The Cat Stevens that introduced himself to the world in 1966 was a very different character to the one that found global fame four years later as a dashing, guitar-playing troubadour, let alone the man he is today. In keeping with the times, when ‘I Love My Dog’ was released in October that year Cat resembled a young Regency dandy in his black velvet frock coat and pristine white shirt with Mandarin collar, a dark Beatle fringe and modish sunglasses partially obscuring the olive skin he’d inherited from his Greek father. He was just 18, not long out of Hammersmith Art College and about to enter a curiously restrained two-year apprenticeship in the world of pop.
It was a propitious moment to embark on a music career. ‘I Love My Dog’ was released at a time when the charts were enjoying a burst of creativity that has seldom been equalled, with sixties legends like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who jostling for position amidst American acts from the Tamla Motown label in Detroit, Stax in Memphis and the newly arrived guitar maestro Jimi Hendrix. The increasing complexity and sophistication of The Beatles’ records had acted as an inspiration to others and, as Cat Stevens’ debut single scratched its way to a highest placing of number 27 in the singles listing that November, the top spot was held securely by ‘Good Vibrations’, The Beach Boys’ shimmering collage of cutting-edge creativity. But it was not an inauspicious debut: most initial efforts never make the charts at all.
Only the opening bars of ‘I Love My Dog’ and the fact that he wrote it himself betray a hint of what was to come. A brief acoustic guitar figure, no more than half a dozen notes, sounds remarkably like the sound of songs he would compose and record in the early seventies, songs like ‘Lady D’Arbanville’, ‘Moonshadow’ and ‘Father And Son’ that would clinch Cat Stevens’ position at the high table of singer songwriters. Then the guitar is lost in the production and ‘I Love My Dog’ becomes just another catchy pop song, typical for its time and one of several that Stevens would record during this early, often forgotten, phase of a career – and a life – quite unlike any other in the evolving history of popular music.
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To his fans he would be known as Cat and later in life he would change his name to Yusuf, but to his family and friends he was Steve. Born on July 21, 1948, in Middlesex Hospital on Goodge Street, he was christened Steven Demetri Georgiou, the youngest of three children of Stavros, a Greek Cypriot, and his Swedish wife Ingrid, nèe Wickman. Together with his older siblings, brother David and sister Anita, he was raised in a flat above the family’s Greek restaurant The Moulin Rouge, just north of Cambridge Circus in Central London.
Several major roads intersect at this busy hub, and Covent Garden, then London’s principal produce market, is a few minutes’ walk away. It’s a lively and cosmopolitan part of the city, its pubs and restaurants catering to a thriving nightlife, bookstores occupying every corner and shops selling musical instruments spilling out from Denmark Street on to Charing Cross Road. There can be no question that the neighbourhood where Steven Demetri learned to walk exerted a powerful influence on his young soul.
“My playground was a triangle, somewhere between Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and the British Museum,” he wrote in the book Why I Still Carry A Guitar. “That was where my life began.”
In an interview conducted not long after he began recording he spoke of feeling different to other children his age. “As a child I used to climb to the tops of buildings in the area where I lived and from there I could see almost every sight that London had to offer. I was always writing funny little stories about what I saw and I began to see London as being like the fluctuating weather in as much as everything could happen all in one day. I never wrote much about forests and fields because there were none to see.”
By the age of eight Steve was working in the family restaurant. “My father came from a small village in Cyprus,” Steve wrote. “He was a smart, hardworking man… [I] inherited his work ethic… and began serving as a waiter and mopping the floors to earn an extra bit of pocket money.”
Shaftsbury Avenue, the heart of London’s Theatreland, was his to explore and as a boy he’d sneak into theatres to catch performances of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story and a South African musical called King Kong that was promoted as a ‘jazz opera’. Of West Side Story, an updating of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, he said, “The effect was just incredible. It was such a great concept... just being in that scene, the kind of gang scene of the times combined with the passion of the music. That was really hot and it got me going.” Songs from musicals such as this that told stories would become a key influence on the songwriting style Steve would eventually develop.
Raised as a Christian, Steve’s inquisitive mind struggled with the dogmatic nature of his Catholic school and he and his friends would occasionally play truant to experience the hustle and bustle of city life. “It was the easiest thing in the world to step out of my own front door and straight to the stage door of the theatre across the road or Tin Pan Alley, rather than go to church.”
