Of the singer-songwriters who appeared on the world stage at the dawn of the 1970s, Cat Stevens made perhaps the most lasting impression. His songs of longing, love and the search for truth in an increasingly difficult and embittered world spoke to a generation hungry for answers; the whimsical and childlike feel of many of his songs revealed a man for whom innocence, and its loss, were crucial issues.
His gentle purr of a voice – which could become a soul-rattling roar over the turn of a phrase -underscored the deep emotion and commitment that ran through his work. To his friends, Cat Stevens was known as a man who took everything seriously, and he believed to his core in the music, and the lyrics, and the messages they conveyed.
Although he certainly composed his share of songs that aimed for nothing more mundane than the record charts, particularly in his brief incarnation as a ’60s pop star, the overwhelming majority of Cat Stevens’ lyrics were deeply personal, and questioning, and with hindsight can be interpreted quite plainly as markers along the spiritual path that would eventually lead to Islam and his abandonment of the music business.
He began to study Eastern philosophy during his long hospital stay and convalescence during 1968, and although the early poetry of I Love My Dog and Matthew and Son had a somber edge to it, it was only after staring death in the face – death blinked first – he began to seriously re-assess who he was, looking for something, somewhere:
I know I think a lot
But somehow it just doesn’t help, it only makes it worse
The more I think, the more I know, the more it hurts
With only solitude to meet me like a friend,
Oh, where are you?
He emerged from the shadow of TB with no answers but a burning desire to find them. His instincts were sound, but spiritual satisfaction eluded him for nearly a decade as he searched, adapted and all the while honed his art.
His songs were exquisitely constructed, like sturdy ships in glass bottles, like miniature worlds carefully built on a snowflake.
Cat Stevens’ delicate and romantic sound found a waiting and wanting audience, particularly in America where musical understatement and enigmatic, deeply felt lyrics were taken as antidotes and lucid countermeasures to the progressive rock, bombast and overkill that dominated.
Even the titles by themselves told the tale of tentative conviction: Maybe You’re Right, I Think I See the Light, On the Road to Find Out, Miles From Nowhere, How Many Times, But I Might Die Tonight, Home in the Sky.
Cat Stevens’ imagery was unique, even when he turned his focus from personal matters and wrote about the world around him. Into White paints a minimalist portrait of an English country garden in colorfully descriptive detail; in Katmandu, the picture is wintry and clean, the beauty of the scene metaphorically buried beneath the snow and its “strange, bewildering time.” You can practically smell the fire roaring away in a corner of the cabin.
Children – the very definition of innocence making its way through a wild world – became a recurring theme. The singer in Moonshadow enjoys a joyous nighttime dance as the “faithful light” follows him over hill and dale; If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out talks about a limitless future for anyone who’s willing to embrace it. Because who was he, after his illness, if not a child starting his life all over again?
I know we’ve come a long way
We’re changing day to day
But tell me, where do the children play?
But the search for his own adult identity was never far from his thoughts. The protagonists of Father and Son, two conflicted sides of the same personality, have different ideas about how one another should think and conduct their lives, and in On the Road to Find Out, another song of tactile searching, he decides that the way to contentment is to “pick up a good book,” although he didn’t yet know what that book would be. It seemed as if he was merely waiting for his destiny to reveal itself to him, to explain the meaning behind life’s riddles:
Oh preacher, won’t you paint my dream, won’t you show me where you’ve been?
Show me what I haven’t seen to ease my mind.
As his fortunes swelled, Cat Stevens found that pop music – the notion of getting by “just upon a smile” – was a lot less satisfying than he’d imagined. Increasingly, he retreated from the show business circus that grew up around him, rarely giving interviews, preferring to live a solitary life where he could compose and paint without distraction.
All the while, he read theology, philosophy and spiritualism and thought about how to apply their principles and mandates to his own, increasingly disenfranchised life.
The paradox of Cat Stevens was that as his fame increased, as he became a more proficient musician and studio architect, the more true happiness eluded him. Fame, fortune and the trappings of success were all very nice, thank you, but deep inside he wanted, needed something more. The poet in him found ways to describe feelings he didn’t completely understand. As the Buddhists say, the farther one travels, the less one knows.
Life is like a maze of doors and they all open from the side you’re on.
Just keep on pushing hard, boy, try as you may
You’re gonna wind up where you started from.
As the ’70s progressed and Cat Stevens grew into England’s folk/rock elder statesman, his words became even more introspective; as his public found it increasingly difficult to understand or puzzle through the riddles of his poetry and his unfocused spirituality, he was drawn, by blind trust, into questions whose answers he knew down deep had to be within his grasp.
Certainly, it wasn’t all soul-searching; as a craftsman, his creations held their fragile and mysterious beauty until the very end. There were the “rainbows and twenty thousand tears” of Angelsea and the runaway R&B train of Foreigner Suite, with its intricate, overlaid keyboard fills and soulful vocals. The sweet, spectral pleasures of Sun/C79 (“Who can explain the light in your dreams?”) and the poignant Just Another Night, in which Cat Stevens – now a committed Muslim called Yusuf Islam – seems to bid farewell directly to his beloved audience:
I remember standing here
right on this very same site
I was dying, but for you
it was just another night.
You once rocked me in your world
You bought me my first shoes
I was just another lonely child
Oh and you were much amused.
Once his spiritual vacuum was filled, being a craftsman and expressing himself through music and poetry didn’t hold the same resonance. Yusuf became a devoted family man, a speaker, author, educator and humanitarian, fulfilling many of his dreams and ideals. And his period as a star called Cat Stevens became fixed in time, irrefutably just something he’d done once.
Cat Stevens found what he was looking for, in the pages of the Qur’an, so he put down his guitar and walked away from popular music, closing the door behind him. As with all artists who’ve moved from one spiritual plane to another, his work remains, its message crystallized in time and space, and there for all who seek inspiration from it.
Once his long road brought him to the place where dreams meet reality, he knew the journey – or at least part of it – was over.
The speakers: Yusuf Islam, Paul Samwell-Smith, Alun Davies, Gerry Conway, Mike Hurst
Disc 1 “The City”
Back to the Good Old Times. Yusuf Islam: I did this in Regent Sound Studios on Denmark Street; I paid for an hour’s session for somewhere between 5 and 10 pounds. My first major success at what I felt to be a catchy pop song for people’s ears. Just me and a guitar. My first time hearing my voice in echo was really something.
I Love My Dog.Yusuf Islam: My buddy Jimmy Mitchell had all these jazz records – Nina Simone and Roland Kirk – and he had an obscure one, Eastern Sounds by Yusef Lateef. The song “Plum Blossom” just had this great melody, and one day I wrote words to it. And I developed it. It became an important song for me. And later, after I became Muslim, I realized I had to own up and correct that, so I told Yusef Lateef about it, gave him a big cheque and in fact started paying him royalties.
Portobello Road.Mike Hurst: We needed a B-side for “I Love My Dog.” We also only had about 25 minutes of session time left. Two takes later, that was it. I mixed the two tracks in just over 20 minutes, on four-track. Thank God for my engineer Vic Smith, later to produce The Jam, and the tape-op, Roy Thomas Baker, who I believe also went on to greater things.
Here Comes My Baby.Mike Hurst: Actually, this was the first song I recorded with Steve at Pye Studios, Marble Arch, London. Steve had been signed just for this session by music publisher Bert Chalet; it was recorded, along with “Smash Your Heart,” “Come On And Dance” and one other, in full “budget” mode. There were only a handful of musicians, and the arrangements were done by one of Georgie Fame’s Blue Flames. It was at that point that Steve and I parted company, until he walked back into my life a few months later, after every record company in London had turned him down! I suppose we were meant for each other.
