Monday 23 July 2018

Cat Stevens: Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

You can now buy 'One Day At A Time - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To Cat Stevens' in e-book form by clicking here

I don't know about you, dear reader, but so far this book/website has seemed awfully studio-bound: yes there are the odd live albums dotted round in the discographies but a touring life was usually as important if not more so to our AAA artists. Even we can't go through every gig they ever played however, so what we've decided to do instead is bring you five particularly important gigs with a run-down of what was played, where and when and why we consider these gigs so important. Think of these as a sort of 'highlights' covering from first to last, to whet your appetite and to avoid ignoring a band's live work completely! Cat Stevens isn’t well known for his live performances. He only went on one major world tour – which we’ve included as number three on our list – plus one package tour with Jimi Hendrix and The Walker Brothers and played maybe 300 performances total (two hundred as Cat Stevens and a hundred as Yusuf). Even so there are some powerful Cat Stevens shows out there – sadly many of them only on bootleg or as the soundtrack to obscure VHs videos that have never been re-issued (keep an eye out for ‘Tea and the Tillerman Live’), with the one official live record ‘Majikat – Earth Tour’ not everything it might have been.

1)  Where: Roundhouse, London When: February 1st 1967 Why: Breakthrough Gig  Setlist: Unknown

It’s hard to work out where Cat’s first gig was and nobody, including the artist himself, seems to remember. What we do know is that his earliest gigs were under the pseudonym ‘Steve Adams’ in 1965 while Stevens was studying art at the Hammersmith School Of Art. Chances are it was a gig in or around the college itself, where Cat could test his musical talents in a familiar surrounding with arty friends around him. Unfortunately, because his original replacement name was such a common one, we can’t find any evidence for any gigs actually taking place. The first gig under the name Cat Stevens? That’s one we were looking at in only our last book, when Cat joined The Small Faces in a charity fundraiser for the victims of the Aberfan Disaster held at The Royal Albert Hall on December 15th 1966(a mere fortnight before the release of the song [2] ‘Matthew and Son’). So for the sake of variation we’re going to jump ahead in time and go to the first ‘big’ Cat played two months later. With that number one single only just beginning to drop out the charts, Cat found himself in big demand suddenly and without having really played much at all in front of people found himself headlining a show in one of London’s biggest arenas. Cat was having a busy old time of it; just that very morning he’d been putting the finishing touches to his debut album (named after his hit single) with his last day of recordings and then there he was, singing a whole load of untested material for a crowd of three thousand people (which must have seemed like one hell of a lot to the young singer, still aged only nineteen). We don’t know what Cat played that night but [2] ‘Matthew and Son’ and predecessor single [3] ‘I Love My Dog’ were sure to be in there somewhere; I would imagine that [4] ‘Here Comes My Baby’ – a top ten hit for The Tremeloes a mere fortnight before this gig – would be part of the setlist too. Cat’s other live favourites of the period were [10] ‘Granny’ and [29]‘School Is Out’ so I’m going to guess at those too! Cat was relieved at how well the show went over: he’d got some savage attacks in the press for a Christmas ‘pantomime’ gig at the end of 1966 where, with all the acts asked to vamp and improvise, he’d hit upon the idea of a puppet with stomach ache, trying to rub his tummy with Thunderbirds style strings. It didn’t go down with the crowd – or the music press, who started their uneasy alliance with Cat here. Not at the Roundhouse though where all the testimonials were glowing.  Back in the days before Alun Davies Cat mostly played in front of an orchestra to replicate the sound of his singles – an expensive necessity in his first career (when he played some sixty-five between 1966 and 1968). This gig was successful enough to get Cat signed up to a package tour with The Walker Brothers, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and, err, Englebert Humperdinck in April 1967! Cat returned to the same Roundhouse venue for the second time in 2010. Both artist and concert hall had been refurbished and Cat (or Yusuf as he was then) was one of the first performers to play the revived engine shed as part of an expensive refit by the BBC for their ‘Electric Proms’ series.

