Al Stewart (born Alastair Ian Stewart, 5 September 1945) is a Scottish singer-songwriter and folk-rock musician.
Stewart came to stardom as part of the British folk revival in the 1960s and 1970s, and developed his own unique style of combining folk-rock songs with delicately woven tales of the great characters and events from history.
He is best known for his hit 1976 single "Year of the Cat", the title song from the platinum album Year of the Cat.
Stewart was a key figure in a fertile era in British music and he appears throughout the musical folklore of the age. He played at the first ever Glastonbury Festival in 1970, knew Yoko Ono before she met John Lennon of The Beatles, shared a London apartment with a young Paul Simon, and hosted at the legendary Les Cousins folk club in London in the 1960s.
Al Stewart in "Nine Drowned Churches"
Alistair was a Scottish born musician. He was raised in England, but was living in California, the United States after a reasonably successful career as a musician. While he was no longer rich, he was reasonably comfortable. His interest in history was reflected in his music; he'd written and recorded songs about a number of historical figures. After a wrong turn in Massachusetts took him to the town of Dunwich, he learned of the horror that came to the town over eighty years prior.
Intrigued and unnerved by the stories of the horror told to him by the people of Dunwich, he further researched the Dunwich horror, consulting a copy of the Necronomicon at Miskotonic University. He learned that Yog-Sothoth was responsible for the Dunwich Horror. He also learned of Cthulhu, a relative of Yog-Sothoth's.
Upon discovering all of this, Alistair also became interested in Dunwich, England, the namesake of the Massachusetts town. Through his research, he learned that it was more than a thousand years old, at one time housing the kings of East Anglia. St. Felix of Burgundy came to restore Christianity in the 7th century, even crowning Sigebert as king of East Anglia. He also learned of the legend that three holy crowns were buried along the coast to ward off invasion, and that one of these crowns is supposed to be Sigebert's.
Alistair learned that at one time, Dunwich boasted nine churches, but that storms, crumbling cliffs, and the sea have sent the churches into the North Sea in the last several centuries. However, Alistair discovered certain old books that hinted something less natural was responsible for drowning the churches. He also read the folklore that said that church bells can be heard tolling under the sea, an idea Alistair used in a song.
Alistair became convinced that Cthulhu was somehow responsible for the loss of the churches, although he had no idea why Cthulhu did this, or if he could even understand the reasons if he did know. Consumed by his theory, Alistair returned to the United Kingdom, and did further research at the British Museum. Using Southwold as a home base, he drove to Dunwich.
He first noticed as he approached Dunwich that the sunlight seemed both duller and more metallic, an effect he noticed in Massachusetts. His first stop was at a small museum. The owner gave Alistair a tour. During the tour, Alistair noticed a small crucifix allegedly from the time of St. Felix with strange markings. When he inquired about the markings, the owner suggested that they might be octopus tentacles to reference the fact that St. Felix came from the sea. The owner pointed out other exhibits had the tentacle motif.
At the end of the tour, Alistair thanked the owner, who introduced himself as Silas Bishop. As "Bishop" was a family name Alistair had found in Massachusetts, Alistair asked if there were any Whateleys in England (as there were in Massachusetts). Silas Bishop confirmed that there were, noting that Benedict Whateley was bishop of Dunwich in the fourteenth century when most of the town was sent into the sea by storms. Bishop directed Alistair to a restaurant called the Cliff House, owned by Sebastian Whateley, an indirect descendant of the bishop's.
Alistair followed Silas Bishop's advice and had a pleasant meal at the Cliff House. He met Sebastian Whateley, who bore certain physical resemblances to the Massachusetts Whateleys. Sebastian Whateley gave directions Alistair to the beach. Here, he hired a fisherman named Ralph Hoadley (Hoadley was another name Alistair found in Massachusetts) to take him out over the drowned churches. During the trip, Alistair inquired about the rumors that it wasn't just the storms that swept Dunwich into the sea, but Hoadley seemed reserved. When Alistair asked whether the name Great Cthulhu was known in Dunwich, Hoadley allowed that it was known, but seldom spoken. Hoadley also shared the story about the divers who explored the churches a few years prior. They'd laughed at the name Cthulhu. One of them, a woman, was killed when a large octopus pulled her face plate off. (Alistair knew of the ill-fated dive, but had not known the person killed was a woman, or the specific circumstances of her death.)
When they reached the right spot, Hoadley turned off the engine, and Alistair began looking into the sea. He could see the remains of churches. Suddenly, the sound of church bell tolling came from beneath the water. After an initial expression of shock, Hoadley calmly went to sleep, and despite numerous efforts, Alistair could not wake him up. He returned his attention to the water. He saw, emerging from the doorway of a fairly intact church building, the largest octopus Alistair had ever seen or imagined. They stared at each other for a time. Alistair thought he saw a glint of sardonic wisdom in the octopus's eyes. Moreover, Alistair thought he saw a crown atop the octopus's head before it retreated back out of sight.
Once the octopus vanished, Hoadley abruptly woke up (he didn't appear to know he'd been asleep), and took Alistair back to the shore. Alistair never shared what he'd seen with anyone. He slipped a few hints into some of his songs, but ultimately, no one followed up on these hints.
While Turtledove never explicitly states Alistair's full name, he provides enough clues to make it clear that he is Al Stewart, or at least a close enough analog as makes no difference. Stewart's full first name is spelled Alastair, but otherwise the thumb-nail sketch of the character's bio follows Stewart's.
- That is Not Dead, loc 3450, 3461, ebook.
- Ibid., loc 3484.
- Ibid., loc. 3496.
- Ibid., loc 3568.
- Ibid., loc. 3568.
- Ibid., pg. 3472.
- Ibid. loc., 3508-3520.
- Ibid., loc. 3520-3533.
- Ibid., loc. 3533.
- Ibid., loc. 3544-3557.
- Ibid., loc 3580.
- Ibid., loc 3593-3606.
- Ibid., 3606.
- Ibid., loc 3606-3618.
- Ibid., 3618-3630.