17 Aug 2012

George Michael and his Swollen Epiphany


So, George Michael takes the Olympic opening ceremony as his opportunity to wallow in egotistical shite bath to remind us all how ill he was last year. I can’t really describe how annoyed this made me, but by jingo, I’m going to have a go.

George, there is a time and a place. The fact you have seen fit to make your new single a self-confessed ode to your near death experience is surely enough reference to what should really be a private matter. This whole tawdry spectacle offends me for the simple reason that I think he’s making far too much out of it. And before you call me a heartless bastard who should just allow his tracheotomy scar its little moment in the sun, let me explain.

I have a personal axe to grind here. Barely a month after George left his enforced stay with the intensive care nurses to confront the world’s media on the lawn of his Hampstead home, I found myself facing exactly the same predicament. A very nasty case of double pneumonia resulted in a hospital stay of three weeks, including two in intensive care where I languished in a medically induced coma as my body fought off various complications. Eventually I got better, but not before my family went through hell wondering if I was going to pull through and I had spent weeks lying in bed waiting for my strength to come back.

George seems to labour under the misapprehension that he had some kind of life changing experience that we are privileged to share with him via the medium of his tedious dance-pop. He claims there is some kind of mythical “white light” waiting for us as we ascend to the spirit world. Of course, George isn’t claiming to have got religion: he’s got the pop star’s next best thing, the uselessly vague term “spirituality”.  Excuse me, Mr Michael, but what exactly does that mean? Spirit of what? The only spirit I remember from hospital is possibly the white spirit they used to swab my catheter. I mean, get Catholicism or something: at least it’s a creed.

Why pop stars insist of assigning some kind of spurious significance to any major health scare, as if every bump in the road was a readymade epiphany waiting for the juggernaut of their massive ego to thunder over it in a blaze of self-regarding publicity, utterly eludes me. I can confidently assure anyone who is interested that there is no white light waiting at the gates of paradise or elsewhere. All I remember is confusion, nightmares, hallucinations, a feeling of being choked and an endless beeping sound from the various machines I was hooked into to keep me alive.

Maybe I’m just not as “spiritual” as George. Maybe only those so preternaturally gifted as the former shuttlecock stuffing pop star can truly appreciate the significance of death brushing past you in the corridor like a cold draft from an open door.  All I know is I am thankful to the doctors and nurses who kept me alive and brought me back to my family, who let me hold my wife and my son again, who gave me a chance to keep on acting out this random pantomime. Did they get me closer to my spirituality? Frankly, no.

George, make a donation to your local ICU, file it under “lucky escapes”, then get back to what you do best: singing songs about shagging strangers in public toilets. And cut down on the spliffs, as they aren’t good for your fragile lungs.  Anything else is just crass grandstanding and you should keep it to yourself. 

Anyway, here's his fucking video...


9 Aug 2012

Inside the Cult of Manowar


It’s not that often that you find yourself standing in a crowd of men raising your arm in salute and chanting “Hail and Kill!” In fact, to my normally liberal sensibilities, there is something not quite right about such behaviour. When Pink Floyd drew parallels between fascist rallies and rock concerts, it may all have seemed like vague millionaire whinging and tortured metaphor, but now I’m not so sure.

But why have doubts when confronted by the sheer bollock rattling volume emitting from what appears to be a PA system beamed in from some masturbatory sonic fantasy? Conversation is impossible, but in any case, what would be discussed?  The only subject here today is METAL, as brought to us by its undoubted overlords, Manowar.

There’s no denying it: truly they are the Kings of Metal. We know this because they tell us, repeatedly.  Manowar is a metal version of those motivational speakers who teach you ways to pump your confidence so that in the end you truly believe you can conquer all who stand in your way. They are the Paul McKenna of motivational metallurgists.  

