Cat Steven’s second Deram album New Masters was released in January 1968 and received little support from Decca in view of the litigious circumstances. Although the label missed out with David Bowie, another of their early signings whom they dropped from the roster, they hit paydirt with Ten Years After and The Moody Blues who now occupied most of their time. New Masters contained a dozen songs by Steve and, unlike the first album, sported no complimentary sleeve notes by its producer. Steve is photographed on the cover wearing a lace frill held in place by a diamond broach attached to his collar in the manner of a restoration aristocrat.
Nevertheless, Melody Maker adopted a kind approach in their LP review. “The music certainly deserves recognition,” wrote their anonymous critic. “Cat is singing better than ever and his voice has peculiar characteristics which are difficult to nail down. The songs are often beautiful and picturesque.”
Hurst and Steve duly lost touch with each other, the former to carry on producing records by such diverse artists as Manfred Mann, the Ryan Twins, The Move and P.P. Arnold, while the latter went into temporary obscurity as a result of hospitalisation. Deram released a sixth Cat Stevens single ‘Lovely Cities’ in February which failed to reach the top 50.
The circumstances surrounding Steve’s illness were kept relatively secret – even Mike Hurst wasn’t told until much later – and only a small news item in the music press for the week ending March 9, 1968, indicated that anything was amiss. All the London music papers carried a story to the effect that Steve had been rushed into the Harley Street Nursing Home the previous Saturday.
“He had been troubled by a cough for a week and on Friday went to a specialist for X-rays. When the results were known he was found to be suffering from chronic pneumonia and at once taken to the Nursing Home,” read the reports circulated by his PR Mike Gill. It was to be the last mention of Cat Stevens in the music press for eight months.
“TB ruined my dream and put a halt to my career,” he says. “I was back on earth, stuck in hospital and that was a big lesson. While I was in hospital I had a lot of time to reflect. Death was on my mind. This was during the Flower Power/Maharishi period and along with many others I became interested in Eastern religious philosophy. I had a book with me called The Secret Path and it talked about death, the life beyond and the way to achieve peace.
“I’d lost my faith in Christianity and I needed something spiritual so I started meditating, sitting for long periods in silence, trying hard to separate my body from my soul. Then one day I had a glimpse... it was only a flash but it filled my life with hope. There was something beyond and I knew that God was somewhere but I still had a long way to go and find him.”
In September it was reported that a new Cat Stevens single ‘Here Comes My Wife’ was scheduled for release the following month and that Steve would record a new LP for Decca during November. The album never materialised but the single was released to complete indifference: like ‘Lovely Cities’, it never even made the top 50.
Maurice Gibb of The Bee Gees reviewed ‘Here Comes My Wife’ in Melody Maker’s Blind Date feature on October 19. “This guy is beautiful when he sings those songs of his,” says Maurice. “This will be a hit but not as big as ‘Matthew And Son’. It’s very over-arranged. I’d like to have heard a lot more of his voice. I prefer the things he does when the arrangements are not so merry. He’s a very good songwriter though.”
This brief burst of activity turned out to be false start but there is a little known postscript to the Hurst/Stevens relationship. In mid-1969, after Steve had been absent from the charts for almost two years, Decca approached Hurst with a view to re-establishing their former relationship.
“Decca had somehow secured Steve’s services for a further two years before he went into hospital but had been shocked and probably discouraged by his illness,” says Hurst. “Their original intention was to carry on recording Steve with another producer but after his illness they called me up and asked me to make another record with him.
“He came up to my offices and played me a couple of songs on guitar and said he wanted to record them very basically, just him and his guitar and nothing else on the track. I told him to forget it but he insisted that that was the way he wanted to record in future... no big arrangements, just him and his guitar.
“In the end we compromised and recorded two songs with just acoustic guitar and a small string section. The record was called ‘Where Are You’ and Decca put it out towards the end of 1969. Nothing happened with it at all. After that, Steve said he knew what he wanted to do and that was to record very simply. I disagreed with him and we decided to go our own separate ways from then on. He was right of course, as his later success proved.”
Hurst and Steve met just one more time, quite by chance, in an American restaurant in Chelsea’s Kings Road in 1976. “We had a hamburger together and talked about old times and I haven’t seen him since,” says Hurst.
“I think there’s one thing that I taught him that stayed with him when he was very famous and which may go some way to explaining the way he is today. I’d always had this thing about how stars should be untouchable to the public and all the way through the two years I was with him I stuck with that theory. I told him not to go out to clubs, not to be seen by anybody unless he was performing... I even hauled him out of a few clubs in the West End until he promised never go to out like that again.
“I taught him the value of keeping a low profile in public and it seems that he took that particular lesson to heart.”