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Time Tunnel: Great Albums of 1971. The Lost Trades on Cat Stevens’ Teaser & The Firecat

The Lost Trades are set to release their debut album on 4th June 2021. Tamsin Quin, Jamie R Hawkins and Phil Cooper are no strangers to At The Barrier having all written for our Why I Love column as solo artists. Now, these three brilliant singers have thrown their collective voices together in a swirl of harmony for an album together.

In the run up to the release, The Lost Trades wanted to help us celebrate the great musical year of 1971 – 50 years on; and boy do they know how to celebrate! Not only have they all written about one of the best albums ever, they have gifted us an exclusive rendition of one of the songs from the album. The album in question is Teaser & The Firecat from Cat Stevens. You can listen to The Lost Trades’ take on one of the cuts from the album at the end of the article.

It is an honour and a privilege to have this great trio of singers with us again.

Cat Stevens
Cat Stevens – Live at the BBC in 1971
Tamsin Quin

Tamsin

Some of my earliest memories are of me and my sister singing along to Moonshadow at the top of our little lungs; I must have been three or four years old. My parents had Teaser And The Firecat regularly spinning on the record player and we used to giggle along to Cat Stevens fluttery vocals.

Occasionally my Dad would indulge us by picking up his guitar and we would join in screaming ‘Mooooooonshadow, Moonshadow!’ in the appropriate bits, followed by fits of laughter.

Even now it still feels like a very playful album to me, full of joyful little surprises and musical eccentricities through each song.

In my twenties I’d revisit the album whilst sat in the back of my campervan, absorbing the heady nostalgia it would bring. That’s when I really started appreciating the lyrics and musical intricacies. It’s an album full of hope. For a long time, I sang ‘The Wind’ almost like a mantra. Those 102 seconds gave me the ability to feel it was all going to be ok and to stay true to myself no matter what.

On the surface it’s just another folk album but when you listen to all the layers beneath you realise the incredible attention to detail, perhaps experimental or intentional, but I like to imagine Cat Stevens and his team sat in the studio picking up spoons and cowbells and just having fun weaving the songs together. It’s one of those albums where you say ‘this is my favourite song’ and then the next track comes on and you say ‘no, this is my favourite!’ and so on. It takes a lot of skill to write an album like that.

Jamie R Hawkins

Jamie R Hawkins

I was introduced to ‘Teaser and the Firecat’’ fairly late in life – my early thirties.  Of course, I had heard Cat Stevens’ music throughout my childhood, ‘Moonshadow’ being the most prominent in my memory, but for some reason I’d not really been drawn to him as an artist until I heard Teaser in its entirety.

It was the opening track, ‘The Wind’, that drew me in straight away with its beautiful, lilting acoustic intro reminiscent of a clockwork music box.

To be completely honest, I had never really liked his voice up to that point – being a massive Eagles fan, I liked my vocals to be goosebump-inducing and pitch perfect so Cat Stevens’ felt a little lazy and unpredictable for my tastes.   But with The Wind, I began to hear a vulnerability in his voice that I’d not noticed before – a fragility that was almost heartbreaking to listen to, and it suddenly made the song feel more emotionally accessible to me.

From that point, I couldn’t not hear it – each song seemed to contain a sliver of his fractured soul and suddenly, the songs were speaking to me in a way that The Eagles never had.  It was a real eye (ear?) opener, I can tell you.

One of the things I really love about Teaser is the way it shifts from one mood to another without ever throwing you off balance.  The more energetic tracks such as ‘Tuesday’s Dead’ and ‘Peace Train’ still sit perfectly alongside some of the more melancholy songs like ‘How Can I Tell You’ and ‘If I laugh’.  I suppose, for me, it is because that vulnerability remains consistent throughout – like a delicate silver thread that ties all of the songs together to create something bigger than themselves.

I used to always favour the simple and straightforward story telling approach when it came to lyrics and so (to my simple and straightforward brain) Cat Stevens’ lyrics on Teaser are often somewhat ambiguous and need a fairly liberal dose of interpretation (as with ‘Tea For The Tillerman’ which he released the previous year – I mean, ‘Longer Boats’…?  I still have no idea what that’s all about!), but Cat Stevens taught me that the lyrics aren’t necessarily the heart of the song or the story – the heart resides in the listener and their interpretation just as much as it does in the writer.  Well, that’s my take on it anyway…

Anyway, Teaser and the Firecat remains to this day one of my very favourite albums of all time (alongside ‘Tea For The Tillerman’) and it just so happens to have been released in 1971 – the same year that I came into the world.

Coincidence?….yeah, probably…but one that makes me inexplicably proud all the same.

Phil Cooper

Phil

I came to the album quite late in life, my parents had a “Best of” but no actual albums. But I enjoy digging around in old albums and discovered Teaser and Tillerman at the same time. For me they are pretty much a double album of a songwriter at his artistic peak.

As I understand it, he changed his approach to songwriting and recording completely after his hospitalization with TB. This is something I can associate with having had my own serious hospitalisation with Peritonitis. I think having a genuine brush with death gives you a perspective that is difficult to explain to other people, and as songwriters we naturally lean toward trying to communicate difficult things through music.

Of course, being a master of his craft, Stevens sums that up in the very first line of the album when he sings “I listen to the wind, to the wind of my soul”. Similarly, the line “I let my music take me where my heart wants to go. I swam upon the Devil’s lake.” is a perfect example of a life changing experience making you re-evaluate your values.

The album is full of pearls of introspective wisdom, but also relatable advice for others. The whole album is a yearning for change. Peace Train had always been a favourite of mine, even from my uneducated “best of” days, and it still resonates today.

Moonshadow was the first song we ever worked out three part harmony for, so now it holds a special place in The Lost Trades story too!

Our thanks go to The Lost Trades for their words on Teaser & The Firecat. Not only have they offered their words, they have exclusively recorded their own interpretation of Cat Stevens’ Moonshadow. You can watch this exclusive performance below.

You can pre-order The Lost Trades new album here. It can be purchased in various bundles; some of which are highly unique, and it contains a special guest appearance from Peter Knight (of Gigspanner and Steeleye Span…amongst others).

The Lost Trades online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Bandcamp

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