For those of you yet to experience their singular vision, here’s some backstory. Manowar were formed in 1980 by bassist Joey DeMaio, guitarist Ross the Boss and vocalist Eric Adams. Typically, they’ve had a succession of drummers over the years, most notably the handlebar moustachioed Scott Columbus. For most of their career they’ve ploughed a lonely furrow, fighting against what they term the forces of False Metal, typified by the spandex, hairspray and inherent “pussyness” of prevailing eighties rock trends.  They’ve weathered changes of musical fashion by staying firmly in one place, and if anything are now even more fundamentalist in their vision of metal Valhalla.  Even in their fifties, they can still be found clad in animal skins and leather chaps, their bulging biceps lightly oiled and gleaming in the pyro. They have performed with 100 piece orchestras, recorded a version of Nessun Dorma, and performed the William Tell overture as a bass solo. In short, they rock.

Manowar are here in Glasgow for the first time since 1984 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their debut, “Battle Hymns”.  Many of tonight’s audience have waited since then to see their heroes return, judging by the expanding waistlines and receding hairlines in evidence.  Metal fans are unfailingly loyal, and this is especially true of Manowar’s. Numerous examples of the band’s fantasy themed artwork adorn bodies and clothing, and the merchandise stall is doing brisk business, even at 30 pound a t-shirt. Should you get lucky, you can even buy Manowar condoms, known as “Warrior’s Shields”, tastefully emblazoned with the romantic legend “Rock, Drink and Fuck”, which may or may not be intended as instructions.

Like any successful business, Manowar is a brand. Everything is calculated to appeal to their core audience, from their artwork of muscled warriors and busty submissive wenches to songs such as Warriors of the World, Metal Warriors, Hymn of the Immortal Warriors and Hymn of the Immortal Metal Warrior of Steel. Okay, I made the last one up, but they will probably get to it eventually. So precious is this brand that bootlegging or photography is policed with frightening efficiency, with guards aiming laser pens at errant camera phones.    Most fans here paid almost sixty quid a ticket and have likely spent the equivalent on merchandise, so perhaps it seems somewhat churlish to deny them the chance to take a photograph of their heroes, but Manowar are so definitively of a bygone age perhaps they fear their souls may be diminished.

So the faithful have gathered like storm clouds over distant plains, although the Army of Immortals fail to fill the entire venue and the upstairs balcony remains resolutely closed.  As the band hit the stage to their theme song, dubbed, naturally, “Manowar”, I am struck by two things: the sound is perhaps the clearest I have ever heard at a rock concert, but it is also, surprisingly, not that loud. After all, this is a band who achieved Guinness Record status in 1984 with a performance of 139db, over 50 decibels above the recommended safe limit.  My ear plugs remain in my pocket, but it’s a cunning ruse. Once the levels are set, the volume fader goes ever upwards. By the time the third song is reached, my ear plugs are in and the music is actually beginning to affect the composition of my internal organs. The band power through their debut album in its entirety, and I allow myself a definite tear of nostalgia as “Battle Hymn” reaches a thunderous climax of feedback and screams.

And then, we stop.  Just as the audience are warming up, the band announces an intermission. The idea of such bloodthirsty warriors nipping backstage for a quick pee, cuppa and maybe a cheeky scone seems oddly out of place. I scan the hall to see if a scantily clad pleasure slave has emerged from the wings bearing Manowar’s own brand of choc-ices, but it seems we are to stock up on alcohol in readiness for the concert’s second half, which arrives soon afterwards with yet another increase in volume.

There is no doubt Manowar are in great shape. DeMaio, with his long straight black hair, resembles a Cherokee chief on the warpath, his expression seemingly carved out of granite while he plays his bass in the manner of a lead guitarist.  Adams possesses a voice to match the bulging of his muscles, which bring to mind Clive James’ memorable description of Arnold Schwarzenegger as a “condom stuffed with walnuts”. Guitarist Karl Logan operates with the studied demeanour of a classical musician, peeling off the mighty riffs like flesh from a thigh bone.  

It is all ridiculously entertaining and performed utterly straight faced. Manowar truly believe in everything they sing about. They are on a mission, and would, should it come to it, “Die for Metal”, although why such sacrifice should be required is left unclear.  Their lyrical view, when not dealing with motorbikes and heavy metal, is firmly focussed on mythology of either Norse or Greek origin. The overall effect is Wagnerian in intensity and intent, which perhaps explains their popularity in Germany and Greece. 

