Stewart Clark: I often wonder myself! Been making music since I was 15, I’m 62 now! Been in several bands, punk and pop. No success but lots of fun. My first love has always been prog, since discovering Selling England by the Pound, still my favourite album. In 2019 I decided to make a ‘solo’ album, the result was And Then There Was Me. As with the new album, I asked as many good friends and musicians to help as possible. The most proggy track on the first album was the 9-minute A Drive to the Ocean. One of my proudest musical achievements and features 40 seconds of lovely bass from Billy Sherwood and brilliant guitar work from Sepand Samzadeh from Days Between Stations.
Opening the new album with a Covid-19 related track, what inspires your musical writing in terms of topic?
I hadn’t planned on a follow-up so quickly, but in March/April last year I was stuck at home, like everyone else. I found myself writing. Almost 20/20 was the first track composed. My aim on this album was, for the first time, to write all the lyrics. I have never had confidence with lyrics so formerly had a partner for that. I wrote about me or things that concern me. Let’s Go There is about how travelling with Heather [Stewart’s wife] is a joy; A Tree Has Fallen was inspired by a fallen tree I saw when playing golf, which became a nature metaphor; Scared of Music reflects the panic attacks I sometimes suffer with when I hear loud beats (bizarre but true); When is a simple love song (why not?); The Empty Page is literally about the struggle to write words; How Much Fear?, I get annoyed when people moan about people trying to get to England in small boats. Just how frightened/desperate would you have to be to attempt the crossing? When I Tell You I Care is a love song with a Celtic feel. The final track Almost Got Away With It was created using the end of Almost 20/20. I wanted it to be my Los Endos, reintroducing themes from earlier.
I personally detect a little bit of IQ on the opening track, but there seem to be a multitude of styles that lead without falling into a singular style. Who would you say are your influences?
I don’t really know IQ, there’s so much music to listen to. The album was almost entirely composed using an acoustic guitar so I think, along with my voice, it gives a consistent feel. I’m not aiming to be like anyone else but just hoping the songs, arrangements and performers make it worth listening to. I think it’s a proper album and I am chuffed to bits with it.
An array of talent assists. Who else would you like to write or perform with?
Some obvious ones I guess, Steve Hackett (I got close with Amanda Lehmann!) and Rick Wakeman.
In these times of uncertainty, will there ever be a Stewart Clark live show?
I did manage a small set at Trading Boundaries November 2019, and I guess, when things get better in the world, some gigs might happen. But as I would want all fifteen contributors, it might prove difficult.
Your contributors are widely dispersed, how easy was the recording process?
Surprisingly straight forward. I had files flying in from California, Germany, Spain, Norwich! Very few were able to get to the studio, mostly for safety reasons.
The cover is great. It belies the contents, which is hugely varied in its sources but nothing like the long tracks you might expect of Yes/Progressive inspired music. Have you written any longer pieces that we may hope to hear on a follow up?
I refer my learned friend to my earlier answer. Check out A Drive To The Ocean. My wife Heather took up art during lockdown, paying for a course with Roger Dean. It’s saved her mental health during the last year, and she’s getting good. I loved that picture and although there aren’t 20-minute epics, there’s enough to hint at prog, certainly in terms of some of the guest performers.
Self-produced albums are quite notorious for not knowing where to stop, yet your album does not suffer from this. What advice might you give to others recording themselves to tell when there is just enough? Or was your co-producer John Hannon a good buffer?
John is excellent. Through him I understand now what a producer does, although the songs that have several parts do his head in. I think my keenness to get it done meant that it’s the length it is. I reckon around 40-minutes is a good length for an album (I know I fell slightly short of that).
Your sleeve notes say, “it was something to do during the pandemic”. Will we require another global catastrophe to hear more? 😉
[Laughs] I would very much hope there will be a third one. I’m still amazed that I’ve made two!
Did writing this album help you during Lockdown? How? Do you have any advice for others who may be suffering with the isolation?
As I said, there was little to do for most of us, and musicians are fortunate to have music as an outlet. Writing and organising the production of the album gave me joy. It would have been grim without that avenue of creativity.
Thanks Stewart, your album has been a joyous and unexpected start to 2021. I hope you generate more sales and I look forward to your next output. I’ll also be checking your back catalogue.
[You can read Tony’s review of Stewart’s album Let’s Go There HERE.]