AL STEWART | LIVE REVIEW
Grand Theatre, Swansea, Sun 14 May
The Back To The Bedsit tour was ready to conclude but this artist had no intention of taking it easy for his last show. Finishing off in Swansea’s Grand Theatre, it proved to be an ideally intimate venue for the acoustic musician’s record of historical examination, the revival of 1960s folk music and 16 studio albums’ worth of material, dating back to his debut of Bed-Sitter Images.
Dr Dave Nachmanoff (Al’s right hand man) was first to perform a few songs, including Kindred Spirits which was written about Elizabeth Cotten’s Freight Train. His singing was, admittedly, decidedly average but his guitar playing was an incredible feat to witness. His finger movements seemed as natural as breathing and were shortly tested to their full capabilities as he introduced on to stage a slim figure with a soft voice and big reputation.
Al Stewart walking out from stage right, beginning with House Of Clocks, a number from his Down In The Cellar album. Stewart has walked an interesting life and has always enjoyed engaging the audience with these tales. For the Swansea crowd, he indulged them with a story of spending a night sharing a hotel room with Simon & Garfunkel after a rather hairy situation that nearly left him without a bed in London.
The duo were subsequently joined by a past member of The Sutherland Brothers, Tim Renwick, for a delve into the drawn-back The Palace Of Versailles – the musicians taking the theatre on a trip through the French revolution and Napoleon’s inevitable rise to power. On The Border was masterfully transcribed through the three guitarists’ skills and the quintessential Spanish motif that Peter White had added all those years ago, its lyrics painting a vivid image of the Basque separatist movement and Rhodesian crisis.
After a short interlude, the songwriter took a moment to eloquently explain the content of Old Admirals before commencing with the gentle melody. Based on Admiral Lord Fisher, his devotion to the British Royal Navy and his frustrated resignation, Stewart went into details of his creation of the HMS Dreadnought and Fisher’s bitter arguments with Winston Churchill over the Gallipoli campaign.
Originally influenced by the passing of British comedian Tony Hancock (but later re-written so not to take advantage of his death), Stewart’s famous Year Of The Cat gave reference to the relationship between Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre’s characters in Casablanca, and was yet another song from the performance that left onlookers applauding the success of the show thus far. Ending on a high, the three-piece received a standing ovation before departing after a warm and hospitable conclusion to a successful throwback tour.
words and photos NATHAN ROACH