Unusually for a metal band, they don’t really go in for Satanism, and references to Hell are more likely to refer to Hades than any Christian notions. Instead, they hark back to an idealised paganism or warrior society, and although they profess to stand for freedom, they do so by adhering to a strict code of behaviour. Honour, sacrifice, death, victory, vengeance; these are the main pillars of Manowar’s religion. 

In our age of irony, when nothing can be taken at face value and everything must be approached with a knowing smirk, such dedication is commendable.  This crowd knows exactly what they want and Manowar are happy to deliver it to them, re-affirming a sense of belonging and community which may be sadly lacking in other areas of life.  Manowar exist outside the whims of fashion, standing up for what they believe, whatever that might be.  With their eagles, swords, and black and red hammer emblems, as if Albert Speer was in charge of creative direction.  Allied to DeMaio’s dedication to Wagner and the fascination with power and domination, there’s something disturbingly familiar about their iconography. Is it any wonder that extreme right wing idealogues, such as Greece’s Golden Dawn party, draw their support from disenfranchised working class males, much like Manowar’s audience, unhappy with their perceived powerlessness in the face of encroaching modernity?

I could be reading too much into this and I’m certainly not accusing Manowar of being fascists. Maybe I am, in the parlance of Manowar, a False One, an unbeliever. But, as I raise my imaginary Hammer high, shout “Hail and Kill!” with my fellow fans, and watch DeMaio prise the strings off his guitar with his bare hands, I feel strangely exhilarated and somewhat spent.  And you can’t ask for more than that from a rock and roll show, can you?


18 Sep 2011

PINK FLOYD - LEGACY FATIGUE

Once again, those caring, sharing people at EMI are, in all their beneficence, inviting you to part with your shekels to buy the music of Pink Floyd.

In this era of heritage rock, when anyone who managed a top 20 single sometime between 1965 and 1985 can be called legendary, there are few bands held in higher esteem than Pink Floyd. Hardly a month goes by without them gracing the cover of one of the few remaining music magazines. Classic rock radio stations bulge at the seams with the sound of Dark Side of the Moon, while legions of new bands queue up to proclaim the genius of those terribly well- spoken chaps with a penchant for concept albums about the nature of human despair.

In short, they are everything I should hate. I once attended a concert by the Australian tribute act, called, with breath-taking literalness, The Australian Pink Floyd, at the Albert Hall in 2004. Expecting an evening of hilarity amid like-minded freaks, I was disappointed to find myself amongst an audience seemingly comprised of engineering graduates and members of provincial college rock societies. There were mullets and satin bomber jackets, for Christ’s sake. Even more worryingly, there were acres of Division Bell t-shirts.

Yet, of all the bands I have followed over the years, its Pink Floyd I keep coming back to, like a murderer returning to the scene of the crime. What is it about this most peculiarly English of bands which so appeals? Brett Anderson of Suede, in a rare moment away from using the word gasoline as an inappropriate adjective, once pointed out that they are simultaneously enormously popular but incredibly obscure, and therein lays their appeal.

As a youth, I vaguely remember my dad having library copies of Wish You Were Here and Animals lying about the living room. I was transfixed by these weird covers. Pigs floated serenely over grim industrial landscapes, while faceless business men from the pages of nightmares made incomprehensible offers in the wilderness and burning men shook hands on deserted back lots. It was the kind of landscapes which populated dreams, the kind of landscapes which were somehow intriguing to my eight year old self but which also said, somehow, that this was something you approached with caution. I had a similar feeling when I opened one of my dad’s art books and found a Magritte painting which transposed a facial portrait into the form of a naked woman. In short, this was something decidedly adult and therefore attractive.

Imagine my surprise when these strange beings appeared in the charts in 1979. Not only that, they hit the Christmas No. 1 spot. With a weird disco type tune about hating your teachers. And it was in my Christmas stocking. Hooray!

