WHO UK TOUR 2014 - Just Backdated Gets Hot Poop

Never quite knowing what the day will bring and having already had a post for today (the last Cat Stevens book extract) already prepared, I find myself doing two posts in one day, as at lunchtime I was at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in Frith Street in the heart of Soho for a press conference called by Messrs Daltrey and Townshend to announce a December UK tour by The Who, to hear them play four songs together and do a brief Q&A in front of assorted press.
        It’s the 50th anniversary tour, nine gigs announced so far, details of which you can no doubt find on The Who’s website. Fifty years ago today The Who played at the Railway Hotel in Harrow, and the last time they were at Ronnie Scott’s was on May 1, 1969, when they premiered Tommy. Today Roger and Pete take the stage after a brief film made up from highlights of their career which, at first, had no sound. Someone had kicked a jack out. “Probably me,” said Pete.
        They make a great duo, as well they might after 50 years, and played ‘Substitute’, ‘Bargain’, ‘The Kids Are Alright’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, harmonising together; Roger with an emotional depth to his voice that rings out very clearly in this small club, Pete playing rhythm as only he can, chords zinging away on a 12-string for the first two numbers and a blonde Gibson J-200 for the other two. ‘Kids’ seemed especially poignant in this setting. During ‘Fooled Again’ I became aware of someone close by stamping his foot in time, very hard and very much in time in fact, and looked across to see that it was Zak Starkey, hopefully now reinstalled into the touring group.
        “This is the beginning of a long goodbye,” Roger was quoted as saying in a press release and when asked to expand on this he replied, “We can’t go on touring forever. My voice won’t last for ever. I think we’ll stop touring before we stop playing together.”
        “The heroin, the cocaine, we just can’t do it anymore,” quipped Pete, who went on to suggest that the set lists for this tour may contain songs from the deeper recesses of their catalogue. “‘Dogs Part 2’, ‘Dogs Part 1’, ‘Now I’m A Farmer’.” I think he was joking there too.
        “Why do it?” someone asked.
        “I want to do it,” said Pete, sounding very sincere. “Sometimes I don’t but this time I do. It’s a significant anniversary.”
        “I’m making the most of it while I can,” said Roger.
        “We like that people want to see us. This is what we do,” added Pete before rounding on a Guardian reporter with an unprintable tirade about the on-line comments found on the paper’s website. The question concerned whether or not they might record together again to which Pete responded that he’d sent Roger three demos fairly recently, so the answer was yes.
        Both were in great spirits, Roger clearly delighted by the response to his album with Wilco Johnson, Pete as good natured as ever, chatting to me about his son Joe before he went on stage. Funny that. I was talking to Roger about his kids earlier. Once upon a time I talked to The Who about their music and smashing guitars. Now I talk about how our kids are alright.
        I took the picture myself. 

CAT STEVENS - Book Extract, Part 4

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.”


CAT STEVENS - Book Extract, Part 3

Steve’s first album Matthew And Son contained 14 tracks and was released in February to mixed reviews. It was not a commercial success, probably because it contained both hit singles, their respective “B” sides and a rather listless version of ‘Here Comes My Baby’. Mike Hurst wrote the liner notes and thanked everyone who was associated with Stevens” career including Chris Brough, now Stevens’ co-manager, and engineer Vic Smith who, as Vic Coppersmith-Heaven, would produce a string of crack singles for the Jam fifteen years later.
“The first Cat Stevens album is not outstanding, nor is that surprising,” wrote Melody Maker’s anonymous reviewer. “Cat’s songwriting is a funny thing – some are good, intricate and cleverly thought out, others are basic, simple and a little boring. When one of the simple songs is coupled with an enormous Alan Tew/Mike Hurst arrangement – all thundering strings and stops and starts – it sounds a little pretentious. It’s a good LP of characteristic Stevens music but given a little more variation, less of the shammy orchestration and sound and an extra punchy vocal, it could have been a world beater.”
An element of controversy surrounded Steve’s next single ‘I’m Gonna Get Me A Gun’, which had its first public airing in March on Juke Box Jury, then the most popular televised pop programme in the UK. A feature of the show was to invite artists to appear but to keep their presence secret until after their record had been played. While the jury commented on their efforts the camera would focus on the subject of their remarks (who was usually seen biting their fingernails or evoking similar stressful characteristics) behind a screen and invisible to the panel.
