Grace of Rod

The in­de­fati­ga­ble Rod Stew­art sits down with Iain Shedden

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Front Page -

Given Rod Stew­art is now in his 71st year, it’s sur­pris­ing that we haven’t had a foot­ball an­them from the singer’s pen be­fore now. Bet­ter late than never, there it sits loud and proud, five songs into his new al­bum, An­other Coun­try.

The track, We Can Win, comes with stir­ring fid­dles, rous­ing, rum­bling drums and a cho­rus, writ­ten by Stew­art, de­signed to en­gage soc­cer sta­dium crowds from Manch­ester to Mel­bourne. “We can win, there’s no doubt about it,” comes the fa­mil­iar rasp of a voice. “We can win, with faith in our hearts.” And then the clincher half­way through; 50,000 sup­port­ers of Stew­art’s beloved Glas­gow Celtic, united in the stands, chant­ing “C’mon you boys in green”. “The one track I’m re­ally proud of is We Can

Win, be­cause I’ve al­ways wanted to write a track about foot­ball,” says Stew­art.

Sadly for him, Stew­art has had to re­tire from his life­long pas­sion of play­ing the game af­ter his knees gave out. “If I played foot­ball on a Sun­day morn­ing then flew up to Ve­gas for a show I was limp­ing on to the stage,” he says. “Words fail me how much I miss it. It’s not the same if you just go and watch. The beer doesn’t taste the same.”

His foot­ball retirement hasn’t been enough to stop him try­ing to build a pitch at Dur­ring­ton House, his re­cently ac­quired 18th-cen­tury man­sion in Es­sex, al­though he’s hav­ing trou­ble with the lo­cal her­itage or­gan­i­sa­tion. “They won’t let me lay an astroturf pitch,” he says for­lornly.

Look­ing dapper, re­laxed and fit­ter than a 70year-old with his rock his­tory ought to look, Stew­art is hold­ing court and let­ting loose on a range of top­ics close to his heart in a suite in Lon­don’s Lang­ham Ho­tel. Pro­mot­ing his new record ends a busy year for the vet­eran English per­former that has in­cluded stints in Las Ve­gas, an Aus­tralian tour and a show in Lon­don’s Hyde Park to a crowd of 60,000. If ever there were a poster boy for keep­ing the rock ’n’ roll flame burn­ing brightly, it’s Rod the Mod.

An­other Coun­try, Stew­art’s 29th stu­dio al­bum in a ca­reer span­ning six decades, is a brother, in his words, to his pre­vi­ous ef­fort, 2013’s Time, an al­bum that marked his re­turn as a rock and pop song­writer as well as per­former fol­low­ing his lengthy and ex­tremely lu­cra­tive di­ver­sion into the Great Amer­i­can Song­book dur­ing the noughties.

The new al­bum, re­leased this week­end, has love as its driv­ing force, whether the songs are about his fam­ily and favourite foot­ball team ( We Can Win), his four-year-old son ( Bat­man

Su­per­man Spi­der­man), Bri­tain dur­ing World War II ( Way Back Home) or his way­ward days as front­man for one of the loos­est and fastest liv­ing bands in rock his­tory, the Faces ( The

Drink­ing Song). The ge­n­e­sis of many of th­ese songs lies in Stew­art’s 2012 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Rod, or at least in the act of writ­ing it, which en­tailed look­ing in­ward on a life and ca­reer that has made him one of the rich­est and most en­dur­ingly pop­u­lar singers in his­tory.

“I didn’t go in think­ing, ‘ Ooh, bet­ter write down me life’,” Stew­art says of the new ma­te­rial. “It’s just the way the songs come down. When you go into the process of mak­ing an al­bum, to be per­fectly hon­est you don’t know what the f..k you’re go­ing to write about. For me it was a lost art be­cause it had been 15 years since I’d writ­ten an al­bum prior to Time. That all came around be­cause I wrote the book. I re­alised then that I had so much to tell.”

As be­fits one of the world’s rare Cock­ney Scots­men (he was born in Lon­don to a Scot­tish fa­ther and English mother), there is a Celtic (with a hard C) flavour simmering un­der­neath and some­times front and cen­tre on some of the 15 songs that adorn the deluxe edi­tion of An

other Coun­try. “Acous­tic gui­tars, man­dolins and vi­o­lins have fea­tured on most of my al­bums go­ing back way back when,” says Stew­art, “but yes, the struc­ture of the songs, the four on the floor — it’s just the way it came out.”

