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Jack The Lad
Crazy/Amsterdam/Steamboat Whistle Blues/Walter's Drop/We'll Give You The
Roll/Trinidad/You You You/Let It Be Me/The Tender/Take Some Time
always got something no matter how low you go, you'll have the music forever,
that's one thing I know - wo-a-woah!'
Oh the best laid plans of mice and men and Jack The
Lads! Compared to Lindisfarne's meteoric rise to fame which had gone from
immediate hit singles to break-up in the blink of an eye Jack The Lad had been
solidly plugging away, building up a small but loyal audience thanks to their
live gigs, slowly winning over the influential people in the music business
(becoming John Peel's wife Sheila's favourite band in the process) and their
record sales had gone from disastrous to poor. It was time to capitalise on all
three hard years of constant recording, touring and promoting and the band had
several aces up their sleeve to help them win what they hoped would be a
'jackpot'. They had a new record company interested with a much bigger budget,
United Artists, who had the major clout Charisma never had. They had songs that
had been ready-tested on the road with a much more commercial rockier sound
moving the Lads ever further from their folk and country roots. And they at
last had a stable line-up that had made two LPs together. The future looked
certain, maybe even brilliant! And having come up the 'hard way' Jack The Lad
deserved it. No one could have begrudged them success this time around and the
band were already seeing pound signs in their sleep.
But as any gamblers know (our very own mascot Bingo
included), the more certain you are of being close to a jackpot, the further
away you seem to get from it. Si Cowe's disintegrating marriage left the
rehearsal room shaking from the sounds of broken crockery, causing him to leave
at the absolute last minute to repair his life and his mental health. So late
in the day, in fact, that his absence left a big hole at the heart of the album
that had to be filled with hastily written originals that weren't quite the
blockbusters the band had mapped out in their head. It left a hole in their precious
cover art too, with the most expensive artwork on a Jack The Lad LP yet of five
jester faces too costly to re-design so poor Si's features got taken off and
replaced by the back of sound engineer John Blackburn's head, adding a touch of
afro to the band's assorted hairstyles. United Artists may have had more money
to spend on Jack The Lad than Charisma but far less patience and when nobody
was much interested in first single 'Eight Ton Crazy' (a curious and
disappointing choice) the label pretty much wrote the record off. The album's
move to rock and roll with 1950s overtones couldn't have come at a worse moment
as the musical world moved back to punk (even the band's Geordie folk roots
would have fared better in 1976). And those rock and roll songs simply sounded
like everybody else anyway. The band's jackpot ended up their heaviest loss, a
case of the wrong line-up recording the wrong album at the wrong time and Jack
The Lad never really recovered, stumbling into the new year on the back of
their touring work but with United Artists pretty much adamant that there
wouldn't be a fifth Jack record.
History records 'Jackpot' as an 'unlucky' record.
Many fans and parts of the band themselves see the album as their best, rating
it as closest to the heavier style the band performed with in concert and
enjoying the extra production touches and flourishes that extra bit of budget
allowed them to add. Sometimes they're right: 'We'll Give You The Roll' is
exactly what a folk band asked to play some rock and roll should sound like -
heavy, but also quirky, with obviously folky stylistics in there somewhere too.
'Trinidad' is gorgeous, the world's only Geordie reggae song as a cold
shivering band dream of their extra money and decided to travel to Trinidad to
catch a bit of sun. 'The Tender' is one final slice of what the band always did
better than anybody else, re-arranging traditional folk songs so that they had
the extra frisson of rocking very very hard. Alas then there's the rest of the
album, padded out by original songs Billy Mitchell probably wrote in his sleep,
Andy Fairweather-Low cover song, in 'Steamboat Whistle Blues' the only folk
traditional treated as a novelty rather than a 'real' song and in 'Walter's
Drop' the single most pointless and boring Jack The Lad song. This band,
gloriously messily democratic to the point of silliness in earlier years, has
also become a vehicle for Billy and his backup band and good as Billy is he
can't carry a whole album on his back. In short this isn't just the weakest of
the Jack The Lad quartet but very nearly the Lindisfarne canon as well (the
similarly rockabilly 'C'mon Everybody' and the synth-heavy 'Dance Your Life
Away' by the parent band probably win that award, mind).
Nobody longed for this record to be more of a
success or wished them a happier ending more than me. The world needed bands
like Jack The Lad in 1976, groups who took what they did and the importance of
it (updating the old to sound new) oh so seriously but still had a giggle on
stage about it. After so many years of being nearly there, an album where they
were really there - and had lasted one album longer than Lindisfarne without
breaking up into the bargain - should have been fantastic. Billy remains one of
the best frontmen in rock and roll, with a catchy commercial voice that somehow
manages to remain pure Geordie. Walter Fairburn remains one of the best
multi-instrumentalists in rock or folk and the space left by Si means the band
needs him more than ever. Phil Murray's angry passionate bass prevents this
band from getting pretty and silly. And Ray Laidlaw, the band's Mr Sensible,
roots the songs without allowing them to get too carried away. At their best on
this album ('Trinidad' especially) they sound great together and suddenly a
Geordie reggae folk rock calypso band makes perfect sense. United Artists
deserve a big slap for not seeing past initial slow earnings and giving the
band another, better chance.
But Jack The Lad take some of the blame too as the
chance of money went to their heads as they used it in all the wrong ways. This
is sadly one of those 'play overdubs and all meet up in the canteen for a chat
afterwards' types of albums and they're never as satisfying as a band flying by
the seat of their pants. Walter boasts in the sleevenotes at being asked to
overdub twelve mandolin parts to beef up one of the tracks - but that's what's
wrong with it, as this album sounds more like a basic dot-to-dot puzzle with
black lines than the clever crazy sketches of the made-on-the-hoof Jack The lad
albums of the past. Anyone sounds good when they've been overdubbed twelve
times to get things right - it takes talent to be brave enough to play complex
pieces altogether and Jack The Lad were that band, for most of their career at
least. And nobody could fly as gloriously as Jack The Lad at their best. The
production is icky, making even the most heartfelt songs sounding a little
lightweight and flimsy and as for the less than
heartfelt songs they sound trivial and silly. Like many fans I actually
prefer the demos of three album tracks (plus one other that didn't make the
album) included as bonus tracks on the CD in 2008 (shockingly this album's
first release, making it the last Lindisfarne-related one to make it - bar
Jacka's soul covers album 'In The Night' which desperately needs a re-release
sometime soon). This is a band that should be small and powerful, not big and
bloated. Throw in the year zero of punk and you begin to see why a collection
of silly originals, Andy Fairweather Low covers and dressed up folk probably
didn't do as well as expected despite big hopes. Yes the front cover is a shame
given Si's absence, but it's sea of grinning jesters is also a little obvious
and 'hee hee look at me!' compared to the genius of album covers two and three:
a picture of the band doing their washing (and the most working class front
cover in the AAA canon) and Jacka's glorious playing card.
Ah yes Jacka! The album's ace up its sleeve is
undoubtedly the presence of Lindisfarne's original singer who goes from being
fan, follower and artist to an extra vocal in place of Si across this album.
Ray Jackson is one of rock and roll's most under-rated talents. There's no
reason why his vocals should go as well alongside Billy's as they did against
Alan Hull's but they do, with a similar level of magic and intuition that
breathes new life into this band. Sadly though Jacka isn't here much: he adds a
nice second vocal to 'Trinidad' and the odd backing vocal to flesh out the
band's idiosyncratic sound. Asked to help out at the last minute in place of
Si, it's a real shame that the band didn't delay this album a little bit and
get him involved a little bit more. Jacka was a major part of the band's live
draw, as yet more bonus tracks recorded live in Plymouth on the excellent CD
re-issue demonstrates and adds a rock power that Billy, however hard he tries,
can't manage on his own. The pair also sound great together.
