Wordpretzels, I am writing this from the safety of Randall Towers, after the most wonderful weekend away with Lady Barton St Mary in a place called London.
Our primary objective for visiting this place was to listen to Al Stewart play two of his albums, namely Past Present Future and The Year of the Cat in front of a live audience at The Royal Albert Hall. Very good it was too. This particular live audience, by its very demographic, had a combined age that would easily cover the entire Pleistocene (P) epoch. There were a huge number of very knowledgeable heads from the late 60s and early 70s, holding earnest conversations about Al Stewart and other great figures and bands of the past. Some of these fans dressed as if they’d stepped out of a T Rex concert in 1972 straight into 2015 wearing the same clothes. In fact, a couple of them appeared to have not changed their clothing for 40 years. I didn’t want to get too close, just in case.
So, we didn’t know the first album that well (I’d mistakenly been listening to Time Passages), but the musicianship was so brilliant, it didn’t matter. The drummer from Cockney Rebel and the bass player from Matthews’ Southern Comfort (Woodstock) along with musical director Peter Wood, who was an accomplished pianist when Year of the Cat was recorded (he co-wrote it), but volunteered to play the Spanish guitar solo during recording and thus became known as an accomplished guitar player.
Al Stewart appeared to be a tiny man (we were in the back rows of the upper circle on dizzyingly steep seats) in his late 60s who seemed a little left behind by modern life. Confusingly, he introduced the band explaining that they’d been rehearsing whilst he was on tour. But, wasn’t he on tour now? What? Who? Eh? He did tell one joke involving Lord and Lady McMillan having General DeGaulle and his wife for a dinner party, so not one for the teenagers, really.
Year of the Cat was a real joy, all the songs we listened to on Lady BSM’s Amstrad cassette player in our little Brighton flat many years ago; I remembered lying on the bed, cuddled up staring at the ceiling in the half light, listening to the opening track:
‘Go tell Lord Grenville, that the tide is on the turn, It’s time to haul the anchor up and leave the land astern’
Just for good measure, he played Time Passages as an encore, so all my research wasn’t for nothing. The audience passed up the opportunity for a standing ovation, since most of them probably find it hard to stand at all these days, but the nodding heads of approval, the light glistening off the bald pates and grey white hair, showed how much they appreciated this ageing genius.
Out in the cool air of a May evening, as the mobility scooters weaved in between the departing crowd, we hailed a taxi back to Chelsea Bridge, Al Stewart’s quintessentially English voice in our heads:
‘On a morning from a Bogart movie, In a country where they turn back time,
You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre contemplating a crime…’