Stew­art is grate­ful that af­ter his proud march down the mid­dle of the road with I’m in the Mood for Love, Some­one to Watch Over Me,

What a Won­der­ful World and a to­tal of four Song­book al­bums he has been able to re­claim if not his youth, then at least some of his cred­i­bil­ity as a rock trou­ba­dour. That re­cent out­ing at Hyde Park was an op­por­tu­nity to test those rock cre­den­tials by delv­ing into a back cat­a­logue that wasn’t Do Ya Think I’m Sexy, Hot Legs and Sail­ing, but tapped into lesser-known ma­te­rial, such as cur­rent sin­gle Love Is, An­gel from his 1972 al­bum Never a Dull Mo­ment, and the Faces’ Ooh La La.

“I took a risk with that show, play­ing songs that weren’t that well known,” he says. “That’s opened up a whole new field for me with the set list. So for the mo­ment the first half of the show will be those and the sec­ond half will be the hits like Mag­gie May.”

Also sneak­ing its way on to the set list as well as his new al­bum, 46 years af­ter he recorded it, is In a Bro­ken Dream, the song re­leased by the Lon­don band Python Lee Jack­son with Stew­art’s vo­cal in 1969, which has lately en­joyed a re­nais­sance as a sam­ple on rap­per A$AP Rocky’s hit Ev­ery­day. “The story of that song is mon­u­men­tal,” says Stew­art. “This mate of mine used to run a sports car com­pany called Hexagon up in High­gate [in north Lon­don]. He said, ‘I know this band Python Lee Jack­son. They’ve got a great song, but the singer can’t sing it, why don’t you come down and do a demo?’ I did the demo, two takes, for­got all about it. Af­ter Mag

gie May be­came a hit in 1971, sure enough the record com­pany put out In a Bro­ken Dream — and it did very well in the charts as well.”

He’s a fan of the new ver­sion, too. “I was sud­denly put in the spot­light with a new au­di­ence, which is tremen­dous,” he says.

Last month at Ewhurst in Sur­rey, Stew­art

IF YOU’D [TOLD ME AT] 17 THAT I’D BE DO­ING THIS WHEN I’M 70 ... RIDICU­LOUS ROD STEW­ART

and a few old mates took a step back in time, for a good cause and for fun, al­though not as rowdy or de­bauched an ex­er­cise as when the Faces were in their hey­day in the early 1970s. The con­cert, in aid of Prostate Can­cer UK, was or­gan­ised by Faces drum­mer Ken­ney Jones, who was joined by Stew­art and gui­tarist Ron­nie Wood for a re­union of the sur­viv­ing mem­bers. Key­boardist Ian McLa­gan died last year; bassist Ron­nie Lane died in 1997.

Other than a per­for­mance at an awards cer­e­mony in the 1990s, it was the first time the Faces had per­formed with Stew­art in al­most 40 years, al­though the oth­ers, in­clud­ing McLa­gan, did rope in Sim­ply Red’s Mick Huck­nall for a string of gigs in 2009 and 2010. The seven-song Sur­rey set, in front of a crowd of 5000, in­cluded band favourites Stay With Me, You Can Make

Me Dance and Sweet Lit­tle Rock ’n’ Roller. Stew­art says he had reser­va­tions about do­ing it, not least about be­ing able to repli­cate as a unit the so-sham­bolic-it-works rock aes­thetic that was their trade­mark back in the day.

“I was full of self-doubt when we went into it,” he says, “be­cause, you know, the Faces had a way of play­ing that was so loose, so un­struc­tured … plus we were drunk when we did it. So I thought, ‘ Now we’re go­ing to have to do it sober.’ But it went off re­ally well and the most grat­i­fy­ing thing about it — apart from me and my brother to­gether, me and Ron­nie — was see­ing the amount of free­dom he had, with­out Keith [Richards, Wood’s Rolling Stones band­mate) there or any­thing. He was run­ning around with a fag in his mouth, jump­ing up and down and I thought, ‘Yeah, go for it, mate.’

“Ron­nie and I have this unique re­la­tion­ship. As my wife says, when we’re to­gether we’re like a cou­ple of schoolkids. No­body else has to be in the room, and it could be 1972 again — a col­li­sion of noses and hair­styles.”