Matthew & Son.Yusuf Islam: I had a song called “Baby Take Me Back Home” which used that little riff. I had a girlfriend, and she was working for this big firm, and I didn’t like the way that she had to spend so much of her time working. The riff seemed to fit the words, Matthew and Son. There was a bit of social comment there about people being slaves to other people.
The Tramp.Mike Hurst: It is probably closer to his later work than most of the others. The only accompaniment was Steve’s guitar, bass and a single trumpet. It was simple and evocative and he loved it for those very reasons.
I’m Gonna Get Me a Gun.Yusuf Islam: From the very beginning, I wanted to write a musical. I had a kind of theme for a Mexican musical, and then I changed it to a story about Billy the Kid. I think this emerged out of that; the other one was “Northern Wind.”
School is Out. Yusuf Islam: At the time I was very intrigued by the Bernstein strings and staccato arrangements. That kind of thing influenced “I’m Gonna Get Me a Gun” and “School is Out.” Mike Hurst: I loved the massed strings playing in unison with the melody line of the verse, and if you listen closely to the closing riff into the fade, you can hear the strains of “America” from West Side Story.
A Bad Night.Mike Hurst: By anyone’s imagination, this was me going over the top, this time at Olympic Studios, Barnes. Steve had written the song with three tempo variations, and to me this was manna from heaven. The arrangement was stupendous, and the orchestra numbered some 35 players. I have always loved theatre, and I gave this my all. I’m not sure what Steve made of it. I suspect he always knew it was a step too far. The record was a stiff, only making top 50, but I have to confess I loved it then and I still do.
The Laughing Apple.Yusuf Islam: The message is almost like “Don’t Be Shy.” Instead of hiding away from life, smile and don’t be frightened of what’s gonna happen because ultimately you shouldn’t fret – let life take its course.
Kitty.Mike Hurst: The one track on the New Masters album that harked back to the early days. It had a big arrangement, written by Phil Denys, and some of the old excitement.
Blackness of the Night.Yusuf Islam: My folkie protest song, which I thought came out really nice. Again, it was a bit over–arranged, but still one of my favorite tracks from that time, because of the words.
The First Cut is the Deepest.Yusuf Islam: It’s an Otis Redding sort of thing – one of my first attempts at R&B, if you like. Mike Hurst: With Big Jim Sullivan on lead guitar, John Paul Jones on bass and Dougie Smith on drums, the result was gratifyingly different. I sang the chorus harmony with Steve, and as I remember I played rhythm guitar.
I’m So Sleepy.Mike Hurst: This track, gentle and seemingly innocuous, says that Steve was tired of the way it had been. I think by this time we almost had the lawyers in the studios with us, and I knew it was the end.
Northern Wind.Yusuf Islam: It’s got a Ravel kind of buildup to it, and then these cowherd voices in the background singing ‘Billy, Billy.’ Like Fistful of Dollars or whatever.
Moonstone.Yusuf Islam: Almost a Middle Eastern fiction. I was having fun with lyrics and storylines; I lived round the corner from the British Museum, so it probably had some influence on that song, and the idea of finding some precious stone which if you rubbed it like Aladdin’s lamp would come to life, and flash and sparkle.
Come on Baby (Shift That Log).Yusuf Islam: It means going back to the woods, going back to the log cabin. It’s almost like a “Father and Son” thing where the husband is left with the child, in this case, and the wife has gone away. Maybe the wife wants to live in the city – it’s got a hint of “Wild World” as well.
Lovely City (When Do You Laugh?).Mike Hurst: I remember thinking what a ‘nice’ song this was, after the soul searching on many of the others. Fortunately there always has to be some light at the end of a gloomy tunnel.
Here Comes My Wife.Yusuf Islam: I was very into Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” which is where the intro comes from. I don’t remember coming out of hospital and doing any more session with Mike, but I obviously did. Maybe I was on too many antibiotics, I don’t know.
The View From the Top.Yusuf Islam: While I was in hospital, I actually tried to learn how to write music, arranging and putting down the dots myself. I’d worked on that song there, and most of the little lines, which were then transcribed into proper notes by the arranger.
Where Are You.Yusuf Islam: It reflected my infatuation with the melancholy French genre. There’s a hint of classical music in there, which I loved too. I was quite happy with it, although it wasn’t a great hit. It’s still one of my favorite tracks. Mike Hurst: There was a wall between us, and nothing would have broken it down at that time. We were young. I knew it wouldn’t chart and I think he did too. It was our swan song, and a sad one at that.
I Found a Love.Yusuf Islam: My attempt at writing a hit tune with a very thunderous chorus, around New Masters time. I think it was covered by Mike d’Abo.
If Only Mother Could See Me Now.Yusuf Islam: One of those demos I worked on in sort of a dank studio in East London. The story is a about man’s dream of flying. It also shows how a person can overcome his devilish tendencies and develop into a higher character and embrace more angelic qualities if he’s lucky. Somewhere between New Masters and Mona Bone Jakon.
Sun’s in the Sky:Yusuf Islam: Again, one of those songs which I produced in the kind of twilight period. Kind of towards the end of the Decca days. Slight tones of Greekish influence in there.
Honey Man.Yusuf Islam: My friend Ken Cumberbatch had a little riff on the piano, and we worked on a couple of songs together; this was one of them. Elton came in to put on the piano. We did it in Pye Studios, just off Marble Arch, during a period where I was making demos on my own. I was getting much more involved in contributing to the arrangement directly in the studio, instead of having it written by someone who comes and delivers it on the day of the session.
The Joke.Yusuf Islam: The group that was on it was the same group that did “Wild World” with Jimmy Cliff. I found this group in Fulham, with a nice reggae feel. I used them on “Wild World” with Jimmy, and then on “The Joke,” which I had hanging around as a song.
Disc 2: The Search
Time/Fill My Eyes (demo).Yusuf Islam: Two songs that linked harmoniously; I think “Time” was too short and that’s where the idea came. “Fill My Eyes” is a hidden gem of a song, and one of those I just like hearing again.
I’ve Got a Thing About Seeing My Grandson Grow Old.Yusuf Islam: This was in that transition period when I was beginning to write a softer, more reflective type of song. It was me starting to want to get back to the sound of my own demos, and doing things myself with my own licks on guitar, without relying on a session man. In the middle I do ‘aho, ho’ which is very Buddy Holly. It didn’t quite fit into any particular style. The middle of my crossroads.
The Day They Make Me Czar.Yusuf Islam: That’s Alexi, the child of Nicholas, the last czar. It was never properly recorded. The script to the musical Revolussia was partly written by Nigel Hawthorne, who became a Sir! A musical allows you to develop different styles of music, to match the different characters and moods.
Lady D’Arbanville.Yusuf Islam: It was one of the unique songs that stood out, even lyrically. The name itself was intriguing. Not only that, but it was based on a real life story and it had a unique melody and arrangement. It sounded like that even when I played it alone – the drums just helped emphasize what I was doing anyway on the body of the guitar.
Trouble.Yusuf Islam: Describing the tragedy of my illness and how it took me out of the limelight and the whirling of the business. And again re-stating that conviction that I would not lose control this time around.
Pop Star.Alun Davies: I’d long had that little bassline riff, and it fitted right in. And then there’s that sort of manic bit which sounds stitched on when it comes charging in. I love Mona Bone Jakon; I think it’s an unpolished gem. It’s so raw in places.
