Geoff Stephens established himself as a songwriter in the early 1960s, writing hits such as The Crying Game (a Top 5 hit in 1964 for Dave Berry) and Winchester Cathedral (a hit two years later for the New Vaudeville Band). Stephens had originally recorded Winchester Cathedral with a group of session musicians but once the single had become a Top 5 hit on both sides of the Atlantic he found himself having to put together a band.
Although the New Vaudeville Band didn't last long, Stephens continued to have success, writing hits for Manfred Mann (Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James), Herman's Hermits (There's A Kind Of Hush), The Hollies (Sorry Suzanne) and Scott Walker (Lights Of Cincinnati).
Stephens' success continued in the 1970s. He co-wrote the UK entry for the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest, Knock Knock, Who's There? The song, which was performed by Mary Hopkin, came second to the Irish entry, All Kinds Of Everything by Dana, for whom Stephens would go on to write the Christmas hit It's Gonna Be A Cold, Cold Christmas (1975). Other '70s hits of his included The Drifters' Like Sister And Brother (1973), Cliff Richard's Goodbye Sam, Hello Samantha (1970) and Doctor's Orders by Sunny (1974).
During the '70s Geoff Stephens also co-wrote two of the New Seekers' biggest hits, both of which featured Lyn Paul on lead vocal. The first, You Won't Find Another Fool Like Me, won the 1974 Ivor Novello Award for 'Best Pop Song', having topped the UK singles chart in January that year; the second, I Get A Little Sentimental Over You, made it to number 5 in the UK two months later. Both songs appeared on the New Seekers' album Together.
In an interview with Mike Tingle posted on YouTube in 2014, Geoff Stephens talked about the importance of song titles: "They were the seed from which you could grow a song." He described how he often came upon his best song titles by chance. In the case of You Won't Find Another Fool Like Me, it was a remark made by his secretary Roxanne: "She had an office downstairs in her house. One day I went down to start work with her and I found the poor girl in tears. I said: 'Roxanne, why are you so upset? Why are you crying like this?' And she replied, between great sobs: 'It's Darian, he's so mean. He's so unkind to me. I love him so much but I told him, I told him: you won't find another fool like me.' And the moment she said that, I knew there was a hit song brewing... Later on, of course, when the song went to number 1, she was delighted that she'd had a hand in inspiring it. By then the cruel-hearted Darian was long forgotten."
In the second half of the '70s Geoff Stephens collaborated with lyricist Don Black. Together they co-wrote Lyn Paul's 1977 Song For Europe entry If Everybody Loved The Same As You, as well as a musical Dear Anyone.... A studio cast recording of Dear Anyone... was released in 1978. One of the songs, Sleeping Like A Baby Now, featured former New Seeker Peter Oliver; another, I'll Put You Together Again, featuring Maggie Moone, was covered by Hot Chocolate. Released as a single towards the end of 1978, the song became the band's 13th Top 20 hit, peaking - appropriately enough - at no. 13 in January 1979.
Dear Anyone... didn't make it onto the stage until 1983. Following the release of the album, Don Black and Geoff Stephens travelled to the USA in search of writers who could expand their idea into a stage musical - but without success. After losing momentum the project came to fruition with a book by the English writer Jack Rosenthal, who had written 129 early episodes of Coronation Street (1961-69) and whose many television plays included Bar Mitzvah Boy (1976) and Spend, Spend, Spend (1977).
The plot of Dear Anyone... revolves around the life of Mercedes Taylor, a journalist who gets the job as agony aunt Pandora on the Daily Globe. The moral of the story is, as journalist James Fenton put it: "be nicer to your boyfriend, keep your sex life in tip-top shape and don't get too involved in your work" (The Sunday Times, Sunday, 13th November 1983, page 38).
The world premiere of Dear Anyone... was held at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in September 1983, followed by a transfer to the Cambridge Theatre in London's West End on 8th November. Jane Lapotaire played Pandora, with Peter Blake as her boyfriend Danny and Stubby Kaye as Harry the mailman. The reviews were mixed. Irving Wardle of The Times noted that "Geoff Stephens' score explodes with the lithe pugnacity of a Bernstein", but he concluded that "the show is badly dislocated, and comes over as a knowing imitation of America, rather than America itself" (The Times, Wednesday, 9th November 1983, page 11). Michael Coveney, writing in the Financial Times, was scathing: "Mr. Rosenthal's book occasionally raises the evening on some sprightly, Jewish-based gag-spinning, but the overriding impression is of grinding mediocrity coming at you through clenched teeth" (Financial Times, Thursday, 10th November 1983, page 17). The show closed after a run of only 9 weeks but Don Black and Geoff Stephens both cherished the idea of a revival.