        Hurst: “We hadn’t even considered the possibility that we could be accused of spreading violence but when the record was played on the show, Jimmy Savile launched into an attack on records that encouraged violence. Steve was there behind the screen with the camera on him, cringing with embarrassment and shaking with nerves, but at the end of Savile’s sermon all the jury voted the record a hit.”
        So did Chris Welch, Melody Maker’s singles reviewer, who’d evidently forgiven Steve for his parsimony in the pub. ”Undoubtedly Cat’s best record to date,” he wrote. “The arrangement is even more exciting and busy than ‘I Love My Dog’ and you’ll feel quite exhausted trying to take it all in. Alan Tew’s musical direction has almost drowned out poor Cat, but nevertheless, he’s in there with some good rebellious lyrics which should get the younger generation queuing up to buy this record.”
Welch and the JBJ panellists were correct in their predictions. Violent or not, ‘I’m Gonna Get Me A Gun’ reached a respectable number six in the charts during April, the same month that saw Stevens on the road in his first and last pop package tour.
From March 31 to April 30, opening at the Finsbury Park Astoria (later the Rainbow) and closing at Tooting Granada, Steve appeared throughout Britain on a bill that was headlined by The Walker Brothers and also featured the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Engelbert Humperdinck. On this occasion Steve was backed by The Quotations, another Decca act, who included in their number bassist Johnny Gustafson and drummer Micky Waller and who also provided backing material for the stars of the show, The Walker Brothers, Scott Engel, John Maus and Gary Leeds.
The performers were just as ill-matched then as they appear today, with Hendrix – touring the UK proper for the first time – upsetting The Walker Brothers with his extraordinary stagemanship and Stevens performing nervously to isolated screams from fans of the handsome Walkers.
The ever vigilant Chris Welch was present at the opening night. “Cat Stevens has improved tremendously stagewise and looked very cool and confident,” he wrote later. “Even when wearing a cowboy hat and gun for ‘I’m Gonna Get Me A Gun’. He was competently backed by The Quotations featuring some very fine drumming from Micky Waller.”
        There is a photograph from the tour in which Steve is flanked by Hendrix, Gary Leeds and Humperdinck. He holds a pistol, the stage prop for ‘I’m Gonna Get Me A Gun’, and gazes abstractly to the left of the camera, unsure of his position in such company, evidently bemused at the direction his career is taking. There is evidence to suggest that he was in awe of his fellow performers: he later admitted to holding open a door for Scott Walker and peering inside the Walker Brothers’ dressing room to confirm their existence in flesh and blood.
With three hit records under his belt, Cat Stevens had become an established name in the pop world by the summer of 1967. His earnings were reported to have reached £1,000 a week, received variously from record and songwriting royalties, stage performances and TV appearances both at home and in Europe – notably France, Germany and Holland – where the records had enjoyed success on a scale almost equal to that of the UK.
“We were always flying out to the Continent for TV appearances and the money, with expenses, was very good,” says Hurst. “Steve was always very conscientious with his money, even to the point of meanness. I think he inherited his love of money from his father who would count the takings from the restaurant at the end of an evening while Steve was watching.
“Steve would never spend his own money on anything unless he really had to. The songwriting was where he made it most. The Tremeloes’ record sold very well in America... it made him a small fortune.”
With such matters in mind Steve continued to live with his family above the restaurant in Shaftesbury Avenue where ample space had by now been converted into a small flat for his private use. “I remember saying to myself ‘Now if only I can save ten thousand pounds I’d be all right.’ The material things were important to me,” admitted Steve.
During May Steve formed his own production company (Cat Stevens Productions Ltd) for the purpose of recording other artists performing his songs and a second company (Doric Productions Ltd) for handling the management of artists signed to the first company. Two singers were signed – Peter James and Sasha Caro. Neither made any impression on the charts when records produced by Steve (‘Emperors And Armies’ by James on CBS and ‘Grade 3, Section 2’ by Caro on Decca) were released later in the year. Steve was also reported to be planning to write the score for a stage musical entitled A Mexican Flower but like many subsequent involvements in stage musicals, it never came to fruition.