'Jackpot's biggest problem though is one that nobody
could help. Si Cowe may have written the band's weirdest songs, but he also
gave Jack The Lad a distinctive flavour that made the band stand out. Songs
about giants, smokers dying from lung disease and playing cards that other
bands would have made into novelty B-sides 'belong' in the Jack The Lad
landscape in a way that straightforward rock and roll doesn't. This is a world
that's a crazy place, where working class men wear their fingers to the bone
and chase whales for a few pence - it needs a few giants and playing cards in
there somewhere too. 'Jackpot' is too 'normal' and it perhaps speaks volumes
that the album's best moment is the quirkiest, with 'Trinidad' the most 'Si'
ish of all of Billy's recordings. Si was heavily involved with this album up to
the demo stage, with 'See How They Run' one of his songs intended for 'Jackpot'
and included on the CD as a bonus track. While not one of the guitarist's best,
it does add that sort of sideways look at the world that the rest of this album
doesn't have. Throw in some other Cowe songs kicking around at this time
(future Lindisfarne B-side 'Stick Together' and possibly 'Reunion') and
'Jackpot' suddenly looks better - or at least weirder. Just as the later
Lindisfarne albums (which tend to ignore Si's esoteric songs) feel like they're
missing something, so does the only Jack The lad album not to feature them
either. To be fair though this was one problem the band could do nothing about.
It's hard to write amongst the sound of smashed crockery and tales of just how
badly and how brutally Si's marriage had failed are legendary - whilst Si's
blow of confidence as his wife assumed he'd never amount to anything was at
odds with the general bounce and optimism in the rest of the band, to say the
least. Si will end up having an interesting 'gap year' away from music though.
Desperate for work, he answered an advert to join the '7:84 Group' in the
paper, a theatrical troupe who toured schools and prisons putting on plays
about the economic inequalities in the world (they're named for 7% of the population
owning 84% of the takings). I always regret that Si never got together with
Alan Hull after his return to Lindisfarne now that these two polar opposites
had finally discovered some common ground in politics - sadly Si will only get
these two B-sides and 'Dedicated Hound' recorded by Lindisfarne despite
returning to the parent band in 1978 and staying with them right the way
through to 1993.
Meanwhile 'Jackpot' does have one thing going for it
that was sometimes lacking from other earlier band LPs: cohesion. Many of these
songs are full of yearning and longing for something - perhaps the better life
that Jack The lad were dreaming of after their 'second chance' and 'bigger
budget'. 'Eight Ton Crazy' is an Andy-Fairweather Low song about losing your patience
and composure - set to a tune so gentlemanly it's hard to believe this narrator
ever quite giving in to his emotions (it's therefore the opposite of most Jack
The Lad songs which are for the most part wild songs about discipline - the
whalers and soldiers wouldn't have lasted long in their careers if they'd
sailed as close to the wind as they're portrayed in song at times). 'Amsterdam'
is a man away from home alone wishing that he could follow his friends back to
where they all came from - this song seems an obvious choice for the Geordie TV
programme 'Auf Wiedersehn Pet' about aspiring unemployed builders sent to
Germany (instead they went with fellow AAA Geordie Mark Knopfler, at least on
the reunion!) 'Steamboat Whistle Blues' has a sailor wishing he'd been 'better
with a ratchet' then he might have stayed at home in port. 'We'll Give You The
Roll' is a nice piece of homespun philosophy about imagining a better future,
that if you hold on long enough 'things are going to work out just fine' with the
gruff uplifting tagline 'in the Summer you get sunshine, in the winter you get
snow'. 'Trinidad' longs to be on a golden beach half the world away from
Newcastle. 'You You You' is the only straightforward love song in the Jack The
Lad canon, longing to make a sweetheart smile, 'keep you laughing for the rest
of the day' and maybe for the rest of her life. 'Let It Be Me' (no, not the
Everlys song but a Mitchell original that's a lot faster!) pleads with a girl
not to pass the narrator by because he can beat anything she's looking for
hands down. Traditional tune 'The Tender' takes things slightly differently, a
ship-building song where the narrator tries to earn money quickly by working
hard to pay for medicine for his dying family back home, hoping that he'll get
to keep what he's already got. Finally the album - and Jack The Lad's
catalogue, not that they realised this at the time - ends with a memory, 'Time
After Time' longing to go back to a time when dating was simple and came
without responsibilities. 'Wouldn't it be good if we only could?' sighs the
chorus, which is pretty much the album motto. Even the bonus tracks carry on
this 'theme', covers of '#Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone?' and a particularly
rocking 'Hungry For Love'.
That's sad because in retrospect it feels like this
album was asking a question about faith and hope and patience and carving out
your own thing at your own speed and plugging away which should have been
answered, so the band hoped, with a monster success. Goodness knows this band
had the talent to deserve that success and all of their three previous LPs had
been reviewed something along the lines of 'give this band a budget and proper
exposure and they'll be no stopping them!' It's such a shame that the timing of
that bigger budget came when the band was disintegrating for reasons beyond
their control and when their material was becoming more like any other generic
band's, which of course they could. Who could blame Jack The Lad though for
trying everything they could to get that elusive hit record, even when it meant
sadly dropping many of the things that made them do distinctive in favour of
anonymous originals about love and soul-less cover songs. Another few months, a
lot more Jacka (why isn't he on the sleeve?!) and more encouragement from
United Artists to keep this band doing what they always did, just better
(rather than what they'd never done before and bigger) and we could have been
talking about that monster breakthrough album after all. Instead the band
drifted, lasting another fun lengthy tour before Ray Laidlaw got the call from
Alan Hull to make some 'real' money with his even shorter-lived band Radiator
in the second half of 1977 and Jack The Lad slowly broke up a year on from this
album released with so much hope. The good news is that if this album had been
a big success Lindisfarne might never have got back together at all. The bad
news is that, at their best (which they only are for one, maybe two tracks
across this album) Jack The Lad were every bit as good as Lindisfarne with the
potential to maybe one day be even better. They gave us the rock alright - but
sadly the production and the material and the problems making this album didn't
give them the roll they needed to be big players.
To you he's probably best known for the UK #6 hit
'Wide-Eyed and Legless'. To me he's the second guitarist to George Harrison and
David Gilmour on various 1980s/1990s tours. To Lindisfanatics he's the writer
of 'Eight Ton Crazy'. Welsh-born pop-rocker Andy Fairweather-Low isn't the obvious
choice for any band to cover, never mind a Geordie folk outfit. And this wasn't
the most obvious song, being an original rather thrown away on Andy's second LP
'La Booga Rooga' in 1975, just a year before this cover version. It's even a
less likely choice as a single given the song's oddball feel and as the first
release by Jack The Lad was an inevitable flop. However on album the song makes
more sense, dressed up with harmonicas, mandolins and fiddles (the original is
Andy's folkiest song with banjos and accordions) to become less of a cry of
teenage rebellion and more of a general one. The narrator is a peaceful chap so
doesn't get riled very often - he sounds it here too with this song's low-key
walking pace song about as detached and indifferent as a singer as passionate
as Billy Mitchell can possibly get. But he blows his cool a few times here:
when he sees his girl dancing (is he jealous?), when his parents 'act like I
don't got nothing to say' when he's told 'In God We Trust' but everyone assumes
the worst of him and makes him sign documents to prove he isn't cheating and
won't go back on his word. This is a song about the contradictions everyone
finds on becoming an adult - we're told to trust everyone around us but no one
ever seems to trust us, whether it's our elders, our partner or the guy at the
door with a pen in his hand getting evidence of something you didn't ask for in
the first place. So far so good, but the revelation in the chorus that all this
makes even the mild-mannered narrator 'eight ton crazy' ought to be a great
twist of dynamics, especially to a band as clever at this sort of thing as Jack
The Lad; instead it's just a slightly more hummable part of a song that's not
really that memorable at all. The title is an odd metaphor too: I was hoping to
be able to research some interesting titbit as to where this phrase came from,
but no - it's so obscure that the only references I can see are to Jack The
Lad's recording. And when a song by this band is the most common thing out
there you know you've stumbled across something really obscure! I prefer this
song to Andy's stompalong song (a rocker's idea of what a folk song is like),
but Jack The Lad were coming up with far better songs of their own by this
point in time and it's a weird choice as a single. The folkier demo is far
The X-rated 'Amsterdam' is Jack The Lad at their
heaviest and could almost be by a heavy metal band in terms of the pacing, with
Phil Murray's angry awkward bass a good foil for Billy's stinging guitar. The
lyrics though are closer to those of a traditional folk tune, with Billy's
narrator left alone abroad when all his mates have gone home, pining for, well,
the Fog On The Tyne more or less. Given Amsterdam's reputation as the sex
capital of Europe and the innuendo of most Jack The Lad songs this track
eventually goes where you expect it to, the friendless narrator looking for a
girl to keep him company. But even then this isn't the party song you were
anticipating, as the narrator does the opposite to probably every other punter
the poor girl's had and 'pretends' he's only there for the sex, when really all
he wants is to stop feeling so lonely. She says that she'll bare all, but he's
just getting bare and isn't revealing his heart or feelings, which is the truly
brave thing in this scenario. The best - and so very English - compliment he
can offer: 'She looked quite...nice'. The brittle, claustrophobic backing track
perfectly conjures up Billy's sad wanderings round Amsterdam and his equally
in-denial lovemaking as he tries to pretend to be callous and distant while his
heart is breaking. For a second song in a row, though, this isn't what Jack The
lad do best: they're meant to be a wild and passionate bunch who play with pace
and desperation, not the sort of 'heavy' noisy band that were two-a-penny in
1976. At least there's a great guitar solo from Billy that finally offers up
all that passion, much talked about by fans for good reason as the most rock
and roll moment in Jack The Lad's canon, but alas it's over far too soon. Once
again the demo is better, partly because Billy sings it straight like the
Newcastle local he is.
