| || ||Cat Stevens |
Born Steven Demetre Georgiou, the son of a Greek Cypriot restaurant owner and Swedish mother, he grew up in a flat above the family shop in London’s theatre district, situated at the northernmost junction of Shaftesbury Avenue and New Oxford Street, near the heart of the West End. The back streets and alleyways of this cosmopolitan district became Steven’s concrete playground and a place of learning. Full of bright lights, famous theatres and cinemas, strip clubs and musical instrument stores, this busy part of the city throbbed with excitement and entertainment. At night, musicals would echo from Drury Lane just across the road and drift up through his window; he would oftentimes be found hanging around in coffee bars, where the latest hit singles were continuously playing.
Early on, Steven developed a natural love for art and music. At 15, he managed to get his father to buy him a guitar for £8. He began penning his own songs almost immediately, and it soon became clear to his family and friends that he had a unique talent to paint as well as sing. That talent separated him from the rest. He didn’t have many friends, so he became something of a loner. On most evenings, he would climb high up to the rooftops and gaze at the noisy city below; allowing for moments of peaceful and elevated detachment under the capital’s night sky. As a child, he was naturally inquisitive (“I used to look up into the heavens and wonder: where does the night end?”).
While studying at Hammersmith Art College, he was auditioned by Mike Hurst, a record producer formerly of the pop-folk trio the Springfields. Hurst was about to emigrate to America when he decided to record this handsome young discovery. The results, “I Love My Dog” and “Portobello Road,” impressed Decca Records so much that the young artist—now to be known as Cat Stevens—was selected to launch the new Deram label, which also signed new British talent such as David Bowie and the Moody Blues.
Power-played by pirate radio stations, in November 1966 “I Love My Dog” reached No. 28 on the U.K. charts. His next hit, “Matthew and Son,” went to No. 2, stopping behind the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer.” Stevens’ earnings jumped from 2 pounds a week to 300 pounds per night. At nineteen, he was getting a reputation for Top Ten hits. His song “I’m Gonna Get Me a Gun” reached number six. He was also a popular songwriter: the Tremeloes covered “Here Comes My Baby” which went to No. 4, and P.P. Arnold, a former Ikette from the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, cut a version of “The First Cut Is The Deepest” which reached No. 18. Many years later Rod Stewart made the song a worldwide smash hit.
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Steven Demetre Georgiou