Nevertheless, it was the church that offered an introduction to music, ‘Jerusalem’, with its rousing patriotic theme based on a poem by William Blake, a particular favourite. “We sang hymns in the morning and I used to go to church every Sunday and on Tuesdays too,” said Steve. “I used to love the stories about Jesus and the disciples but there were a lot of things I didn’t understand. Like a lot of kids, I had many questions but no easy answers. I was shy as a child and found it difficult to express myself. It made me isolated and instead of playing games with the rest of the children I preferred to stay at home and draw. I found it easier to communicate my feelings through art.”
From the age of five Steve attended the Drury Lane Roman Catholic School and later transferred to Northampton Secondary Modern School in nearby Old Street. His formal education was completed at the Hugh Middleton School in Islington, but uninspiring music teachers failed to recognise any latent talent in him. The only subject in which Steve excelled was art, an affinity partially motivated by his uncle Hugo in Sweden, who was a painter.
This talent for drawing and illustration seemed at first to be his calling in life; a way of expressing himself and channeling his powerful imagination. He spent endless hours sketching and even had a few illustrations published in small magazines. With thoughts of pursuing a career in this field, he enrolled at Hammersmith Art College. Slowly but surely, however, music was encroaching into his life.
“Music crept up on me very slowly until finally I couldn’t do without it,” he told Roy Carr of New Musical Express in 1972. “In fact I couldn’t draw or paint without it. I used to go upstairs and listen to my sister’s Anita’s records, things like Porgy and Bess, occasionally Jimmy Clayton records, Little Richard records, all the singles by Buddy Holly. I just used to sit there listening to these records while I painted.”
Then came The Beatles.
At over fifty years remove it is difficult to overstate the profound impact that the arrival of John, Paul, George and Ringo from Liverpool had on the UK, most especially on those in their teens and twenties. Steve would have just turned 15, the perfect age, when ‘She Loves You’ rocketed to the top of the UK charts and signalled the start of Beatlemania as it became known. All over the country Beatles fans went crazy for the group, queuing outside venues overnight to see them, following them wherever they went, causing disturbances everywhere. The Beatles weren’t off the front pages for the rest of the year, and the following year America and Australia fell to their charms. Suddenly and without precedent the whirlwind that was The Beatles blew away the cobwebs of the past and the Sixties began to swing.
Steve was not immune. He was 15 when he persuaded his father to buy him an £8 guitar from a shop on Denmark Street but instead of trying to learn the songs he heard on the radio he began to compose his own. But he was still torn between art and music. “I didn’t take to the guitar at first,” he says. “My finger ends were hurting but I picked it up again later and began practising. For some reason it came easier to me the second time but I never thought of myself as a guitarist or even a singer. I thought I could become a songwriter.”
By the end of the first year at Hammersmith Art College music had taken over from his studies. He would take his guitar to the college and, instead of attending lectures, sit on the fire escape and practise. “After a year the art school said to me: ‘Look you’ve done nothing so you’ve got to do the whole course again.’ So I decided that I’d split and I did just that.”
The only legacy of note that Steve took from Hammersmith is the nickname Cat, bestowed upon him by girlfriend there who decided it suited his feline features. Although he was unconvinced by the name, he stuck with it, perhaps realising that, linked with a variation on Steven, it might serve him well.
Meanwhile, Steve and his friend Peter Horgan (later Peter Janes) had been introduced to the music of Bob Dylan by Peter’s older brother who ran a folk club called Les Cousins. Located in the basement of a restaurant in Soho’s Greek Street, Les Cousins would become a key meeting place for musicians from the British folk revival of the mid-sixties. It welcomed those less inclined towards the more staid traditional folk venues, and among those who performed there were Al Stewart, Davey Graham, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Roy Harper, Sandy Denny and even Paul Simon, visiting from New York.
Much as he enjoyed these singers with their guitar accompaniment, he was also drawn to rhythm and blues artists like Alexis Korner, Long John Baldry and Bo Diddley, whose choppy ‘shave and a haircut – two bits’ rhythm would forever be a source of fascination and inspiration. To this end he graduated to the Scene Club in Ham Yard near Piccadilly Circus and the Marquee Club, which had lately moved to Wardour Street from its original site in Oxford Street. Both were Mod strongholds where The High Numbers, soon to become The Who, performed between record sessions presided over by London’s brightest and best informed young disc jockey, Guy Stevens. Steve was one of the many in the sea of Modishly cropped heads who were under age so he forged his membership card to gain entry but it was from the Scene Club that his simmering musical ambition first took tangible form in the recruitment of a few friends to form an ad hoc group.