Though credited here as a 'traditional' number,
actually 'Steamboat Whistle Blues' was written by American John Hartford in the
style of the traditional folk tales he loved to collect. Hartford's specialist
subject was the Mississippi, which is about as far away from the Tyne as you
can get, but this track fits in better than the last two songs given Jack The
Lad's love of quick-stepping working class narrators. In a lyric not so much sung
as gabbled by Billy, we learn that the narrator started off as a 'towboat man'
but that he lost his cushy port-side job because he was clumsy with a ratchet
(aren't we all?) so ended up at sea, drowning and freezing at Christmas and
'with coal dust in my ear' as he took on a second job. Along the way there are
some good lines, the best one being when after time spent out at sea with no
land to look at it, the continent suddenly arrives like a 'crossword puzzle',
full of rules and layers the poor chap can't quite remember. The narrator,
meanwhile, sounds more like one of Alan Hull's creations as he heads to the
shore, switches on the TV he's just paid for with his wages and finds he 'can't
trust the news'. The result is a song that's fun, but with barely a break
between words that are hard to hear doesn't make as much of an impact as it
should and deserves more space for the instrumentation. I'm also not that
convinced by Billy's accent, which is to Geordie-American what Dick Van Dyke is
'Walter's Drop' is that instrumental we never got,
but sadly it's rather a boring one compared to the heady days of old when the
band used to play 'A Corny Pastiche' at a million miles an hour. This is just a
pretty fiddle tune played at a slow speed by Walter, with Billy's guitar, Phi's
bass and Ray's drums plonking along beside. Things get a little more
interesting for a sudden switch to mandolin and a faster pace, with swings
nicely from the 1:30 mark when Phil decides to add some waltz time to the bass.
There's a slow build-up of 'Riverdance' style fiddles and a fiery rock third
section but even that flops compared to past successes, sounding like old soppy labelmates Status Quo than Jack The Lad (the
point being all the more obvious as that band's Andy Bown plays keyboards on
next song 'We'll Give You The Roll', where they show what a band that *really*
rocks sounds like). This is the sort of thing we've heard before, only better
and ends suddenly, the track cut off in its prime for no apparent reason. I
understand what the band were trying to do - allay themselves more with the
growing trend of rock and roll roots around in 1976 of which punk was just a
piece - but Jack rocked better than this in the past and seem to have forgotten
how to play the folk aspect of their muse properly too. A real 'drop', by the
way, would be the rest of the band backing out to leave Walter to play a 'solo'
rather than building up from it instead like we get here, but then again this
was a punning in-joke, Walter being such a deep and sudden sleeper that his
bandmates found it difficult to shift him whenever he did happen to drop off!
Maybe that's why this song ends so suddenly and violently? Although sadly the
rest of the tune is more likely to put me to sleep.
Finally 'Jackpot' gets going with the last song on side
one and the smashing '#We'll Give You The Roll'. Jack The lad write a typical
folky riff, jagged and jaunty, but perform it with the swagger and
instrumentation of rock which works really well. Billy's lyrics are some of his
best on the album too, offering up a little more of that uplifting philosophy
heard on past Jack The Lad classics. Telling us that it's in the nature of life
to be a rollercoaster ride, we're told in a very down to earth way not to feel
so sad because something will come along to make us feel glad. Tables always
turn, things always work out and after every patch of snow comes sunshine. Even
if band and audience have nothing else they've always got the music - and on
cue this song becomes a celebration of both band and fans, a promise made in a
very Kinks/Who/Grateful Dead way to always be there for one another. Indeed you
can't have one half without the other - the fans providing the 'rock' and
stability, the band the 'roll'. It's an interesting update on the kind of sad
songs Rod Clements was writing for the band on the first album, wondering what
had happened to all the Lindisfans and figuring that they aren't interested in
what the writers are up to anymore. By contrast three years later Jack The Lad
have a following all of their own and more than that a duty to look after each
others and share the 'road' together. This is no 'Fast Lane Driver' in his Cadillac
but everyone piled into the back of an old jalopy, nobody caring if they've got
nothing more than the petrol to get to the next destination. The enthusiasm in
Billy's vocal is enthusiastic and his rock and roll 'Mud' style chorus very
clever and distinctive. 'Well do what we can, give you music, music!' Billy
cries, as if it's the tonic that can solve world problems, stop wars and heal
all wounds - and when it sounds as good as this, maybe it can. Especially on an
unexpected poignant middle eight about what music means to Billy: there he was,
a 'fish out of the water', dangling on the end of a line of job security and
pensions dangled by a capitalist society, but that wasn't the life he was meant
to lead because he's hopeless at it - instead he needs, craves, yearns to
follow his heart and play music to fans who can live it alongside him. Even
though this song will sadly be about the last of Jack The Lad's party pieces,
even though it's regrettably the last hurrah on a last album and even though
Billy in many ways 'broke' the promise made here (or had it broken for him - he
won't have a record contract until becoming part of Lindisfarne after Alan
Hull's death in 1996) somehow that takes nothing away from this exceptional
song, a celebration of everything Jack The Lad stood for and music they could
write and perform better than anybody else. For what it's worth they can have
my 'rock' anyday after songs like this one...
Better still is 'Trinidad', a clever cute moment of
escapism. Jack The Lad were never rich from their music - then again never
really were Lindisfarne - and stuck in Britain for the majority of his career
Billy dreams here of a sort of minor fame. The last track notwithstanding, he
dreams of escaping the cold and rain of
a Newcastle Winter to sunbath on the beach in Trinidad. A second verse
then extends this theme and hints that the narrator is a robber ('Taking the
money seemed so easy'), seeing it as his dues as a working class man paying
into a system for a lifetime and getting nothing in return. The gorgeous chorus
really has the sunshine coming out, left to wallow on a 'golden beach in
Trinidad' and having 'all the things I never had'. Jack The lad excel
themselves here, somehow turning in one of the best reggae-fied arrangements
around from one of our distinctly 'white' AAA bands, the whole joke being that
rather than pretend the band are locals (as per most bands from 10cc to The
Beach Boys) this is a group who've never been near the Caribbean in their
lives. It's the cold harsh Northern English Winters that have driven the band
to this, dreaming of a better sunnier future in a paradise that's never meant
to be taken seriously. The steel drums, the accent (Billy's far better at
Jamaican patois than he is at being a posh American!) and even the rhythm (an
off-beat shuffle compared to the hard rock swing most Western bands use for
reggae and ska) combine to make this a highly believable track. However Jack
The Lad never lose that sense of Geordie, making this folk-rock-reggae number
surely unique in musical circles, gloriously combining the sounds of two
different cities some 8000 miles apart. Jamaica is everything Newcastle isn't
(dry, sunny, happy), a clever twist on the usual Lindisfarne 'home is best'
policy of 'Fog On The Tyne' and 'Run For Home' (hey that amount of rain is going
to get to everyone eventually!) The ending, where the band speed up as per all
their usual folk songs, as they long for 'lazy days in Trinidad' is a real
powerhouse, the song getting more and more urgent and desperate as it dances
faster and faster, ending in Ray Laidlaw's crowning moment in all his long
years of drumming - a sort of brilliant nervous collapse on top of his drumkit
right at the song's end. Jacka, meanwhile, as well as guesting on harmonica gets
in the best rhyme on any band song: after Billy sings 'Lazy Days In Trinidad'
Jacka deadpans 'With Jack The Lad...' Glorious, easily the album highlight and
one of the best things Jack The Lad ever did, though it's a shame the
impressive keyboard solo was cut from the demo arrangement as heard on the CD.
