By Bryan Mathieson
Anyone who over the years has sold out The Royal Albert Hall when his gigs are booked is guaranteed to have the same result at an intimate venue like our own Sub Rooms.
Al Stewart just loves touring and it was a joy if not a pleasant surprise to have Stroud written into this current tour.
Rewind to 1973 and as it was for us of a certain age, it was compulsory to get back from the pub in time to check in with Bob Harris and his weekly educational The Old Grey Whistle Test. It was then one summer, winter or it matters not one autumn night that a very fresh-faced fella with an acoustic guitar, a bright yellow T-shirt (check it out on youtube) shared with us in some detail his adventures on a certain 4th May.
From an album “Orange “ originally released in 1973, it formed the basis of a musical relationship and appreciation that has been now all but 5O years in the making. Having been fortunate enough to see a number of the concerts over the years and to have heard the stories of the flat sharing with Paul Simon, meeting Yoko Ono before John Lennon, playing at the first ever Glastonbury, the gripping tales are endless and ever interesting.
Now to have one of our finest British troubadours playing locally was a treasure not to be missed.
With his band the Chicago-based Empty Pockets, who also contributed with an opening 40-minute set. The support was superb with another highlight being the brass and wind contributions from Marc Macisso.
The Stewart devotees got what they wanted and when going to an Al Stewart concert you know that you are in for some revived history lessons as some of his finest works revolve around what might or in some cases might not have happened in times gone by.
In this extensive Uk tour the set changes most nights, this is even more remarkable as at my age I can barely remember what I had for lunch two days ago,yet here at 77, he can still cope with all the complications that he is lyrically known for.
Almost everyone knows “Year of The Cat” and its sassy brass introduction ( there’s a story to that too), but in a set that also featured fifteen other songs over an hour and a half with many other favourites included.
Throughout, the support given by The Empty Pockets was superb and the riffs that he and the EP lead guitarist Josh Solomon played around with, were stunning because like his lyrics the Stewart arrangements are not without their challenges and need a proper master to get those chords right,as they both did.
Al finished by paying tribute to Bob Dylan whom he credits with lighting the fuse that changed his direction from a potential rock guitarist showing him the way to folk, rarely performing other artists’ works covering a Dylan song this was an experience seldom heard.
At the close, to a well-warranted standing ovation, the band made their way downstairs and in a really nice gesture were there to thank everyone for coming. I hope they sold a number of CDs along the way and are sure to have picked up some new fans along the way, they deserve to. Al’s days of signing after the show are over and in fairness quite rightly so, I mean at the close it was nearly 11 pm and us old fellas needed our beds!!
Congratulations to Hugh Phillimore and the team at The Subs, definitely one of the year’s highlights.