the new changed Cat Stevens I was into
"Its no good
simply rejecting your past work and saying that was nothing to do with the real me
Mathew And Son was me at that time and Im still quite proud of it. What
I came to detest was falseness being projected around me.
I couldnt bear going
into recording sessions with all those strange faces, blank, uncomprehending and
unsympathetic session men who really had no feeling for my music.
"I wouldnt go
back to that kind of prefabricated existence for anything like most people who want to
create, I wanted to project something that was really me. Somehow I got caught up in
a situation where I never had time to sit down and think it out."
The crunch for Steve came
with his physical breakdown, which enforced a long period of rest upon him where he was
able to think things out. He drew an analogy with his own collapse and that of Peter
Sellers some years back.
"Do you remember that
period where Sellers appeared to be going through the doldrums and not making many good
films which finally culminated in that dreadful heart attack and it was feared he might
not live. He came out of that after a period of rest with such obviously renewed zest for
life and his work that he turned in some of the best acting performances of his career. In
a sense that was rather like my experience."
During that unhappy period
one of Steves closest friends was Barry Krost who had worked earlier with Steve on a
film project and as their sphere of interests became more mutual he became his manager.
"It was just the most
natural thing to happen," said Steve. "We followed that course letting
things happen naturally with everything else. We signed with Island because they were a
record company who recognized the fact that the artist must be given musical freedom to
present his best work. The day of the Les Reeds was over and they recognized
"My only consideration
was to write what I liked and what I hoped my friends would like before I had an
audience I wrote for them. This is the age of sharing your thoughts and thats what I
am doing thats the only way you become established. People who like good music
share it with their friends and your reputation spreads by word of mouth. Its a good
honest way for it to happen.
"Im not really
interested in being a part of something. My aim is to communicate something very personal
and to have working with me those people who are sympathetic enough to help me present
those ideas in the best way. Thats why I work with people like Paul Samwell Smith
who produces my discs.
"That s the way I see
things going so it gets to the stage where people might go to watch someone
doing something as simple and personal as pouring out a cup of tea but sharing in the
experience. Physical participation is on the slide because most people have realized that
you can go further in your mind. People dont dance now at many gigs because they are
dancing in their heads. We are evolving towards a time of purely mental involvement."
Disembodied brains has
never been one of my favourite Huxleyean concepts but Steve seems to accept what he
regards as an inevitable development with stoic calm although at the same time he
recognizes our present generations rejection of that philosophy of mind over matter
by its insistence on a return to the Garden.
We touched briefly upon
Greek music and its influence on his music from his Fathers side of the family .
"Not many people
realize that it is there quite strongly," said Steve. They realize that there is
often a strange quality about some of the music which they cant place my half
brother George is teaching me to play the bouzouki."
In connection with his
recent tour of America?
"It gave me extra
confidence to play to audiences who had no possible prejudice or preconceived notion of
what I was previously. I was judged purely on my music which is exactly how I want it to
be. I was scared to death when I opened at the Fillmore East and I think the audience
sensed that I was trying very hard. Overall the tour was very successful and that audience
got me off to a good start.
"I met some
interesting people, did a jam with Feliciano in New Orleans which was fun - met James
Taylor of the disturbing voice and eye - talked to Joni Mitchell - lots of nice
And so we say farewell to CS
as his new single rises slowly in the East, "Tuesdays Dead" (Plug) and
he prepares to hit the road with his new trip. Go see go listen and go enjoy