It also seems to have inspired a whole run of 10cc kn0ock-offs that all came later
and were never quite as good as this (and as I say that as a fan with a 10cc
book in the works...) A Geordie reggae song? Genius...
After those two songs anything would be ordinary,
but somehow the rest of the album is so bland and inoffensive, it's offensive.
Jack The lad have just proven that they can do things no other band could do -
then mess it all up by doing the sorts of things every other band could do
better. 'You You You' is meant to be a sweet heartfelt romance, which for this
band is weird enough in itself. But when it's a sweet heartfelt romance set to
the tune of a jig you know that something's gone a little bit, well weird. This
time round, unlike the last two songs, the narrator's lover is his sunshine
during rainy weather and his medicine during his years of being ill. The song
keeps sinking back into the 'you you you' chorus like a warm bath, while the
verses are sweet enough as Billy promises to do everything he can to his loved
one to make up for everything she's given him. However it's all a bit flat and
obvious. The one part of the song that shines out is the strangely Searchersy
middle eight, all low-key throbbing Rikcenbacker guitars, even though they use
that style in a quite different way to the upbeat good cheer of the
Merseybeaters. This section of the song is more about how the narrator is
shocked at his previous stupidity, how he wondered around lost assuming love
was something that couldn't happen to him when it was waiting for him all this
time. The song might have been better kept quiet and brooding like this, with
more 'Me Me Me' than 'You You You'.
'Let It Be Me' continues the strangely soppy mood
with the single most retro 1950s song in Jack The Lad's canon. The song is
sweet enough as a double-tracked Billy urges his lover to stick by him rather
than searching elsewhere for love 'over the rainbow'. He promises to be the
cloak to warm her up, the 'good food' that fills her up and the face that she
sees filled with love every time she wakes up. It sounds a good bargain to me,
but it's one that's been made before and better by other writers in the past.
Most frustratingly what should be a simple and low-key song is given the works
here, with a doo-wop vocal chorus and a Dire Straitsy/Chet Atkins style guitar
arrangement both sounding insincere and awkward. And Jack The Las are a band
that are always sincere, if sometimes a little weird. Hearing them becoming
just like everyone else it a tragedy and while silly novelty 1950s throwbacks
like this were all the rage in 1976 thanks to Mud, Slade and Sha-Na-Na-Na, this
Billy song is too heartfelt to be funny in the way those songs are. He really
means this song, or at least he did when he wrote it - the least the rest of
the bane could have done for him would be to play this as straight as he meant
it to be, instead of clearly taking the piss out of him. Odd.
Have you ever heard a mandolin boogie? And no I'm
not talking about 'Meet Me On The Corner', funky as that was. No I mean a
mandolin played with all the passionate attack of a Fender or Stratocaster
electric guitar with a sizzling amp turned up way past eleven. If you answered
yes then you're probably one of about five people who've actually heard 'The
Tender', arguably the highpoint of Jack The Lad's career-long attempt to play
folk songs with the swagger of rock and roll. This is, if anything, a bit too
heavy as another traditional song gets almost a heavy metal makeover. It's the
sort of thing you're glad the band tried at least once and Jack The Lad sound
so much better playing all together instead of using overdubs. The 'holes' and
jumps back into this stop-start song are highly impressive and everyone sounds
great: Walter's fast mandolin playing, Billy's electric growl, Phil's pouncing
bass and Ray's no-nonsense drumming. Heard in tandem when the band finally
unite in the instrumental passages it's highly impressive. The only thing
that's lacking is the song itself as 'The Tender' isn't as strong as some other
pieces. At least it's a local song, thought to derive from Sunderland and about
the 'King's Men' coming to press-gang local ne'er do wells into the navy. The
Tender really was feared as he'd take men away on all sorts of flimsy charges
and at times of war took anyone, no matter how needed or respected in town or
how many families were relying on them for food and income ('If they take ye
hinny, where'll we find wor bread?') No wonder Billy gives us the warning to be
a 'canny Geordie' and 'hide yourselves awae' before the army comes to
press-gang us and the final verse about escaping to 'The Lawe' is a real place,
high above Sunderland, where Government boats could be most easily spotted.
Jack The lad lead the Government officials on a merry dance of hide and seek,
switching attacks, tempos and keys several times during the course of the song.
Rather fittingly the pressgang the Sunderland men feared the most in the 19th
century was named 'Captain Bovver'! However the sudden cut-off at the end is
something of a shame. Did 'The Tender' finally get their men? Several bands
performed this song down the years since it was first recorded in 'The
Northumbrian Minalstry' in 1882, though the song undoubtedly foes back further
- this is just the first time someone thought to actually write it down. Jack
The Lad were one of the first 'rock acts' to do it though and may have learnt
it from Dave Burland, who in 1971 was the very first.
The album - and Jack The Lad's career - then ends on
an anti-climatic note as Billy ignores his advice from 'We'll Give You The
Roll' and wallows in self-pity on 'Take Some Time'. This is a rather sour
memory of past teenage days spent 'singing silly songs' and dating girls who
never reciprocated. Billy hated it at the time, but now he's alone middle-aged
and single he sees these as halcyon days, frustrated that this was good as it
got for him. Lindisfarne will do similar things themselves in the 1980s with
rather better success ('Nights' especially) - Billy's too young here, too close
to his subject material and his melody too down-in-the-dumps for this to work
as the nostalgia-fest it's meant to be. We're meant to coo with the narrator,
sigh along with him and feel the tug of days gone by (which is, after all, a
very Jack The lad thing to do - even if most of those days gone by date from
centuries before!) This ought to be the perfect ending as we look over our past
with love and over our shoulder to our future with doubt and fear. But Billy just
sounds a moaner before his time here, as if he's auditioning for that awful
'Grumpy Old Men (And Women)' TV series two decades too early. His girl may have
stood him up, but he didn't 'love' her. He may be lonely now, but he had
chances he didn't take up. He isn't heading to the door trying to find a girl
to live out his dreams with or promising us he's going to learn from his
mistakes. He isn't calling up the friends he used to live and die for in his
youth, who are probably just as lonely and lost as he is. Instead he just stays
in feeling sorry for himself and remembering when he didn't mind about the rain
and the lifts not working, which isn't in keeping with the more assertive Jack
The lad philosophy at all. Most oddly, he's not even getting drunk! The only
part of the song that 'glows' with the bittersweet memory this song deserves is
when, after a verse of rain, 'the sun comes out again' and the Lad's harmonies
kick in. An oddly low-key ending for such a noisy band - especially on their noisiest LP.
