Dave Stewart is The Man Who Knows Everybody. His social acquaintances include every rock star and film director of any consequence. He knows god-like figures on a personal-mate level. A few years ago, a journalist friend was visiting Stewart's Covent Garden studio; his eye chanced to fall on the studio fax machine, as it disgorged a new draft of a Leonard Cohen song, with a cover note from the great visionary asking, in effect, "Is this any better?". Stewart is the man about whom the famous Dylan-in-north-London story is told: Dylan got Stewart's address wrong, banged on a door in Crouch End and asked "Is Dave in?". The man who lived there was called Dave, so his wife brought Dylan into the sitting room, got him some tea and a Hobnob and told him to wait until Dave came back from walking the dog. And when Dave, a huge Dylan fan, pushed open the sitting-room door...
What's charming about Stewart, however, is that he does a fair impersonation of a man who can't quite believe his luck. He can, and does, name-drop Jagger and Coppola and a dozen rock-babe-actress-whatevers in the course of an hour, but he seems genuinely wide-eyed about being able to do so. A rock star himself ever since he and Annie Lennox released their Eurythmics dÃ©but "Sweet Dreams", he still sounds as if he can't believe he once had a joint with the lead singer of Mott the Hoople.
"Look at these," he says, handing over some monochrome photos of someone who looks like Joseph Fiennes with breasts. "It's Demi Moore. I was doing a shoot with her for the cover of Arena, and dressed her up as a guy. My girlfriend got the pictures developed at Happy Snaps. I wonder what the guy in the shop was thinking as they came through the machine." He'd been downstairs in the hotel, he said, when "I ran into Helmut Newton at reception. I hadn't seen him for a while. He said 'Oh, you've changed your hair', and got out this little camera and was twisting it this way and that. He's so obsessive." I know, Dave, I know.
Meeting him in the poshest suite at the Covent Garden Hotel, you soon discover that a Zen-like stillness, rather than a celebrity shriek, is his natural mode. For one thing, he has the quietest voice in the whole world. A Trappist monk who spent a year in a sound laboratory practising the nearest thing to absolute silence would still sound like a Brick Lane costermonger, compared to Dave. He's a devotee of Deepak Chopra, the New Age guru, and there's a stripped-down Orientalism about his demeanour. His tumbling platinum curls have been savagely shorn and dyed black. His shirt and pants are black, his Reeboks green. A silver necklace and silver bangle clank around his neck and wrist. Without the blonde locks and the shades, he looks amazingly ordinary, a specky techno-geezer of 47 with a wispy beard and hamster cheeks. Can this really be the friend, confidante and career consultant of rock's Olympians?
His newest incarnation is as a movie director. Honest, his first feature film opens later this month, and has already been the subject of much oafish chat in the tabloids, because of the casting of Mel Blatt, Nicole and Natalie Appleton - three-quarters of All Saints - as the three sisters who drive the plot and remove their upper garments. There's nothing Chekhovian about Gerry, Jo and Mandy who make a living by robbing nightclubs and gem warehouses, disguised - not terribly convincingly - as men. With a certain inevitability, they rob a Mr Big of the underworld (Corin Redgrave) and get into hot water... It's a Sixties-set caper movie, a love story, a gangster adventure - Lock, Stock and Three Smoking Bimbos. Co-scripted by Stewart with the veteran sitcom team of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, it is both farcically silly and strangely enjoyable.
"I wanted to make a movie that would get across how crazy it was for me, arriving in London at 16 in the middle of it all, when pop, art and music suddenly exploded into psychedelia and everybody was smoking joints and there was always somebody staring at the carpet," says Stewart. "I met all these great characters. One minute I'd be in a pub in Soho with these East End villains, and some dandy son of a lord saying to them 'dear chap, come round to the flat in Chelsea', and the next minute you're in a down-and-out basement squat with people who are dressed like they're going to Woodstock, and the next minute you're in a manor house...". His Midas touch for being wherever the action is seems to date from this period. "Yeah, it's strange. It's always happening. About three years ago I went to the Amazon and was there with like Paul Allen and Bill Gates from Microsoft - and me from Sunderland. It must be something to do with my, you know, impish personality."
As Stewart talks, in his confiding, two-decibel murmur, he gradually slides off his chair until he is sitting on the carpet across the table from me, pouring tea like a geisha. For a man who has sold 40 million records, he is disconcertingly free of egomania. And his go-for-it commitment to getting weirded out is attractive too. One reason he came to London in 1968 was to escape his then-depressing home town of Sunderland. It lacked any connection with the Sixties scene. "There was a little group of us," he remembers fondly. "One would have a Cream LP, like Disraeli Gears, one would have a quid deal of Pakistani black, with not enough to get one person stoned... It was like being in the Resistance. There was a lot of unemployed people about because the shipyards had closed down, and the last thing they wanted was a hippie revolution. They couldn't get a job, and these people were coming up and saying 'Make love not war'. They'd go, 'Sod you'," - and the mild-mannered ex-Eurythmic delivers a savage rabbit-punch to the air around his saintly head.
Stewart dropped out of school after his parents split up when he was 12. He started playing guitar "and I knew that it was the key to my getting out". His mother moved to London with a Zen Buddhist boyfriend, became a mature student and began listening to Dylan. His brother John used to bring home recordings of the Mississippi delta blues masters. Really, there was nothing for it but to become a rock star. Stewart took to the groove like a duck to l'orange. "The minute I heard about psychedelia and saw some things on the telly, I started growing me hair as fast as I could. I got my brother's Levi jacket, cut the sleeves off and painted a mandala on the back, I carried round an acoustic guitar and painted it." Stewart beams at this attractive vision of his younger self.
His career began in a four-piece band called Longdancer, took off in the punk days with the Tourists, whose hit single "So Good to be Back Home Again" was sung by an equinely sexy Scot called Annie Lennox, whom Stewart had met in a cafÃ©. Their stormy love affair and long collaboration as the Eurythmics brought out the best in Stewart, as songwriter, arranger, producer and guitarist. But after 1993 he built a reputation as the most trustworthy of record producers - along with Jagger and Dylan, he worked for Paul McCartney, Bryan Ferry, Elastica and Portishead. His talents shifted sideways into pop videos, photography and film soundtracks.
After Honest is given a good kicking by the critics, Stewart will sail blithely on with other projects. His biggest new baby is the Hospital, a "multi-arts facility" full of film and recording studios, and lecture theatres where, Stewart hopes, visiting luminaries will talk about their work to amazed audiences. "Scorsese will come over, he'll be launching his new movie, film students can come to a Q&A lecture, that'll be put on our on-line film script, we'll have a season of his films showing, and a massive still from GoodFellas to say Scorsese's in town. And the next week it might be be Lou Reed."
So he goes on, the charming, murmurous Mr Stewart, stroking the Olympians of the world's screen and recording studios, offering them advice and friendship, getting them all into the same room, like when he was part of the Resistance movement in Sunderland. "For some reason," he says inscrutably, "when I get involved in a situation, something starts to happen. The clever trick over the years is to know why."
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