SURROUNDED by the palm trees and heat in his LA home, superstar Dave Stewart reminisces about Sundays at Seaburn Beach and learning his craft playing impromptu gigs in Sunderland shops.
Although he has millions of record sales and countless awards under his musical maestro belt, Dave has never forgotten his roots.
The man who founded ’80s super group Eurythmics with Annie Lennox, has fond memories of growing up in Ettrick Grove, and says he’s looking forward to seeing if he can spot the faces of fellow pupils from Barnes Junior and Bede Grammar School at his forthcoming Sunderland gig.
It’s a show that, though four months away, is already creating a buzz.
It will see the singer, songwriter and record producer open a four-date tour to mark the release of his latest solo album, The Ringmaster General, at the Sunderland Empire on September 3.
It will be a special gig for Dave in more than ways than one.
“The idea of coming to Sunderland to start the tour is something that popped into my head.
“I haven’t played England in years – about 17 years ago I played Shepherd’s Bush Empire but that was just one gig.
“I’d been through this experience with my father two years ago where he’d fallen over in the garden and hit his head.
“By the time I got to the hospital he couldn’t speak, but was still alive for another 10 days.
“I spent that time with my brother in hospital, waiting. It was very emotional.
“My dad always loved going to Seaburn, it was like a religious thing every Sunday.
“Even though we moved away, he always wanted to stay in Sunderland.
“Coming back will be double-edged. My brother will be there and I’m going to force him to come on stage with me for the first time and we are going to walk along Seaburn Beach together.
“I will play the most emotional gig.”
He added: “It’s an amazing feeling to know I’m coming home to play a concert at Sunderland Empire.
“I remember seeing the band Free playing there when All Right Now had just come out around 1970 and it was an incredible gig.
“My brother John remembers The Beatles playing there. I wish I’d seen that.”
Speaking about why he chose the venue, he said: “I love the way the Sunderland Empire looks and feels inside.
“It has a very theatrical feel about it and my show is like that.
“I have so many songs to draw from like a magician pulls them out of a hat.
“My tour and new album is called The Ringmaster General and that fits with the venue.”
The show will be a mixture of songs from his latest album as well as classic tracks.
In his teenage years, Dave could often be found playing at a former clothes shop called West One.
Or sneaking into pubs such as The Rose and Crown and The Londonderry, to sing Bob Dylan songs and learn from the night’s folk singers.
His September show, however, will be his first real gig on home turf.
“After Annie and I formed the Eurythmics we came to Sunderland,” he said.
“We were obscure and no one knew who we were. We played about four songs as an experiment above an Italian restaurant in Holmeside.
“So this will be the first time I’ve played Sunderland at a proper announced gig at a proper venue.
“Sunderland has never witnessed me do it, which is odd as I spent a mis-spent youth in Sunderland, sleeping out in Mowbray Park and doing all those sorts of things.”
Dave’s childhood is one he recalls with great enthusiasm and one which would shape his early sound.
“When I look back on it all it was a very exciting time and roaming the streets of Sunderland after midnight wide-eyed with an acoustic guitar was really the beginning of my journey as a songwriter, I was just soaking everything up like a sponge and would write about my experiences.”
He added: “People say things like ‘oh, is Sunderland not good enough for you?’ But in order to achieve anything you can’t just stay in the North East, in music you have to go around the world.
“When you travel you do find places that are like Sunderland. Nashville is like a mini-Sunderland.
“It’s full of little places to play and when I was younger Sunderland was like that, it was full of little bars and pubs where you could play.
“The North East was like a hot spot, there was Sting, Bryan Ferry and myself.
“The North East is a funny mixture of Northern and Scottish folk music turned into contemporary songs.”
Though he lives 5,000 miles away, the dad-of-four still manages to keep abreast of Mackem music.
“What’s good about the internet is that you get an email from someone saying ‘check out these guys’.
“A couple of years ago I looked up Field Music and I like them a lot.
“When Annie and I were full on with the Eurythmics, we didn’t have a spare minute in the day and didn’t have the internet. But now the internet’s around, I can Google Sunderland.
“There’s a good online Sunderland magazine I like called Spark.
“People have a misunderstanding of people like myself and think I won’t be interested. But I was probably once exactly like these kind of characters, running around Sunderland with a guitar strapped to my back.
“Then I ended up hitching a ride to London and the rest is history.”
•Tickets for The Ringmaster General at Sunderland Empire are available by calling 0844 871 3022 or online at www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland, as well as from select ticket agents, the 24Hr ticket hotline 0844 338 0000 and on line at BookingsDirect.com.
His career highlights:
“It’s been a hell of a journey I must say. Playing in Wembley Stadium for Nelson Mandela was an amazing experience, then later going to his home in South Africa and helping him launch a huge campaign.”
“Being given a Lifetime Achievement Award at The Brits and Stevie Wonder flew in as a surprise to give us the award and play with us.”
“Playing alongside Springsteen in Miami Stadium.”
“Writing songs with Tom Petty and playing live with him. Basically I’ve been blessed and have spent my life writing songs with such talented people from Bryan Ferry to Bono, Bob Dylan, Stevie Nicks, No Doubt, Sinead O’Connor etc – it’s been non-stop.”
“Of course there’s also making 10 albums as Eurythmics as a duo with Annie and writing every one of those songs together.
“It’s impossible to describe that experience really.”
The Ringmaster General show:
“I have an amazing band for this tour made up of some of the world’s most outstanding players.
“From London I have Yolanda Charles on bass. She played bass for myself and Mick Jagger on our Golden Globe winning song Old Habits Die Hard – she also played for Eric Clapton, Paul Weller, Van Morrison and many others.
“On drums I’m bringing from Paris one of France’s greatest drummers, Nicolas Viccaro. From Ireland, on keyboards and accordion, I have a genius multi-instrumentalist Kieran Kiely who I first met years ago when I was producing Sinead O’Connor.
“On lap steel and pedal steel guitars I have Melvin Duffy, one of the world’s leading lap steel guitarists who has played with Robbie Williams, Tina Turner, The Bluetones and Gomez to name a few.
“I’m arriving to rehearse in the UK together with my violinist from USA, her name is Ann Marie Calhoun and she is the world’s greatest improvisational violinist. Ann has played with me for three years and in that time she has been flown all over the world to work with everyone from A.R Rahman (Slum Dog Millionaire) to The Foo Fighters.
“On backing vocals and some lead vocals I have an amazing singer, Vanessa Haynes, a solo artist who has worked with Van Morrison, Chaka Kahn and many others.”
“Well you can take the boy out of Sunderland but you can’t take Sunderland out of the boy.
“I have amazing memories and dreams about long summers and Seaburn, Cat and Dog Steps, playing football for five hours non-stop in Barnes Park or playing football in the street in Barnard Street, climbing over the fence at the back of Bede School and messing around there.
“People keep inviting me on Twitter to places I’ve never heard of, but I’ve always been the type of person to end up in someone’s aunty’s living room, so you never know what will happen when I come back to Sunderland.”