Overall then 'Jackpot' only hits the Jackpot a
couple of times, which is down on the consistent excellence of the first album,
the general brilliance of the second and the half an inspired third album. That
should in theory mean that Jack The Lad is quitting at the right time, as they
run out of ideas and band members. But no: this is a band who had so much more
to give and it's hardly their fault they got sucked into the lure of a new
record company and bigger budget. This fourth album should have been a stepping
stone to getting the sound a mainstream public would have accepted alongside
the sorts of things no other band ever could have offered. A few tweaks, the
return of Si Cowe after a 'year out' and
a bit more live performance plus Jacka fully onboard for album five could well
have resulted in the greatest Jack The Lad album of all. Instead it's a long
hard road through the Lindisfarne reunion albums that beckons, reunions of past
bands like Hedgehog Pie and the dole queue for Billy, in between low key solo
gigs, for the next twenty years. This is a band who deserved so much better. Instead
sadly this is the farewell that arrived at just the wrong time, the 'jester' in
the pack of what's actually a pretty darn great and under-rated quartet of
records. Every Lindisfan needs to hear this spin-off band - though perhaps not
necessarily this album...
A NOW COMPLETE LIST OF LINDISFARNE ARTICLES
TO READ AT ALAN’S ALBUM ARCHIVES:
Si Cowe Obituary and
Tribute (2015) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/simon-si-cowe-lindisfarne-guitarist.html
Surviving TV Clips http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/surviving-lindisfarne-tv-clips-1971-1996.html
Albums Part One 1970-1987 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/lindisfarne-sololiveraritiescompilation.html
Albums Part Two 1988-2015 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/lindisfarne-sololiveraritiescompilation_29.html Essay: Keepin’ The Rage On Behalf Of The Working Classes https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2018/03/lindisfarne-essay-keepin-rage-on-behalf.html
Writing these AAA articles on old TV clips often feels like somebody's life flashing before your eyes (in contrast to the albums where they tend to sound timeless, as long as you don't look too hard at the album covers!) That's especially true of Cat Stevens, who goes from a fresh-faced clean-cut eighteen-year-old dressed in frilly shirts to a bearded philosopher in his early 20s to the often surprisingly attired man of the late 70s to Cat's return as the white-bearded Yusuf. There may be a quarter century gap in these clips, but it still feels like an 'arc' somehow. Despite modern-day opinions of Yusuf as some form of recluse, he's been very busy on the world stage and has been almost as active in the eight years 'back' in music than the fourteen he was active originally.
Sadly that's also because Cat has been hit particularly badly by the decisions made in the space-restricted no-repeats TV archives era of the 1960s and 1970s that's plagued all of our vintage bands. Take Cat's thirteen known appearances on Top Of The Pops between 1966 and 1972 for instance; sadly it's thought all of them have been wiped. The same goes too for perhaps Cat's highest profile appearance on 'Juke Box Jury'. Chances are too a lot of the early Cat's appearances flogging his guts round European television have been lost (so hurrah to French and German TV networks for at least hanging on to some of it!) Cat, characteristically, never really took to the music video like many of his peers did either, preferring the music to speak for itself (although there are three charming exceptions). There are, though, quite a few concerts out there to watch. This is, as usual, not a complete list then - it is, instead, as-complete-a-list-as-we-can-get-it, with all the clips that are known to have survived the ages somewhere (because it's quite hard to review something you've never actually seen as I'm sure you can understand!) It probably isn't even a complete list of those, given that especially in recent years Cat/Yusuf has been happy to talk to anybody, in any country, about pretty much anything: you can pretty much guarantee that there'll be something here I've missed out accidentally simply because I've never heard of it and it was only ever seen once, late at night, on some random channel in Outer Mongolia. By all means write in and tell us what we're missing if you think of something!
Sadly there's only ever been three official Cat Stevens/Yusuf DVDs to date (and we haven't included 'Majikat' here because, strictly speaking, it was never really shown on TV (it's in our 'DVD' column instead!), which has left rather a lot of our list officially unavailable (we'll tell you where you can get hold of clips at the end of the paragraph, for the few that you can!) Do not despair, though, dear readers because we've been on the road to find out what is out there - and there's a lot on Youtube especially. We've created our own playlist in fact, which you can access either by looking at the top of the page (if you're reading this on a website!) or by visiting
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL570E4D0EC8D082DE (alternatively, have a search for the 'Alan's Album Archives' page and have a look for 'AAA Playlist #27: Cat Stevens'). Not quite everything is there - and Yotube playlists have a habit of missing bits and pieces after a while, though we'll try and keep the page as up to date as we can - but there's enough to keep even the biggest crazy cat lady going for a while. Bear in mind too, by the way, that few people ever took dates of transmission down so this list is at best a work in progress, where the order is vague and the track selection may be slightly different (although Cat always tend to plug his latest single, rather than old songs, so this is as good a guess as any!)
In the words of Cat himself, laughing at his pop star past, 'Mama mama mama, come see me on the TV!' ...
1.Pop2 (?) ('I Love My Dog' 'Matthew and Son' 'I'm Gonna Get Me A Gun' French TV 1967)
First up, an admission. I'm not totally certain what this show is, although it was definitely shown on French television and our old friend 'Pop2' seems the most likely candidate. Cat, looking cool and slightly twitchy in dark glasses, sings new vocals for his first three singles over a pre-recorded tape. Cat is deeply uncomfortable, on the stage all alone, and dances like he's having a stroke at one point but then his first (or at least a very early) TV performance must have been nerve wracking for someone still only eighteen. The backdrop too is minimal, with what looks like a bonkers attempt at a game of connect 4 in whitewash on the wall behind. 'I Love My Dog' mixes the swirl of harmonies over the instrumental break and ends, in the version that still exists in the vaults at least (it probably wasn't broadcast!) with a full ending that cuts Cat off mid-way through the word 'do-'. 'Umm, yeah!' grins an embarrassed Cat to polite applause. Cat seems more comfortable with 'Matthew and Son' (there is, of course, the possibility that this clip was filmed a few months later, though it seems to be from the same show) and has a whole routine where he starts off sitting at a table and walks round the studio passing lots of suitably bored looking extras. Perhaps to save himself from being puffed, this time Cat simply mimes to the record. The opening's a bit odd, though, 'Who are you?' asks the presenter in French to which Cat shyly replies 'I'm sorry, I don't understand!' The presenter then reaches inside his jacket as if reaching for a name-tag, with Cat quite genuinely looking alarmed and shoo-ing him away! By the time of 'I'm Gonna Get Me A Gun' Cat is a lot more comfortable and if anything goes a little OTT on a Tom Jones-like mimed performance in front of the same confusing white lines. Then again, Cat goes more Harry Secombe and Pickwick when he starts throwing back his thumbs on the line 'I'M gonna get me a gun'. Actually I can see why this clip has never been released on anything, which is easily the most embarrassing of Cat's early career. Still fun for us, though!
2.Beat Club #1 possibly #2 ('Granny' 'Matthew and Son' German TV 1967)
Meanwhile, over in Germany, a frilly-sleeved Cat is miming to both the A and B sides of his second single. Cat sings his only performance of 'Granny!' like an old trouper, despite the budget of Beat Club being so slow he's stuck out in the audience! There's an awkward moment when the camera cuts to where the audience really are - dancing awkwardly in the middle of the set, unsure quite what tempo this quirky little song comes in - but soon we've cut back to Cat performing finger-puppets with his hand. Late from the same show, the audience are back in their seats and Cat's in the middle of them. He gets up, still singing, and walks to the end of his row - only for his microphone wire to get tagged on the end seat, leaving him tugging while trying to sing before the bored-looking girl at the end comes to his rescue!
Despite the hang-ups, Cat turns in a pro performance, now far more comfortable in his own skin. It's just a shame about the audience, who look so depressed and sad they look as if they've been condemned to death or something...
3.Beat Club #2 ('I'm Gonna Get Me A Gun' 'Come On And Dance' German TV 1967)
Perhaps that's what inspired this eighteen-year-old future Muslim fundamentalist to write a song about guns, who knows? This time Cat's on a stage and has 'made it' enough to have his own name written on the curtains behind him in huge print. Cat's having fun with this performance, with all the akwardness of the French TV now gone and the camera can barely keep up as he bounces around like a Cat-in-the-box. The only known performance of B-side 'Come On And Dance', meanwhile, really is a performance, taken at a slightly slower lick and with Stevens' vocal up high. There are some entertaining clips of things from Cat's point of view in front of a huge TV audience, but ironically having to remember his words means Cat keeps far more still for this song about the need to dance. This time only half the audience looks bored and suicidal, so it's an improvement - of sorts.
