| CROPREDY, England
CROPREDY, England Aug 11 As Al Stewart tells
it, every singer starts off writing love songs - but a
"disastrous" affair made his efforts so downbeat one reviewer
suggested he give it a miss.
So Scottish born Stewart, who later had global hits in the
mid-1970s with his "Year of the Cat" and "Time Passages" albums,
decided to look elsewhere for inspiration.
He is folk-music's history man.
"The only thing I'd done, religiously since I was at school,
was to read history. I used to just devour the stuff," Stewart
told Reuters backstage at Fairport's Cropredy Convention
festival in rural Oxfordshire over the past weekend.
What followed, in 1974, was "Past, Present and Future", an
album largely of songs telling stories from history. It outsold
his previous four albums combined, he said.
"I thought there's probably room in the world for one
historical folk rock singer and no one else wanted the job," he
said. Since then, he says, he has written about 100 such songs.
"One of the great things about it is that you never run out
The penultimate song of Stewart's set in front of some
20,000 fans at Cropredy was from "Past, Present and Future".
The haunting "Roads to Moscow" tells the story, from a
Soviet soldier's perspective, of Nazi Germany's ultimately
unsuccessful invasion of the Soviet Union.
Other Stewart compositions with a contemporary resonance
include "Fields of France" about a World War One flyer who never
returns, and "Trains" about French socialist leader Jean Jaures
who was assassinated on the eve of war.
The Cropredy set included "Palace of Versailles" linking the
French Revolution with modern-day France.
"Roads to Moscow" recounts how the Red Army was initially
pushed back across Ukraine and Russia to the outskirts of
Moscow, where the German offensive foundered. As winter takes
its toll on the attackers, the tide turns and the Soviets battle
their way to Berlin.
But the song's hero is briefly captured and on his return to
Russia, as happened in reality to many thousands of ex-prisoners
of war, is arrested by the NKVD secret police and sent to a
Siberian prison camp with no hope of freedom.
These are not stories loosely based on history: Stewart's
research is painstaking.
"For "Roads to Moscow" I read between 40 and 50 books. I
read the memoirs of the generals on both sides. You have to read
books by people who were actually there."
For the hero's imprisonment in the gulag, Stewart was
inspired by Alexander Solzhenistyn's prison camp novel "One Day
in the Life of Ivan Denisovich".
"You assemble all this information and you try to create a
story out of it. I do confess that in a couple of historical
songs, I was asleep at the wheel and got a couple of things
At Cropredy, Stewart was accompanied by two virtuoso
guitarists - his regular sideman, Californian Dave Nachmanoff
for the first half of the set, before they were joined by Briton
Stewart, 68, has no plans to retire.
"How many jobs in the world can you do where you play to two
or three thousand people and they stand up and applaud at the
end of it? It doesn't happen in banking."
(Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)