On 24th December 2020 Geoff Stephens died from pneumonia, aged 86, having previously tested positive and recovered from COVID-19.
Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam)
Cat Stevens (born Steven Georgiou) began his pop career in 1966, recording for the newly-established Deram label. His first single, the self-penned I Love My Dog, reached number 28 in the UK. It was followed by two Top 10 hits, Matthew and Son (which reached number 2 in February 1967) and I'm Gonna Get Me A Gun (number 6 in April the same year).
After contracting tuberculosis in 1968 Stevens was forced to take time off. He resumed his career in 1970, recording Mona Bone Jakon for Island Records. The album (the first of nine) included the hit Lady d'Arbanville, which reached number 8 in the UK
In 1971 Cat Stevens made his breakthrough in the USA. Wild World (from the album Tea For The Tillerman) climbed to number 11 in the singles chart and began a run of hits that lasted until 1979 and included four Top 10 entries (Peace Train, Morning Has Broken, Oh Very Young and Another Saturday Night).
Cat Steven's last album for Island was Back To Earth (1978). After this he converted to Islam, changed his name to Yusuf Islam and put an end to his recording career.
From the outset Cat Stevens' songs were popular with other recording artists. The Tremeloes had a Top 5 hit in February 1967 with Here Comes My Baby, followed a few months later by P.P. Arnold, who had a Top 20 hit with her version of The First Cut Is The Deepest.
In the '70s his songs were covered by artists such as Jimmy Cliff (Wild World), Linda Lewis (Remember The Days Of The Old School Yard), Rod Stewart (First Cut Is The Deepest) and the New Seekers (Changes IV). The New Seekers also recorded Morning Has Broken, which although not written by Cat Stevens, was closely associated with him.
Changes IV appeared on Cat Stevens' 1971 album Teaser & the Firecat and on the New Seekers' album We'd Like To Teach The World To Sing. Morning Has Broken (another track from Teaser & the Firecat) was a hit single for Cat Stevens in January 1972. The New Seekers included the song on their album Circles. It has also been recorded by (among many others) Judy Collins, Art Garfunkel, Nana Mouskouri, Kenny Rogers and Roger Whittaker.
Cat Stevens continued to be covered in the 1980s, '90s and '00s. The 1980s brought cover versions of Peace Train by 10,000 Maniacs and Wild World by Maxi Priest. '90s covers included Father and Son by Boyzone (the songwriting royalties from which were donated to charity) and Peace Train by Dolly Parton. In 2003 Sheryl Crow recorded The First Cut Is The Deepest.
One of James Taylor's songs, Something In The Way She Moves, was included on the New Seekers' 1971 album New Colours. With Eve Graham singing the lead vocal, the song was re-titled Something In The Way He Moves. Taylor's version appeared on his début album James Taylor, which was released at the end of 1968.
Taylor's second album, Sweet Baby James, included the song Fire and Rain, which was inspired by the suicide of a fellow patient in a mental institution. "The first verse ['Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone ...'] was a reaction to a friend of mine killing herself" he told Rolling Stone magazine in 1971. "The second verse of it [Won't you look down upon me Jesus. You got to help me make a stand ...'] is about my kicking junk before I left England. And the third verse of it ['Been walking my mind to an easy time, my back turned towards the sun ...''] is about my going into a hospital in western Massachusetts" (quoted from Fire & Rain: The James Taylor Story by Ian Halperin, page 107). Fire and Rain was released as a single and was a Top 3 hit for Taylor in the USA in 1970 (it only reached number 42 in the UK singles chart).
The second verse of Fire and Rain was used as part a medley on the New Seekers' 1974 album Together. The medley also includes George Harrison's My Sweet Lord and Day By Day (from Godspell). In contrast to Taylor's version, delivered in his characteristic understated style, the New Seekers' version is more dramatic, with Peter Oliver singing the lyrics as an impassioned plea to Jesus to "see me through another day."