This was the JAS Trime, named after three friends – James, Andrew and Steve – though it was more conceptual than tangible. “We all picked an instrument but nobody actually bought one except me,” says Steve. “They just hummed the notes in imitation to their chosen instruments. We were very naive at the time. We chose Trime as being another word for trio.
“Finally we got to the point where I got a gig at this club I used to hang out in because we painted the murals on the walls and managed to buy a drum and Andrew got hold of some maracas so we had a line-up of guitar, one tom-tom and a maraca shaker. The night of the gig I took about twelve Purple Hearts and went down there and started singing. It was terrible. From what I can remember the audience was patently bored all night.”
In July of 1964 Steve felt sufficiently emboldened to perform a solo show at the Black Horse, a pub in Rathbone Place. With the encouragement of his elder brother David further solo engagements followed though facing an audience was never easy. “I used to try and make myself go up on stage to sing my songs in the folk-clubs but I had no guts,” he was to admit later. “I was always too embarrassed so I went away feeling sick with myself and wrote more songs.”
At home above the restaurant Steve continued to write his own songs. The first, he recalls, was called ‘Darling No’, and with David’s encouragement he recorded a demo disc at Regent Sound, the same basement studio in Denmark Street where The Rolling Stones had made their earliest recordings. “I thought it was a terrific song I’d written called ‘Back To The Good Old Times’ with a flipside called ‘Everything’s Piling On’. It gave me the goose pimples just to see my name typed on the label.”
Steve’s optimism was short-lived. It was 1965, he was 17, and unwilling to consider getting a traditional job. “It was either art or music or working in the restaurant. I could survive on that,” he said. “My mother always encouraged me but my father never really took my music seriously until he heard one of my records on the radio.”
David doubled his efforts, trying his luck with NEMS, Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein’s stable of stars, Rolling Stones’ manager Andrew Oldham and record producer Mickie Most. All turned him down. There was a glimmer of hope at the offices of Ardmore & Beechwood, the music publisher that allowed John Lennon & Paul McCartney to slip through their fingers when they jumped ship to Dick James Music. They bought a handful of Steve’s songs for £30 each but they soon lost interest, allowing Cat Stevens to slip their fingers too.
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Half way through a charity concert for Syrian refugees at the Central Hall in Westminster in June 2016 Yusuf Islam paused between songs. “I want to introduce you to somebody,” he said, “without whom I wouldn’t be standing here today. It’s the man who gave me my start in the business and it’s the man who made sure that I’m doing what I’m doing now. Please, Mike Hurst.”
“The whole place cheered,” says Mike Hurst today. “I was with my eldest son Tim and he said he was so proud of me. It was just fantastic.”
It’s likely that many of the 2,000 fans there to witness this rare appearance by Yusuf didn’t have a clue who Mike Hurst was. Only a handful would have been old enough to have watched Thank Your Lucky Stars on ITV in 1962 when Mike, toting an acoustic guitar, stood on the left of a girl in a hooped skirt with a blonde bouffant hairstyle, her brother on the right with another acoustic, and heard them sing their number five hit ‘Island Of Dreams’. The trio were called The Springfields. The girl, Dusty, went on to become acclaimed as the greatest British female singer of her generation, her brother Tom a songwriter and the third member of the trio, Mike Hurst, the record producer who discovered Cat Stevens.
There was a false start and an element of mischief in the circumstances that led to Cat Stevens signing with Decca and accepting Hurst as his manager and record producer. The rather bewildering scenario involves a wallpaper salesman from South Shields called Bert Shallet, wealthy film producer Nat Cohen, who was Shallet’s father-in-law, and an American on the make called Jim Economedes who was Hurst’s boss. “Jim had been an engineer at Capitol Records in Los Angeles and he came here to rip off record companies for as much as possible,” says Hurst. “He did a bloody good job too. He was very clever, and he employed me because I wanted to be a record producer. He’d never produced a record in his life.”
