YORK singer-songwriter Gary Stewart will release his lockdown album, Lost, Now Found, on June 14, the day before his 40th birthday.
“The album was recorded at home and is pretty much all me, with the exception of a few musical friends, like Rosie Doonan, Ross Ainslie and Mikey Kenney,” says the left-handed guitarist, who can also be spotted playing drums for Hope & Social on a regular basis.
Perthshire-born Gary cut his teeth performing on the Leeds music scene for ten years before moving to York. Writing songs in the folk/pop vein, and influenced by the major singer/songwriters of the 1960s and 1970s – Paul Simon, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Carole King and assorted members of The Eagles – he has released three albums and two EPs to date.
Now comes Lost, Now Found, comprising material written between April and June 2020, shortly after the first pandemic lockdown was announced.
“When Covid-19 struck in late March 2020 and it became apparent that the nation would be indoors for some time, I made the decision (after a short period of squander sponsored by I-Player and Netflix) to try and write some songs after quite a hiatus,” says Gary.
“As a professional procrastinator, my fear was that I wouldn’t stick with it or even bother to give myself a fighting chance. Thankfully, I took up the threads of a song, Leopard, that had been kicking around my head and notebook for 18 months or so and got to task.
“What emerged was a knitted patchwork of a song, drawing initially on one specific personal experience, but extended to a more general introspective of my character and unified under the familiar question: can a leopard change its spots?”
The answer: “Well, given that this self-confessed ‘pro procrastinator’ managed to finish a song in lightning time – by his own standards – and continued to write another nine songs within a period of three months, I would say ‘yes’,” says Gary.
“The speed at which Leopard arrived (boom) gave me the confidence to continue writing. The ‘stay at home’ rule allowed me the chance to spend time broadening my chordal vocabulary (something I have wanted to do since ‘discovering’ The Beatles last year); to go further than the usual ‘three chords and the truth’.”
“Technophobe” Gary ventured into the realm of D.I.Y musician for Lost, Now Found, playing, recording, mixing and producing the album as a solo work.
“Arts Council England enticed me to apply for some funding, with its Developing Creative Practice fund helping me to secure the purchase of a laptop, an interface and a couple of really nice microphones,” he says.
“This in turn led me down the rabbit-hole and into the Wonderland of home-recording, the next two months being spent learning a new trade on-the-go while recording the ten new songs.
“This involved learning how to place microphones; how to record tracks; how to edit and ‘comp’ takes; latency; how to use compressors and reverbs; how to be patient; how to ‘really’ shout and swear. At 39 years old, I did not expect to be in the position of being able to learn a new skill and apply that skill so quickly. Another facet that fits neatly into the leopard/spots adage.”
Multi-instrumentalist Gary has enlisted the help of a handful of musician friends to “add colour” to assorted songs. Rosie Doonan, who has worked with Peter Gabriel, duets with Stewart on Hot To Trot, Tu Eres Mi Media Naranja and Lost, Now Found, and Mikey Kenney, from Band Of Burns, lends string arrangements to Rainy Day Lover and Sailors And Tailors.
BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winner Ross Ainslie, from Treacherous Orchestra and Salsa Celtica, plays whistle on Front Lines, while Sam Lawrence and James Hamilton contribute woodwind and brass respectively to the opening track, Tailspin.
Lost, Now Found captures the sound and feel of a 1970s’ era singer/songwriter record. “My D.I.Y approach to recording, coupled with my musical influences, help give the album its lo-fi sonority: warm-sounding acoustic guitars and drums; plate reverb vocals, and instruments captured as naturally as possible, with very little effect,” says Gary. “Think Tapestry meets Tea For The Tillerman.”
Stylistically, the album embraces 1960s and 1970s’ artists alongside more contemporary folk/pop luminaries: The Beach Boys’ drums and vocal-harmony influence are apparent on Hot To Trot and Tu Eres Mi Media Naranja; John Martyn and Nick Drake bounce off each other in Tailspin; lead single Leopard has a Villagers vibe, while the plaintive feel of Still Crazy-era Paul Simon is present on Rainy Day Lover, Sadder Day Song and the title track.
“These are ten songs that I’m really proud of,” says Gary. “Songs that deal with themes I constantly return to both consciously and sub-consciously: fabrics of my character that I’d like to change (Leopard and Chest); procrastination (Hot To Trot) and redemption, coupled with new beginnings (Tailspin) and straight-up love songs (Rainy Day Lover, Sadder Day Song and Tu Eres Mi Media Naranja).
“Then there are the songs that are woven more indelibly and intertwined with the time and situation in which they were written: songs about the triumph over adversity of the NHS (Front Lines) and family loss, both physical and mental (Sailors And Tailors and Lost, Now Found).
“These compositions, to me, are a step-up musically and thematically from what I normally write. I think they’ve been captured really well on record and I hope you like listening to them very much.”
Gary Stewart’s Lost, Now Found is released on June 14 on CD, 12“ vinyl and download.
Just how multi-instrumentalist is multi-tasking Gary Stewart?
ON Lost, Now Found, he contributes vocals, backing vocals, acoustic guitar, hi-string guitar, electric guitar, bass, drums, keys, xylophone, glockenspiel, congas, bongos, shakers, triangle, tambourine, finger cymbals, temple blocks and…thighs. Oh, and he recorded, mixed and produced the album.
Did you know?
GARY Stewart plays drums for Leeds band Hope & Social and guitar for Rosie Doonan, performs at Big Ian Donaghy’s A Night To Remember charity nights at York Barbican and hosts the New York Greenwich Village-inspired acoustic hootenanny, The Gaslight Club, run by Dead Young Records every Monday at Oporto!, in Call Lane, Leeds.
He also fronts a seven-piece line-up that tours the UK with Graceland: A Celebration of Paul Simon’s Classic (plus a generous handful of other Simon classics for good measure). In the diary for September 18 is a York gig at The Crescent at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £12.50 (more on the door) at seetickets.com.