Katmandu.Yusuf Islam: It’s the mystical East, the mirror of the illusionary world I had in my mind of that place where you could escape to. Where everything would be perfect, and warm and comfortable, just like you read it in the storybooks. And in a way I’ve never been there. Still haven’t been there. Paul Samwell-Smith: Peter Gabriel came into the studio, very young and very, very nervous. He almost couldn’t play the flute ’cause his lip was shaking, and his hands were shaking. I had to go out and tell him don’t worry, it’ll be alright.
Lilywhite.Paul Samwell–Smith: We had a limited string section, on a limited budget. We had 12 strings, which is just enough to make a decent noise, so we got them to play it twice and we tracked them. Del Newman conducted them – at the end, they go off on our their own, there’s no click and no beat. They’re floating away in the distance. And then Del did the same thing again, and he stayed so accurately within the timeframe that only if you put headphones on can you hear one side of the strings getting ahead of the other.
Where Do the Children Play?Yusuf Islam: Harking back to my time in Shaftesbury Avenue, where there was no real playground nearby. And even in my school we played mostly in the basement. And the lyrics speak for themselves about ecology, and the looming dangers of an over-technologicalized society, that was basically it.
Wild World.Paul Samwell–Smith: We did the backing track quite early on, and then he went off and recorded it with Jimmy Cliff. That had been released, and then I wasn’t all that interested in ours. But we put the track on, and it sounded bloody great. So we finished it and stuck it on the album.
Sad Lisa.Yusuf Islam: We ran the piano through the Hammond organ amp and got a very intriguing sound. “Sad Lisa” was one of those little awkward riffs which I’d worked out upstairs on the piano at home. One of those lonely moments when these songs start flowing.
On the Road to Find Out.Yusuf Islam: In retrospect, it’s perhaps the clearest prophecy of what was to happen to me. And it just always felt right, the tempo, the words they somehow just spanned out in an inspired way and told my story, before I’d even experienced or understood it. Buddhism was teaching me to look within, and not to be too concerned with the external world. And that’s an important mission for a human being. Alun Davies: A lot of these were recorded in the same way, with the guitar part central to the song. I can visualize the little corner at Morgan, head to head, just the little screen between us. We were so close musically you couldn’t get a fag paper between us.
Father and Son.Yusuf Islam: It was one of the 12 songs or so I’d written for Revolussia. It came early on, where the son has decided to leave home and join the revolution. His father was a peasant farmer who didn’t see life in any more than the one dimension he’d lived up to that point, and here was a son who saw a way forward and a new life waiting for him. Paul Samwell-Smith: It was Steve’s idea to sing it as two people. It was always part of the song. My only contribution was to get a girl to come in and sing absolutely in unison behind him on those backing voices. She came in with her mum, who was chaperoning her.
Love Lives in the Sky.Yusuf Islam: “Land o’Freelove and Goodbye” in the developmental stage, where I hadn’t resolved certain lyrical issues. But it was so strong a melody, I wanted to get it down. It had one of those sort of melancholy Greek melodies, which I had hanging ’round my head for many years. It came out in different ways – I think “Peace Train,” “On the Road to Find Out” and “Land O’Freelove and Goodbye” are married, in some sense, with the same family of tones and chords.
Don’t Be Shy.Yusuf Islam: They’d used my music as a background to the script-writing of Harold and Maude, and then they couldn’t extract it! I liked the idea. It was funny enough and serious enough to fit my music. Here was a youngster who was rebelling, very much like me, and the storyline reflected my morbid sense of humor and jokier side.
If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out.Yusuf Islam: These were songs I had floating around, and probably I could’ve worked longer on and come out with more of a refined composition, but it was very much the mood at the time to be melodic and simple at the same time. And that’s all they wanted, was something new and melodic. And they suited the film.
The Wind.Paul Samwell-Smith: We did it in an afternoon – just guitar and voice. If you hear the little wind chimes, they’re two coins. If you balance a large coin on the tip of each middle finger, and you then touch them together, they’ll ring. It was very quick – we didn’t even bother to book percussion, we just got some coins out of our pockets.
Moonshadow.Yusuf Islam: I’d taken a kind of solitary holiday in Spain, in a town which didn’t have much electricity. So there weren’t many streetlights. I’d gone out that night, and it was a very bright moon, and it was literally the first time I’d discovered that the moon casts a shadow. I’d been a city dweller to that point, and I’d never really noticed it before.
Morning Has Broken:Alun Davies: He’d discovered this book, Hymns Ancient and Modern, that was our hymn book when we were at infants’ school. He liked it because it was non–denominational. Paul Samwell-Smith: It was extraordinary to watch Cat Stevens and Rick Wakeman working together on the piano, working this part out between them. And every time they came up with an astonishing line, I’d rush out into the studio and say things like ‘That sounds fantastic!’ And they’d look at me like I was a bit mad and say ‘Yeah, yeah, OK, but leave us alone now.’ By 9 that night it was recorded, mixed, finished, everything. The record company didn’t want to put Rick’s credit on the album, so for all these years very few people knew it was him playing piano.
How Can I Tell You.Paul Samwell-Smith: The guitars are Alun Davies and a guy called Andy Roberts. I think it’s my favorite track of all. What I did was really set up the session so that there was an incredible atmosphere. Cat Stevens just sang, and he sang it live with the guitars. The female voice is Linda Lewis.
Peace Train.Paul Samwell-Smith: I think it was one of the first tracks we did on 24–track, and it got to be a mess. The mix was extraordinary. Cat Stevens standing on a chair in the back of the studio shouting ‘Autoharp!’ ‘Reverb on guitar!’ and trying to conduct us as we mixed it.
I Want to Live in a Wigwam.Yusuf Islam: The message reflects my wandering soul, looking at different houses, different dwellings. At the end, it says we’ve gotta get to heaven, gotta have a guide. And somebody had gone and written the wrong lyrics somewhere – they said ‘we’ve gotta get to heaven, gotta have a dime.’ That was horrendous. The most important part of the song is the end, where I said I’m glad I’m alive.
Disc 3: The Hurt
Crab Dance:Alun Davies: He used to play with that a lot. It was a dressing–room tuneup. Without the aid of a guitar tuner, you sort of strike from the fifth fret and tune up right through there. He actually wrote a song based on that, and I think “Crab Dance” came from that.
Sitting.Yusuf Islam: Some of the most profound of all my lyrics, in some sense, because it tells the story of my search. And also conveys an awareness of my audience. I knew who I was writing for – if not by face or by name, I knew their spirits.
Angelsea.Paul Samwell-Smith: We had Gerry on a circular podium, which was just big enough to take Gerry and his drum kit. If he’d made a false move, he’d fall off! There was Gerry going completely bananas, overdubbing drums to this track. The drums are astonishing. Alun Davies: That was the best thing out of France. Lots of scrub guitars. In terms of recording, it was full of energy.
Silent Sunlight.Paul Samwell-Smith: I was always trying to get him to keep it as simple as possible. I’m sure I said let’s just keep it voice and piano. He was starting to play live a lot, and you change your emphasis when you play live – you need to have bass and drums and guitars and lights and stuff around you. That’s how you get the show to happen.
Can’t Keep it In.Gerry Conway: He recorded his guitar and vocal in the upstairs studio at Morgan, and then for some reason we had to transfer to the downstairs studio, where I put the drums on. At the end, there’s a kind of a metallic sound – the only sound Steve could find to fulfill what was in his head was a metal tea tray from the canteen. He had it miked, and at the end of the song he’d throw it at the floor. It was dodgy to get it to drop on the floor at exactly the right moment, so it took a few takes.
18th Avenue.Paul Samwell-Smith: I loved the percussion bit in the middle. That’s Cat Stevens and Gerry Conway both playing speakers – there were two studio speakers about knee-high in the middle of Studio One at Morgan, and they made nice clatterey sounds, with drumsticks and a nice wooden speaker to hit.
