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Dave Stewart hosts homecoming album launch for Ebony McQueen at Sunderland's Pop Recs

He was a boy growing up in 1960s Sunderland with purple hair and a flair for fashion who went on to sell millions of records.

Monday, 30th May 2022, 1:23 pm

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After four decades in music and more than 100million record sales, Dave Stewart has produced his most ‘Mackem’ album to date – and he launched it with a special homecoming gig at Pop Recs.

Ebony McQueen is the latest creative project from the Eurythmics co-founder and is a triple album directly inspired by his formative years growing up in Barnard Street and later Ettrick Grove, from his time spent behind the desks at Barnes Junior School and Bede Grammar and his artistic awakening to painful memories of his mother leaving and its impact on his family.

Charting the highs and lows of his early years, the title of the album is the name of a fictional voodoo blues queen who sets Dave on a journey of discovery through the medium of music.

Dave Stewart hosted a special evening at Pop Recs

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Speaking to the Echo, Dave spoke about how he discovered his love of the art form at a time when Sunderland’s cultural landscape was lacking.

Like many young boys on Wearside, he grew up with dreams of playing for SAFC but a knee injury when he was 13 meant he could no longer play and, stuck in the house on his own, he found a new love: music.

As the years went on, Dave recalls how he would perform outside of West One clothing in Holmeside so they would give him clothes, the kind you couldn’t get anywhere else in the then town.

Always seeking self expression, he turned to music, art and fashion, explaining: “I felt so out of place in Sunderland and my mind was wandering about, so I died my hair purple somehow. Then Alan Hogg (who had a shoe shop in the town) has these purple suede boots. Imagine walking round Sunderland then with purple hair and purple boots, people said they were going to kill me.”

Dave Stewart performs a special homecoming gig at Pop Records, to launch his new album Ebony McQueen.

Extracts of Dave’s childhood flow through the project.

He recalls being a teenager in a squat near Burn Park in Thornhill living on McVities’ Jamaica Ginger Cake and black coffee.

"After my mum left my dad I don’t think dad knew how to look after a wayward boy while trying to keep a job down, and my brother was at college. So I moved out and slept on the floor of a painter called Eric Scott who became a friend for life. Through him I met Tony Scott and Ridley Scott (the famous film directors and brothers from South Shields).

"I stayed there and slept on the floor and played guitar while Eric painted. It had a very Bohemian feeling and was probably the only Bohemian feeling in Sunderland at that time.”

Dave Stewart performs a special homecoming gig at Pop Records, to launch his new album Ebony McQueen.

Dave, who now lives between America and the Caribbean, visited Sunderland in 2019, one of many trips back over the years, where his assistant shot a picture in front of his dad’s former home which is now the Ebony McQueen album cover. At the time he visited his old school, which set in motion a trip down memory lane which sparked the album.

Since then, the skyline has changed with new additions such as The Fire Station auditorium and the rebirth of old buildings such as Pop Recs and Holy Trinity Church and he said it’s great to see such a wave of change, much of which is led by culture.

More than just an album, Ebony McQueen also features artworks by local artist Kathryn Robertson who was specially commissioned to create pieces for the project and the album will also form a film for which Dave will return to the city to shoot. A stage musical is also in the pipeline.

“Kathryn was brilliant,” said Dave. “She just got it.”

Dave Stewart performs a special homecoming gig at Pop Records, to launch his new album Ebony McQueen.

Kathryn’s artworks, a mixture of psychedelia and gritty scenes of an industrial town, were on display at the album launch and gig, which was for invited guests, and Dave said Pop Recs culture hub, which has transformed derelict buildings at the bottom of High Street West, is another breath of fresh air in the city.

"I love Pop Recs,” he said. “The thing is, a lot of places lose their character of a building when they become a venue. It reminds me of CBGB in New York, where acts like Blondie and Talking Heads started. It’s contemporary but it’s kept its distressed feel. The people are great, the coffee is great, which is important, and that’s why I chose this place.”

Dave has enjoyed a long, colourful and eventful career in music.

As well as co-writing and producing each Eurythmics album in his world-famous duo with Annie Lennox, he has also produced albums and co-written songs with Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Tom Petty, Gwen Stefani, Damian Marley, Stevie Nicks, Bryan Ferry, A.R. Rahman, Katy Perry, Sinead O’Connor, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Joss Stone, and many others.

He is currently working with Joss on the recently-announced musical of The Time Traveller’s Wife, due to premiere later this year.

But, as well as working with household names, Dave is passionate about uncovering new talent, particularly from his home city and he’s previously worked with the likes of Sunderland’s The Lake Poets and Seaham-based Social Room.

Dave Stewart performs a special homecoming gig at Pop Records, to launch his new album Ebony McQueen.

At the Pop Recs gig, he performed with rising Sunderland talent Faye Fantarrow who he’s signed to his Bay Street Records label, creating a door of opportunity which was a little harder to open for the once wayward young boy with purple hair.

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One of the dozens of artworks created by Sunderland artist Kathryn Robertson for Ebony McQueen
Dave Stewart performs a special homecoming gig at Pop Records, to launch his new album Ebony McQueen.
Dave Stewart performs a special homecoming gig at Pop Records, to launch his new album Ebony McQueen.
Dave Stewart performs a special homecoming gig at Pop Records, to launch his new album Ebony McQueen.
Dave Stewart performs a special homecoming gig at Pop Records, to launch his new album Ebony McQueen.