2)  Where: Gaslight Café, New York When: March 29th 1970 Why: First Comeback Gig Setlist: [73] Moonshadow [59] On The Road To Find Out [53] Wild World [57] Longer Boats [41] Maybe You’re Right [54] Sad Lisa [55] Miles From Nowhere [52] Hard Headed Woman [74] Peace Train [60] Father and Son [68] Changes IV

This was Cat’s ‘comeback’ gig after more than a two year gap (following what had been his last gig – almost literally after his brush with death – on January 20th 1968 at the Winter Garden Pavilions in Weston-Super-Mere; rumours abound that he supported The Who at a one-off gig in February 1969, but that seems unlikely given that he was still deathly sick at the time). Wanting to start afresh, he launched his career in an entirely new country in a club known for its folk singer-songwriters where Cat felt most at home. Particularly with the unknown singer who was also at the bottom of the bill, Carly Simon, with the two dating for nine months or so after their first meeting. What a show it must have been: though the audience didn’t know it, they were being treated to the first live performances of some of the most famous songs of the 1970s, with tracks that would appear on three unreleased albums: ‘Mona Bone Jakon’ ‘Tea For The Tillerman’ and ‘Teaser and The Firecat’. Cat wants to make a complete break with his past and doesn’t sing a single song he’d played in public before, ignoring all his old songs (even his hits) in favour for eleven brand new songs. Little does Cat know it, but he’ll still be singing many of these songs forty years later with only one or two exceptions as this little collection includes three big hits amongst them. Cat was deeply nervous – a lot was resting on this concert and with this his second chance at fame he knew he might not get a third. The show seems to have gone down very well indeed and he was quickly invited back for more, alongside his new girlfriend Carly. New fan favourites, a regular paying gig and a girlfriend – not a bad outcome from a single show! Sadly no footage exists, but we do have audio for Cat’s third ‘comeback’ concert and his first in the UK at the Plumpton Jazz and Blues Festival on August 8th 1970. Cat now has even more songs, adding [51] ‘Where Do The Children Play?’ and [40] ‘Lady D’arbanville’ to his ever-growing pile of classics. For the most part the audience seem restless, unwilling to listen to this quiet but intense acoustic singer-songwriters when they could be rocking out  (the ‘jazz’ in the title was a bit of a misnomer; Black Sabbath and Deep Purple were the headliners that year to give you a flavour).

3)  Where: Scandinavium, Gothenberg, Sweden When: November 30th 1975 Why: Start Of Majikat Tour Setlist: [60] Father And Son [107] Banapple Gas [105] Majik Of Majiks [94] Oh Very Young [84] O Caritas [89] The Hurt [93] Music [40] Lady D’arbanville [74] Peace Train [71] Morning Has Broken [54] Sad Lisa [102] Another Saturday Night [70] Tuesday’s Dead [99] King Of Trees

After that we had five years of only occasional gigs here and there and no full tour, Cat scared that it might all become a bit too overwhelming and not wanting the level of fame he could have had if he had truly grabbed the opportunity and made the most of his popularity in 1971 and 1972. By 1975 though his star had fallen slightly with the poor sales for his concept album ‘Numbers’. He had also secretly converted to his Muslim religion and was already counting down the clock to the point where he could quietly be released from his record contract and take up his new life full-time (with three albums left to go: one padded out with a ‘Greatest Hits’ set and the other two with the rather distracted albums ‘Izitso?’ and ‘Back To Earth’). I would like to think that Cat was already preparing to bow out and wanted to leave fans around the world with a memory, so he embarked on his only substantial tour. Known officially as ‘The Earth Tour’ but usually referred to by fans as ‘Majikat’ after the strapline on the posters, this was a very big deal indeed. Forty gigs were played, split between America and Europe. The shows featured Cat alongside his regular friends Alun Davies, Gerry Conway, Bruce Lynch and Jean Roussel alongside newbies Larry Warner, Chico Batera and Larry Steel. The fifth show in Paris was broadcast on local radio while the show in Virginia on February 22nd 1976 was recorded for possible live release at the time (finally seeing the light of day as a DVD and shortened CD on its thirtieth anniversary in 2004).

