Cat Stevens. The name brings back a 1,000 memories, dark eyes, a winning voice and songs that the whole world sang along to. See Darren Coggan’s fabulous tribute to the legend at the Glasshouse…
How did your career come about?
The tour started back in 1996; that’s going back a while now, and I had a record deal with EMI music and won a couple of Golden Guitar awards over the years … that’s kind of where I have started. Over the last 5 or 6 years, I’ve had the opportunity to branch out into the musical theatre world, through chance more than anything. I auditioned for Happy Days, which was an arena spectacular, and I got the role. I was there with Rebecca Gibney and Craig McLachlan, Human Nature and all these great Australian performers, and it really opened up my eyes to a whole new area in the entertainment industry, which I never ever really thought I would be cut out for … and I have really really loved it.
I have kind of explored that avenue over the past 5 – 6 years more so, and I have also had roles in Shout and a couple of versions of Grease. This show Peace Train really kind of marries those two worlds together for me beautifully. It’s very much a theatrical show, but obviously it’s laden with wonderful singer songwriter acoustic songs.
Where did the inspiration begin for the Cat Stevens tour?
Well, it started from people saying how similar our voices sound. I would perform my own shows at pubs and places around Australia, and I would always perform some of his music in my own shows. Nine times out of 10 shows, someone would come up and say, “Oh my goodness, you sound so much like Cat Stevens”. It was nothing that was premeditated; it is just there is such a similar sound between our voices. Generally, people would follow that up with, “What happened to Cat Stevens? Where is he these days? Is he still making music?” His story is quite a mystery, so I started looking into it just out of curiosity, and in doing so I found this incredibly inspiring and fascinating story about a man’s journey of personal discovery. This man at the height of his career became incredibly discontent with the excesses of fame and fortune. When he had everything, it wasn’t what he was looking for, and he found fulfillment elsewhere.
I thought it was a fantastic story, then I got a guy, John Misto, who’s a great Australian writer, to write the narrative, and my sister is a great musician, who sort of musically directed the whole show. The show has had such great success, and it’s great to bring it to Port Macquarie.
They do say it was a daring act to create a show on Cat Stevens. Do you think you have done it justice?
I like to think so. That was always our priority; we never wanted it to be a throw away tribute show, and I can’t stand those shows, to be honest with you – and it was never our objective. We always wanted to do justice to him, to his story, and obviously to his music and his fans. He sold 60 million albums world wide, so there are a lot of people out there in love with these songs, and his songs inspired an entire generation. I think the messages in these songs are so relevant even today. I think that’s why we have had such great success with this show.
The obvious audience for this show is our parents, age 50+. The people we’re getting to the show are teenagers up to that demographic, ‘cause his music still speaks to a young audience. Those great messages of peace, understanding and tolerance, all those great things that are in his songs, we still need that in our world today. It is a real privilege to play his songs and do this show.
I think everyone leaves feeling very uplifted; they come along wanting to hear the songs, but they go away with a better understanding of this man and why he did certain things in his life and what influenced him.
You did a huge national tour last year. What were some of the highlights of doing the ‘Peace Train’ tour?
The majority of our tour was capital cities. We started off last year in the Sydney Opera House. We sold out the Sydney Opera House concert hall, so that was 2,500 people, and I’d never even been in the Opera House, let alone performed on the stage. So, that was an incredible way to start the tour. From there, we went into regional Australia, and we toured every state. We did 70 shows across 38 venues. I think one of the highlights was literally to travel Australia and see these great places, particularly Western Australia.
I’d never really seen Western Australia before. Universally, the reaction was the same everywhere we went, which was so reassuring to know that no matter where the show performs – whether it was in places like Carnarvon in Western Australia or the Sydney Opera House, Wagga or Griffith or some of the regional centres – the people loved these songs and loved the message attached to them.
Is ‘Peace Train’ a fairly big production?
There are 7 of us on stage together; there’s a big set, a big light show and a big production that travels with the show. Again, getting back to your question about wanting to do his show justice, we didn’t want to skimp anywhere. We’ve poured a lot of money into this show and invested heavily in the production values, to make it a show that we believe is of an international standard – again, to do justice to him and his fans and the music.
We didn’t want it to be just a little show. I think we’ve done it and you know, it is quite a big spectacle, which adds of course to the excitement of it all. It is the same show that we have performed everywhere.
Of all the songs you have performed, which is your favourite?
That’s such a difficult one to answer. It changes all the time … obviously the big hits Peace Train and Father and Son. At the moment, my favourite song is called Oh Very Young, which I just think is one of his most beautiful songs. The show is full of hits: Days of the Old School Yard, Morning Has Broken. A lot of people just don’t realise how many hits this guy has actually had.