I listened to Another Brick in the Wall obsessively. I even listened to the B-side, One of my Turns, but had no fucking idea what it was going on about. I wondered at the strange cartoons in the video, and though how cool it would have been to be one of the kids in the video, running happily through a wet council estate while pondering the inequities of a cruel system. Or something. To this day, I could probably whistle you every single note of the guitar solo, infinitesimal semi-tone bends all.

Throughout the eighties I was obsessive about The Wall. I even, for a few years, thought the follow-up, The Final Cut, was one of the greatest records ever made. Thatcher was in power, you see, and anything which reinforced my opinion of her as an evil hag was all right by me. (Incidentally, I don’t think Pink Floyd ever got enough credit for coming out in opposition to the Falklands war on that album. Can you imagine any other pickled 60s survivor doing something similar? Genesis? Yes? Eric “Enoch was right” Clapton?) And, as Wham! reigned supreme and most of the people at my school looked to U2 and Simple Minds for their thrills, I found solace in the portentous strains of Comfortably Numb, Not Now John and The Fletcher Memorial Home.

Of course, I came to realise that The Wall is an album which is best listened to when angst ridden and fourteen. The Final Cut is altogether too personal to ever be considered a proper Pink Floyd album, and, apart from some searing solos from David Gilmour, is pretty much a Roger Waters solo album in all but name. I can’t say I listen to them at all these days, unlike many of the people at the Albert Hall, who probably have side three of The Wall on repeat in their fucking Vauxhall Insignias.

However, what they did do was open the door to the exploration of a remarkable back catalogue, which even these days continually reveals itself anew to me like a shy lover in the waxy light of a stolen bedsit tryst. The peculiar English misery of many of Waters latter day lyrics seems to strike a melancholy chord as our world becomes increasingly confusing. Of course, it’s also worth remembering that we approach most things with the arrogance of all generations, assuming that our particular version of impending Armageddon is somehow more valid than any other. When “Dark Side of the Moon” came out, the Vietnam War was drawing to its bloody denouement, Israel and her neighbours were littering the deserts of the middle east with burning tanks, the Bahder Meinhoff gang were getting busy, and the streets of Northern Ireland were already running with blood. Apart from the latest series of X-Factor and the upcoming global financial meltdown, what do we really have to worry about? As the years go by, it all seems rather quaint, and it seems quite sobering to think that Pink Floyd’s magnum opus was released only thirty years from the battle of Stalingrad. Of course, it’s all relative. We think we are in dangerous times, therefore we are.

The band have all but dismissed the music made between the departure of Syd Barrett and their eventual commercial flowering with Dark Side of the Moon, but I maintain that it is here that their most enduring music is to be found. Take “Obscured by Clouds”, the album immediately preceding “Dark Side…,” made for the soundtrack to Barbet Schroeder’s hippy flick “La Valee” . Knocked off in a couple of weeks it contains some wonderful moments, not least Rick Wright’s lovely piano ballad “Stay”, which finds its writer once again grappling with guilt at rock and roll’s illicit pleasures of the flesh, like any nice grammar school boy would. There is also the marvellously portentous drone of the title track, where synths gather like storm clouds over a primitive drum machine while Gilmour’s stately slide guitar soars like a B-52 overhead.

I’d quite happily never hear most of the orchestral cow pat that is Atom Heart Mother ever again (apart from the funky middle section) but the second side comes alive with “Summer 68”, a strange kind of chamber pop piece totally out of kilter with just about anything else the band ever did. Gilmour still retains a soft spot for “Fat Old Sun”, his first good Floyd tune, and it’s easy to see why, even if Nick Mason’s drumming is hilariously inept during the guitar solo.

Virtuosity, though, was never the main reason to like Floyd, which is why their music has weathered the storms of the great Prog Rock Purges better than some of their more studied contemporaries. At the heart of many of their finest moments is a sense that they were just, well, arsing about, such as the fortuitous piano note which kicks off “Echoes”, which to me beats the more favoured “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” for the title of “Best Floyd Epic”. At times, this could be embarrassing, such as most of the studio half of “Ummagumma” or “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast”, but occasionally it would yield enduring hallmarks of experimental rock such as “One of the These Days”, built around an echoing pattern on the bass. When Pink Floyd stopped arsing around, their music suffered and became predictable.

