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Al Stewart at the Paladium, London - live review

Al Stewart revisits Year Of The Cat at one of London's most famous theatres

The crowd at a prog gig
(Image: © Katja Ogrin)

He shares some good anecdotes, not least his regular about how bad he was at picking hit singles. Of course, one 1976 American hit – Year Of The Cat – extended what might have been a respectable but niche 60s/70s folk career into one of considerable crossover and longevity.

Tonight he’s playing selections from that fine album, as any audience would demand, but also dipping into his earliest work and throwing in a few curveballs. The Back To The Bedsit tour isn’t quite a theme night in a tiny Soho folk club like Les Cousins, but there’s a sense that Stewart – recipient of a Lifetime Achievement award at the BBC Folk Awards in April – wants it to resemble one as much as is realistically possible.

So it’s an acoustic set tonight, with no drums or keyboards. The 71-year-old deftly understated singer is flanked by guitarists Dave Nachmanoff and the mighty Tim Renwick (who not only played those solos on Year Of The Cat but has worked with Pink Floyd, Bowie and McCartney). For some numbers they’re joined by others, most notably Marc Macisso, whose saxophone lifts the temperature.

Early on, Nachmanoff is granted too many solo songs, but our main man, dressed as a history teacher, soon takes charge in a polite, erudite sort of way. Bedsitter Images takes us back in time, while Palace Of Versailles transports us in place
too. After all the introversion, the yearning Time Passages works up a groove; indeed, almost a sweat, though it must be said that its recorded majesty, like that of Year Of The Cat, can’t be matched without the full musical kit and caboodle.

After an interval, everyone seems to have relaxed into the feel more, and the likes of Broadway Hotel and Sand In Your Shoes escape any sonic thinness to release their strains of romance and mystery. Old Admirals is introduced as, “One I like, as opposed to the ones I think you’ll like – that’s fair, isn’t it?”

Carol represents the underrated 1975 album Modern Times, which was the first where Alan Parsons broadened Stewart’s sound palette from folk to deliciously crafted, creamy-smooth quasi-prog.

The finale – Year Of The Cat, of course – involves a spotlight picking out the sax man in the Royal Box, before he literally runs around the auditorium, blowing up a storm. A rousing climax to a subdued but often sublime evening.

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.