The busy summer schedule represented a climax to the first phase of Cat Stevens’ career. From this point onwards he would slip gradually from grace: his next three singles were relative failures, his relationship with Mike Hurst and arranger Alan Tew soured and the follow-up album to Matthew And Son was recorded – and received – in an atmosphere of impending gloom. To cap it all, Steve contracted tuberculosis, which effectively set his career back by almost two years.
“I was trying hard to write the next hit song but showbusiness wore me down and my records weren’t selling so much any more,” he says. “I felt lonely out there and I began to drink and smoke heavily. I needed at least one bottle of brandy or wine to get me up on stage and I was staying up late and chasing after girls... the life of a star. I became dangerously ill and the result was tuberculosis.”
The fourth single ‘A Bad Night’ was released in July. “Because the other singles had such a lot of energy and unusual arrangements ploughed into them, the ideas were running out by this time,” says Hurst. “‘A Bad Night’ was totally outlandish... we went over the top. That record has three tempo changes and three different arrangements played by three different sets of studio musicians. It was so complicated that people just weren’t interested in it... it didn’t hit them right between the eyes as the others had done.
        “It was very much a showbusiness record. People in the industry liked it but that’s typical of a common mistake that people make. It was a musicians’ record and not a record for the public.”
Pop singer Anita Harris, reviewing ‘A Bad Night’ in Melody Maker’s Blind Date feature, agreed: “They’ve got a whole variety show here,” she opined. “It’s a lot of fun but I don’t think it’s to be taken seriously.”
‘A Bad Night’, the first single by Steve to be recorded at Olympic Studios in Barnes in preference to Decca’s West Hampstead facility, reached Number 20 on the singles charts. ‘Kitty’, the fifth Deram single released five months later, rose no higher than Number 48. In the meantime Steve had signed a Birmingham group called Yellow Raincoat to his Doric production company, used them as a backing band on isolated live appearances (including a 48-hour ‘Love In’ at the Palais Des Sports in Paris) and made the decision to leave Mike Hurst and his associates.
‘Kitty’ illustrates perfectly the dilemma that Steve was facing and goes some way to explaining his declining fortunes. Like ‘A Bad Night’ it was over-produced to the point of absurdity with bombastic brass crowding the chorus as it lurches through unsubtle orchestrations and a dated razzamatazz arrangement. For a sensitive soul like Cat Stevens, ‘Kitty’ just blunders along, steering a direct course towards variety entertainment. It appeared as if his professional advisers were determined to turn Steve into a minor league ballad singer with teeny bop aspirations, a sort of cross between Engelbert Humperdinck and David Cassidy.
“The final break actually came when the agent that Mike had appointed wanted me to go into pantomime over Christmas,” says Steve. “When I refused the agent told me I was making the biggest mistake of my life. I’m pretty sure it was Cinderella and I was being lined up for the role of Buttons.”
Thus were formed the seeds of dissatisfaction between Cat Stevens and the business advisors who controlled his career. The relationship was terminated some months before Steve contracted TB.
“It was the same old argument and the finger can be pointed equally at both sides of the equation,” says Hurst. “By this time Steve had been offered fortunes from all over the place and if you were an artist you would probably feel the same way as he did which was to get rid of the people he had been involved with up to now and move onwards. That is exactly what happened in 1968... that year was one long interminable legal wrangle for me.”
Steve hired the services of an experienced entertainment lawyer called Oscar Beusalinck, a senior partner in the firm of Edward Oldman and Co., who wrote to Hurst claiming that his contract with Cat Stevens had been signed before Steve had reached the age of 21 (which it had), and that being with a minor, it was not binding in law.
“Our relationship ended with a good deal of acrimony,” admits Hurst. “We did the second album with lawyers actually in the studio. It was horrendous. Steve had to do the album under the Decca contract and Decca insisted that it was recorded at their own studios in order to keep the costs down. They realised it might be their last shot with him because of the contractual problems between him and me. Steve wanted to use Olympic studios again but Decca wouldn’t let him.
“The sadness of the whole affair from my point of view was the letter from his solicitors that claimed I hadn’t furthered Steve’s career. I don’t think he would have said that to my face but that’s what was said legally and I blew my top... a year and a half ago he had been earning ten pounds a week waiting tables at the family restaurant and now he was earning one thousand pounds a week. If that isn’t furthering someone’s career I don’t know what is.”