Foreigner Suite.Yusuf Islam: In the beginning, it was never intended to be one song. It was a few songs which were all in the same key, which suddenly struck me could be linked together. So when I went into the studio, I knew I was going to string it together, but I recorded them separately and then linked them in the mixing. Foreigner was me trying to escape the regimented formula of writing I’d fallen into.
The Hurt.Yusuf Islam: It was the only single-sounding thing on the Foreigner album. It’s got a soulful kind of root to it. I was always a fan of Atlantic Records, and I wanted a bit of that sound. We recorded the vocal backings at Atlantic Studios in New York.
Music.Yusuf Islam: It hints towards the incredible power of of Divine recitation. But I didn’t think about it in those religious terms. Rhythmically, I was trying to achieve a Cajun ‘Allen Toussaint’ flavor, like a New Orleans shuffle. Which I compelled Gerry Conway to learn!
Oh Very Young: Paul Samwell-Smith: He told me he wrote that for my son Nicholas. I liked the song, and for some reason it was very easy to work on. I always wanted to put a banjo on it, and we actually tried. This poor guy came in and tried for two or three hours to put a banjo solo on it, but it sounded like some hillbillies from the studio next door had strayed in through the wrong door.
Sun/C79.Yusuf Islam: “Sun” was a very short song that kind of reached its limit with two verses. Although I was never very proficient on the synthesizer, I always seemed to find interesting little riffs and sounds. The “C79” lyrics were just something to sing until I found something better, but I never did find anything better. So I developed a story around it.
King of Trees.Paul Samwell-Smith: It was one of my major favorites, and I wanted to turn it into an epic, with strings and tympani, the complete works. I was always trying to get that basic track down of his voice and piano, but I could never get it down to the point where I could start to embellish it.
Lady D’Arbanville (live version).Gerry Conway: For most of the evening, you were in an unparalleled position of playing every song that came up was a big hit. It was just a pleasure to sit and play songs the whole audience knew inside out, and loved. You were party to this whole thing, and all you had to do was to play them as nicely as you could.
Another Saturday Night:Alun Davies: It started off as a soundcheck song – “give us guitar, Alun; now give us a bit of vocal. Now your guitar.” We recorded it in Australia. Steve didn’t actually play on it, he produced it and the band played it very much like we’d been playing it at soundchecks. We did the horn thing in Japan, with a Japanese brass section.
Disc 3: The Last
Whistlestar.Yusuf Islam: I had rented one of these wood and glass chalets in Rio, and I had a piano and 4-track recorder shipped in, and that’s where I wrote most of the songs for Numbers. I’d heard somebody – maybe it was Chick Corea – doing that sound of a whistle in unison with the piano, where you can’t quite discern what’s the piano and what’s the whistle.
Novim’s Nightmare.Yusuf Islam: The storyline of Numbers gave me the chance to explore different styles, pertaining to the characters of the Polygons, who represented One to Nine, plus Zero. So Novim, Number Nine, he was the deep thinker who used to go off alone, and think, and read the Big Book of Ben. He discovered this riddle there which predicted the end of Polygor.
Majik of Majiks.Gerry Conway: At Morin Heights, the whole studio is just glass windows. So in some respects it’s distracting, because you look out on a winter wonderland – trees and snow and a lake. Singers tended to do their vocals in the evening when it was dark. Most nights, when we were finished, we would go to the Bell Theatre and rent skis, because they had five or six floodlit ski trails. It was a small town, so at midnight everyone would be out skiing, even small children. And of course everyone was better than us.
Banapple Gas.Yusuf Islam: That’s the comical side to the Numbers story, connected to Trezlo, who was responsible for caring for the banapple trees. Alun Davies: Steve was always very free with his advice and his latest fads, with all of us. So if he was vegetarian for part of a tour, he was a dangerous person to go out for a meal with – “still eating dead cow, Alun?” He was a great advocate of having pure oxygen, and he had an oxygen mask – something not many of us were privy to packing in our suitcases before we’d go on the road! Whether this was banapple gas or not, I don’t know.
Blue Monday.Yusuf Islam: Fats Domino, to me, must’ve been the inspiration for reggae and that bluebeat sound. I think I heard that song somehow in the background of my childhood, and I just hooked onto it. Gerry Conway: I flew to Denmark, and we met up for the first time after quite a long break. Steve had a collection of songs – some unfinished, and some things that he wanted to try – and we collectively put these tracks together, but we weren’t quite sure what for. It was almost as if the band didn’t exist any more, but we were all there together anyway.
Doves.Yusuf Islam: It was one of those little piano ditties I couldn’t write words to. It was too fast. I think I wrote it in Hawaii, in a rehearsal sometime. It eventually became the theme song for the Majikat tour, while the magic act was doing its thing.
Hard Headed Woman (live)/Tuesday’s Dead (live).Yusuf Islam: It was a very heavy tour, too massive and unwieldy. We had so many boxes and flight cases that had to be shipped overnight and in the auditorium early next morning. Actually, the pace of it was not that mad; we took some breaks for taking a breath and gathering our energies. But it was all around the world, so it was still very exhausting. Gerry Conway: I know the good intentions were there, to put on a good show. Because when people go to a show, they’re looking as well as listening. That was a difficult tour – the one before it was just incredible, but the second one was almost the reverse. It was hard. But it wasn’t for lack of trying.
Ruins (live).Yusuf Islam: Touring was never my ideal mode of expression, because you’d always be trying to simulate something you’d done before. Whereas recording enabled you to do something new all the time. But at the same time, when it sounded right, when it lifted off, it was a great feeling, a great buzz when the songs resounded. And I think this performance was luckily one of the best!
(Remember the Days of the) Old Schoolyard. Yusuf Islam: I remember recording the synthesizer part in Canada. It was one of those tracks which I took around with me and finished bits here and there, in different studios around the world. It was started in Massachusetts – Andy Newmark plays drums. The singer is Elkie Brooks.
Life.Yusuf Islam: Many of the songs on Izitzo were influenced by my time in Brazil, and the music there. It was very much a jazz thing, with the incredible chords, dischords, rythyms and harmonies that Brazilian music evokes.
(I Never Wanted) To Be a Star.Yusuf Islam: The need for fame is nothing more than wanting to be appreciated, and that was the thought behind the song. I understood then that my whole urge to be recognized was only seeking some confidence, that I have some value. Stardom is like that – people need to be reassured that they’re wanted.
Child For a Day.Yusuf Islam: I felt it was easy to associate with this song and make it mine. I hardly ever sang anyone else’s compositions, but this was my brother David’s song and I wanted to do it. I think I recorded it originally in Muscle Shoals, and we gave it a sort of country feel.
Just Another Night.Yusuf Islam: It talks about the fickle part of the show business public; not necessarily the diehard fans but those who usually switch on to a person only because it’s fashionable to do so. I was saying in that song, if you really need me, I’m around.
Daytime.Alun Davies: We went to stay at a place in France to write, and we put a lot of work into the lyrics. That’s a nice song. Yusuf Islam: Alun had a lovely little guitar lick which started it off. I love the image of ‘The innocent are here’: Every generation, it’s a new invasion of white boats from a land of purity. Paul Samwell-Smith: ‘Daytime’ was very experimental. We recorded he and I singing one note at a time, and put them on separate loops. So that when you raised a fader, you had one of 12 notes being sung. Bit like a mellotron, same principle.
Never.Paul Samwell-Smith: He brought to Morin Heights the tapes of almost all the work he’d done over the period. We listened to what we had there, and picked what we could work on and what we couldn’t. I came in to help him put it together, and finish what he needed to finish.
