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Tea with the Tillerman

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Cat Stevens and his guitarist Alun Davies spend an afternoon with Michelle O'Driscoll

I Recall sitting in a dismal hotel room in Munich, Germany, last year, pondering over Cat Stevens’ sudden refusal to talk to the Press and wondering what I was doing there in that case.

A few moment’s meditation on that positive piece of wisdom soon had me seated in an equally dismal hall, but my mood had changed to elation in the knowledge that I was once more to sense and respond to a high-energy performance of Cat Stevens and friends.

After all, more than the inspired lyrics, the intriguing structure of his songs or his striking appearance, it has been Cat Stevens’ energy that has retained my interest over the years.

Even in 1967, when Cat Stevens made his solo debut at London’s Savile Theatre as "opener" to Georgie Fame, the spark of magic was evident and a pop star was born. A few hits and a series of nerve-wrecking experiences later, the pop star was put to rest; Steven Georgiou, alias Cat Stevens, had a collapsed lung and tuberculosis.

Lost love

1970 and he re-emerges on the music scene, a healthier person in many ways from the experience, and heads straight up the charts with a plaintive love song called "Lady D’Arbanville." While this song mourned love lost, it heralded the re-birth of Cat Stevens, the total musician and a truly great songwriter.

Finally, I’m standing on the doorstep of his house, wondering whether the same affinity I feel for Cat Stevens— a man it has taken me five years, untold thousands of miles and a lot of magic to meet—will extend to Steven Georgiou.

Above all else, I recall the vision I had in Australia, early ‘71, of going to Australia on a Cat Stevens’ tour and I almost have to pinch myself to ensure I’m not dreaming now he’s welcomed me into his home to discuss the forthcoming world tour, part of which I am, thanks to Paul Dainty, the promoter of the Australian and Japanese legs.

Steve: "I’m the most unquotable person in the world." So began our talk.

He is wearing a 22-carat sun-tan and he’s the healthiest-looking specimen in the entire rock culture. He explains the tan: "I’ve just come back from holiday on Corfu. I choose to live right among the people in London, because I can switch off mentally when I want to or, if I need a break, I just leave it all behind and go somewhere peaceful and quiet, preferably by myself.

"It’s a good way of rebuilding my energy and I’m only away for a short time before I want to get back to work again.

"I’m really looking forward to the whole world tour. For a while now, I’ve been taking it easy. I’ve been recording my new album and helping Alun (Davies) with his; so it will be stimulating to get back on stage, performing."

The tour opens in Brisbane, Australia on August 25, and it will be Cat Stevens’ first time "Down Under." While he may have little conception of how he has become a pop Messiah in Australia (21 gold records await him in that country), he has formulated a fairly accurate idea of the country’s personality: "I imagine it to be a vast country and I can’t see the cities having much historical value. I think of it as a country of people rather than places."

And of his songs he says: "I’ve never been to Katmandu, but it’s irrelevant. The lyric is only symbolic of our search for freedom and purity.

"It’s the same with ‘On The Road To Find Out,’ ‘Lilywhite’ and ‘Into White’."

Just as these songs reflect the universal need for freedom, so "Father And Son"—perhaps one of the finest of Cat Stevens’ songs to date—Is written in the general sense.

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"I’ve never really understood my father," he’ll tell you, "but he always let me do whatever I wanted—he let me go. ‘Father And Son’ is for those people who can’t break loose."

Steve obviously finds his own freedom through his music. A close friend of his once told me Steve would be alone without it. He agrees: "I would die mentally without it. That’s why I won’t get married. I’m already married to my music."

The writer, Henry Miller, once observed that "When a man embarks on a great adventure he must cut all ties." I can appreciate that remark when I consider the majority of highly-successful people I’ve met have been strangely alone, even when they’ve married.

In the musician’s case, it’s as though all his energy must be conserved for his musical expression and he is more often than not restricted by the responsibilities that come with a marriage contract.

This in no way hints at a lack of sexuality, especially in Cat Stevens’ case. Even the seemingly-innocent lyrics of "Peace Train." he describes as being "very phallic."

‘I can’t help writing like that," he says with a sparkle in his eyes. "Sex brings its own kind of peace—for a time. It makes you oblivious of your surroundings."

The graffiti on the fence of the "Teaser And The Firecat" album includes a

69-er (if he says it’s the symbol of his birth sign, Cancer, I won’t believe him) and "Mona Bone Jakon"—the title Steve chose for his album prior to "Tillerman" — is Steve’s personal name for "penis"! Probably there are more instances, equally amusing, which throw some light on Steve’s fine sense of humour.

"When I was ill, I had the knowledge of death," said Steve, "and it made me realize that living is a bonus.

"At the same time, I was determined not to let my body die—I wasn’t going to give up the fight.

" I know possessions can bring back the fear of death and lately I feel I’ve let myself become a bit possessive again, so I must find a way to avoid it."

Musical unit

Possessive or not, Steve has fostered the harmonious and creative musical unit of Paul Samwell-Smith, Alun Davies and Del Newman over the past three years. Together, they have been largely responsible for the beauty that is Cat Stevens.

"I love beauty around me, Steve admits, "but not surface beauty. Someone could be a 23-stone albino negro and I might still find him beautiful. Del and Alun are very beautiful men.

I mention Nina Simone, a lady I think is very beautiful. And I tell Steve how I’ve long considered Cat Stevens to be her male counterpart. He’s pleased.

"If you really think that, it’s a great compliment. I like her very much and I can understand your comparison."

Jeremy Taylor, a musician friend who has written some Latin lyrics for a track on Cat Stevens’ new album, "Catch Bull At Four," which will be released by Island in September, drops in with his children and we take time out to listen to a couple of tracks from the LP. Although the record-player could have come out of Noah’s Ark, what little we hear is exciting. Steve can only describe the album as ‘a natural broadening from what I’ve done so far."

Steve: "My only aim, ever, has been to develop—to improve—to write better songs. First time around, I did partly want to be a pop star—this time I want to he a songwriter.

"It’s going to be so stimulating playing to thousands of people in countries I’ve never been to and I’ll more than likely write the songs for the next album while I’m on tour."

Discat.jpg (8160 bytes)The strongest link between Cat Stevens and Steven Georgiou is "now." That is why a Cat concert is so devastating. Into each song he’s pouring his whole being at that particular time—his mentality, sensuality, spirituality and so on. You can be assured you’re getting his best, for he’s giving his all.

Our afternoon slipped by, but it had been a promising first meeting, with the kind of hot-and-cold moments you expect when two people born on the cusp of Fire and Water signs get together.

Cat Stevens? He’s an old friend—my love for him and the music he creates grows deeper with every passing moment.

Steve Georgiou? That’s who I was meeting for the first time. We’ve only begun to know and understand each other. However, I appreciate more than ever his reluctance to talk to the Press because, to learn about Cat Stevens, all you need do is listen to his music.



Alun Davies never let a Dayo By - Disc July 1972  Alun Davies Interview



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