Steve, on the other hand, felt that his earnings were being reduced by an inordinate amount through expenses. “I had to pay a percentage to Mike, a percentage to the agent, the office costs and everything else,” he says. “They even made me pay for the advertising of the records in those days.”
“The lawyers said that his increased income had nothing to do with it,” says Hurst. “Steve was a minor and shouldn’t have signed the contract with me in the first place. There was no argument for me against that because a minor was someone under 21 in those days, not 18 as it is today. That was that end of business.”


CAT STEVENS - Book Extract, Part 2

The second part on my chapter about Yusuf's early career. 

The first editorial mention of Cat Stevens to appear in the London pop press was in Melody Maker on October 22. A brief anonymous feature revealed that his real name was Steve Adams, that he had written over 40 songs and that his ambition was to write a musical. “‘I Love My Dog’ was written some time ago,” Steve told the MM’s interviewer. “I had the melody but I didn’t want to waste it on corny lyrics. Despite what some people say I don’t think the song is corny. It has a meaning for me. Actually I can’t own a dog… it is unhygienic in a restaurant. I did have one called Columbus but I had to get rid of it.”
The MM feature also revealed that negotiations were under way for Stevens to visit America and that TV dates had been fixed in Belgium, France and Germany. “Plans for a tour and an album are being held back until we know how big a hit ‘I Love My Dog’ will be,” added Steve.
In the event, Steve played his first live dates as a recording artist in November but Hurst, as his manager, was in two minds about adding his protégé to a package tour. “He was not a good live performer. He did not add anything to the strength of his records because he was still so nervous, totally edgy. He admitted to me many times as he smoked his Woodbines, forty or fifty of them a day.”
As a warm-up for bigger things, a short tour of Scotland was arranged for November to be followed by club, ballroom and cabaret dates in December. “We used a group called George Bean and The Runners as a supporting act and they backed Steve for his part of the show,” says Hurst. “He hated it… absolutely loathed it and I didn’t blame him at all. They were virtually living in a van all the time… most uncomfortable.”
The Scottish dates were followed by appearances around Tyneside and at Epping, Morecambe, Huntingdon, Birmingham and Trowbridge before Steve flew to France for three shows at the Paris Olympia in mid-December. These turned out to be a pre-amble for Steve’s most important showcase to date, a two week season at Brian Epstein’s Savile Theatre in London sharing a bill with Georgie Fame, Julie Felix and Sounds Incorporated. The season was called “Fame in ‘67 Show” and, by all accounts, there was a pantomime atmosphere to the 14 concerts. The run opened on Boxing Day.
“I was petrified because I knew it wasn’t going to be comfortable… that it was just what Steve didn’t like,” says Hurst. “I advised him to do something crazy on stage, to act weird by sitting on top of an amplifier cross–legged, to do something eccentric.
“He said that’s what he would do but when it came to the opening night he didn’t do any of those things. He was dressed in black velvet suit with a frilly white shirt but it was just a very negative performance that didn’t help him at all.”
Cat Stevens’ second single ‘Matthew And Son’ was released by Deram in the first week of January 1967. Inspired by the London firm of Foster Wheeler Power Products, Steve took the title Matthew And Son from a sign he had spotted on his travels around the city. The lyrics were based on a Dickensian theme in which oppressed labour suffers at the hands of dictatorial owner management. It was unusually socio-sympathetic for its time.
“We did a demo of it with just Steve on guitar and I took it to play to Tony Hall who was the head of promotion at Decca,” recalls Hurst. “He didn’t like it at all but I went ahead and recorded it anyway with about 25 musicians, strings and everything, even a harp. Still Decca didn’t like it, but they released it anyway and I took the first promotional copy to Allan Keen at Radio London who had been very helpful at plugging the first record. He didn’t like it either but he agreed to play it for a week to see if it would catch on. I remember having a bet with him for a pint of beer if it was a hit.
“That same week Cat did Pop Inn for the Light Programme at the BBC’s Paris Studio in Lower Regent Street and while we were there recording the show Tony Hall came rushing in to tell us that ‘Matthew And Son’ had sold 30,000 copies in one day.”
