He has battled cancer and is about to turn 75, but Rod Stewart’s two gigs in Ireland next week are a sign he has no plans to retire any time soon, writes Richard Purden
ROD STEWART is preparing to take training for a U10 football featuring his son Aiden. The team are wearing a full Celtic kit, not surprising given their temporary coach’s longstanding love of the Glasgow side.
“We play in a football league with a floodlit pitch and astroturf. The lads come here because the coach is away so I’m taking training tonight,” says Stewart.
Before he does, the singer explains there is no suggestion of retiring from the music business as he is already making plans for a 2020 album before arriving in Dublin for two shows at the 3Arena next week.
“It’ll be 20 of the best folk and country songs ever written by people like Hank Williams, Carter Family and Johnny Cash. There will be some Scottish folk and Irish rebel songs in there as well.”
Stewart is still sore at the BBC for, as he suggests, “banning” his version of ‘Grace’, written by Frank and Seán O’Meara in 1985. He first heard Celtic supporters sing the romantic ballad and was entranced.
On his 30th long-player released last year Blood Red Roses, Stewart also paid homage to left-wing folk hero Ewan MacColl, who like Stewart also came from Scottish working-class roots.
“I first saw him when I was 16 years old in the West End of London at a folk club in Oxford St and I was mesmerised. It’s a whaling song from when we relied on oil to light our houses and it has stayed with me ever since. The track on the album is the chorus of his song and I wrote new verses but he is credited on the album with a percentage of the publishing. I don’t want people to think I’ve ripped him off; I wouldn’t do that.”
The track has taken Stewart full circle having recorded ‘Dirty Old Town’ for his 1969 debut album An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down. Stewart is naturally cautious when it comes to decisions about celebrating his 50-year-old back catalogue.
He initially balked at the idea of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra adding new arrangements to classic solo cuts and his work with The Faces.
“When I heard they were going to put an orchestra behind ‘Stay With Me’ I said: ‘Oh no they’re not!’. Trevor Horn, the producer, asked me to just give it a try so I let them do it and I was astounded; it’s beautiful. I was surprised especially by the beginning of ‘Maggie May’. There’s a different feel to the songs, they are not too syrupy and the strings represent the tracks well.”
Purists shouldn’t be offended by the orchestra’s treatment of Stewart’s much-loved hits that have helped define popular culture over five decades. The collection is also a reminder of Stewart’s abilities as a solo writer.
He explains how ‘The Killing of Georgie’ “was a song about a homosexual, a friend of mine and back then it really was taboo but the words just came out. I wish I could explain it, you just open up the brain and sing whatever you want — it’s just hit and miss. I had a descending chord sequence and put the lyrics over it. I usually think of a title first like with ‘Young Turks’ but ‘Maggie’ was different, I just sang and it came down an aerial, it does seem magical to me … you write something that wasn’t there the day before.”
As a vital interpreter of song, his voice continues to be lauded, with Bruce Springsteen recently tipping his hat to the singer.
“It’s a lovely compliment, I do look after my voice more now than ever by warming up and drinking tonnes of water. The older you get it does become tougher but I’ve still got the stamina even though I have to get a knee operation in the New Year. The voice is my crown jewels and I really have to look after it.”
The Anglo-Scot cites Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, and Van Morrison among his favourite song-writers recording ‘Have I Told You Lately’ and ‘Crazy Love’ by the latter.
“What a great lyricist, I love his stuff, when Astral Weeks came out with the string bass, acoustic guitars, and mandolins it was a big influence on Every Picture Tells A Story. We go back. The last time I saw him I was with my ex-wife (Rachel Hunter) at the Langholm Hotel in London, we got so drunk I don’t remember much about it.”
It’s been a reflective year for the singer who united The Faces for the first time on stage since 2015. “We did it for a prostate cancer charity,” he explains. “I made an announcement that I’ve beaten it, although I don’t know if you ever beat cancer but I was on the mend let’s put it that way. It was a lovely night, Kenney Jones (Faces/Small Faces) was on the drums and we had Jim Cregan (Stewart’s musical collaborator at various points since 1976) on guitar. Both of them have recovered from prostate cancer and of course, Ronnie Wood (The Rolling Stones) on guitar has had lung cancer, we’re all still battling away up there. To play with them again was a real joy.”
After turning 75 in January, Stewart will tour the US with Blondie in the summer and by autumn he’ll be on the road in Australia.
Of the recent illness, he adds: “I never felt any different. I had treatment for two years and was working all through that time. I went to Harley St five times a week for a month and no one ever found out, which was a miracle really but I wanted people to know because it’s a horrible cancer to have because it gives you no warning whatsoever.
Sharing a Scottish diaspora connection with US President Donald Trump, he admits the pair’s friendship has dissolved in recent times.
“I have a house in Palm Beach just up the road from Trump. I used to go to his Christmas party down the road — he used to have two or three different balls — but my wife (Penny Lancaster) said ‘No’. There was stuff he was coming out with, what he was saying about women he had known in the past and she said ‘You’re not going; he’s a disgrace’, which I suppose he is really.”
Whatever about the US president, Rod Stewart is as reliable as ever.
Rod Stewart plays 3Arena, Dublin, next Weds and Thurs. You’re In My Heart: Rod Stewart with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is out now
He has battled cancer and is about to turn 75, but Rod Stewart’s two gigs in Ireland next week are a sign he has no plans to retire any time soon, writes