SCCA preps for season

Published 8:11 pm Saturday, September 24, 2011

Al Stewart, who opens the SCCA fall season on Sept. 30, is a Scottish folk artist who decided to “get out of rock and into acousitc guitar” after stints in various bands.

Al Stewart tries hard to be unique.

The Scottish folk artist, who will play the season opener at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts next week, intentionally incorporates words and subject matter into his songs that nobody else has used in a song before.

“I do try to use language that isn’t in other songs,” he said. “I try to write about subject material other people haven’t written about. There are a lot of words that never get to be in songs, and I think it’s unfair to them.”

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Stewart was born in Scotland to an English mother and a Scottish father, but he’s quick to say his heritage doesn’t influence his music. The family moved to England when he was 3, and he moved to California when he was 30.

“You can write about anything anywhere,” he said.

Stewart especially enjoys writing about historical events. His “Sparks of Ancient Light” album from 2008 spanned 2,500 years of history.

Stewart bought his first guitar in England from future Police guitarist Andy Summers. One of his first teachers was Robert Fripp, later the leader of King Crimson.

He left school at age 16 and became a guitarist for various local bands. In 1965, he moved to London, shared an apartment with Paul Simon and socialized with Cat Stevens.

“When I was growing up, rock and roll was a little new,” he said. “I became a very big fan of a lot of the early artists. I decided that was what I would do.”

In the early days, Stewart played in rock bands, but he soon came to realize that nobody could hear any of the words.

“It’s time to get out of rock and into acoustic guitar,” he said.

His first album, “Bedsitter Images,” was released in the United Kingdom in 1967. Future albums would include “Love Chronicles,” “Past, Present and Future” and “Modern Times.”

His greatest commercial success was with “Year of the Cat” from 1976 and “Time Passages” from 1978. They both went platinum and hit the top 10 on the charts. The single “Year of the Cat” is perhaps his best-known work.

Stewart readily admits that he and scores of other artists “owe our entire well-being and financial success to Bob Dylan.”

“Until Bob Dylan came along, it was a tricky era, because you had to look a certain way” to be a musician,” Stewart said. “Looks were very important.”

But, Stewart said, “When Dylan came along, he didn’t look right and it sounded like he was singing an entire dictionary. I knew I couldn’t be Elvis, but Dylan changed all the rules. All of a sudden, if you could rhyme things, you could have a career.” Stewart also names Lonnie Donegan as an influential figure in his career.

He calls himself “incredibly fortunate” to have no talent apart from music.

“The worst thing that can happen to you is if you’re pretty good at six different things,” he said. “I never had anything else I was remotely interested in, which is lucky.”

The SCCA show will be held Sept. 30 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35 and $45. For more information, visit or call 923-2900.