By a not so curious coincidence, ‘Matthew And Son’ was reviewed in Melody Maker’s Blind Date feature by Georgie Fame and Julie Felix, the two artists who shared the bill with Steve at the Savile Theatre during the post-Christmas run. Here are their comments: Julie Felix: “I have to get ready for my spot when I hear him sing this one in the show. I put my dress on and go to the wings”; Georgie Fame: “The other side is great as well. It’s got a good trumpet thing that comes out better in the show than on the record. It will definitely be a hit. It’s a strong double-sider. I was never anti-Cat Stevens but now I’m completely knocked out. Unanimous hit.”
‘Matthew And Son’ entered the charts a week after release and rose to number two, the highest position a single by Steve would ever reach in his home country. Occupying the top position at the time was ‘I’m A Believer’ by The Monkees, the US teenybop outfit whose star was firmly on the ascendant and whose British born lead singer had jetted into London from California that same month to grab the headlines by revealing that the group did not play on their own records. The revelation did little to curb the hysteria amongst their teenage fans.
A month later Stevens was back in the British charts, albeit in the bracketed small print reserved for composers beneath the name of the performer.
‘Here Comes My Baby’, the début hit by Brian Poole’s former backing band The Tremeloes, was one of the first songs that Steve had ever written, well before he encountered Mike Hurst. It was written at a time when Steve considered his potential as a songwriter far outweighed his chances as a performer.
Later the same year, during May, he would score further success as a songwriter when P.P. Arnold took a Mike Hurst production of ‘First Cut Is The Deepest’ to number 18 in the charts. This same song, of course, provided Rod Stewart with half of a double A-sided Number One (coupled with ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’) in April 1977.
While ‘Matthew And Son’ maintained its lofty chart position, Stevens was interviewed by Chris Welch of Melody Maker. “I remember the occasion well,” says Welch today. “Cat announced that he had given up drinking and smoking. Then he promptly ordered a double vodka and chain-smoked for an hour and a half. He said they always tasted better if you’d given them up. We had several rounds but he never paid once. I thought he must be a tight-fisted fellow, especially since he must be making a bit of money from those two hit records.”
The subsequent feature was peppered with the kind of enigmatic quotes for which Steve would later become well known. “You have to be yourself to stay alive in the business,” he told Welch. “You mustn’t start believing what people say about you or you’re in trouble. Believe in yourself – that’s very important.
“I’m not worried about having an image or not. I want fans to like the good things about me and forget the bad things. I suppose they see me as someone new and wonder what I’m like. I think new artists can injure themselves when they start knocking people before their feet are on the ground. That way they can fall over. It’s very good for me that there have been so few solo artists around compared with the number of groups. I’m learning from other people’s mistakes but I’m lucky. Material is the most important thing and I’m lucky because I’ve got Me and Me writes songs for myself. I love writing songs. When I feel down I start to write.
“Two years ago when I was just playing guitar I thought I was ‘it’ and if anybody said anything against me I was terrible and I had it in for them. These days everybody is trying to do something or other and how do you knock that? I think it is a very healthy scene at the moment. Everybody is growing. The scene will change and people will get more sophisticated. Teenagers in particularly want their tastes recognised.
“They loved it when parents liked The Beatles. This is great and the day of the rebel thing is over. I think we all want to be one happy mass and teenagers want to be part of swinging England. There is now less of a division between young and older people.”
During the same month, Steve was the subject of Melody Maker’s Pop Think In – an extended word association test in which artists gave their views on random subjects. On the subject of Brian Epstein, Stevens expanded his remarks to include managers in general and commented on his relationship with Mike Hurst. “We are so good for each other,” he said. “When we sit down to work out arrangements we just click straight away.”
His comments on various other topics provide an interesting insight into Stevens’ thought process at the time. On “depression” he said: “I get a lot of that at parties and big gatherings. I’ve got to be really stoned to really enjoy a party. I write songs to get out of depressions – I believe that to write a good song you have to feel a bit hurt. I don’t write many happy tunes. You will be thoroughly depressed after you’ve heard my LP – but please buy it before you shoot yourself. At art school I used to get depressed and go on to the fire exit stairs and play guitar. They found out… that’s why I had to leave.”
On “restaurants” he said: “I used to work in my father’s place when I was about ten, waiting on customers. I grew to really hate it. Now I tip waiters too heavily because I know what they are going through. I like eating in good restaurants like Isow’s.”
On “sport” he said: “I used to love sports. There is a swimming pool opposite our place and I used to go every day and increase the number of lengths each time. But in cold weather I got this thing where my hands went yellow and I had to stop. Pop stars need to be fit. It’s very important to build yourself up.”
