#SaturdaySongs No.9 – Boy With A Moon And Star On His Head

For today’s #SaturdaySong I’ve chosen a track from one of those milestone moments we all have in our lives. The album which included this song was released in late September 1972, a week before I made the huge step of going to university. Apart from holidays and school trips this was to be the first time I had ever lived away from home, and the magnitude of that moment is still etched in my memory. The album in question is Catch Bull At Four, which was the fourth album by Cat Stevens in his singer/songwriter career (he had to take a year out after his earlier pop career, having been very ill with tuberculosis). As I already owned the previous three it was a nailed on certainty that I would buy this one too, and I was in the record shop the day it was released.

Cast your mind back to those days. We consumed our music mostly by the medium of vinyl. Cassettes were becoming more popular, but still had some way to go before they were a main medium – many albums were still released on vinyl only. Vinyl albums were heavy and bulky, and I was travelling to uni by train, so it was impossible to take my record player and albums with me. It was a further five weeks before I could get a lift home for a weekend and pick up my music, and knowing that this separation was about to take place I played the album almost every waking moment before I left for my step into the wild world. Today’s song is this:

That has always been my favourite song on that album and for me is inextricably linked with going to university and taking a big stride into my future life. I never saw Cat Stevens play live at that time, although I would have loved to, but I did finally see him much later. His records were released on the Island label, and to celebrate 50 years of the label they ran a series of concerts for a week in May 2009. I was lucky enough to win a ticket in a newspaper competition and spent one of the most magical evenings of my life reliving all of those years. By then he had converted to Islam and was known as Yusuf Islam, but he had retained the connection with his previous musical life – it still made him money for his foundation – and when he sang the first of his early songs, Where Do The Children Play from the Tea For The Tillerman album, it felt like the whole audience was singing along with him. I found a cosy place to watch the concert, and was joined by a group of people who worked for Island Records. They were as surprised as the rest of us at an unannounced appearance of U2, who performed a four song acoustic set, and I came within 10 minutes of being asked to the backstage party: unfortunately, the spare pass they had was claimed late in the evening by the record company owner’s son for his girlfriend, who had lost hers. It was still a wonderful evening though.

If you’ve been following my #SaturdaySongs you’ll know that I said I would be devoting this month to seasonal songs, and may be wondering why I’ve chosen this one. Listen to the story told in the song and you’ll understand why: if this isn’t a modern-day retelling of the nativity then I don’t know what is! Granted, it isn’t a virgin birth, but the gift of a son blessed with wisdom and magical powers is unmistakeably linked, and I make no apologies for including it in my December selections.

Videos of the song are very hard to come by, and the one above is the best sound quality that I could find. As a bonus, here is a much more recent version, taken from a concert less than three months ago. It is wonderful that Cat/Yusuf is still performing this song 44 years on, and the respectful, rapt silence of the audience adds to the gravitas, I think:

“I’ll tell you everything I’ve learned, and Love is All, he said.”

#SaturdaySongs No.8 – Ring Out, Solstice Bells

Continuing my theme of songs related to this month, today’s #SaturdaySong is this one:

Unlike the other songs in this series, there isn’t a personal story attached to this one. I’m including it because it has always been a favourite of mine at this time of year. It was released in 1976 and was an unashamed attempt by Ian Anderson, the leader of Jethro Tull, to make a catchy, commercial song that would generate airplay and sales in the pre-Christmas period. To an extent he succeeded, as it reached the dizzy heights of no.28 in the UK charts, and I don’t think it charted anywhere else to any great degree either. But it has become one of the pop standards for Christmas and features on many a compilation album. It is actually about the winter solstice rather than Christmas itself, but that’s still good enough for me to include it!

This was actually Jethro Tull’s third Christmas record – they had previously released both A Christmas Song and Another Christmas Song (I kid you not!). Neither of those bothered the chart statisticians, though both are still available on the Jethro Tull Christmas Album, along with Solstice Bells and many others – I commend it to you, it’s a lovely record. The band is still going strong in its latest incarnation, and there is a live recording also available of a Christmas concert they performed in 2008 at St Brides Church in London. Sadly, I didn’t see that, but I did see them in 2010 and they were a delight: a huge back catalogue to draw from, and the wry wit of Anderson in between the music. But as the gig was in summer there were no Christmas songs on the set list.

This song is among many without which my Christmas wouldn’t seem complete, and I really should get round to compiling a proper playlist at some point! The nearest I’ve got to this is on YouTube, where you’ll find my playlist of #ChristmasSongADay for your perusal and delectation. I started this last year, and shared a song a day (just like it says on the tin!) from 1-25 December. I’m doing it again this year, both on Twitter and for those of you who have made the excellent choice of being my friend on Facebook. Links are to the right. And as it’s the season of goodwill and I’m feeling especially generous, I’m going to leave you with a video that was made especially for a BBC TV programme to promote the song. I think it fits rather well.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief stroll through my Christmas Past. See you again next week – it’s a cracker, I promise!