So I find myself in the basement of The Hospital Club in central London where there is a hive of activity taking place as the Dave Stewart juggernaut rolls into London then up to Sunderland to celebrate his forthcoming 65th Birthday.

Dave has kindly invited me to join the rehearsals, and as I enter the basement studio, The London Community Gospel Choir and Candy Dulfer are already rehearsing in the room as the 3rd day of rehearsals get underway. Also here are Dave’s Nashville Players and Michael Bradford.

Dave is in fine form and is looking very relaxed as he strides around the rehearsal space with his famous blue acoustic Takamine guitar in hand.

We learnt this morning of the death of Holger Czukay from Can who performed with Dave and Annie.  I ask Dave if he is affected when he hears of the passing of an artist he has worked with and he says these days he hears on twitter first and doesn’t always have time to absorb the information, but he is more than aware of his own mortality having almost died several times.

There is a great performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test with Eurythmics performing Never Gonna Cry Again with Clem Burke on drums and Holgar taking center stage towards the end of the track.

Dave has been posting a few snippets from the rehearsals online giving fans a sneak preview of some of the tracks he has selected from his vast back catalogue.  To many fans we already know the huge network of artists that Dave has collaborated with, but to many, tracks that they have grown up with are a surprise when we discover Dave’s finger prints on them.

It’s been a while since Dave has performed with a full band in the UK and since arriving has been in reflective mood, having travelled here straight from his new beach front home in Barbados. He has spent time in his home town of Sunderland where preparations for his second concert are well under way and will feature the Easington Colliery Band taking place just 2  days after the London Show tomorrow.  Oh and of course he has a 65th birthday party in a castle on Saturday to consider too!

Dave as ever has surrounded himself with some of the finest musicians, his stalwart Nashville Players have all made the trip over for this special event. They have all recorded with Dave on his last 3 solo albums (The Blackbird Diaries, The Ringmaster General and Lucky numbers), as well as his new duets album out tomorrow called Nashville Sessions – The Duets Volume 1 , as well as records with Stevie Nicks and Joss Stone.

I’ve come today to speak with The Nashville Players, Dan Dugmore, Chad Cromwell and Tom Bukovac about their work with Dave, but I also get the opportunity of chatting to Jon Stevens, Candy Dulfer and Michael Bradford too.

Dan Dugmore

Originally from California Dan Dugmore worked as a member of Linda Ronstadt’s Band for 14 years as well as being an active member of James Taylors Band for 11 years.
Dan is a multi-talented musician playing Pedal Steel, Lap Steel, Dobro, Electric and Accoustic Guitars, Banjo and Mandolin.

So welcome back to London Dan, it’s been a while hasn’t it?

Well I was last here in 1986 with James Taylor, but since we got here I haven’t had chance to look around, we’re 2 floors underground at The Hospital, but it is fun being over here.

So you are here for Dave’s 2 birthday shows, and he’s surrounding himself with a huge amount of talent once again, how does it feel to be part of this particular band.

As you know Dave has his Nashville Band including myself, and we cut 3 records with him at The Blackbird Studios in Nashville, but we’re discovering a whole load more of Dave’s records for his 65th Birthday concerts. It’s always fun to discover and play new music, but I’m adding some pedal steel to these songs which didn’t have anything like that on them originally, and just adding that bit of colour and a twist to it.

When Dave first came to Blackbird everything changed, in Nashville we base our work day in 3 hour sessions, 10 – 1, 2 – 5 and 6 – 9, sometimes its done as a day rate but normally a session is booked.  That way if someone calls you up to see if you are available say for a 10 on Monday and you say no, they ask if you can do a 2 on Tuesday instead, and then they may have to call the next guys.  It makes it easy for us as we can do 3 sessions in a day for completely different artists.

So Dave booked us for 2 and 6 each day, and he struggled with the finishing at 9pm thing, we said well that’s how it’s done around here and he decided that he was going to keep working after we had finished, so he would bring in the backing singers to work on the couple of tracks we’d done that day, where we would normally do a whole session with the singers.

Dave also said to us if we were meant to be done by 9.00pm then the most important time would be 6 – 7.30, we said why’s that Dave? and he says “that’s when I make the Martini’s, so when we hit the last song of the day we have a Martini under our belts and we’ll be really rocking”.  We don’t really drink when on sessions in Nashville, but that sounded like a lot of fun, so we did and went along with it, and you know Steve, it was really great.

