Taking Care of the Businesses
PLUS Profile (Courtesy the Artistís site, 2005).
The idea of a 'proper job' is anathema to most musicians, who find that what constitutes normal working hours and an everyday working environment for conventional workers just don't agree with them. For Andy M Stewart, however, knowing both sides of the coin has its advantages.
For the past twenty years Stewart has been running his own business outside of music so as not to get too caught up in the slog which life with Silly Wizard, one of the great bands of the 1970s and 1980s, with its massive American workload, became towards the end.
But that's not to say that his music has become a hobby. The albums Stewart made in the 1990s, The Songs of Robert Burns, At It Again, The Man in the Moon and Donegal Rain, have maintained a consistently high standard and his comparatively rare tours have shown a singer apparently able to reach "match fitness" to order.
"When you go away and do other things, then come back to music, you come back feeling fresh," he says. Working outside of music also seems to give his songwriting a richer, more authentic ring. Monday Morning, his pawky paean to the working man's thrall to rising at six and 'slowly being strangled by the piece bag and the flask', he points out, "was not written from within the warm folds of my bed, I can assure you."
As he grew up in Alyth, near Blairgowrie in Perthshire, writing, be it poetry or prose, was always important to him, and he views songwriting as simply an extension of that.
At the same time, there was always traditional music in the house, much of which he absorbed unknowingly at the time, and from his early years with Dougie Maclean in their school band Puddock's Well, through Silly Wizard to his current status as one of Scottish traditional music's foremost, longer established assets, it has continued to engage him. The engagement's contagious; the sight and sound of him throwing back his head and giving forth on that seventeenth century equivalent of a news bulletin, Haughs of Cromdale, can be a wonder to behold.
But while he obviously loves songs with a serious historical element and the more contemplative end of traditional song, too, Stewart has a well-developed ear for humorous ditties, such as his friend Bill Watkins's The Errant Apprentice, a brilliantly written farce that Stewart sings with great comic timing and huge and very genuine relish.
"If I'm not having a good time, I can hardly expect anybody else to be having one," he says. "I like that type of song particularly because it adds a bit of light to the darker hues of the bigger ballads. In a night of songs something daft like that can have the same effect as a band throwing in a few instrumentals."
Since Silly Wizard split up in the late 1980s, Stewart's bands have been mostly of the two-man variety, firstly with Capercaillie's Manus Lunny and then with guitarist Gerry O'Beirne, who also produced Man in the Moon and Donegal Rain. They met on the legendary Jubilee Irish Folk Festival Tour in Germany just before reunification, when Stewart was working with Lunny and O'Beirne was with the estimable Patrick Street.
With its bus full of musicians touring thirty packed Stadehalles in as many nights, this was the ideal compatibility check, says Stewart. "We just became pals, Gerry's a very sensitive player, very caring about the music. But the thing I remember best about that tour is, we were trying to spend our East German marks, which we couldn't bring home, as the people were on the street, bringing the Berlin Wall down. And as we made our way back to the bus, Gerry said, 'We must be the only people in the world who go shopping during a revolution.'"
Called one of Celtic music's most gifted singers and arguably the best songwriter in the entire folk tradition, Andy M. Stewart has been delighting audiences with his music and humour for two decades.
Born in Perthshire, Scotland, Andy grew up in a family noted for its fine traditional singing. He first drew the attention of the music world with his work as lead singer and instrumentalist for Silly Wizard, with whom he toured until their break-up in 1988. It was while Andy was in the Wizards that he gained much recognition for his beautiful interpretations of the traditional songs of Scotland and Ireland and also became known as a master of songwriting in the traditional style. Self-penned gems such as "The Ramblin' Rover", "Golden, Golden", "The Queen of Argyll", and "Where are You Tonight, I Wonder" have become almost instant classics, and have been recorded by June Tabor, The Dubliners and Deanta, to name a few. As an accomplished banjo player, his ear for a good tune has been displayed in his arranging and composing abilities; a style that set the precedent for many an up-and-coming band in the ever-expanding world of Celtic music.
Known for his wicked wit and sterling live performances, Andy M. Stewart is among the finest singers in the Scots/Irish traditional genre, with a voice that "conveys more emotion in one line than most singers do in a lifetime." (Beacon Herald)
Andy has recorded four solo albums, By the Hush, named Folk Album of the Year by Melody Maker Magazine, Songs of Robert Burns, Man in the Moon, and his most recent release, Donegal Rain, Mojo's Folk Album of the Month, Jan. 1998. He has also recorded three albums with Manus Lunny: Fire in the Glen (also featuring Phil Cunningham of Silly Wizard), Dublin Lady, and At It Again.
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