Bert Shallet had somehow come across Cat Stevens and, using his father-in-law’s money, decided to become his manager. The first task, he decided, was to record him and he approached Economedes in the hope he might obtain a record contract. “So I met Cat for the first time at Bert’s house in Portland Place,” says Hurst. “The first thing that struck me was that I just loved his name. ‘Whatever you do, don’t change it,’ I told him. So Bert said, ‘I wanna do some sessions with him. Will you produce him?’”
Hurst took Cat into Pye Studios near Marble Arch and asked him to play some of his songs. “He played ‘Here Comes My Baby’, ‘Come On And Dance’ and two others. ‘Here Comes My Baby’ was the only recognizable one, so we did that and I took the tapes back to Jim. He said, ‘Nah, I don’t like him. He’s no good.’ I said, ‘You gotta be kidding.’ Jim said, ‘Nah, it’s the other kid we want… Mike Bolan.’”
‘Mike’ Bolan, of course, was Marc Bolan with whom Hurst had already recorded two tracks, ‘The Wizard’ and ‘Third Degree’. “So Jim made that decision there and then. He wanted nothing to do with Cat Stevens. He was going to concentrate on Marc Bolan. Bert went off with his tail between his legs. Then Jim’s company fell apart at the seams. He’d ripped off too many people in too short a time. That all finished. He ran away. The bailiffs arrived the day after he split.”
So Mike Hurst forgot all about Cat Stevens. He’d been offered a position in the A&R department of Vanguard Records in San Francisco and was all set to go, packing his suitcases, waiting on his green card, his wife and three children looking forward to a life of sunshine, hamburgers and coke. Then there was a knock at the door of his house, number 7, Priory Road in North London. “Standing there was Cat, with a guitar case,” says Hurst. “He said, ‘Are you still interested in me?’ I said, ‘Sure. Play me some new stuff.’ So he sat down and played ‘I Love My Dog’. That just blew me away. I said, ‘That’s fantastic. Let’s do that.’ He said, ‘Really?’ I told him I’d find some money to do the session.”
Hurst put his American plans on hold and went to see Dick Rowe, the head of A&R at Decca Records, cheekily asking him fund a three-hour session with Mike D’Abo so they could record a song called ‘Going Going Gone’. It was a lie, of course. Hurst intended to use the session to record Cat singing ‘I Love My Dog’.
“I found an arranger called Alan Tew, sat down with him and Cat and we went through ‘I Love My Dog’. I can remember vividly to this day what I wanted out of that record. It was 1965 and people were prepared to be adventurous. I didn’t want a solid drumbeat, I wanted it all concentrated on the bass. Alan wrote this down. It was only nine musicians, including a contra bass clarinet, a real gutsy sound.”
An unusual arrangement was pieced together by Cat, Hurst and Alan Tew. A cellist echoed the melody behind Steve’s chorus and instead of a steady backbeat, cymbals and snare dictated the tempo, helped along by a resounding timpani.
“We went into the studio. I had John Paul Jones on bass, Andy White was on drums, Big Jim Sullivan on guitar, Jim Lawless on percussion. We started running it through and I have to tell you… I was petrified. It was the first really solo independent production I’d ever done and I knew I had three hours, and it was the first time that Steve had done it too. I listened to this arrangement coming back through the speaker and it sounded awful. On the fourth or fifth take, suddenly it all gelled. I thought, that sounds great. We finished the session. We had 15 minutes left and I suddenly realised we didn’t have a B-side.
“I said to Steve, ‘What have you got? Just you, as we didn’t have another arrangement.’ He just started singing, ‘Getting hung up all day on smiles, walking down Portobello Road for miles’. He sang it accompanied only by his own guitar. I thought, ‘Yes. Really nice. Thank you. I’ve got a B-side.’ So the next thing I did was go straight up to the cutting engineer at Decca and say, ‘Run me off an acetate’. It took him about three hours.”
Hurst was all too well aware that his underhand method of recording Cat would be discovered sooner or later, so he decided to take the bull by the horn and march straight into Dick Rowe’s office to confess. The next day, while Cat and business partner Chris Brough waited outside in his Triumph Herald car, he did just that. “I walked up to Dick Rowe and said, ‘Look I told you a lie…’ He said, ‘I trusted you… you’ve done something you should never have done, you’ve destroyed my trust in you, blah blah blah’, all that crap. I said, ‘Just listen to the record Dick,’ so he puts the record on. He puts the arm on and after about 30 seconds he says, ‘Right’ and he takes the thing off the turntable. I thought, ‘He doesn’t bloody like it.’ He picks up another phone. ‘Can I talk to Sir Edward please?’ ‘Sir Edward, would you like to come down for a moment?’ I thought, ‘Bloody hell, he’s even got the chairman down to give me a bollocking.’”