4.Le 1Er Festival ('The First Cut Is The Deepest' French TV 1967)
Long thought lost and returned to the archives not long ago (albeit in a rather scruffy condition), this is Cat's equally scruffy performance of his hit song for PP Arnold for the French equivalent of the San Marino Song Contest. Acts were being judged on song, not performance - and it's just as well because Cat's singing flat and sounds like he's got a cold. This clip is important, though, not just because it's the only clip we have of him singing one of his best known numbers but because it's the only clip we have of him being backed by his tour band 'Zeus', who despite the Greek name (and Cat's own ancestry) were actually British (the guitarist Mike Hopkins later joined Mungo Jerry). Sadly we don't know where Cat came, except that he didn't win, but at least he's earning enough money by this stage for a thick fur coat.
5.Beat Club #3 ('A Bad Night' German TV 1968)
Cat's last performance before the TB illness that would change his life and his career, this psychedelic master-class is a sort of 'halfway house'. The biggest change is that Cat has a beard! Not the natural one he'll grow later but a sort of half Van Dyke beard - as far as I know it's the only time he ever had it! Cat looks quite different with it and behaves quite differently too, standing stock still at times. Could it be that the illness and all those parties are finally catching up with him? The song is called 'A Bad Night' after all...In case you were wondering how the TV studios re-create the psychedelic ending? Disappointingly I'm afraid - the monochrome clip has Cat waving his arms in the air before the cameraman zooms in-and-out on a spotlight!
6.Melody ('Lady D'arbanville' ? TV 1970)
Cat's return finds him far more how people will remember him, performing with an acoustic guitar, friend Alun Davies and a full flowing beard and locks. This lovely comeback song is treated to a nice live performance, one that's missing all the trimmings (such as the xylophone-celeste part) but still sounds highly impressive. Cat looks the picture of health despite his recent problems. Suddenly, though, he appears to get 'eaten' by a giant cube that appears out of nowhere and everything turns blue and 'phasey' - just when we seemed to be in with a chance of getting out first 'normal' Cat appearance...
7.Tienerkalnken ('Maybe You're Right' Belgian TV August 1970)
Regular readers may know about 'Jazzbillsen', a regular live 'festival' that was a regular feature of Belgian TV shows throughout the 1970s. Despite the name, it had moved on to pop and rock by this period and presumably Cat performed plenty more songs though I've only seen one clip so far - and an edited one at that. Luckily, it's a good one, with Cat singing one of his best songs from 'Mona Bone Jakon' you don't hear often, with the arrangement changed from piano to acoustic guitar. Nice, up until the moment when Cat starts singing in falsetto anyway.
8.Pop2 ('Lady D'arbanville' 'Wild World' 'Katmandu' 'Maybe You're Right' French TV November 1970)
One of the longer videos in this list, by the end of 1970 and 'Tea For The Tillerman' Cat had a whole quarter-hour segment of France's premiere pop show to himself. This is a glorious performance, with Cat and Alun Davies now fully believing in what they're doing and Cat's performance is rarely better. Cat's even confident enough to wear lime green trousers! 'Lady D'arbanville' features much guitar-banging to cover up for the fact that the pair don't have a drummer with them, while the first performance of 'Wild World' is particularly strong and different without the piano there. Cat is pleased enough to ask his guitarist for a cigarette at the end of the song! The earliest surviving TV interview is, sadly, overdubbed with a French translation but is typical Cat as he's asked about being 'labelled' and goes off on a long argument about people being 'trapped in a box...we must make our own home a pleasure, we should have friends, try not to have enemies and stay true to yourself'. He then goes on to add that the whole point of life 'is to feel fulfilled' and that 'music is ok, but it's not a way of life'. How those words will come back to haunt him... A lovely 'Katmandu' follows, played by Cat solo while Alun appears to fall asleep, and Cat performs it in a much lower and eccentric vocal pitch. Finally, an oddly cheery 'Maybe You're Right' rounds the set off nicely, a sweet song well sung. One of the better clips in this list.
9.Father and Son (Music Video 1970)
Oddly the first of only two Cat Stevens music videos promotes a song that was only ever released as a single in a small handful of countries (not the UK or US) long after the 'Tillerman' album! It's a simple but moving clip, with Cat effectively duetting with himself in a turquoise-painted room. We could have done without the clichéd shots of a pipe-smoking old man to interrupt the flow, though. Nor do I understand why the old man is playing chess throughout the song.
10.BBC In Concert ('Moonshadow' 'Tuesday's Dead' 'Wild World' 'How Can I Tell You?' 'Maybe You're Right' 'I Love My Dog' 'Bitterblue' 'Changes IV' 'Into White' 'Father and Son' UK TV 1971)
Cat's in full flow for this popular gig too, which features a whole 43 minutes of music, cut down to a half hour for the broadcast version in 1971 but since repeated unedited. It's one of the better entries in the BBC2 series, with Cat joking that his songs are 'so old!' before performing a one-year-old 'Maybe You're Right' and a five-year old surprise revival of 'I Love My Dog'. Cat loses his place in the middle of 'Bitterblue' and sheepishly has to start again (this song didn't make final transmission!) but otherwise gives a brilliant performance, highlighted by a movingly mounrful 'Maybe You're Right' which this time is back on the piano, with cat playing. A chilling 'How Can I Tell You?' and a swinging 'Into White' are also highlights. Sadly not available officially yet (when are the best of these 'In Concert' sets doing to come out on DVD?!?) but regularly repeated.
11.Los Angeles Concert ('Moonshadow' 'On The Road To Find Out' 'Where Do The Children Play?' 'Wild World' 'Miles From Nowhere' 'Longer Boats' 'Father and Son' 'Hard Headed Woman' US TV June 1971)
This set, however, is officially out on DVD as 'Tea For The Tillerman - Live' in reference to the fact that so many songs from that album are performed (though 'Moonshadow', of course, is previewed here before it's appearance on 'Teaser And The Firecat'). It's the earliest official release you can buy and while short on DVD at around half an hour, it's arguably the best Cat Stevens DVD out there. Bass and conga player Larry Steele has now joined Cat and Alun for some typically confident performances from this era, although this set is perhaps not quite up to the BBC standard. There are some nice performances of some rare songs, though, with a folky and sparser 'On The Road To Find Out' and a 'Where Do The Children Play?' with a lovely long opening the highlights. Sadly 'Miles From Nowhere' is clumsily arranged and poorly mixed and 'Longer Boats' still sounds pretty stupid. Still, another good show.
12.Granada In Concert ('Tuesday's Dead' 'Where Do The Children Play?' UK TV 1971)
Cat begins slowing down his promotion duties now, sensing that he's as big as he wants to get. This appears to be his only promotion for 'Teaser and The Firecat' with a performance of one new song and an old one. Cat starts with a rambling introduction to 'Tuesday's Dead', explaining that he had no idea what the song was about until long afterwards when it came 'true'. It's a good performance, though, unlike 'Children' where Cat is struggling with an odd mix that adds a lot of echo to his voice. Cat is now out of his famous shirts and into a red jumper, while the trio have been joined by drummer Gerry Conway.
13.GTK Interview #1 (Australian TV August 1972)
Effectively a press conference to promote 'Catch-Bull At Four' and a four month long tour (sadly unfilmed), Cat is on surprisingly chatty form and gives long answers to all his questions ('Ask me some nice ones!' he giggles at the start). He says that he's called 'Cat' because he's 'very independent...it's happened all the way through my life, so I found myself alone'. Cat says that pop stardom was 'frightening', that 'revealing' the real Cat 'as honestly as I can' is 'an obligation' and that 'I'm putting myself on trial for myself'. Asked if he stays in control of his new backing band Zeus he grins 'yeah...absolute!' Cat's more serious as he tells the interviewer that being in rock bands are often a substitute for families and friends. He adds that 'Miles From Nowhere' felt like his breakthrough song and that it taught him to 'be true to yourself'. He ends 'I've never thought of anything else I could do - if there was something then I would do it!' and rather hilariously 'I'd hate for people to still be listening to this in fifty years' time as I feel such a part of now!' Sadly the only copy of this I've ever seen is mute for long parts of the questions, so that only part of it can be heard - presumably it wasn't that way when it was broadcast!