Last Love Song.Yusuf Islam: More or less my epilogue. I had discovered the ultimate composition in the Qur’an. I didn’t have to make any more monuments, and so it was that simple: Last love song.
Father and Son (live version).Yusuf Islam: I was hesitant to do this show, but the cause was so right that ultimately I said yes. My wife was actually expecting, and nobody knew, and that made it even more poignant. I didn’t want to have a big band, so I got my friends: Alun was ready at the drop of a hat to join me, and Richard Sharpey had played piano on my brother’s album Alpha Omega. It was a tremendous feeling from the audience, overwhelmingly warm. It was a ‘Welcome Back to the Stage’ for many, but it was obviously my day of departure.
God Is the Light.Yusuf Islam: I gave this song to Raihan to sing. In the studio, I sang the lead line to show them how it was done, and they said they’d never improve on it! So they left my vocal in.
The words convey the message I learnt as a Muslim: that the creation of one single leaf displays more power and wisdom than all of man’s abilities put together. I do acknowledge, however, that the value of my work is perhaps a word which somebody takes to heart – and then guides them.
July 21.Steven Demetre Georgiou is born in London, the youngest of Stavros and Ingrid Georgiou’s three children. Stavros is a Greek Cypriot who’d migrated to Britain via Egypt and the United States; his wife is from the Swedish port town Gavle.
The Georgiou family runs a cafe, the Moulin Rouge, in the heart of the West End. The family’s living quarters are above the shop; Steve’s bedroom window looks out on the stage door of the Princes Theatre, where How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Hair and many others will have their British premiere. Although he is sometimes pressed into duty at the Moulin Rouge, his loves – encouraged by his parents – are painting and music.
His sister Anita’s record collection includes Sinatra and Gershwin, while brother David is partial to the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly. Steve takes it all in, as well as the pulse of the theater district, where he and a friend often climb the fire escape to the roof of the Princes, to hear – and to feel – the vibrant musicals going on below as they watch the lights come on all over London.
December 12. Across the West End, at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket, the American musical West Side Story makes its London debut. Soon all of England is in the sway of Leonard Bernstein’s passionate, pulsating music, including young Steve Georgiou, who can’t get it out of his head.
February 3. “The Day the Music Died.” Buddy Holly dies in the crash of a chartered airplane in the American farm belt, along with Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper.
February 13. The musical King Kong begins a lengthy run at the Princes. The “All African” story of boxer on the ropes becomes a favorite for Steve, whose appearances outside the backstage door are so frequent the cast knows him by name.
February. The Beatles hit #1 for the first time with “Please Please Me,” setting off the tidal wave of Beatlemania that will, by year’s end, sweep away everything in its path in Britain. Steve, along with millions of other teenagers, is enthralled.
At age 15, Steve convinces his father to buy him a guitar. The family has a baby grand piano, which nobody knows how to play particularly well, but Steve has taken to working out chord structures and melody.
His diverse musical interests – particularly folk and rhythm & blues -transcend Beatle-style rock ‘n’ roll. After a half–hearted stab at forming a group with a couple of buddies, he decides he’d rather play solo.
This year, the Beatles’ record company, EMI, purchases the Princes Theatre and re-names it the Shaftesbury.
July. Steve’s first public appearance, during Folk Night at the Black Horse Public House, near the family home. While studying at Hammersmith Art College, he begins to make frequent appearances at the campus pub and at folk clubs in nearby Soho. Although painting and cartooning will remain a lifelong passion, Steve leaves the art college before graduation and devotes himself to music. Equally moved by musical theater, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, jazz, and blues artists (particularly Leadbelly and Muddy Waters) he begins writing his own songs.
“Back to the Good Old Times/Everything’s Piling On” recorded at a small demo studio in Regent Street. Brother David takes the little disc around Denmark Street – London’s Tin Pan Alley – to impress music business people and hopefully make contacts.
Through David’s efforts, Steve signs a publishing deal with Ardmore & Beechwood, for which he records a series of demos, including “The First Cut is the Deepest,” at 30 pounds per song.
He intends to be a songwriter, and his ultimate goal is to compose musicals like his heroes Gershwin and Bernstein. The thought of writing strandard moon-june love songs isn’t appealing at all.
Two of the year’s biggest films are American comedies – Cat Ballou and What’s New, Pussycat?
February 6. Steve auditions for Mike Hurst in the latter’s Knightsbridge office. A former member of the Springfields, Hurst is looking to manage and produce new talent. Steve tells Hurst his stage name is Cat Stevens, because a girlfriend at art school had told him he had eyes like a cat’s. Hurst loves him but is noncommittal; the two will meet again in June and cut rough demos of four songs, resulting in a management contract and a recording deal with Deram, Decca’s new custom label.
July 10. For the first recording session proper, Hurst chooses Steve’s “I Love My Dog,” which he allies with a staccato, tympani-and-viola arrangement unlike anything on the pop charts at the time. The session bassist is John Paul Jones, two years shy of Led Zeppelin. Nicky Hopkins plays piano.
The B–side, “Portobello Road,” was written by American Kim Fowley, an Ardmore and Beechwood client who persuaded Cat Stevens to compose the melody. Seven takes of “I Love My Dog” require most of the three-hour session; “Portobello Road,” a solo (with whistling) from Steve, is cut in 20 minutes.
September 30. Single: I Love My Dog/Portobello Road. Reaches #28 in November. The non-stop promotion machine – personal appearances in working man’s clubs and theaters – begins to whir.
December 26. Begins a 14-day run at Brian Epstein’s Saville Theatre. The “Fame in ’67” show also includes Georgie Fame, Julie Felix and Sounds Incorporated.
December 30. Single: Matthew and Son/Granny. With its sly blend of Dickensian imagery and Carnaby Street musical jangle (the latter courtesy Hurst and his arranger Allen Tew), “Matthew and Son” takes Britain by storm, reaching No. 2 in the chart and turning Cat Stevens into a pop phenomenon.
March. LP: Matthew & Son. Although the album is heavily orchestrated, many of Steve’s songs stand above their busy arrangements, particularly the melancholy “The Tramp,” which Hurst uncharacteristically trims with just Steve’s guitar and a muted trumpet, the poppy “Here Comes My Baby,” and the folky “Portobello Road.” Reaches No. 7.
March. The Tremeloes (without recently departed leader Brian Poole) take Steve’s “Here Comes My Baby” to No. 4.
March. Single: I’m Gonna Get Me a Gun/School is Out. The third Cat Stevens single – a bit more aggressive but still grandly theatrical in its arrangement – is promoted with a series of p.r. photos featuring the artist cradling a six-shooter (he is at the time writing a musical based on the life of Billy the Kid). The record is another hit (#6).
March. Cat Stevens begins a 25-date package tour on a bill that also includes Engelbert Humperdinck, the Walker Brothers and the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
May 7.New Musical Express Poll Winners Concert, Wembley.
June. P.P. Arnold, once a member of the Ikettes, has a Top 20 hit with “The First Cut is the Deepest,” produced by Hurst.
July. Single: A Bad Night/The Laughing Apple. Reaches No. 20.
December. Single: Kitty/Blackness of the Night. Reaches No. 47.
December. LP: New Masters. A darker, deeper album than its predecessor, with better songs – notably Steve’s own version of “The First Cut” and the widescreen “Kitty” and “Northern Wind.” The artist’s serious disagreements with Hurst over the heavy-handed production had come to legal blows, and the sessions were tense at best. The album fails to chart, and then it’s back fulltime to the singles game, which Steve is starting to actively detest.
