Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Al Stewart, Queens Hall, Edinburgh, 17 May

I have a backlog of reviews to write, but I'll do the most recent first. This was the fifth time I'd seen Al Stewart, sometimes solo, sometimes with a large band, sometimes just with another guitarist. The first time was in 1969 (I think) when he was supporting the Young Tradition and Tom Rush. Last time was in 2006 (blogged here). This time he was accompanied by his now fairly regular partner in strings, Lawrence Juber (ex-Wings guitarist). Juber provided the first half by himself: all acoustic guitar instrumentals, some of his own composing, but plenty of classics like While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Maybe I'm Amazed, Little Wing and the like. I could happlily have listened to him all night, but of course that wasn't what we were all there for.

Al was on great form. Last time I saw him he'd seemed a bit irritable, but this time he was relaxed and funny, sometimes doing introductions to the songs that were as long as the songs themselves (but worth listening to - about wine, obsessive record-collecting and cataloguing, being persuaded to put money into a Yoko Ono experimental film, the Treaty of Versailles, and much more besides). I'd expected that he'd do a lot of material from his new album Sparks of Ancient Light, but in fact he did only three songs from it: Angry Bird, (A Child's View Of) The Eisenhower Years and The Ear of the Night. Otherwise his set ranged back and forth across most of his career, from Past, Present and Future to the present day. His own guitar playing is still good, though he no longer tries to be the ace technician of the fretboard (well, would you with Lawrence Juber standing six feet away?) His voice sounds much as it did, though he doesn't try to reach the high notes he used to go for. And the songs continue to work their magic, year after year. Al Stewart is in the enviable position of having such a big back catalogue that even when he discards the songs that are merely adequate and keeps only the really good stuff, he still has far more materal than he can use in any one gig. Consequently he can alter his set round from day to day, and does. He and Juber also interpolate little things such as a version of The Shadows' Apache, apparently spontaneously. The pair of them work brilliantly together, a partnership exemplified by Night Train To Munich, a kind of homage to Django Reinhardt which works as well as a live duet as it does with a combo on record.

Songs (not necessarily all in the right order):

On The Border
Angry Bird
Lord Grenville
Night Train To Munich
(A Childs View Of) The Eisenhower Years
Mr Lear
The Coldest Winter In Memory
The Ear Of The Night
Down In The Cellar
Soho (Needless To Say)
League Of Notions
If It Doesn't Come Naturally, Leave It
Katherine Of Oregon
Year Of The Cat
Gina In The King's Road (encore)

Comparing that list with the set list from 2006, what stands out is that he did nearly as many songs in half a concert this time as in a full one then. And how few are duplicated (five).

They both signed records, books and posters afterwards, with Al inclined to be chatty (explaining to me that he'd had a cold when he recorded Old Compton Street Blues but had to do it that day regardless as Fairport Convention - backing musicians on the session - were only available then). Oh, and everyone who bought a book or CD received a free disk of mp3 files (about 50 hours' worth) of unreleased material, much of it live recordings from the earliest days to the very recent past.

Here are Al and Lawrence doing Night Train To Munich back in 1995:


At 26 May, 2009 11:34, Blogger Persephone said...

I've seen Al Stewart three times, all in my hometown of Victoria, BC. One in a bar setting (not great), two concerts, one okay, one luminous. There was such a glow at the end of the latter, that Al issued an invitation to the audience to meet up at a local pub. I don't know how many accepted (my husband and I needed to catch the last bus home), but a girl near us remarked to her companion: "I don't wanna go home; I wanna party with Al." I imagine with your track record of six concerts, you've heard him sing that surreal song about the bears?

At 27 May, 2009 19:34, Blogger Rob said...

Yes, when he's good he;s very very good. In my five gigs (this one was the fifth) he has in fact never done Bear Farmers of Birnam, though I have it on a CD of unreleased stuff (and now appear to have several more live versions on the disk of mp3 files I was given free). Surreal indeed.

At 17 July, 2009 20:58, Blogger neto said...

I was looking for a setlist of his 09 tour and found your page. Im going to see him for the 1st time tonight in San Juan Capistrano, California. Of course the 1st song I heard was Year of The Cat, but as of lately I have acquired about 14 albums and was delighted to listen to his excellent material.

At 23 September, 2009 15:39, Blogger MaryFran said...

I am thinking about seeing Al in Kansas City on Nov.1st but when I emailed the bar at which he's performing they told me he would be solo. Does that mean no accompaniement whatsoever and has anyone been to such a show? I would think he'd need at least one other with him - but I've loved his music from day one :)

At 28 September, 2009 19:27, Blogger Rob said...

MaryFran: it might mean just Al by himself. The first two occasions I saw him he was by himself, though these days I suspect it's unusual. Maybe he'll do less of the "Night Train To Munich" kind of guitar-heavy numbers, though his own guitar playing is extraordinarily good (he just usually leaves it to others nowadays). I'm sure he'll be great whether alone or with friends. Book your ticket.

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