4)  Where: Wembley Stadium, London When: November 22nd 1979 Why: Last Gig Setlist: [65] The Wind [59] On The Road To Find Out [125] Just Another Night [126] Daytime [51] Where Do The Children Play?  [60] Father and Son [71] Morning Has Broken [74] Peace Train [124] A Child For A Day

Cat never made it ‘official’ that this would be his last show, but fans kind of assumed it would be. His last gig had been at the end of the ‘Majikat’ tour on May 27th 1976 (in Vienna) and this was the only gig until the comeback where he was billed as ‘Yusuf’. Fans got quite a shock when they same him (Cat hadn’t done any TV work in the interim either, so the only pictures we got were on album covers), walking on with a long beard and with his hair cut short., almost unrecognisable until he opened his mouth. Cat seemed edgy all night – he was always a nervous performer but it seemed more than that somehow, as if he felt that he didn’t belong here on stage anymore. So what prompted him out of retirement just as he was preparing to bow out quietly? Cat had always had close links with the Unicef charity for disadvantaged children around the world from his first career. When Unicef decided on a big launch of a new campaign in 1979 (making it the international ‘year of the child’, calling for adults to cease all wars and think of the children) Cat was an obvious artists to go to. ‘It’s been a long time’ Cat says in his only speech all night ‘Every night I try to do the right thing and reflect something in my life so that its real and I’m not giving you a bunch of lies.It seemed at one time I was full of myself and that maybe be a problem of someone that happens to someone when they are a star – this is something that may have happened a way ago when I first made it’ before launching into his only live performance of ‘Just Another Night’ (which sounds lovely with just a guitar and piano). Cat was moved enough to compose the event’s ‘signature’ song ‘A Child For A Day’ which became his set closer while he sang many other kiddie-orientated songs that night too (most memorably segueing from the hopeful new song ‘Daytime’ to old handwringing classic ‘Where Do The Children Play?’) David Essex and Richard Thompson turned up as special guests on the last song. It was the last time he would sing in public for twenty-two years. The programme for the tour is the first real mention of Cat’s conversion to the outside world (It reads ‘Though he grew his beard a very long time ago, it was symbolic of the future. Four years ago his brother David gave Cat a copy of the holy Qu’ran. It was the truth he had been searching for and his heart was soon filled with love for Allah. On September 9th he married. She is Muslim. He prays to Allah five times a day and is studying Arabic. He is real, at peace and full of love’. The show was filmed and broadcast in a few countries (though not the US or UK) with nine of the songs currently doing the rounds on bootleg and/or youtube. They reveal an artist who is now trying to remember these songs rather than living them, doing his best not to make contact with the audience but still putting together a strong performance that’s full of heart. It’s a worthy farewell – worthier than an anonymous Austrian gig would have been!

5)  Where: Oslo Spektrum, Norway When: December 9th 2006 Why: Nobel Peace Prize! Setlist: [   ] Midday-City After Dark [74] Peace Train [  ] Heaven-Where True Love Goes

