In the early 1980s, aged 17, I went to live in Italy with my head full of vacuum-packed pop. Very soon I met a friend who played me Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat album, which knocked the other music I was listening to into a paper bag. Stewart’s work introduced me to a new world of music that was all around but not necessarily making the Top Ten, and I’ve bought his back catalogue and followed his career since.
So when I saw the ad for Al Stewart playing the Cambridge Corn Exchange with Dave Nachmanoff, missing it was not an option for me or for my wife, who’s heard me raving about Al for many years and become a fan herself.
Dave Nachmanoff opened both sets: he didn’t so much play his guitar as sing to the accompaniment of a six-string orchestra, so I knew this was going to be a good night. One of his songs really spoke to both of us: how he had come to sing Freight Train onstage with its composer, the remarkable Elizabeth Cotten. I love songs that tell stories.
And that’s why I adore Al Stewart’s corpus of narrative songs, many of whose stories are historical. Flying Sorcery, for instance, is a meditation on the history of flight, while Palace of Versailles compares the 1789 revolution with the 1968 riots.
An unexpected guest was Tim Renwick, serial session player, Stewart collaborator and Cambridge resident. Although it was the first time he and Nachmanoff had been onstage together, the two swapped acoustic lead parts as if they’d been born playing together. Then came the curtain-closer: what else could it be? Year of the Cat!
This was the first date of Al’s 2013-14 tour. If you’re able to catch him at any of the other dates, I thoroughly recommend that you do.