Al Stewart in session for John Peel from 1968 tonight. This was his first of what would be some seven sessions the singer-songwriter would record for Peel. And it wouldn’t be until 1976 that Stewart would achieve worldwide hit status with Year Of The Cat, a single and album that went platinum and would be the first of a few of massive hits.
But this session comes from much earlier than that – only three years after his debut on the BBC Light Program in 1965, Al Stewart was very much part of the British Folk revival of the time and had the distinction of being the very first performer at the debut of The Glastonbury festival in 1970.
Although born in Glasgow, Al Stewart grew up in the town of Wimborne, Dorset, England, after moving from Scotland with his mother, Joan Underwood. His father, Alastair MacKichan Stewart, who served as a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force volunteer reserve, died in a plane crash during a 1945 training exercise before Stewart was born. He attended Wycliffe College, Gloucestershire as a boarder. After that, according to the song “Post World War II Blues” (from Past, Present and Future): “I came up to London when I was 19 with a corduroy jacket and a head full of dreams.”
Having bought his first guitar from future Police guitarist Andy Summers, Stewart traded in his electric guitar for an acoustic guitar when he was offered a weekly slot at Bunjies Coffee House in London’s Soho in 1965. From there, he went on to compere at the Les Cousins folk club on Greek Street, where he played alongside Cat Stevens, Bert Jansch, Van Morrison, Roy Harper, Ralph McTell and Paul Simon, with whom he shared a flat in Dellow Road, Stepney, London.
Stewart’s first recording was on Jackson C. Frank’s debut album, 1965’s Jackson C. Frank, playing guitar on “Yellow Walls”. His first record was the single “The Elf” (backed with a version of The Yardbirds’ “Turn into Earth”), which was released in 1966 on Decca Records and included guitar work from Jimmy Page (later of the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin). Stewart then signed to Columbia Records (CBS in the UK), for whom he released six albums. Though the first four of these attracted relatively little commercial interest, Stewart’s popularity and cult following grew steadily through albums that contain some of Stewart’s most incisive and introspective songwriting.
Stewart’s debut album, Bedsitter Images, was released in 1967. A revised version appeared in 1970 as The First Album (Bedsitter Images) with a few tracks changed, and the album was reissued on CD in 2007 with all tracks from both versions.
For a reminder of Al Stewart during those formative days, here is his first Peel session, recorded on May 8,1968 and broadcast on May 29th.