Cat’s first post-conversion comeback came in late 2001 when he was invited to take part in the 9/11 ‘Heroes’ concerts that had been organised that October on the month anniversary. Unwilling to appear in public (and perhaps fearful of being the only Muslim on stage) but wanting to be involved, Yusuf dusted down his guitar for the first time in over two decades and shot a simple video of him singing his old war horse ‘Peace Train’. Screened during part of the show, it was a moving gesture and its positive reception led to Yusuf considering his place in music. The world needed him and he had missed the world, but he wasn’t yet ready to go back to recording mere pop ditties or to appear on stage in front of a full audience. So he bided his time, with this minor key University gig his first appearance in front of the public (discounting the odd school assembly at the Islamia School in London Cat had established in 1983). It must have been a very different feeling to the Uncif show, which was probably a distant memory by 2002. Yusuf only played one song, unbilled at that, but the fact that he had got up in front of strangers and sang for the first time was a huge step. Waiting a year, Yusuf rehearsed a full show and played his first ‘full’ gig at The Concert For Cape Town in South Africa on November 29th 2003 before a one-off gig in Berlin and then an almighty fourth show. Cat/Yusuf remains the only AAA member ever to play at the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize concerts, held each year for the winner (which that year was banker Muhammad Yunus). Admittedly Cat won the role more for his charity work than his music (but isn’t that what a lot of music is in the end anyway, helping those without feel wanted and needed and giving them a voice?) Cat performed three songs – two new songs and an ‘oldie’. Giving a moving speech he says that ‘It’s been a long time since I have been doing this sort of work, education and relief work, which I am so pleased to be here for a man who has done so much work at relieving poverty. Eradicating poverty is definitely the way to do with peace and I’d like to do a song that is linked in some way to that’. One of the better ‘Peace Trains’ on record then follows, with an ever-nervous Cat getting better and better with each verse as he gets his confidence back singing in front of people. This was quite some year for Cat, who had a comeback album and would have performed more gigs in America had he not appeared mysteriously on an American ‘watch list’ in 2004 and been deported (it turned out later that his name had been confused with someone else who had been funding Islamic terrorists, but that always sounded like a face saving operation to me!) Footage of the three-song set exists on youtube and very good it is too.