An­other Coun­try’s bluesy track The Drink­ing Song is a nod to that 70s era when, as he sings: “I’ve wo­ken up with women that I hardly knew / wine is the cause of silly tat­toos / I’ve raised hell where hell didn’t need rais­ing.”

The pay-off, how­ever, is that Stew­art has no re­grets about any of those things from his past, as the song’s cho­rus at­tests: “I’m glad I did what I did when I did it, make no mis­take about that.”

“I made a few mis­takes but I have no re­grets about them,” he says. “Ev­ery line in the song is true. The only one that isn’t is that I didn’t get drunk when I had my tat­toos done … but I know a lot of peo­ple who did.”

In sharp con­trast to that trip down mem­ory lane is the at­mo­spheric bal­lad Bat­man Su­per

man Spi­der­man. It’s a sen­ti­men­tal ode to the youngest of his eight chil­dren, four-year-old Ai­den, one of the two boys he has with his third wife, Penny Lan­caster-Stew­art. It’s a song that also has a his­tory in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, a touch- stone to the re­la­tion­ship he had with his Scot­tish fa­ther.

“Oh yeah, my dad would tell me sto­ries,” he says. “He told me foot­ball sto­ries. I can’t re­mem­ber if he told me about Bon­nie Prince Char­lie. He was in the mer­chant navy for a while and so he told me a lot about ships and about foot­ball.”

While record­ing and be­ing on the road is still im­por­tant to him at 70, Stew­art is about to take the longest hol­i­day he has had since he started per­form­ing as a teenager in Lon­don way back in the 1960s.

“I don’t have to sing an­other note un­til I go to Ve­gas in March,” he says. “It’s the longest pe­riod of time off I’ve ever had, so I’m look­ing for­ward to do­ing a lot of things I’ve wanted to do, like go­ing to see Celtic more.”

The singer and his fam­ily split their time be­tween homes in Los An­ge­les and Lon­don, but LA has pri­or­ity. That’s where he’s look­ing for­ward to spend­ing most fam­ily time over the next five months. “I struc­ture my work life around them now,” he says. “Their school hol­i­days are prob­a­bly when I’ll work. Next sum­mer I’ll do a tour of Europe and Bri­tain, and they can be with me.

“In the old days it used to be the other way around, be­cause you’re try­ing to build your ca­reer. ‘Where’s Dad? He’s tour­ing again? He’s missed my birth­day.’ That’s the way it had to be in those days.”

The break will also al­low him time to rest his voice. He at­tributes his long-term suc­cess to that “very unique voice”. It’s hard to imag­ine the Stew­art of old ad­vo­cat­ing wa­ter as the best medicine, but he swears by it now as a pre­server of those fa­mous vo­cal cords.

“I’ve dis­cov­ered this re­cently and I would pass it on to any singer,” he says. “I’ve been suf­fer­ing from re­flux. If you eat too late it burns your voice. You may not know that if you don’t sing. Wa­ter is so im­por­tant for would-be rock singers.”

Stew­art isn’t look­ing too far ahead. There are those sta­dium shows across the world on the hori­zon next year — al­though noth­ing yet in Aus­tralia — but he’s not sure what his next al­bum will be. All he knows is that he’s not quite ready to re­turn to the Great Amer­i­can Song­book. “That’s in the ‘ one day I will do’ bas­ket,” he says. “When I’m too old to rock.”

And so, with An­other Coun­try and ran­dom se­lec­tions from that vast back cat­a­logue, one of the world’s most en­dur­ing per­form­ers will just keep on keep­ing on. He wears it well.

“If you’d have been telling me when I was 16 and 17 that I’d be do­ing this when I’m 70 ... ridicu­lous,” he says. “As a kid I had no idea about be­ing a mu­si­cian. I had the in­cli­na­tion that I may play foot­ball, oth­er­wise I was lost. I stum­bled into it. My dad bought me a gui­tar. My brother took me to see Bill Ha­ley and the Comets when I was about 11, so the seed was sown. In say­ing that, I had no idea it would turn out how it has turned out.”

Rod Stew­art, above, and at a Celtic v Barcelona soc­cer match in Glas­gow in 2012

Stew­art as a young per­former, above left, and, above right, with Ron Wood in the Faces in the 70s; be­low, Stew­art on stage at the Rock in Rio mu­sic fes­ti­val in Brazil last month, with a drum kit em­bla­zoned with the Celtic Foot­ball Club logo

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