Al Stewart

Al Stewart

NEARLY 40 years after his first fumbling attempts to become the future of British pop, veteran folkie Al Stewart - the original bed-sit hero - returned to Bournemouth, the town where he started his musical career.

Mister Smiths was packed for the occasion. It was like a regimental reunion with the massed battalions of Bournemouth's 1960s' beat scene out in force to greet one of their number who actually made the dream come true.

People like Allan Azern, who ran the legendary Disc-A-Go-Go club at The Lansdowne... and the West-wood brothers, who joined Al on stage for a nostalgia-fuelled rendering of The Ventures' Walk Don't Run.

"We used to be in a group called The Trappers," recalled Al. "It was so un-PC, we used to hang the fur of dead animals from our guitars."

On Friday the ghosts of The Trappers and countless other long-forgotten Bournemouth bands stirred once more as old friends caught up on even older times.

Other local heroes sent their wishes from afar. Like guitar genius Robert Fripp, who said he would have loved to have been with everyone on Poole Hill but was busy working in Nashville.

Al, at the demob end of a 20-date UK tour, loved every minute of it. Twenty-eight years after he last set foot on a stage in Bournemouth, he was back home.

He played a set that included numbers from his latest album, Down In The Cellar, a smattering of old favourites, some personal curios and of course the song that caused them to put the word "legend" on the tickets, The Year Of The Cat.

He was joined on stage by support band The Europa String Choir, record producer and keyboards player Steve Smith and Ken Westwood on percussion.

The song, with its references to the Oriental astrological calendar, became a bed-sit staple in the mid-1970s.

It's been played constantly ever since.Yet the number was originally called Foot of the Stage and was all about Bournemouth's tragic comic legend Tony Hancock.

Re-writing it must be the best day's work Al Stewart ever did.

© Jeremy Miles 2022