Sometimes when artists pick up that musical baton they pay tribute to their heroes by covering their favourite songs. Here are three covers that we consider to be amongst the very best out of the ones we've heard (and no we haven't heard them all - do you know how many AAA albums out there are out there even without adding cover songs as well?!) There are a quite astonishing amount of Cat Stevens songs out there. Whether it’s because people started having hits with his songs so early (including the first entry on this list back when Cat had only released one single himself), the fact that he disappeared for so long between 1979-2005 or whether his music just speaks to so many musicians, there are a lot of cover songs we could have included in this list. Like you all probably are, though, I’m sick of sitting through so many dozens of versions of famous tracks like [53] ‘Wild World’  [71] ‘Morning Has Broken’ [73] ‘Moonshadow’ and especially [60] ‘Father and Son’ that seem to miss the point (Even Johnny Cash mangles this one, while the Boyzone cover was so bad it made me start liking The Spice Girls!) So they aren’t here in this list – instead here are three songs that all find new ways of doing things to Cat’s songs and making them sparkle.
1)  [4] Here Comes My Baby (The Tremeloes, A-Side, 1967)
I’m never quite sure if this ‘partying’ production of Cat’s tale of heartbreak misses the point entirely or gets it spot on. The narrator is sad that he’s let a girl go and feels the pangs of jealousy as he sees her with another boy. It is, you could say, one of Cat’s saddest songs, full of thoughts of what might have been as he remembers how ignored he felt in the relationship. In Cat’s hands it’s sung with a slight swing, while a brass band play just over his shoulder as if from another room, while he tries to get on with his life. The Tremeloes, though, are having a ball. Heavy drumming, handclaps, a full orchestra and even whistling, they pick up on this song’s pretty little riff and make it dance a twirl in the middle of the song. Their massed harmonies also make the narrator sound far less alone than he used to. So are they trying to get by and pretend to be upbeat and that the scene of their ex having fun isn’t getting to them at all? Or have they completely missed the point of the song? What’s interesting is that to the public it was probably Cat who sounded as if he’d missed the point. The Tremeloes single was a big hit in January 1967 (a #4 hit in the UK); Cat didn’t even record his own version until February, while the album ‘New Masters’ wouldn’t feature it until 1968. Even so, this version has a great beat to it and sounds like an instant hit single in a way Cat’s more reverent reading never quite does.
2)  [22] The First Cut Is The Deepest (PP Arnold, A-Side, 1967)
Patricia Ann Cole (PP to you and me) had just escaped an abusive first marriage when she ran away to become a backing singer for Ike and Tina Turner (maybe she spotted the similarities in the stars’ marriage?) While on tour in the UK she fell in love with London, developed a friendship with Mick Jagger and through him got a contract with Andrew Loog Oldham’s ‘Immediate’ label where she became particularly close to The Small Faces who were often working next door. While she was waiting for them to write her a hit (‘If You Think You’re Groovy’ which was, kinda sorta), she discovered a pile of demo tapes including one by Cat from 1965, the year before he’d made his own breakthrough. Cat had forgotten all about ‘First Cut’, written deliberately as a song to give away to other people to help launch his own singing career and hadn’t yet recorded his own version. P P loved it and got in touch asking to buy the song off him; expecting it to sink without trace he sold it to her for £30, not much for a song even back then. P P’s version was extraordinary though: she knew what heartbreak was a little more than the seventeen year old youth who’d written it and she poured her heart and soul into this song. Already involved in a stormy second relationship with Small Face Steve Marriott, this sounds in retrospect as if P P is ‘replying’ to his own track ‘Tin Soldier’, closely modelled on the intensity and drama. P P emphasises the shift back from the chorus into the second verse where she intones that ‘I still want you by my side’, a line that’s rather thrown away in Cat’s own version. Adding harpsichord and strings and backing singers of her own, P P turns a humble song into a tour de force and even gives it a gospel-soul swing, closer in keeping to her own background. The result, released as a single in May 1967, is a triumph that deserved to do so much better than #18 in the UK singles chart.
3)  [44] Trouble (Kristen Hersh, ‘Sunny Border Blue’, 2001)
Lead composer with not one but two alt rock bands (‘Throwing Muses’ and ‘50FootWave’) Kristin Hersh needed songs from nobody. But a rare cover of this relatively obscure Cat Stevens gem from his years in bed with TB is one of her shining moments, taken from the fifth album of her solo career. ‘Trouble’ as it stood on ‘Mona Bone Jakon’ was much the way Cat would have sung it in bed: too poorly to play with a full band there’s no one else but him, a guitar and a spooky vibe. Here, though, ‘Trouble’ has brought his demon forces with him. Kristin’s naturally quiet, breathy voice is desperately trying to hang onto sanity, but the sudden crash of the drums into the chorus signals a louder, more desperate passage of the song where several ghostly voices intone behind her. Brought to the depths of despair, she sounds desperate here, pulled up only by the addition of an organ solo that rises upwards from the floor and vainly pulls at the sky for remorse, before a quick acoustic guitar solo tries to banish all the bad luck. This doesn’t work though and we end up back where we started for the quiet repeat of the first verse. X Factor actress Gillian Andersen once nominated this as her ‘favourite song’ with particular reference to this version, saying that it ‘was a song that worked for many different times in your life’. This sounds like one of the worst – proof perhaps that the first cut isn’t always the deepest!


'Matthew and Son' (1967)

'New Masters' (1968)

'Mona Bone Jakon' (1970)

'Tea For The Tillerman' (1970)

‘Teaser and the Firecat’ (1971)

'Back To Earth' (1978)

'An Other Cup' (2006)


'Tell 'Em I'm Gone' (2014)

‘The Laughing Apple’ (2017)

Surviving TV Appearances 1967-2015

The Best Unreleased Recordings 1969-2009

Non-Album Recordings 1966-2014

Compilations, Box sets and Alun Davies LPs Part One 1963-1990

Compilations, Box Sets and Religious Works Part Two 1995-2012 


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