On “smoking” he said: “I smoke too much. I force myself to throw my matches away so I don’t have a cigarette too early in the morning. Once I start smoking I carry on all day. I daren’t count how many I smoke. I keep wondering what the inside of my lungs look like. Still, smoking calms me – though that’s probably psychological.”

On “Folk music” he said: “That’s where I came from. I still have a tinge in me. The sort of melody in folk songs used to get me – when I write a song it’s the melody first. I used to write folk songs and maybe I’ll release them on an EP. I was never really accepted in the folk world because I was too progressive – they only want Dominic Behan and the traditional stuff. Next year they will be singing the same things and the year after. I can’t stand that.”


CAT STEVENS – Book Extract, Part 1

When I was commissioned to write my book about him in 1984 I tracked Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam down by asking after him at the Mosque in London’s Regents Park. It turned out he had an office on Curzon Street and I went to meet with him there. Fortunately he remembered me from my days on Melody Maker when I interviewed him a few times. He didn’t want to be interviewed for the book but he agreed to check over the manuscript and he told me a bit about his life after he retired from music. He was emphatic that he wasn’t a ‘recluse’, as the press had termed him.
         As a musician, Stevens is best known nowadays as the one-time sensitive balladeer whose hugely successful albums Tea For The Tillerman and Teaser & The Firecat are widely regarded as masterpieces of the confessional, singer-songwriter genre. Before that, however, he was a rather precocious, velvet-suited pop singer who, unusually for the time, wrote his own material. This extract from my long out-of-print book covers this, lesser known, period of Stevens’ life and career. Born Steven Georgiou, he’s just adopted the stage name Cat Stevens, though everyone still knows him as ‘Steve’, and he’s spent the last few months knocking on music industry doors during the day while working as a waiter in his father’s Greek restaurant near London’s Cambridge Circus in the evenings…

The search for professional sponsorship found genuine enthusiasm on the day Steve walked into the offices of a Greek American producer/entrepreneur called Jim Economides in February of 1966. It was here, in Albert Gate Mews, Knightsbridge, that the young songwriter met Mike Hurst, once a third of The Springfields vocal trio, more recently a freelance record producer and now the underpaid assistant to Economides. His boss’s disinterest in the aspiring folksinger led directly to Hurst’s own close involvement in the first phase of Steve’s career.
Michael Longhurst-Pickworth, for that was his full title, was born in Kilburn in 1942 and had been loosely involved with music through his family since the age of four. In 1962 he answered an advertisement in The Stage magazine for a singer to replace Tim Field in The Springfields and sang alongside Dusty Springfield and her brother Tom on the group’s two major hits ‘Island Of Dreams’ and ‘Say I Won’t Be There’ but a year later the group disbanded, Dusty to achieve notable artistic success as a solo performer and Tom to work on writing and production.
Hurst tried his luck at anything just so long as he could stay in the record business before teaming up with Economides in late 1965. “Jim was a wonderful con-man,” says Hurst with a degree of amusement mixed with nostalgic respect. “He was a Californian studio engineer who had worked for Capitol in the US and when he came to London he conned people into thinking that he was The Beach Boys’ record producer. He got away with it and got loads of deals. He conned about five record companies in London out of lots of money and got me to do all the work in the studio without ever paying me. During the time I was working for him two singers came up to our offices and wanted to record. One of them was Marc Bolan and the other was this guy calling himself Cat Stevens. I didn’t think much of Marc Bolan but Jim did… it was Stevens who impressed me.”
To impress Hurst, Steve produced his Framus guitar and sang a recently written tune called ‘I Love My Dog’. “It was lunchtime and I was the only person in the office at the time,” says Hurst. “I thought it was marvellous… great. We played it for Jim when he came back from lunch and he thought it was a load of rubbish. I told him he was crazy and took Steve into my little office to explain that without Jim’s help there was nothing I could do. He went away looking quite dejected.”
Three months elapsed before Steve and Hurst met again. Steve continued to knock on the door of publishing companies and potential managers without success, during which time he carried on working for his father in the family restaurant and making nightly visits to the Soho folk clubs. In the meantime Hurst recorded ‘The Wizard’ with Marc Bolan but Jim Economides’ questionable business style drove his production company into the ground. Soon it collapsed in a welter of debts. “I was on the point of emigrating to America where I’d been offered a job in Los Angeles with Vanguard Records,” recalls Hurst. “I’d even bought the air ticket for myself and my family but one day in June, a Saturday, there was a ring at my front door and Steve was standing there.
