Inspiration for a generation

I recall a chapter from my early teens, when I first discovered a Cat Stevens’ song on the radio. There was something about his voice and acoustic guitar that held my attention over most pop songs presented in those informative years. It was not just his vocal / guitar combination that resonated in me; I found in his melody and poetic reflections, something that took me to a different level. Something gave me the impulse to question my life and everyone, and thing, around it. The Cat would write about simple, everyday life, but did so in a way that hit a nerve.

My listening world had become obsessed with the tones of rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, even the tongue-in-cheek glam rock of Slade, for arguments’ sake. I loved the wailing vocals, distorted guitars, beats and THE ENERGY.

My brother Pat and I referred to Rock as ‘top-lip’ music. Go on, rock your head back and forth (not unlike how a chicken moves), make that facial expression, and you’ll understand what we meant at the time.

Oh, and I can’t overlook how much JS Bach (my introduction to classical music) and the Beatles, helped develop my creativity.

However, I would regularly give my ears a break and return to the one who brought to me ‘Matthew & Son’, ‘I Love My Dog’, the haunting ‘Lady D’arbanville’, and myriad lessons contained within Teaser and the Firecat, Tea For the Tillerman and Catch Bull at Four. Those three albums, especially, instilled in me a lifetime love of the acoustic guitar, and inspired me to take up said instrument after my brother had decided he didn’t want to play his any more. Perhaps I could play and sing just a little like Cat Stevens? Not even in my head, sadly.

Here is the cover of Tea For the Tillerman by Cat Stevens, and I understand many of his album covers were designed and illustrated by the Cat himself, in case anyone needs a memory jog — or is too young to know:

Tea For The Tillerman Cover

Over the years, few artists have remained that fresh in my musical influences. The wonderfully gifted James Taylor sits up there with Steven Demetre Georgiou (Cat’s birth name), but for me that slightly askew crown sits on the head of the one who first influenced me. The First Cut is the Deepest.

I have amazingly lucid memories of seeing Cat Stevens in concert at Adelaide’s Apollo Stadium in 1973. He sat on stage next to long-time friend and guitarist-singer Alun Davies, with I believe Gerry Conway on drums and Alan James, or was it Larry Steele on bass … I can’t be certain through the fog of decades. Anyway my gaze was pretty well fixed on the Cat and Davies; producing those dual guitars and vocals that made so many songs special at that time. What struck me during that concert was how natural the star came across; as if he were performing to a few friends in someone’s lounge room. I loved every second of it, including a fleeting conversation with a member of the audience about Jaffas. in case anyone is interested.

Over the years I enjoyed Cat Stevens while he was there, then missed Cat Stevens after he retired from public view, then reacquainted myself with the latest incarnation of the man, when he returned. While the voice has mellowed the timbre is the same. The philosophies may have refined but Yusuf is still, to me, the gentle-natured man of old, with the wonderful voice and turn of phrase.

Where am I going with all this? Well, talented performer and friend Darren Coggan tours Australia (and soon beyond) with his production of Peace Train; a show dedicated to the music of Cat Stevens. Darren has an amazing voice, and sings Cat Stevens like few, if any, other. Darren is returning to Burnie, Tasmania in November 2017, and while it isn’t the first time we have experienced Darren’s show in our fair state, we couldn’t miss another opportunity. We get to see Darren perform, hear amazing renditions of the Cat’s music, and hopefully we will catch up with Darren after the show, and maybe get to sit around and play some more tunes as we did the last time he was here.

So, one might wonder how November 2017 could possibly get any better? Well, seats at the Yusuf / Cat show in Melbourne just a fortnight later have sealed the deal.

Now … how do I organise a jam with Darren – AND Yusuf … can’t be that hard, surely?

I’ve learned recently how a young friend in her twenties has discovered Cat Stevens, and seems to have that same hook and desire to play guitar and sing those songs that bridge generations.

Does anyone have fond memories of a Cat Stevens recording or concert? Feel free to share 🙂 Negatives will be dismissed with a wave of contempt, as they will surely warrant.