We speak a little about the 3 albums Dave has recorded in Nashville and I ask Dan which track for him really was the most momentous.

Wow Steve, that’s a tough call, but I do really like Bulletproof Vest by Colbie Collett, that one I think is really cool and was real fun to record.  We also enjoyed recording with Stevie Nicks and Joss Stone.  Joss was amazing, she really was an amazing singer. I was aware of Joss, as she sang at the Kennedy Centre Honours where I’ve played 5 or 6 times, and she was there honouring The Who.  But it was really good fun getting to make that record with her, she and Dave would just get together in the morning, and by the time we got in there, there were 2 new songs to record, it was all really quick.  They might not have had all the words but the structure was there, and enough of the words that they could go back and refine it.

With Stevie Nicks though were in the studio for 2 weeks, normally we would just be a week, but that gave us a lot of time to really dig in on the songs, Stevie I think was really surprised at the end of the 2 weeks when we almost had the record she said that with Fleetwood Mac we wouldn’t have even got the drum sounds finished.

It’s been really exciting working with Dave and given me the chance to play a bit more rock music which I love doing. Nashville is changing and people like Dave coming in makes it an even cooler place to work, the Nashville Countyr scene is truning more towards pop, it’s just great to still be playing after 40 years!

With that Dan is called back to the last rehearsal session of the day.

Chad Cromwell

Chad is an American rock drummer whose music career has spanned more than 30 years. He is possibly best known for his work with Neil Young, Mark Knopfler and Joe Walsh.

Welcome back to London Chad

Thanks Steve.  The last time I was here was in 2009 when I was on the last leg of a 4 year run of touring with Neil Young.  We had Hard Rock Calling in Hyde Park, and the day before was headlining at Glastonbury.  It was fantastic, you know, the very last song was A Day In The Life and Paul McCartney got up stage and did it with us.  It was very special and we all had this amazing meal afterwards on the site.  It was real special way to finish the tour.

We start chatting about the work that he has been doing with Dave over the last 6 or 7 years.

Well you know it’s been a great journey, we really hit the ground running when he came into the studio for the first time. It was like an instant band, we were all so creative, and instinctive together , so many unexpected bits just fell into place and it’s been that way ever since. Every time we get together, we resume “that” so it’s just been great.

The type of thing Dave does is like capturing lightning in a bottle you know , it’s not always so much about the detail, he captures the real meat of what’s there and he’s one of the best at that I have ever seen so you have to be conscious about what’s going on, there is no autopilot with Dave you just have to be ready to go.

All we knew when Dave was coming was hey its Dave Stewart, you know Eurythmics Dave Stewart, what the hell is he doing coming to Nashville?  We are so glad that he has come, of course there was a little bit of the unknown factor, but my background is playing rock and roll music and working with Neil Young has always been unpredictable and spontaneous so I was just thrilled to get to work with Dave and experience his methods.

Stevie Nicks hadn’t made her own record in Nashville before, and she didn’t believe that she would be leaving with a record, in fact most people don’t but we work quickly in Nashville.  Joss is a risk taker, few people have the willingness and courage to commit to a record that quickly, it all goes so fast, you look back at the end of the week and the time has gone but you have 10 or 12 tracks to show for it.

I ask Chad about the music that the band are rehearsing for the shows and ask Chad if he is discovering new music from Dave’s catalogue.  Chad really considered his answers here and was referring to all of the notes he had been taking during the rehearsals.

I’m loving discovering Dave’s older records, in particular though I’m loving Jealousy, its such a ton of fun to play but I really love Eurythmics When The Day Goes Down, I love that one a lot.  These are 2 totally different songs for so many reasons, but for me they are a tie.

From the work we’ve done with Dave on the 3 albums we cut, the track I think that represents Nashville the most is A New Song For Nashville.  It’s a really traditional kind of classic early country record.

We’re putting our Nashville twist on some of the Eurythmics songs that we are playing this weekend which is way out of the box for the Eurythmics Catalogue. Dan of course with his Pedal Steel is really adding the twist, what I’m doing on the drums isn’t really that much different.  Collectively though as a section, we are coming at the show from and R&B and Rock N Roll point.