14.Teaser and The Firecat (Animation Short 1973)
It took two years for this five minute short based on the album cover of Cat's 'Teaser' front cover to come out, by which time it felt slightly out of place. Spike Milligan, having turned down the chance to narrate The Small Faces' 'Ogden's Nut Gone Flake', does the honours here and the result is all rather madcap and goonish, not really that suitable for Cat's drawings. The story's a bit odd too, as owner and cat try to catch the 'moon' across a Yellow Submarine style landscape to the strain of 'Moonshadow'. It's nice to see characters you've known and loved actually moving though and the animators do a good job of making Teaser 'move' the way it always felt like he should from the album cover. It's a shame that some of Cat's other illustrations didn't come to life like this as 'Buddha and the Chocolate Box' in particular would have been fun to see! This cartoon has appeared as a bonus feature on two official DVD releases: 'Tea For The Tillerman - Live' and 'Majikat'.
15.Foreigner Live ('Morning Has Broken' 'Foreigner Suite' '18th Avenue' 'Hard Headed Woman' US TV Special 1973)
By now Cat is in exile - well, for tax purposes anyway - and heads from his new Brazilian home to America to promote his latest album 'Foreigner'. The title track is given a rare (unique?) performance, edited down from the full twenty minutes to the six minute 'middle' section. It's a good performance, but the echoey TV studio isn't the best place for it and without the ten minutes to get there this song sounds a little longwinded and flat. 'Morning Has Broken' - oddly receiving its first surviving performance two years after release - sounds more comfortable and 'Hard Headed Woman' is as strong as ever, though the highlight is Catch Bull's '18th Avenue' which goes from jolly and sweet to dark and terrifying in the blink of an eye with a simpler arrangement that works far better than the over-polished record. There may well have been other songs performed in this special, but I've never come across a full list or even a mention of this show anywhere.
16.GTK Interview #2 (Australian TV 1974)
Another interview, this time promoting 'Buddha'. Cat seems tired and fed up by now, wearily saying that 'Foreigner' was a 'mistake' although he felt it all at the time and that sometimes he has to consider the public's views above his own. He doesn't seem that convinced by this, though, and adds that he's 'concerned with furthering my growth' from this point anyway. 'It looks like I'm getting older but I feel like I'm getting younger!' jokes a then-twenty-six-year-old Cat, claiming that he's been 'responsible' for a while and that now 'I feel like a child again'.
17.BanApple Gas (Music Video 1976)
Cat's oddball ditty from 'Numbers' is not what I'd have chosen as the single but, hey ho, as at least we get what's surely one of the weirdest AAA music videos to look at instead. Cat plays the devil in the garden of Eden, offering a grumpy looking Adam and Eve 'Banapples'. Next Cat's in the supermarket trying to lure housewives into a 'blind taste test', before a 'Kesystone cops' robbery ensues. Finally, Cat wins at cards, trumping everyone's aces with five 'banapple' cards. Quite what this all means is left up to the viewer, although it seems likely that 'banapple' is Cat's dig at both drugs and consumerism and how it fools people into wanting more. Throughout all this Cat rocks a yellow-hat-with-cap look that's pretty unique too. Completely bonkers - and not a 'number' in sight!
18.Moonshadow (Animated Short 1977)
A re-issue of the 'Teaser and the Firecat' short with a few simple modifications, such as a shorter opening and end. This video was belatedly entered into the Fantastic Animation Festival and included on the film of all sixteen entries released into cinemas in 1977 alongside such memorably titled pieces as 'Bambi Meets Godzilla' and 'Superman and the Mechanical Monsters'.
19.(Remember) The Days Of The Old School Yard (Music Video 1977)
The most 'normal' of the Cat Stevens promos, this video features a clipped-hair-and-beard Cat apparently recording this song before his imagination drifts out to the school playgrounds outside. It all feels a bit 'Sesame Street' with its falsely-grinning kids and there aren't enough shots of Cat, but it illustrates the song quite well. That's Suzanne Lynch who duets with Cat in the middle of the song, who was married to Cat's bass player Bruce Lynch. There's a sweet ending where Cat asks the group of children what they think and they giggle 'nice triangle!' which probably wasn't quite what he was hoping for. He seems quite natural with them though.
20.Unicef - The Year Of The Child ('Child For A Day' December 1979)
Here we are, a year after the final LP with Cat's name on it for what will turn out to be Cat's last public appearance for 25 years. He'd been a big part of Unicef's 'Year Of The Child' event, recording his brother's song 'Child For A day' for his 'Back To Earth' LP and performing it again here with the help of David Essex while looking unrecognisable even from a couple of years earlier. Cat's going a little bald and looks like a bank manager, already growing into the look of a Muslim preacher (this is the first time he's announced onstage as 'Yusuf'), though his vocal is still nicely committed and this is as good a place to leave him as any. In fact in a nice bit of full-circle ness, Cat performs this song to a group of children sat in the audience, which is round about where we came in. The crowd give a huge burst of applause, clearly knowing that their odds of seeing Cat in public again are getting slim and Cat looks relieved to walk off, his responsibilities fulfilled. A sad clip in retrospect, notwithstanding the 'comebacks' that make up the rest of this list! Cat performed other songs at the show including 'The Wind' and 'Morning Has Broken', possibly others, but whilst these survive on audio they don't appear to have been televised and have been lost to the ages it seems.
21.Larry King Live (US TV 2004)
Yusuf breaks his silence to talk not about a new record but to put forward 'his side of the story' about being deported from America after 9/11. With 25 years' worth of living we haven't heard about Larry King starts by...asking him how he got the name 'Cat'. Yawn. As per usual he hasn't done his homework, unaware of Cat's Greek restaurant/Oxford Street upbringing. The questions include such classics as 'Do you write all your own material?' and 'who wrote the traditional hymn 'Morning Has Broken'? Yusuf's on good form, though, laughing that he adopted a song with religious overtones 'because that's the sort of thing I do' and filling Larry in on his unusual religious background, who ended up at a roman catholic school because it was the nearest, not because his parents were believers. He's particularly erudite talking about the slow process of becoming a Muslim after being given the Qu'ran by his brother David, that religion informed everything not just one compartment of his life and that it talked to him 'in the name of humanity everywhere, not just Arabs!'
22.Nobel Peace Prize Concert ('Peace Train' 2006)
'It's been a long time since I've been doing this kind of work!' says Cat at the start of his big return to music, agreeing to come back in honour of his friend Mohammad Yunus who won the prize that year for his good work offering loans to struggling families in poverty, writing many debts off in the process. Yusuf sings a track that he'd recently recorded in 'Muslim' form for one of his religious albums anyway but with an arrangement somewhere between that and the original record, with what is in the present circumstances a highly fitting song.
23.Yusuf's Cafe Session ('The Wind' 'Midday (Avoid City After Dark)' 'Don't Be Shy' 'Maybe There's A World' 'In The End' 'Where Do The Children Play?' 'The Little Ones' 'Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood' 'Heaven-Where True Love Goes' 'How Long?-Peace Train Blues' 'The Beloved' 'Father and Son' 'Wild World' (Zulu Version)' 'Peace Train' Concert 2007)
Yusuf reclaims his past, with his elder self choosing older material that reflects the changes in his life, dropping many of his previous standards from his set that don't really fit while breathing new life into old ones such as 'Don't Be Shy' from 'Harold and Maude' receiving it's concert debut here. Some songs work better than others - 'Father and Son' for instance, benefits from the slower, older delivery while a poignant 'Where Do The Children Play?' is the highlight of the set, the frustration at another fifty odd years of supposed progress that isn't progress at all when it leaves people behind inspiring a terrific vocal out of Yusuf. However a Zulu version of 'Wild World' is an odd idea that never quite works, while 'Peace Train' is way too slow as a blues and only marginally faster when performed as an encore. As for the songs from 'An Other Cup', sadly for the most part only the odd or the over-religious works are included here which all seem pretty heavy-going, with the exception of a delightfully intimate 'Maybe There's A World'. Not quite 'Tea For The Tillerman' then, but this all-night cafe meeting has its moments and is good opportunity to catch up with an old friend. Available on DVD, with an edited version being broadcast on television before release.
