Dave Stewart

Born : December 30th, 1950 - Waterloo, London (England)
Past Bands : The South Siders (1965-66), The Foe (1966), Uriel (1967-68), Egg (1968-72), Ottawa Music Company (1971-72), Khan II (1972), Hatfield and the North (1973-75), Gong (1975), Gilgamesh (1975), National Health (1975-78, 1981, 1983), Bruford (1978-80), Rapid Eye Movement (1980-81)
Current Project : Stewart/Gaskin (since 1981)

A Short Bio:

The Canterbury scene spawned many talented keyboard players - to name but a few : David Sinclair, Mike Ratledge, Dave MacRae, Alan Gowen, Peter Lemer... - but for many of us Dave Stewart deserves the most consideration. And although he has moved away from this musical genre in the last two decades, to launch a successful career in pop music with his partner Barbara Gaskin, his essential contribution to the music of Hatfield and the North and National Health is still fondly remembered.

David Lloyd Stewart was born in Waterloo (London) in 1950. Developing an interest for rock and pop in his early teens, he soon took up the guitar, until that fateful day when he made the acquaintance of Steve Hillage and Mont Campbell, two other pupils at the City Of London School. When Hillage and Campbell decided to form a band together, Stewart, who also wanted to be involved, decided - given Hillage's precocious talents on the guitar - to switch to organ. Thus with the recruitment of drummer Clive Brooks, Uriel was founded. At that point, one of Stewart's major influences was The Nice, the organ trio led by Keith Emerson, so he added a light classical touch to Uriel's mainly blues-oriented repertoire. When Hillage left following a summer residency at the Ryde Castle Hotel on the Isle of Wight, the band became a trio and renamed itself Egg.

With Campbell developing writing skills, Egg eventually dropped cover versions in favour of an entirely original repertoire. Although writing credits on both the band's albums on Deram - Egg (1970) and The Polite Force (1970) - were collective, Stewart later admitted that "95% of Egg's music [had been] written by Mont Campbell". In fact, the first outlet for his own compositions was provided by a parallel venture named The Ottawa Music Company, a large rock orchestra he formed with then-flatmate Chris Cutler (later of Henry Cow). This was a sort of "rock composers' orchestra" which was active around 1971, and at various times involved the members of Egg, Khan and Henry Cow, and others. Pieces by various members of the orchestra, plus covers of Robert Wyatt and Frank Zappa material, were performed, but in total only a handful of gigs took place. It would be a couple more years before Stewart would be able to put his writing skills to good use, with Hatfield and the North.

Egg eventually came to an end in the Spring of 1972, at which point they had been dropped by Decca and Mont Campbell had lost faith in the band. For a while, Stewart and Brooks thought they might continue with another bass player (the name of Hugh Hopper was considered), but Stewart later confessed he didn't feel confident enough to become the main writer in a group. Having guested on the debut album by Steve Hillage's new band Khan, he accepted Hillage's offer to join Khan, and toured with them until the guitarist went off to tour France with Kevin Ayers, then Gong. The following months (late 1972-early 1973) were very hard for Stewart, who after recording a demo with the ex-Khan rhythm section was involved in a series of "menial" non-musical jobs, until an unexpected telephone call from one Pip Pyle came to rescue him.

It was by then February 1973, and Dave Sinclair had just left Hatfield and the North, who were now looking for a keyboard player. Following a quick audition, Stewart was offered the gig, and accepted. With a pedigree of Phil Miller (ex-Matching Mole), Richard Sinclair (ex-Caravan) and Pip Pyle (ex-Gong), the band was quickly signed to the emerging Virgin label and recorded two albums - Hatfield and the North (1974) and The Rotters Club (1975) - and a single - "Let's Eat (Real Soon)" (1974) - and toured Europe extensively. Although the composing duties were shared equally by band members, Stewart was the most prolific writer, providing Hatfield with complex epics such as "(Son Of) There's No Place Like Homerton" or "Mumps".

While a member of Hatfield, Dave also took part in other musical ventures. One was the embryo of a later fertile musical relationship with fellow keyboard player Alan Gowen. Already acquainted with Phil Miller, Gowen wrote special arrangements for two double-quartet gigs by Hatfield and his own band Gilgamesh, which took place in November 1973 in Leeds and London. This was the precursor to National Health. Stewart was also offered the opportunity of reforming Egg for a final album (containing mainly material dating from 1971 and previously unrecorded), The Civil Surface (1974), released on Virgin's subsidiary label Caroline. Also in 1974, he guested on Steve Hillage's debut solo album, Fish Rising (1975) - which included some leftovers from the pair's Khan days - and at Robert Wyatt's legendary Drury Lane comeback concert.

After Hatfield and the North split up in early June 1975, Stewart joined Gong for a brief spell, staying with the band in France for a tour later that month until Patrice Lemoine was recruited as new keyboard player. "Steve Hillage and I were school mates, and when he joined Gong, Hatfield and the North would often play concerts on the same bill. These gigs were great fun, and sometimes we'd all jam together during the encore... After Hatfield split, I did a few gigs with Gong, and spent a bit of time with them in France, but it was just a temporary thing - highly enjoyable though".

