Dave Stewart apologizes for the short-circuit connection at sea. Aboard the QE2 (Queen Elizabeth II), Stewart, tired of jet-lag-induced transatlantic flights, opted for an alternate route, setting sail for a six-day voyage crossing the Atlantic to England.
Arriving in his home country by ship also fits the grandiose nature around the release of Stewart’s new album, a collection of 26 songs sketched around his teenage coming of age years in the northern England city Sunderland, all set around an alternate reality of a voodoo blues queen visitation that sets in motion the rest of his life—the music, the knowledge, the love—on Ebony McQueen.
Written and produced by Stewart, Ebony McQueen—available as a deluxe multi-format box set with three vinyl records, two vinyl EPs, two cassettes, and a photo book with typed lyrics and an original film “scriptment”—was partially recorded at John and Martina McBride’s Blackbird Studio in Nashville as well as his own Bay Street Recording Studio in the Bahamas, with the addition of the 60-piece Budapest Scoring Orchestra, a centerpiece that made the music flow like a working score, something Stewart would later utilize to expand the Ebony McQueen album into a musical film.
Ebony McQueen is Stewart’s musical memoir, a slice of his teenage life, between 1966 to 1968, from the ages of 14 to 16, moving through familial turbulence and the personal letdown of leaving his soccer dreams behind to enlightenment: the discovery of music via Delta blues and turning on the radio to a world of The Beatles, The Kinks, Small Faces, and The Who.
“From that moment, it blew my mind,” says Stewart of his earlier musical discoveries, from playing the Robert Johnson compilation King of the Delta Blues, an album his cousin had sent from Memphis to becoming glued to the radio. “It was an avalanche of great songs, and great acts, great bands, all the way through to ’71 and later with David Bowie and Neil Young’s ‘Harvest Moon.’ There was just so much music that was so brilliant, that if you were learning how to play the guitar, like I was from 14 years old, it was very inspiring because all of these songwriters and musicians, from [Pink] Floyd] and everybody, they were making very experimental music.”
Stewart added, “They weren’t trying to follow any adult contemporary or other charts. It was just all coming out of BBC Radio One. Every song that came on, you were like ‘wow.’”
“Quaaludes Prelude” intros the hallucinatory whirl of everything ahead, referencing the first time Stewart took drugs and his first concert that never happened. “We were going to see a band for the first time at the church hall—we were excited and about 14,” remembers Stewart, who took quaaludes (then called mandies), with a friend whose mother was a doctor. “He said, ‘Hey, take one of these, and we’ll drink this cider,’ so I took one and we jumped around, which made no sense with cider, and then I don’t remember much after that. It [the show] never happened. God knows what else happened. We came around about three or four hours later lying outside the church hall.”
Upon first acquaintance, “Ebony McQueen” still reflects Stewart’s hazier beginnings around music, met somewhere between the awake- and dream-state—I think I met her once inside a time machine / She was working on an island made of green / And she already knew everything about my story … She speaks my language fills the spaces in between / So I don’t need to talk and all I do is dream.