January. Single: Lovely City (When Do You Laugh?)/Image of Hell. An invigorating snapshot of the bustling West End, “Lovely City” actually benefits from Hurst’s “more is more” approach. Still, it does not chart, nor will the last two Cat Stevens singles on Deram.
February. A nagging cough, ignored as probably the result of too much drinking, smoking and fast living, is diagnosed as tuberculosis, resulting in an emergency three-month stay at King Edward VII Hospital, a National Health facility in the country, and the better part of nine more at home in bed. Steve is 20 years old.
He begins to slow down, to think about what he really wants and to read up on Buddhism and starts to meditate. Time inert allows him to substantially improve his abilities on guitar, and he practices diligently on the Georgiou baby grand.
September. The first of a “new age” in musicals, Hair opens at the Shaftesbury. Like many young people around the world, Steve is affected by its seamless marriage of hippie ideals and high-caliber musical theater. Its success only reinforces his decision to change his musical ways.
October. Single: Here Comes My Wife/It’s a Super (Dupa) Life.
February 23. Opens for The Who at Chalk Farm benefit concert, the Roundhouse, London. For the first time, Cat Stevens the star appears onstage playing guitar.
April 15. Informed that one more single is owed on the Deram deal, Steve meets Mike Hurst in the studio for the last time, to record “Where Are You.” Hurst has not seen his one–time protegé since Steve had been sick.
June. Single: Where Are You/The View From the Top. “I’m also working on an album of originals,” Steve tells Melody Maker. ” I think I will just use guitar as backing. I’m not doing a traditional folk thing, but a contemporary thing – my own version of folk, if you like.”
His year out of the limelight has given him time to think deeply and re-examine his pop star lifestyle; inspired by Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Tim Hardin and Van Morrison he decides to take a more organic approach to his music – the orchestrations and session men of the Hurst era will not return.
New manager Barry Krost has a background in theater, and he encourages Steve’s proposed musical about the Romanovs, Revolussia. A script is prepared and Steve writes a handful of songs for the project, including “Maybe You’re Right,” “The Day They Make Me Czar” and “Father and Son.”
By year’s end he will be signed with Chris Blackwell’s Island Records and working feverishly at Olympic Studios with former Yardbirds bassist Paul Samwell-Smith at the console. He has more than 30 new songs either finished or in significant pieces. And he’s grown a beard.
July 20. America’s Apollo 11 astronauts become the first men to walk on the moon. In the U.K., it is July 21 – Steve’s 21st birthday.
April 10. Paul McCartney’s announcement about the end of the Beatles is front page news the world over.
April. Single: Lady D’Arbanville/Time/Fill My Eyes. A melancholy “olde English” ballad in which the lady in question (Steve’s ex–girlfriend at the time) is metaphorically laid to rest. Featuring complimentary acoustic work from freshly-hired second guitarist Alun Davies, drummer Harvey Burns’ Latin rhythms and a driving, syncopated bassline from John Ryan, “Lady D’Arbanville” is nothing like the Cat Stevens hits of yore; it takes U.K. radio by storm and ultimately reaches #8.
May. Steve moves out of his parents’ home on Shaftsbury Avenue for the first time, purchasing a three-story house in Fulham. He will live here until he leaves England for tax reasons four years later.
May. LP: Mona Bone Jakon. The newly reflective Cat Stevens emerges with a set of plaintive and highly personal songs. Originally titled The Dustbin Cried the Day the Dustman Died, until it’s discovered the title is too long to fit on the cover with the painting Steve has provided; the song “Mona Bone Jakon” is a feral blues in the style of his early heroes and has a decidedly sexual connotation. The album barely misses the U.K. Top 50.
August 6–9. Plumpton Blues Festival – Steve’s comeback gig in England, performed with Alun Davies.
September. Produced by Steve, who plays piano on the track, Jimmy Cliff’s version of “Wild World,” one of the reggae legend’s best-ever experiments in the pop style, reaches No. 12 in Britain. Cliff’s single will not be released in America, for fear it will compete with the Cat Stevens version. Steve and his tiny coterie of comrades have been working at Morgan Studios in Willesden, London virtually since the day Mona was released.
September 18. Jimi Hendrix dies in London.
October. Single: Wild World/Miles From Nowhere (U.S.) Reaches #11.
November. LP: Tea For the Tillerman. The second Island album is the first to be issued in America under Steve’s newly-minted deal with A&M Records (Mona will belatedly follow before year’s end). “He seems to fasten without effort onto tunes with a life of their own, tunes of small beginnings and wide resonances,” raves Rolling Stone. “It really must be heard.”
Tillerman catches fire on college campuses, where genuflecting singer/songwriters are finding sympathetic ears (Tillerman charts alongside James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James and Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush). Its exquisite simplicity and English point of view strike a deep and resonant chord in the States, and the album makes the Top Ten and earns a gold record.
Steve had written and recorded the track “But I Might Die Tonight” in July for the Jerzy Skolimowski film Deep End, which featured Jane Asher and Diana Dors.
November 18. Cat Stevens makes his American stage debut, as he and Alun Davies open for Traffic at New York’s legendary Fillmore East. By the end of the short set, he has won over the audience and receives three encores. Next, it’s three triumphant headlining shows at the Village Gaslight (with such luminaries as Joni Mitchell and James Taylor in appreciative attendance), and after a few more dates a week at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, with opening act Carly Simon.
December 18. Back home for a sold-out show at Fairfield Hall, Croydon, with Amazing Blondel as support.
June/July. Back to the States with Davies, drummer Gerry Conway and bassist Larry Steele to enjoy the first post-Tillerman adulation. During these dates, “Moonshadow” makes its stage debut. It will be recorded for the next album, at Morgan in London.
June. Single: Moonshadow/Father and Son (#30 USA, #22 U.K.)
September. Single: Peace Train/Where Do The Children Play? Not issued as a single in England, “Peace Train” becomes Steve’s first massive American hit, reaching No. 7.
September. LP: Teaser and the Firecat. This one puts three singles into the charts and puts Cat Stevens on the map in America, where nothing from the “I Love My Dog” era had ever registered. He addresses his Greek heritage on the joyous “Rubylove,” revisits the church hymns of his youth with an eloquent interpretation of “Morning Has Broken” and records a couple of uncharacteristically uptempo songs, “Changes IV,” “Bitterblue” and “Tuesday’s Dead.” The titular characters, painted by Steve on the cover, star in an award-winning short animated film, narrated by Spike Milligan, to the accompaniment of “Moonshadow.” Goes to #2 USA, #3 U.K.
October: Another American tour, playing bigger halls to bigger audiences.
November. Single: Morning Has Broken/I Want to Live in a Wigwam. The A-side gives session pianist Rick Wakeman his first appearance on a hit single; the B-side is a non-LP track from the Teaser sessions (#9 U.K., #6 U.S.)
May. Cat Stevens music figures prominently in Hollywood director Hal Ashby’s dark comedy Harold and Maude. Their winsome melancholy is perfect for Ashby’s story of two lonely people at each end of life’s journey. Two new songs: “Don’t Be Shy” and “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” are recorded in San Francisco, specifically for the film. Steve plays piano (offscreen) for the scene in which actress Ruth Gordon performs “If You Want to Sing Out.”
August. Australian tour.
September. LP: Catch Bull at Four. An ambitious and musically diverse project, Catch Bull at Four was recorded at the Chateau d’Herouville in France, at Manor Studios, Oxfordshire, and at Morgan Studios in London, where Tea and Teaser had been created.