Of course, predictability is the one word which could never be used to describe Syd Barrett. His time as leader of the band was brief, yet his presence casts an enormous shadow over everything they have done since. To many, Pink Floyd ended the day the rest of the boys decided not to pick him up for a gig. Syd, his mind blown either by incipient mental illness or a massively heroic dose of LSD and Mandrax, drifted off into reclusive legend, leaving the legacy of a pair of remarkable solo albums and one full album with The Floyd. But what an album.

“Piper at the Gates of Dawn” certainly has its faults, but there as an artefact of Brit psych it makes Sgt Pepper look like Brothers in Arms. Certainly, it toned down aspects of the band’s live act to suit the straight laced EMI studios, and the version of Interstellar Overdrive doesn’t really measure up to the Joe Boyd produced original featured on the soundtrack of Peter Whitehead’s movie “Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London”, but to listen again to Astronomy Domine and try to figure out just where this music was coming from in 1967. Barrett’s chromatic chord changes and glistening, echo-laden guitar glissandos have no precedent in British pop music, while his focus on the dark inner space of childhood resonated with the acid drenched climate of the times. And has there ever been a song as gleefully and unselfconsciously mad as “Bike”?

So, we are now promised “immersion” sets of the classic albums, starting with “Dark Side…” and “Wish You Were Here”, replete with reproduced memorabilia, various rarities, posters, coasters, alternative mixes – in fact, all the usual bollocks we expect when a major record label decides to make the pips of loyal fans squeak one more time. How much more re-mastering can they take, I wonder, before the oddities and foibles which made them unique are leeched out and we regard the albums as little more than the musical equivalent of the remains of a plate of half time oranges at a school football match? Can we, as fans, really take any more of this?

I don’t think we can, and I think EMI’s policy of drip-feeding Floyd fans with the occasional rare nugget bundled with new versions of the same old albums is flawed. Why not release a series of CDs containing all the rarities, outtakes and rare live recordings in one place, including the final Syd Barrett recordings, “Vegetable Man” and “Scream Thy Last Scream”, in proper quality at last? I’d be willing to replace all the bootlegged mp3’s and old cassettes for a proper, official release, and I’m sure many others would too. Look at the success of The Beatles’ Anthology to see how it could be done.

Alas, they probably won’t, and the music industry will continue to vanish up its own arse while selling ever more spurious collector’s items to superannuated “fans” who last bought a new album sometime around the turn of the century. And, as the last member of the Australian Pink Floyd is buried beneath the last re-mastered, quad sound, 5.1 DVD Audio SACD super heavyweight vinyl mix copy of “Dark Side of the Moon” (with special 3D backstage pass reproduction), those of us who actually cherish the maverick spirit of the band’s original incarnation as avatars of the English underground will breath, breath in the air and let out a sigh of relief.