“He told me he’d been to every record company in London and no-one would touch him, so I decided to hustle some money and make a single of ‘I Love My Dog’ before I left for America.”
The money that eventually launched Cat Stevens into the public eye came from an unlikely source – Chris Brough, the son of noted British ventriloquist Peter Brough. “Chris was a friend of mine who didn’t know anything about the music business but he trusted my judgement and gave me £130 to spend on hiring sessions,” says Hurst.
There followed an elaborate confidence trick worthy of Jim Economides himself but perpetrated now by his one time protégé. Trading on his former success as a member of The Springfields, Hurst persuaded Decca A&R chief Dick Rowe to offer three hours of free studio time in order that he might himself record a Mike D’Abo composition called ‘Going Going Gone’, a song that had impressed Rowe and which would duly be released by Decca. In actuality, Hurst used the three hours at Decca’s West Hampstead studios in Broadhurst Gardens to record Cat Stevens singing ‘I Love My Dog’.
An unusual arrangement was pieced together by Hurst, Steve and Alan Tew and played by the twelve musicians who earned £10 each for their three hour shift. A cellist echoed the melody behind Steve’s chorus and instead of a steady backbeat, cymbals and snare dictated the tempo helped along by resounding timpani. “We spent the whole three hours making the single and I completely forgot about the B-side,” says Hurst. “Steve came up with ‘Portobello Road’, which he did in one take with just his acoustic guitar for backing and then I stayed over for forty minutes extra time to mix them both.”
The following day Dick Rowe was not amused until he heard the results. “He was furious,” says Hurst. “But at least he listened to it and at the end he called up to Sir Edward Lewis, the head of Decca Records.
“I thought I was in for big trouble from the great man himself but then it dawned on me that they actually liked it. We did a deal there and then for three singles over the next twelve months. Steve was waiting downstairs in an old Triumph Herald car with Chris Brough and I brought him up to the office to tell him the good news.”
It was duly decided that Hurst would cancel his emigration plans to become Steve’s manager and record producer and that ‘I Love My Dog’ would launch Decca’s new “progressive” label, Deram, in the autumn. An advance of £2,000 was received from the record company which enabled Hurst to set up an office in Kingly Street and Steve to quit working in The Moulin Rouge. He continued to live above the restaurant and spent his time working on new songs or inquiring how his career was progressing while Hurst explained away the sudden change in domestic plans to his surprised family.
‘I Love My Dog’ was released at a time when the pop charts were enjoying a burst of creativity which has seldom been equalled. The gradual sophistication of The Beatles had been an inspiration to others and while Steve’s debut scratched its way to number 27 in the charts in October and November, the top position was held securely by The Beach Boys’ classiest ever recording ‘Good Vibrations’. But it was not an inauspicious début: most initial efforts never make the charts at all.
“What it did,” says Hurst, “was to make an impact on the media because Cat Stevens was such an unusual name and it was a very unusual song. The pirate stations were the ones that really hit with that record but it came and went by the end of November so we had to get another release ready by the end of the year.”


CAT STEVENS - 1970 Interview

It might seem odd that in July of 1970 Cat Stevens would meet me in a pub off Fleet Street in order to be interviewed for Melody Maker but the fact is the Red Lion in Red Lion Alley was the venue for many such encounters between MM writers and stars of the future. Chris Welch can recall meeting David Bowie there long before ‘Space Oddity’ and when Jimmy Page dropped by unexpectedly to tell Chris about his new group Led Zeppelin Chris suggested they nip into the Red Lion for a swift half.
         This was one of the first interviews I ever did for MM, and in hindsight it reads a bit naïve, but I wasn’t to know – and neither was he – that I caught Steve on the brink of his most successful period, just before the realise of his Mona Bone Jakon LP. The next two years would see him become the UK’s pre-eminent singer songwriter, with the hugely successful albums Tea For The Tillerman and Teaser And The Firecat. Nevertheless Cat Stevens was never really comfortable in the role of rock star and the atmosphere surrounding him seemed quite different from that the others whose albums topped the charts. As I noted in my book about him: “Though constantly surrounded by the rich and fashionable, he maintained an uncharacteristically low profile for a successful musician. There appeared around Stevens an aura of suppressed elegance: he mixed not with the more hedonistic elements of the rock’n’roll world but with society friends, introduced to him by his manager Barry Krost and his publicist, the ever-energetic Tony Brainsby. He was courted by artists and models, actors and actresses, debutantes, dress designers and fashion photographers. Cat Stevens was not – and never would be – a rock’n’roll star with all the overt, often tasteless, machismo that the title has come to imply.”