The title refers to the Zen Buddhists’ 10 stages of enlightenment (No. 4, catch the bull, No. 5, ride the bull.) It also happens to be Cat Stevens’ fourth Island/A&M album. Jean Roussel joins the band on keyboards and effectively employed synthesizer, and drummer Gerry Conway’s role – predictably, after months of touring – becomes more essential to the sound. Steve expands his musical vocabulary, too, playing drums on the album’s “O Caritas.”
In the States, the album spends three weeks on top of the chart, while in Steve’s home country it stays at #2.
Released at the same time is Daydo, a solo album by Alun Davies, co-produced by Cat Stevens and Paul Samwell-Smith.
September. Single: Sitting/Crab Dance (U.S., #16)/ Can’t Keep it In/Crab Dance (U.K., #13) Both Catch Bull tracks are paired with a non–LP instrumental.
September 29: 31-date North American tour, featuring an 11-piece orchestra conducted by Del Newman, begins in Los Angeles. Most of the shows – which open with a screening of the Teaser cartoon film – sell out.
December 4. The Catch Bull at Four tour comes to a successful close with a sold–out concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London; fans brave the thickest London fog in recent memory to get to the show.
March: Seeking a respite from what he perceives as creative complacency, Steve records for three weeks at Dynamic Studios, Kingston, Jamaica, without Samwell-Smith or his regular band.
June. LP: Foreigner. A very R&B-infused and keyboard-based collection, Foreigner displays a 180-degree stylistic turn. The centerpiece, “The Foreigner Suite,” is 17 minutes long and takes up the entire first side of the album (it is actually three songs loosely strung together). Although the album makes #3 on both sides of the Atlantic, it is not favorably reviewed, and its release is not followed by a tour.
June. Single: The Hurt/Silent Sunlight. Reaches #31 in America.
November 9.ABC In Concert ‘Moon & Star,’ a 90-minute program taped at the Aquarius Theatre in Los Angeles, is Cat Stevens’ American network TV debut. Linda Ronstadt and Dr. John make guest appearances. The full 18-minute “Foreigner Suite” is aired without commercial interruption – quite a stretch by network standards of the time. But Steve and his manager have had it written into their contract.
February. LP: Buddha and the Chocolate Box. Co–produced by Cat Stevens and Paul Samwell-Smith at Sound Techniques in London; reaches #2 USA and #3 U.K.
The title refers to an epihany Steve has had during an airplane flight: In one hand, he held a tiny statue of Buddha, a constant traveling companion; in the other, a box of chocolates. Halfway between the spiritual and material worlds.
His religious conviction deepens.
February. Single: Oh Very Young/100 I Dream. Reaches #10 Stateside.
March 19. Bamboozle tour opens in Glasgow. It is so named because of its association with Buddha and the Chocolate Box and its design which features bamboo reeds. The stage is also dressed in bamboo. (Steve’s house in Fulham boasts a Japanese garden, with bamboo, which he designed himself.)
By this time, Cat Stevens is big business, playing to tens of thousands per night in America’s largest and most sonically vacant arenas. The band, the crowds, the limos, the halls and the ticket prices have all gotten bigger; Steve is still just one person, in the eye of the self–actualized hurricane.
July 17. Bamboozle closes w/sold–out date at Madison Square Garden, NYC. Steve donates the proceeds to the international children’s organization UNICEF, which will soon name him its first pop music ambassador.
August. Single: Another Saturday Night/Home in the Sky. Recorded during the tour at studios in Australia and Japan, Steve’s cover of the Sam Cooke classic makes #6 USA, #19 U.K.
August. Seeking refuge from Britain’s crippling tax laws, Steve takes up residence in Rio de Janiero. He will spend most of the next year there.
September.Saturnight, a live LP from the Bamboozle tour, is released in Europe and Japan as a UNICEF benefit. Recorded June 21/22 at Sun Plaza Hall, Tokyo.
November. Single: Ready/I Think I See the Light (U.S.) Reaches #26.
December. Tired of too much Rio sun, Steve spends Christmas in Switzerland, where he studies numerology, which has been introduced to him by Hestia Lovejoy, a woman he met in Australia. Here he writes the rest of his next album.
June. Single: Two Fine People/A Bad Penny. Left off the forthcoming Numbers album and released as a teaser for Greatest Hits. Reaches #33 (USA).
June. LP: Greatest Hits. The singles from Steve’s Island/A&M catalog are collected, including “Another Saturday Night.” The album reaches #6 in America and becomes one of the best-selling Cat Stevens albums of all time.
Not long after this, Steve is swimming in the Pacific at the home of A&M boss Jerry Moss. Caught in a riptide, he feels himself being pulled out to sea. Crying out for help, he promises to work for God. Suddenly swept back to shore, he knows his prayer has been answered and that his quest for contentment will not last much longer.
November. LP: Numbers. Recorded in the spring amidst the snowy Laurentian mountains at Le Studio Quebec, Morin Heights, Canada, where he hoped a change of scenery would nourish the muse, the album is subtitled A Pythagorean Theory Tale and represents his current infatuation with numerology. An accompanying fantasy storybook, with Steve’s illustrations, tells the story of the “little planet of Polygor.” A planned full-scale book fails to materialize.
November 30. The elaborate Majikat Tour opens in Gothenburgh, Sweden. Each concert is preceded by an illusionist show, which includes a live tiger and doves. At the end of the three-member magic team’s act, Cat Stevens is brought out “in pieces” and assembled in front of the cheering audience. By the end of the first dress rehearsal, the road crew could do all the tricks, squeezing into tiny boxes and sawing one another in half.
December. Cat Stevens’ final “official” concert in his home country, Dec. 20 at the Hammersmith Odeon, London (although no one knows it at the time).
January 15. The Majikat tour begins a two–month North American run in Lakeland, Fl.
March. Single: Banapple Gas/Ghost Town (U.S.)/Land O’Freelove & Goodbye/(I Never Wanted) To Be a Star (U.K.) The former charts poorly, the latter not at all.
April 17. The final leg of Majikat begins at the Concerthus in Stockholm.
May 26. Following the concert at the Palacio Municipal in Barcelona, Steve fractures his right heel while leaping down a flight of hotel stairs. He finishes the tour in a cast and considerable pain.
June 2. As the tour party is being feted by the Athens promoter, Steve goes swimming in the Mediterranean – hoping to soothe his aching foot – and is stung by a jellyfish. The concert at Karaiskaki Stadium is the night before school exams, and so the hall is half full, which further agitates him. Following a dispirited “Father and Son,” he drops his guitar and storms off the stage, the concert summarily ended. Contractually, he must reimburse the promoter.
Steve’s interest in maintaining Cat Stevens, superstar, is seriously waning.
June 5. After one more concert at the Alexandreon Athleticon in Thessalonica, to another near-empty hall (Greece is playing England on TV the same night), Majikat limps to a close. Steve himself pays nearly 300,000 pounds to cover the costs of the mammoth production. He never tours again.
July 21. On his 28th birthday, Steve is given the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, a gift from brother David.
Steve serves as executive producer on Alpha Omega, a concept album written by David and featuring performances by various artists. Steve sings his brother’s song “Child For a Day,” and will include the recording on his next album.
March. LP: Izitso. Produced by Steve and David Kershenbaum, the album was recorded in studios in Massachusetts, Alabama and Denmark, places where Steve – a rootless tax exile – has been living in hotels with his “mobile vegetarian flight case.” Reaches #7 USA, #18 U.K.
He spends nearly all of his spare time in this period reading the Qur’an.
May. Single: (Remember the Days of the) Old Schoolyard/Doves (U.K., #44)/(Remember the Days of the) Old Schoolyard/Land O’Freelove & Goodbye (U.S., #33)
October. Single: Was Dog a Doughnut/Sweet Jamaica (U.S.)