27 Apr 2011

The Abiding Influence of Nick Drake


Originally appeared on Radio 2 website as part of promotion for a documentary hosted by, of all people, Brad Pitt.
It's an oft repeated cliché that only 500 people (or something similarly insignificant) bought the first Velvet Underground album, but all of them went out and formed a band. The same may not be true of Nick Drake, but as his cult reputation has grown, so has the number of artists citing him as an influence on their own music.
The first major re-appraisal of Drake's work came with the release of the Fruit Tree box set, containing all three of his original albums, in 1979. This was a largely unprecedented move for an artist so obscure, and was a testament to producer Joe Boyd's continued faith in Drake's work - when he sold his Witchseason Production company to Island Records in the early 70s a precondition was that Drake's albums would never be deleted.
The albums gradually accumulated a small but dedicated band of admirers, including REM guitarist Peter Buck and ex-Television guitarist Tom Verlaine. In the UK, ex-Duran Duran member Stephen 'Tin Tin' Duffy called his band The Lilac Time after a line in Drake's song River Man. Dream Academy's Life in a Northern Town was dedicated to Drake, even as his albums continued to sell to an ever growing band of devotees who cherished his work like a family heirloom.
By the turn of the 90s Drake was being cited as an influence by artists as diverse as country rocker Lucinda Williams, Robyn Hitchcock and Mark Eitzel of American Music Club. However, actual covers of Drake's songs remained thin on the ground, apart from the fabled acetate of Drake songs recorded by Elton John as publishing demos in 1969 shortly before finding fame in his own right. Original copies are extremely rare – although you can find it on the Internet if you look hard enough.
The release of Island Record's Way to Blue compilation in 1994 was met with rave reviews, while Drake was rapidly becoming the hip name to drop. Paul Weller was introduced to Drake's music by his mates in Ocean Colour Scene, and the mellow pastoral vibe of his 1994 comeback album Wild Wood was directly inspired by it. Latterly, artists such as Turin Brakes, Kings of Convenience and Kathryn Williams have all come in for Drake comparisons, not always justified, as did Belle and Sebastian, largely thanks to Stuart Murdoch's breathy vocals. Perhaps the best known fan is Badly Drawn Boy, whose Hour of the Bewilderbeast album bore the unmistakable mark of Drake's influence. Norah Jones has also recorded a cover version of Nick's song Day is Done.
Drake's latter day renaissance has also been fuelled by television programmes, radio documentaries, numerous articles and a fine biography by Patrick Humphries. But perhaps the strangest appearance of this quintessentially cult artist was in 2000, when Volkswagen used Pink Moon in a US commercial, introducing thousands of new fans to Drake's music for the first time.
Mick Fitzsimmons

Cat Stevens - A Musical Journey


Feature article written to promote Yusuf Islam's return to the spotlight. Interestingly, I met the former Cat Stevens as he was leaving a studio in Broadcasting House. I, and various others, were gathered round a small television set watching the second plane crash into the Twin Towers. The next day Yusuf Islam was all over the papers appealing for tolerance and calm. I have to say, I found him a thoroughly decent chap.

In late September 2001 Yusuf Islam gave one of the most revealing interviews of his career to Radio 2's Bob Harris. From his youth in London's West End, through his pop stars years and his subsequent conversion to Islam, it's a fascinating journey.

Cat Stevens was one of the most popular artists of the 1970s, with a string of best selling albums which virtually defined the concept of the sensitive singer songwriter. Albums such as Teaser and the Firecat and Tea for the Tillerman were classics of their genre, and his tours regularly sold out. Rising again after an abortive career as 60s pop star, Stevens' introspective and often highly personal songs connected with a huge audience and made him a star.

Then, in 1978, he turned his back on it all, embraced Islam and changed his name. For many of his long time fans, it was a baffling decision - why would a man who appeared to have it all throw it all away? Now, in a major interview for Radio 2, Yusuf Islam charts the long journey from pop stardom to religious enlightenment and reveals the reasons behind his decision.

Steven Giorgiou was born in London in 1948, the son of a Greek Cypriot father and Swedish mother. He was raised in the heart of London's West End where his parents ran a café, just round the corner from the then heart of the British music industry, Denmark Street. Young Steven developed two consuming passions, music and art, and initially fell under the spell of Bernstein's West Side Story when it opened in nearby theatreland in 1958. The arrival of The Beatles in 1963 inspired him to get his first guitar, but he was also listening to blues and folk music.

POP STAR
Early demos (one of which is included on his new boxed set) led to a deal with the fledgling Deram label. Along the way he changed his name to Cat Stevens and before long found himself a bona fide pop star, with hits such as Matthew and Son and I Love My Dog. However, sudden fame carried its own pressures. In February 1968, he was admitted to hospital suffering from tuberculosis.

"I felt I was on the brink of death," he tells Bob Harris in the programme. "At the same time I had incredible hope. I kind of made the best of it as much as I could. Now I had a break I could review myself and decide where I wanted to go and not necessarily where my agent felt I should go."