24.Thinkin' 'Bout You (Music Video 2009)
A sweet, simple video for a sweet, simple song with Yusuf and band performing in what looks to all intents and purposes like The Cavern, although it's probably just a similar smoky club. Cat's back to wearing the dark glasses again, for the first time since 1967 in a neat reminder of the first time he mimed to a song in his 'first' career.
25.Boots and Sand (Music Video 2009)
This second video, this time for a non-album single, is a second cartoon intercut with real life footage, more crudely drawn than 'Teaser and The Firecat', while Yusuf doesn't appear in the action himself except briefly in the middle of a crowd. The story tells the tale of Yusuf's being deported and features some great gags such as George Bush as a cowboy with pistols, a 'wanted' poster featuring a famous picture of Cat and a real 'no song list'. Unfortunately large parts of this video simply features Yusuf looking at goats. It's all a little odd, much like the song. That's Paul McCartney and Dolly Parton on rather shaky backing vocals, by the way.
26.Mayern, Munich ('Wild World' German TV July 2009)
Yusuf recalls meeting Peter Gabriel and performing at an AIDS benefit concert in South Africa for Nelson Mandela and arranging 'Wild World' for Zulu. What worked in Africa, though, falls flat as a pancake in Germany where Yusuf censors himself by missing out the word 'girl', perhaps because he's no longer singing to that age range anymore.
27.Bayern 3 ('All Kinds Of Roses' German TV 2009)
Still in Germany, Yusuf plays a new song from 'Roadsinger' about 'finding happiness in our hearts'. It's a nice version, but perhaps a little too similar to the record.
28.Live From Abbey Road ('Thinking 'Bout You' 'Just Another Night' UK TV 2009)
Yusuf's on defensive form as he becomes the latest AAA member to plug his new album with a mini-concert from Abbey Road Studios, which EMI had just started loaning out to bands and TV studios after some pretty poor financial years. Yusuf seems uncomfortable and lacking in energy, though his singing voice is fine and a surprise revival of his final single from 1978 )in some parts of the world anyway) 'Just Another Night' is a real highlight, all the more poignant as an older man now tells us of his conversion and feeling such strong emotions 'though for you it was just another night'.
29.The Rally To Restore Sanity/Fear ('Peace Train' US TV 2010)
This is weird! Ozzy Osbourne plays 'Crazy Train' at a rally for peace before he complains that his song's 'going off the rails!' and he invites Yusuf on to sing a rather messy 'Peace Train' to put things right. Though I know that's not in keeping with the vibe of the moment, 'Crazy Train' actually sounded better, with Yusuf terribly raw and rough. Two Saturday Night Live presenters join in the 'comedy', which probably worked better on paper than it does live here.
30.Skavlan (Swedish TV 2011)
An interesting quarter-hour interview for Swedish TV. Yusuf talks about the usual things -his name changes, his conversion - with a stoic smile. He throws in a few new anecdotes though, such as his TB years in hospital that made him 'aim a little bit higher and wonder about what happens next' and the fact that he left the music business not just through his religion but because his father was poorly and needed looking after. He adds that he was worried about his fans, realising that many wouldn't want to follow him down this particular path, what an opportunity his 'retirement' gave to all his detractors and how surprised he is that so many people have waited to hear from him. Asked what he thinks now about Cat Stevens he jokes 'I liked the curls - I wouldn't mind getting those back!'
31.Adam Hills In Gordon Street Tonight (Australian TV 2012)
Comedian Adam Hills' chat show is somewhere between a genuine talk show of the old brigade, like Michael Parkinson or David Frost's, and a comedy spoof like 'The Kumars At no 42' (this show is also set on a fictional street). Yusuf is on to promote his Australian musical 'Moonshadow', which didn't last very long or do very well, despite his articulateness here. Yusuf talks about climbing roofs to look out over the West End and how 'I ain't going to be around forever - but I hoped that this way my songs would be sung live for a while'. He also tearfully recalls singing 'Moonshadow' to Christopher Reeve, at his request, when the Superman actor was paralysed and wanted to feel better about it. There's a brief but interesting clip of rehearsals with a noisy 'Days Of The Old School Yard', which appears to be the only part of the show that was ever officially filmed. The best quote: 'Music can't change the world, but it at least can give us an idea of the sort of world we want to have'.
32.CBS This Morning (US TV 2014)
Yusuf plugs his first tour since 1976 with a rambling backstage interview where Yusuf is caught nervously waiting for the gig to start, referring to the stage as the 'Peace train station waiting for the tracks to be laid'. I'm not quite sure he 'sounds as if he'd never left' as the presenter Anthony Mason puts it, but he seems keen to get going with his musical career, talking about playing in America again was on his 'tick box' of things to do.
33.The Tonight Show ('The Wind' US TV 2014)
It hardly seems worth having Yusuf come all the way over to sing one 90 second song, but at least it's a strong version with Yusuf back to just his voice and an acoustic guitar for the first time in a long time. He's got the shades on again, though.
34.Festival De Vina ('Wild World' 'Where Do The Children Play?' 'The First Cut Is The Deepest' 'Here Comes My Baby' 'Dying To Live' 'You Are My Sunshine' 'Oh Very Young' 'The Old Schoolyard' 'Sad Lisa' 'Miles From Nowhere' 'People Get Ready' 'Maybe There's A World-All You Need Is Love' 'If You Want To Sing Out Sing Out!' 'How Can I Tell You?' 'Roadsinger' 'Moonshadow' 'The Devil Comes From Kansas' 'Trouble' 'Sitting' 'Big Boss Man' 'Rubylove' 'Morning Has Broken' 'Peace Train' 'Father and Son' 'Another Saturday Night' Concert 2015)
A full one hour, forty-five minute show performed by Yusuf alongside several Latin American bands in Chile, with the singer following such acts as Tom Jones and The Backstreet Boys (!) in performing. Yusuf sounds tentative and nervous at times, opening with his first 'straight' version of 'Wild World' since his comeback and he's not always a natural fit for the backing band. The 'new' songs from 'Tell 'Em I'm Gone' sound even rougher in concert than they did on record too. Even so, this performance is a great one if only for the rarer material Yusuf performs - many songs for the first time, others for the first time in 40 years and even the set regulars sound different played folkier and more acoustically. 'Here Comes My Baby' is a particular surprise, performed with a new quirky guitar riff and stomping percussion, 'Maybe There's A World' now comes with a surprise 'All You Need Is Love' coda and there's one exclusive cover to this set, a rather odd version of Procul Harum's forgotten song 'The Devil Came From Kansas'. However despite the big surprises it's a gorgeous acoustic solo and slightly country version of 'Oh Very Young' that steals the show.
35.The One Show (UK TV 2015)
Finally, Yusuf appears on a typically hey-there-we've-got-a-singer-on-the-show-so-we're-going-to-talk-about-badgers-for-no-apparent-reason on Britain's magazine programme which still defies all odds by continuing despite the controversies and general incompetence. Yusuf seems out of it, losing the hapless presenters in his metaphors as he compares philosophers and politicians to plumbers and says that home, in Dubai, is his one place to find peace and quiet. Yusuf is justly proud of getting into the folk hall of fame and talks about his days as a folk band 'because I didn't have a band and couldn't sound like The Beatles!'
That's all for now - join us next week for more Cat Stevens!
A NOW COMPLETE LIST
OF CAT STEVENS ARTICLES TO READ AT ALAN’S ALBUM ARCHIVES:
'Matthew and Son' (1967) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/cat-stevens-matthew-and-son-1967.html