December 23. Steve enters the Regents Park Mosque in London and formally embraces Islam. It is Muharram, 1398 on the Islamic calendar.
March. During a UNICEF visit to war–ravaged Bangladesh, Steve and Alun Davies perform at a “cultural festival” in Rangamati. On March 21 they give a spontaneous concert in the farming village of Rangpur. Then it’s on to Thailand and Egypt, where Steve delights in visiting each and every mosque.
July 4. Steven Georgiou changes his name to Yusuf Islam. He still owes Island/A&M one more Cat Stevens album, for which he is reunited with Paul Samwell–Smith – and with Alun Davies, who didn’t appear on Izitso. Alun co–writes two new songs.
November. LP: Back to Earth. The old team has come together to complete the final record. Recorded in several places including Longview Farms in Massachusetts, London’s Advision and CBS in New York City, the album is completed Le Studio in Quebec. Yusuf is praying five times daily, and the sessions take on a melancholy edge as it’s implicitly understood that they are to be the last.
Indeed, Yusuf has no more use for Cat Stevens, having found something that satisfies him a great deal more. With no artist to promote it, Back to Earth and its singles make a poor showing in the charts.
November. Single: Bad Brakes/Nascimento (U.S.)
December 3. Stavros Georgiou dies.
January 9. As a UNICEF ambassador, Yusuf is in the audience of the “Year of the Child” concert at the United Nations building in New York (he had declined to perform, and the final headliners are the Bee Gees, Rod Stewart and ABBA). He is introduced from the stage, as Yusuf Islam, not Cat Stevens, and when the event airs the following day on NBC-TV, this segment has been edited out.
January. Single: Last Love Song/Nascimento (U.K.)
January. Single: Randy/Nascimento (U.S.)
September 7. Yusuf Islam marries Fouzia Ali at Regent’s Park Mosque, the 1,000th wedding to take place there.
Yusuf has moved back to Britain, and he purchases a home next to his mother in Hampstead Gardens.
November 22. ‘Year of the Child’ multi-artist concert, Wembley Arena, U.K. This UNICEF benefit is Cat Stevens’ final concert appearance. “I enjoyed the show but my heart was with Allah,” Yusuf tells the Evening Star. ” I don’t think I’ll be performing on stage again, but I can’t be dogmatic and say that I never will again. I just think that’s not the way I want to go from now on.”
July 11. Hasanah, a daughter, is born to Yusuf and his wife.
Yusuf makes the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah. He auctions his musical instruments and gold records, the proceeds divided between Help The Aged and Capital Radio’s Help a London Child campaign. Over the next decade he will help found and support numerous other charities.
Cat Stevens was no more. “Sometimes I had to close my mind to everything else in order to achieve my goal,” Yusuf explains. “I did that when I was a songwriter. I almost didn’t listen to anybody else’s music, because I thought it might influence me, and I’d end up copying them.
“And I did it when I entered my spiritual discovery of Islam. It made me think only about just that, and I didn’t want to think about anything else.”
To help increase his own knowledge and to assist others in understanding Islam, Yusuf begins a weekly Islamic Circle, open to all, every Saturday at London’s Central Mosque.
For the first time since becoming a Muslim, he writes a song: “A is For Allah,” for his infant daughter.
And he gives his first public lecture, titled “My Path to Surrender,” at the Mind, Body, Spirit Festival in Olympia.
February 10. Yusuf, with Rashid Farah, a white-haired, elderly British Muslim, forms the Islamic Circle Organization Charity Trust.
October 23. Yusuf has purchased and renovated an old Victorian manor house in Kilburn, London – not far from the site of the old Morgan Studios building – and with an initial enrollment of 13 nursery-age children, Islamia, one of England’s first all-Islamic schools, is born.
March 2. Yusuf visits the Sudan, where a devastating famine is taking tremendous tolls on the population.
He begins to expand his public profile, giving lectures at universities in Britain.
July 13. At the massive Live Aid charity concert, taking place at Wembley Stadium, Yusuf arrives and offers to perform – a capella – a new song written for the occasion, “The End.” The promoters allow Elton John to overrun, thus leaving no time for Yusuf.
Having turned his back on the music business, Yusuf now comes to understand that the business has also turned its back on him.
November 30. Muslim Aid is established. Yusuf’s idea to to help Muslims channel their charitable contributions to those areas of the world devastated by war and famine.
During a visit with refugees in Peshewar, in war-ravaged northwest Pakistan, Yusuf sings an impromptu “A is for Allah.” A crudely-made cassette is soon copied and circulating – the first Muslim bootleg!
March. Islamia acquires the old Brondesbury & Kilburn Secondary School – ironically the very grammar school Mike Hurst had attended as a child.
May 5. Yusuf’s sixth child, a son named Abdul Al Ahad, dies after 13 days of life. Two months later, Ingrid Georgiou, Yusuf’s mother, dies.
September. On a visit to northern Bosnia, Yusuf gets a first-hand look at the front lines. The country is being pulverized by civil war, as the former Yugoslavia is dissolved.
December. CD: The Life of the Last Prophet. The first release on Yusuf Islam’s Mountain of Light label is a spoken-word recording relating the life of the Prophet Muhammad, including selected verses of the Qur’an read by Shaikh Muhammed Al–Minyaoui, and the well–known traditional song “Tala’a al–Badru ‘Alayna.”
“Mountain of Light” refers to Jabal al-Nur, the peak outside of Makkah where, according to the Qur’an, the prophet Muhammad received the words of God through the angel Gabriel.
After years of ceaseless campaigning by Yusuf, Islamia becomes the first government-subsidized Islamic school in Britain.
November 16. Accompanied by a Bosnia youth chorus, Yusuf sings three songs a cappella in Sarajevo, in front of 6,000 people – including the country’s president – at the Cultural Center Skenderija.
He is in the process of putting together a CD of Bosnian songs, the proceeds from which will go to the victims of the recent genocide in the country.
December. CD: I Have No Cannons That Roar. The title track was given to Yusuf as a poem by Bosnian Foreign Minister Irfan Ljubiyangic, whose helicopter was tragically shot down soon afterward. Yusuf helped translate the words and recorded it, and his own a capella song “The Little Ones” (another snapshot of the Bosnian tragedy) was included alongside. Bosnian singers Dino Merlin, Aziz Alili, Senad Podojak and others were featured as well.
In Turkey, “I Have No Cannons That Roar” goes to #1.
January 9. On the road to Sarajevo, Yusuf receives the news that Britain’s Secretary of Education David Blunkett has awarded grant-maintained status to Islamia, an historic first for the country.
April. Visits to Macedonia and Albania to distribute aid to Kosovan refugees. In a terrible program of “ethnic cleansing,” Serbian forces have driven more than a million people from their homes, and massacred thousands
August/September. Yusuf establishes Small Kindness, and the Kosova Orphan & Family Fund, providing regular money for orphans of the war.
December. Yusuf visits Turkey, where he pledges financial support for victims of the recent earthquake.
March. CD: A Is For Allah. A two-CD set on Mountain of Light featuring the essence of Islam through an explanation of the Arabic alphabet, recited by Yusuf, with music. It is released simultaneously with a hardcover book of the same name, written and illustrated by Yusuf.
May 10. Prince Charles visits Islamia, telling the students, Yusuf and the news media “I believe that Islam has much to teach increasingly secular societies like ours in Britain.”
October 1. American cable network VH1 profiles Cat Stevens on Behind the Music, lifting the veil of mystery from Yusuf and allowing him to speak directly to his fans about his disappearance from the world of popular music, and to address the many misconceptions and rumors that had grown up over the years.
It also provides the program with one of its highest–ever ratings.