By the time Stevens left hospital he had started writing songs again. He told Melody Maker: "I think I will just use guitar as backing. I'm not doing a traditional folk thing, but a contemporary thing - my own version of folk, if you like." He had also started studying various religions, and his new material reflected this mood of reflection.

The first evidence of this new direction was the Mona Bone Jakon album, which emerged in May 1970. The new decade brought a new Cat Stevens, now sporting long hair and beard. The album reintroduced him to the charts, but it was the follow up, Tea for the Tillerman, which launched him onto the international stage and gave him his first top ten in the states. The follow up, Teaser and the Firecat, was even more warmly received, producing three hit singles.

THE TURNING POINT
Stevens' star would continue to rise, but within himself he was becoming increasingly troubled. Typically, this was addressed in songs such as Sitting or the Majik of Majiks, which contained the line "What kind of man can make me turn/and see the way I really am". The beginnings of an answer came to him when he was swimming in the Pacific near the home of record company boss Jerry Moss. Caught in a strong current, he found himself fighting to get back to shore.

"There was no-one on this earth who could help me and I did the most instinctive thing," he told Bob Harris. "I just called out and said 'God, if you save me I'll work for you' and in that moment a wave came from behind me and pushed me forward."

The following year his brother David gave him a copy of the Koran as a birthday present. Increasingly drawn to it, Stevens began losing interest in the music industry. In December 1977 he formally embraced Islam at Regent's Park Mosque and soon after changed his name to Yusuf Islam. The Back to Earth LP, released in November 1978, was the final Cat Stevens album - with no artist to promote it and no chance of a tour, it sold poorly, but by now yusuf had no interest in playing the pop star game.

FAITH
In the years that followed he devoted himself to his faith. Initially he channelled his efforts into the establishment of the UK's first Muslim school, but by the mid-eighties he began giving lectures at universities throughout Britain. Increasingly he's been an articulate spokesperson for Britain's Muslim community - in the wake of the September 11 atrocity he was once more called upon to defend his faith, advocating peace and tolerance at a time of anti-Islamic hysteria. He's also made forays into recording again, with the spoken word album The Life of the Last Prophet in 1995. 2001 saw the release of a box set, collecting work from all the stages of his career.

Strange as it may have seem to many of his fans, Yusuf Islam is far happier today than he ever was at the height of his stardom in the seventies. He also seems to have come to terms with his former life, working with A&M in the production of the box set, writing some touching liner notes and contributing previously unreleased material.

"Being more mature now," he writes, "I've managed to make peace with my past, as it's making peace with me. Certainly there's a mutual gain for reflecting on both phases of my life and although I consider the here and now perhaps to be more important there are still many people who appreciate my past ephemeral stages and the lessons they represent."

Mick Fitzsimmons
The article can also be found, along with lots of other interesting stuff, on Yusuf Islam's official website.
Just out of interest, here are some more reviews written for the BBC Music Website.


I even got my own page and everything!

26 Apr 2011

Summer Sounds

To almost paraphrase Captain Boyle from Sean O'Casey's "Juno and the Paycock", I look up at the sky and ask meself, "What is the sun?" As I look out the window we are in the midst of an unseasonal spell of sunshine. I am currently working my way through the almost 20 minutes of La Dusseldorf's "Cha Cha 2000", a shimmering electronic groovefest driven by Klaus Dinger's trademark motorik beat, and it strikes me that it's perfectly suited to the weather.

In fact, loads of music from the 70s seems to conjure up the sun for me. Perhaps it was the regular heatwaves, or perhaps its just the strange hindsight that renders everybody's childhood shiny and bright, but if it's a beautiful sunny day I find myself inexorably drawn to the music from that wonderful decade. And I don't mean disco (although that, of course, has its place.)

On the other hand, the 1980s for me are characterised by drizzle. And even "Club Tropicana" can't change that. In fact, it actually conjurs up images of sodden espadriles queuing up outside some shady Essex "nite spot", the whiff of hairspray and odour of Bezique heavy in the dreary air.