         The other thing I noticed about Steve was that girls adored him, especially rich, posh ones. Beautiful ones too, as I noted to my immense delight when I saw Steve do a show at the Drury Lane Theatre (not the sort of gig anyone else would do) and went to the aftershow at some posh hotel where the other guests certainly didn’t look like the hard headed women Steve sang about.
Last week saw the return of Cat Stevens to the MM chart after a disappearance act worthy of Houdini. It is 12 months since the release of his last single ‘Where Are You’, which failed to register, and even longer since the day when the name Cat Stevens on a record label meant instant success.
         Cat has changed since the ‘Matthew’ days. A long spell in hospital with tuberculosis left him helpless for many months – and the convalescence seems to have been endless.
         Now the Cat is back – and chartbustin’ in his old familiar manner. There’s an album due for release in September with 11 new songs all written by Cat, and the single ‘Lady D’Arbanville’ is No 21 in the MM chart.
         “At the moment we are working on this, the second album, but we have almost finished it,” he told me. “We haven’t decided on a name for it but there are two tracks which may provide a name. It will be out sometime in September. I have just produced a single with Jimmy Cliff called ‘Wild World’ which will be released in two weeks’ time. It’s not a reggae number like his other singles but the song suits him very well.
         “They are a very mixed collection of numbers on the album but we are doing it at just the right time. When I started recording the ‘vibes’ were just fantastic. It’s about a year since my last single was out – ‘Where Are You’ a very slow one – and it didn’t get anywhere.
         “I had to get everything right before I started again. The situation and the timing was wrong before. There just wasn’t the time to do things and it wasn’t the right time to do the things I set out to do.
         “This week I am doing Top Of The Pops and a programme on BBC2 where I sing three songs, and I have got a couple festivals in August in Holland and Belgium.
         “I am still forming my own group and need a bass guitarist to complete the line-up. We have Harvey Burns on drums and Alun Davies on guitar, and they are playing on the album. They are just a backing group really.
         “It seems as if I am making a comeback but I have never really been away. It’s very strange because the whole attitude changes and everything is turned inside out. Now I am seeing the shiny side again.
         “It has made all the difference to me because I had to have that break. If it wasn’t the illness it had to be something else. Before I was almost slaughtering myself working so hard and in no particular direction. Now I feel alive much more than I have ever done.
         “There are no plans yet for a follow-up single to the current one. Basically the single was released as a promotion for the album because it is on the album. Of course, we hoped it would get somewhere, but I am more worried about the album than the single.
         “The main thing is to concentrate on LP’s now. I only do record producing when I feel like it and when there are artists I want to work with. In my opinion all the musicians that ever take part in sessions are producers.
         “The album is my first long player on Island records and it has taken two and a half months to do. With Deram, my old label, we got to the point where I was going in one direction and they were going in another. We eventually decided to quit it because nothing was happening. We just split. They were very nice about it.”
         I asked Cat who he was listening to himself. “At the moment I’m a big fan of Frank Zappa and Elton John, but I dig anybody who is making good sounds. For a long time I was feeling very bad because I wasn’t doing anything. I wanted to contribute but the timing was not right. I may have been out of things but I have been listening very intently to what has been going on.”
         Cat is currently moving house – from a flat in London’s Shaftsbury Avenue to a three storey house in Fulham which he hopes will be much more peaceful than in the centre of town. “I have been painting a lot recently in the last six month. I am really having a great time with my water colours,” he said.
         “Art was what I originally started out to do and music came second at first. I had a year at art college but I left because it was too much like school. I give all my paintings away to people I like.”
         He is currently raving over a 21st birthday present, which we can expect to see him experimenting with in future photos. It’s a great hemisphere depicting the sky with the earth, moon and sun revolving around inside. It’s driven by an electric motor and the various stars and planets light up.