While the 60s was a time of great musical and cultural innovation, most of the stars of the time who are still working, are content to appear on package tours and relive those great memories.
A product of those times, Rod Stewart cut his teeth with Steampacket and The Jeff Beck Group before making his big breakthrough with The Faces and a parallel solo career in the 70s. After 50+ years in the business many would be content to sit back, put their feet up and reflect on a glorious career, but not Sir Rod.
No, with another number one album under his belt, Rod Stewart is about to embark on his biggest UK tour to date with an outdoor summer date in Aberdeen (12 June). Rod will also be appearing in three arena shows in Glasgow in November.
“I enjoy it, that’s what it comes down to,” says Rod. “And most of my peers are dead, not retired! There will be a time, I’m sure, for retirement and I’m closer than I was years ago. To me, retirement is not a lovely word. People always talk about ‘looking forward to retiring’ but for me that’s an awful thought. I’m lucky I have a brilliant job that I love and, as long as I enjoy it and people are coming out in their droves to the shows, then I will go on.”
Rod had a long apprenticeship before the big break came, in 1971, with the classic anthem Maggie May. Could he ever have thought he would still be selling out football stadiums into his mid-70s?
“When I first came into the business, I thought ‘I’ll be happy if this lasts a couple of months’. I don’t know what the secret is to still being here, though. Maybe I put on a good show, have a distinctive voice, an army of songs and some very loyal fans. As long as people still want to hear them, I’m going to be there!”
“It’s always lovely when you have a sunny evening, it’s the weekend and the audience are out for a drink and a laugh. Starting out in the daylight or dusk and going through the magical phase as the light goes and it gets dark – then the fun really begins.”
Besides an incredible back catalogue from which to choose for his shows, Rod now has a new collection of songs from his chart topping album Blood Red Roses. Released last year, the album saw Rod return to recording original material, much to the delight of his army of fans. So what brought about this change of direction?
“Writing my book, Rod: The Autobiography, sparked in me the realisation that I still had stories to tell, about my early beginnings, my dad, and that book spawned the writing, it came back to me. I had thought it had gone and left me, but it doesn’t really, it’s not a physical thing, you just have to put your mind to it. I teamed up again with Kevin Savigar, my co-writer and producer now, and he brought it out of me again.”
“There was a point I didn’t want to go into the studio. I couldn’t bear the thought of going into the dark studio space. But again, it was Kevin who got me back. He came along and is my co-producer and we started doing it on our computers. He would write a tune, send it to me, I’d ‘la-di-diddly-dah’ over it and send it back. We’d add drum machines, or whatever, and see how it sounded. Then if we felt it needed a drummer, we would get a drummer in and embellish it with real musician. And all the while, I’d be seeing daylight and enjoying fresh air! What we do, rock and roll, is such an innocent form of music, using the same chords and themes time and time again, but it stays fresh.”
“The album was number one in the UK chart, and that was the best feeling! We had a big celebration when that news came through. I have had a great career and I can’t ask for much more than that.”
Among the reflections included in Blood Red Roses, Farewell looks back at the carefree life young Rod enjoyed in the swinging 60s, Honey Gold reminisces about a mysterious lady from Rod’s past while the moving Celtic ballad Grace tells the story of a tragic love affair cut short by the 1916 Easter Uprising in Dublin.
The album also features Julia, a track co-written by Rod with Jon McLaughlin, frontman with Johnny Mac And The Faithful who will be supporting Rod on the summer leg of the tour.
“Johnny supplies all the music for Celtic Football Club and is a big supporter, like I am, and I think they’re brilliant,” Rod enthuses. “It’s a very Irish-orientated sound, and I really like the music. It’s real party music, just what you need to warm up the audience, but they are a very, very flexible band and very talented. I wanted to give him a chance.”
“I’d heard them play over the years but never knew anything about who they were. And one time I was watching footage of the players training on Celtic’s TV channel, and I loved the background music which was being used. I looked all over the place to find out what it was. I thought it was a band from Australia and we’d tracked it down… But it turned out it was Johnny, and they were on the doorstep. I instantly had lyrics to go with the music, and that led to us co-writing Julia.”
Looking ahead to the tour, Rod says there will be a couple of new tracks mixed in with the classics that everyone wants to hear.
“From experience, we know there are certain songs people love to hear, of course, songs like I Don’t Wanna Talk About It, and that keeps them in the show. And we don’t really drop tracks, we change the show every night; from a set list of maybe 20 songs. For example, track 15 every night we’ll change and decide each night what it’ll be, so every crowd gets a slightly different show. But I like to bring back ones from way back when, and there’ll be a fair sprinkling of those, probably two from Blood Red Roses and a couple from the two albums before that – Time and Another Country.
“That’s the thing about music, it reminds you of a great time in your life. I like The Temptations and Sam Cooke, and remember where I was when I heard those certain songs. That’s the wonderment of music and remembering those moments. It all keeps the band on their toes – and they keep me on mine! It’s a big band, six girls, six men and they’re very lively, it’s good to have the youngsters around.”