Sir Edward was Sir Edward Lewis, the managing director at Decca. “He listened to the whole thing and, well, dear old Sir Edward… how could he know? He was a stockbroker originally but I know a great record man and he was one. He took the arm off and he said, ‘My boy, you’re a genius.’ I said, ‘So you like it Sir Edward?’ He said, ‘Like it? We’re going to use it to launch Deram Records.’”
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Deram Records was a new subsidiary of Decca, launched in the autumn of 1966 as an outlet for new signings who were younger and perhaps more radical in their approach to those on the long-established Decca label. In the event Cat’s single was not the very first single released on Deram but the second (catalogue number DM 102), but it was certainly the label’s first success. Thanks to pirate radio – “Kenny Everett and Dave Cash on Radio London played the backside off it,” says Hurst – it began to sell, eventually broaching the top 30. “It made a lot of noise because it was different, a different style of record, what I would call a more adventurous production. It had a bit of American west coast in there which I always loved.”
The huge popularity of pirate radio – broadcast illegally from ships moored offshore – was an embarrassment to both the government, who would ban it with the passing of the 1967 Marine Offences Act, and the BBC, who would then fill the vacuum with Radio 1. Nevertheless, for a brief period in the mid-sixties the pirates ruled the radio waves with audiences of between 10 and 15 million. Aside from TV shows like Top Of The Pops and Ready Steady Go!, the other major promotional tool for rock and pop artists was the music press which was thriving in an era when the national press ignored all but the most popular groups like The Beatles and Rolling Stones and even then were more inclined to cover arrests for drug offences than news of their latest record.
The first editorial mention of Cat Stevens to appear in the British 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.”
In fact Cat was obliged to pose for publicity shots with Mike Hurst’s dog Shelley, one of 4.7 million pet dogs kept by households in 1965, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, a substantial market if Cat’s intention was to appeal to dog owners. The provision of a dog is not something generally expected of record producers or managers, but by this time Hurst had offered his services in both capacities and negotiated a £5,000 advance from Decca against a royalty that rose from six to eight percent. He did a separate production deal for himself with Decca. The next order of business was a follow-up.
“He kept playing me songs,” says Hurst. “That’s what I loved about him. He was a music machine. When I said we need a follow-up to ‘I Love My Dog’ he played me a couple. He played me a thing called ‘School Is Out’, which I liked. Then he played something else, and then he launched into ‘Matthew And Son’. I listened to that and I said, ‘What is that about? Why is it called “Matthew And Son” and he said, ‘Have you read Charles Dickens?’ ‘Yes’, and he said, ‘Domby And Son’, so I said, ‘So you’ve read Charles Dickens?’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘I’ve just heard the name from a Charles Dickens book’.
“So I went back into the studio with him and, of course, now I could do anything. I want a session, I want two sessions, I want three sessions, no problem Mike. I want 20 musicians. So we worked the arrangement out, and Steve was great. He picked out the riff on acoustic guitar and I thought, ‘What instrument will go well with that?’ A harp. Nobody really uses a harp.”
Hurst acknowledges that Cat was fairly confident in the studio, at least for a musician with so little experience. “To be absolutely fair I’d say it was a three-way split on the arrangement between Steve, Alan Tew and myself. We all shoved our tuppence-halfpenny-worth in. In the end, as the producer I had the deciding vote but when we did ‘Matthew And Son’, that was pure magic. I reckon it took six or seven takes. I listened to it in the studio with Vic Coppersmith-Heaven, the engineer, and as he and I sat there mixing it he said, ‘Yeah’. We both knew it was a hit.”