Dave has edited the list of songs he’s playing, there are titles we’ve had to lose just because of time, we could easily have played for 4 hours if we’d played everything.  I’m looking forward to the Sunderland gig though, I did spend a lot of time in Newcastle when I worked with Mark Knopfler.  Dave showed me the video of the colliery band that we are going to be playing with up there, that will be a whole new experience for me, I’m really looking forward to it.

Tom Bukovac

Tom began playing guitar at age ten and moved to Nashville in 1992 to pursue a career as a guitarist.
He has played on over 500 albums including albums by Stevie Nicks, Bob Seger, John Oates, Dave Stewart, Joss Stone, Sheryl Crow, Lionel Richie, among many others.

We join Tom at the end of a full days rehearsals, I remind him that we first met at The Belcourt Theatre in Nashville. He said he’d been seeing me and couldn’t quite place who I was. He was surprised when I said how long ago that concert was.

Tom was last in the UK in 2000 with John Fogerty on tour, and is really excited to be back in the UK.
We just landed earlier this week, and I got a bit freaked out as I’d forgotten everything, my plug adapters, sorting out my data on my phone. I’ve got it all figured out now, but all the people here at The Hospital are super sweet.
I just love trying to pick up on the British Culture, I just learnt to Gen up on something, so Im going to use that whenever I can.

We move onto talking about meeting Dave for the first time.

I was always a big fan of Eurythmics, I always thought he was super funny and quirky, and I loved the way he came into Blackbird and was flying by the seat of his pants.  We all had to hold on as it was a super rollercoaster.  He wanted to do things really quickly, and you just had to be ready to go and come up with something cool in just 1 or 2 takes.

I love doing that, the challenge of doing it that way.  It doesn’t happen often but when it does come along I love it.  I love the traditional way too, really getting into a song and rehearsing it and refining the part and honing in on some special parts. 

But with Dave’s record we loved shooting from the hip, there was a lot of improv, super loose and Dave really wasn’t too worried about making it completely perfect, if anything was real bad we could put some shit back in later, but that didn’t happen much. 

I just enjoyed his sense of humour and his wreckless behaviour!

I asked Tom about the 3 Nashville Albums and whether he had a stand out track he enjoyed playing on, with no hesitation at all he answered with One Way Ticket To The Moon, a track recorded with The Secret Sisters and is on Dave’s new album The Nashville Sessions – The Duets Volume 1. 

Another of the songs I really love, which is new to me is The Devils Just Been Using you, but I don’t think were playing playing that now.  We had 25 songs to learn and were down to about 21 songs, I don’t think Dave wanted to play that one as there were a lot of chords to relearn, and we don’t have a lot of time.

I’ve been on the road for most of the summer with Jo Walsh opening for Tom Petty, so Ive been hearing Tom play Don’t Come Around Here No More most evenings, we’re rehearsing that so hopefully you’ll all get to hear that, I wont say who will be performing it with us though.

I’m prepared for anything as Dave likes to keep changing things, but I’ve got all my chord charts here ready.  This whole production has the feel of a broadway play with all these guests that keep popping up here and there, and Dave’s worrying about where everyone is going to stand and these are the kinds of things you can rehearse forever, its going to be loose, but 4 days rehearsals isn’t a lot you know.  4 days with just a band of 5 is short enough but with all these guests there’s a hell of a lot to remember.

Dave is so creative, and is a global thinker and doesn’t like to focus too much about the smaller details, sometimes though you have to do that to get the shit together and nice and tight.  He’s really worried about the bigger picture which I totally get, but the little details can sometimes make a real difference too.  But with anything that’s driven by Dave we all love the sense of danger that he brings to the gig.  I’m worried the rowdy crowds won’t appreciate the mellow tunes and calm down a bit.  I assure Tom that the fans in the audience at both gigs will get it.

With that Tom heads up to the 4th floor where Dave is promising a round of… you’ve guessed it, Martini’s

Dave’s new album, Nashville Sessions – The Duets Volume 1, is out now.  It is a compilation of duets taken from Dave’s Nashville albums and featuring for the first time on CD “Picnic For Two” with Joss stone.

Tickets for both of Dave’ s shows are still available here