Then, having kept in touch with Alan Gowen and helped produce Gilgamesh's debut album, he and Gowen decided to form a new band together, National Health (named after Dave's glasses!). The original plan was to have nine musicians - two guitarists, two keyboard players, one bass player, one drummer and three vocalists - but, though the first line-up included seven musicians, it was progressively trimmed down to just four. Similarly, the band's musical direction changed over the years. Under Stewart's influence, it became more melodic and got away from the neo-classical, ultra-complex pieces written by Mont Campbell (the former bass player of Egg, who shared the composition work with Stewart and Gowen until his departure in mid-1976), and the improvisational leanings of jazz-influenced Alan Gowen, who also left in early 1977 (although he appeared on the first album in a full member role, albeit with a guest credit). While a member of National Health, Stewart found time to appear on Hugh Hopper's solo album, Hoppertunity Box.

By mid-1978, however, and the sessions for Of Queues And Cures, Stewart had started to lose faith in National Health. This was due both to the hard financial situation of the band, and conflicting views with the other members on its musical direction. So in November 1978, he left and soon joined up with Bill Bruford. Stewart had already collaborated with Bruford (the original drummer in National Health, and also, of course, the former drummer with Yes and King Crimson) on his debut solo album, Feels Good To Me, and the other two main contributors to that album - Allan Holdsworth (guitar) and Jeff Berlin (bass) - were invited to join the new band. Although Stewart helped a lot with the arrangements, and wrote or co-wrote several pieces, he was however frustrated with not being the leader and main writer, and worked on his own projects as a sideline.

One of these projects was a collaboration with Hatfield/National Health's roadie and live sound engineer Rick Biddulph, also a bass player and vocalist. This resulted in the formation of a parallel band, Rapid Eye Movement, with Pip Pyle on drums and Jakko Jakszyk on guitar and vocals. It was mainly active for a series of concerts in 1980-81 after Bruford (the band) had more or less ground to a halt following the second of two summer American tours. At that point, National Health had also split up.

R.E.M. (not to be confused, of course, with the American band of the same name) would be Stewart's last band venture, as during that period he started working on solo material which eventually led to his partnership with Barbara Gaskin. The starting point was a cover of Jimmy Ruffin's hit "What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted", which he toyed around with and eventually recorded, in an instrumental form, during spare time at a friend's studio. Several singers (including Robert Wyatt and Julie Tippetts) were approached and declined, until Colin Blunstone (Zombies, Alan Parsons Project and solo artist) could be convinced to perform on it for no money. Although Stewart failed to attract any label attention with the song, he was offered a distribution deal by Rough Trade and created his own label, Broken Records. The single was thus released and was an instant success (reaching #13 in the British charts), thanks notably to the support of Radio One who started playing it several times a day. This resulted in an appearance on 'Top Of The Tops' in March 1981 and considerable sales.

For the follow-up, Stewart asked his longtime friend Barbara Gaskin (one of Hatfield's 'Northettes') to sing, in her typically English way, on a cover version of "It's My Party" which, with its eccentric and unusual arrangement, was another big hit, both in Great Britain (#1 in September 1981) and Germany (#1 in November 1981). During that period, Stewart took part in the reformation of National Health to pay homage to the late Alan Gowen, playing three concerts and recording an album - D.S. Al Coda - of his unreleased material. And towards the end of 1981, work started on Stewart-Gaskin's first album.

Unfortunately, the duo took six months to produce Disappear, and by the time they approached record companies looking for a contract (August 1982), they were no longer interested. Thus Stewart-Gaskin remained independent, releasing their works on Broken Records via license contracts with British, American, Japanese and German labels. Up From The Dark (1985), released by Rykodisc in the US, mixed excerpts from the never-released Disappear and tracks from various singles released inbetween ("Busy Doing Nothing", "Leipzig" and "I'm In A Different World"). Broken Records - The Singles, a collection of singles' A and B sides, was released by Midi in Japan. Finally, As Far As Dreams Can Go, also on Midi, provided listeners with the remainder of the Disappear tracks, plus two extra songs (a cover of "The Locomotion", featuring Jimmy Hastings' sampled sax, and "Make Me Promises"). Between 1987 and 1989, the first Stewart-Gaskin album conceived as such, The Big Idea (1989), was recorded, and in 1991, Spin followed. It was promoted with a 12-date American tour in October 1991 (with guitarist Andy Reynolds supporting the duo) as well as dates in Japan.

The duo's visibility would diminish in subsequent years however, apart from the odd live appearances (one London gig in 1996 and a short Japanese tour in 2001). Stewart kept busy helping friends on their recording projects. This included production credits for Jakko Jakszyk (and notable performances on his 2006 album The Bruised Romantic Glee Club), Peter Blegvad, Nigel Planer (of Neil's Heavy Concept Album fame), regular collaborations with Phil Miller (on tracks from his Cutting Both Ways, Split Seconds and Conspiracy Theories albums) and Pip Pyle's solo album, Seven-Year Itch (1998). Stewart has also contributed string arrangements for several albums by Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson and Anathema.

The long-awaited new album by Stewart-Gaskin, Green And Blue, was released on March 27th, 2009, via Burning Shed. Stewart himself described it as their "most varied" to date, "combining heart-rending ballads, poppy toe-tappers, lengthy musical explorations and a heavy-metal thrash", yet is "united by the duo's trademark musicality". Apart from one cover version it consists entirely of original material, and includes contributions by longtime collaborators Andy Reynolds (guitar), Gavin Harrison (drums) and Peter Blegvad (narration).