Having mixed the track Hurst took it to Tony Hall, the head of promotions at Decca. “He didn’t like it, said it wasn’t a patch on ‘I Love My Dog’. He said it was too poppy, which was ridiculous. So I said, in my new assertive role, that’s the single. That’s what I want out. Dick Rowe said, ‘Tony’s probably right but we will go with it.’ Two or three weeks before release I went back to Tony Hall and asked, ‘How’s it going on the radio stations?’ ‘As I thought, Radio Caroline says it’s not as good as ‘I Love My Dog’. They’re only going to play it for a week and if it doesn’t get any result in sales they’ll take it off. Then I went into Radio London myself. I saw Alan Keen, he played it and said the same. He said he’d give it a week but if we didn’t get the sales he’d have to take it off.
“So a week later I was in my back garden at 7 Priory Road and on it came. I think it was Dave Cash, who was a great friend of mine. Dave talked the bollocks off it. ‘Oh man, fantastic, this is Cat Stevens’ follow up to “I Love My Dog”, listen to this.”
The following Tuesday Steve did Pop Inn, a radio show down compered by Keith Fordyce and broadcast from the BBC Studios in Lower Regent Street. “We had Steve doing an interview and then they played the record in front of an audience. We walked out into the foyer there and Tony Hall was there. He came running down the stairs. ‘Mike… Mike,’ he yelled. ‘It’s incredible. We’ve sold 80,000 records before lunch.’”
Hurst turned to Steve. ”That’s it,” he told him. “We’re away. Done and dusted. It went to number two and that really did do it for him.”
All that prevented ‘Matthew And Son’ from reaching the top was ‘I’m A Believer’ by The Monkees, the US made-for-TV quartet whose star was firmly in the ascendant. Their British-born lead singer Davy Jones had jetted into London from California that same month to grab the headlines by revealing that, unlike Cat Stevens, his group did not play on their own records.
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Concerned that his client might lack the required appeal when required to perform in front of a live audience, Mike Hurst arranged a brief series of dates in Scotland, a few dates in provincial England and three shows at the Paris Olympia in mid-December. “We used a group called George Bean & 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.”
These shows were a preview of Cat’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 fourteen concerts. The run opened on Boxing Day.
By a not so curious coincidence, ‘Matthew And Son’ was reviewed in Melody Maker’s Blind Date feature by guest reviewers Georgie Fame and Julie Felix. For the Blind Date an MM writer would play a record to the guests without telling them the name of the artist. Both recognised it immediately, of course. Julie commented: “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 seemed to have been won over by Cat: “The other side is great as well. It’s not a good trumpet thing that comes out better in the show than on the record. It will definitely be a hit. I was never anti-Cat Stevens but now I’m completely knocked out. Unanimous hit.”
The success of ‘Matthew And Son’ prompted a flurry of further interest from the weekly music press. Melody Maker’s Chris Welch interviewed Cat in the Red Lion pub behind the paper’s Fleet Street offices. “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. 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.”
Jeremy Pascall from New Musical Express asked Cat how he felt about the Saville Theatre season. “I enjoyed doing it,” he said. “You gotta be up there alone with the orchestra down there in the pit and nothing to support you. It’s up to you to hold the audience.” In NME’s Lifelines column Cat said that his professional ambition was, “to have one of my songs in everyone’s home.”
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The next order of business was to follow up ‘Matthew And Son’ with an album, and to this end Mike Hurst booked two weeks at Decca’s studios on Broadhurst Gardens in West Hampstead. Fourteen tracks were recorded over 12 days. He looks back on the sessions fondly. “It was time of great creativity,” he says. “We did two or three tracks a day. It came together very easily, with some great musicians, among them Jim Sullivan on guitar. I have to say that I’m still so proud of that album. The production is as clear as a bloody bell.”
The ease with which it was recorded can be explained by the deluge of songs that poured out of Cat Stevens. “He was a pure songwriter,” says Hurst. “I made sure he had the leeway to do what he wanted. With most other artists I’ve produced I’ve had to look around for material but with Steve, not once did I think, ‘Oh, we need to find songs from elsewhere. I need to talk to other writers.’ It never even crossed my mind to do that, no suggestion at all, nothing.”
Matthew And Son was released in March 1967 and reached number seven in the LP charts. As well as a slew of new songs, it included both of Cat’s hit singles, their respective B-sides and a version of ‘Here Comes My Baby’, which became a number four hit for The Tremeloes. Mike Hurst wrote the liner notes and thanked everyone who was associated with Cat’s 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 photograph on the front, taken on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, showed a young man on the cusp of a career that in its twists and turns would be unprecedented in popular music.