Rod Stewart in Abu Dhabi

We sit down with the rock ’n’ roll legend ahead of his Abu Dhabi gig

Rod Stewart. Wearer of leopard print leggings, owner of a personal football field and all-round rock icon. It’s not often – in fact, it’s downright rare – to meet someone who has had such an enduring career in the music industry. When we sit down to interview him, we hardly know where to begin. What do you ask a legend?

As it turns out, not much. Stewart is about as convivial as they come, and before long, our standard interview chat about whether he found it difficult to get back into songwriting after so many years (he didn’t), has evolved into a laughably British conversation about the commute between Dubai and Abu Dhabi and living in countries that are just far too sunny.

Chatting about the weather might not seem very rock ’n’ roll from a man whose 55-year career has spawned rumours far too scandalous to detail here – the most printable of which is chucking some TVs out of hotel room windows. But Stewart is every bit an affable, straight-talking chip off the old block as he is a massive ’70s superstar.

Stewart, for those unfamiliar, spent the better part of the ’60s and ’70s touring with different bands, from The Hoochie Coochie Men to Steampacket to Shotgun Express, interspersed with a solo career that took off in 1971, he says, with his single Maggie May, which shot to No.1 in five countries.

“I think history was being made back then,” he says of his time recording with bands such as The Jeff Beck Group and Faces down at Abbey Road Studios.

“The period with Faces was a wonderful time in my life, and for all of us, I think, in that band,” he muses. “It was a great breakthrough band.”

But the nostalgia we think we hear in his voice is short-lived (in fact, he insists, non-existent). Changing with the times is necessary, he says, and despite being part of one of the most iconic generations in music history, Stewart’s feet are firmly in 2017.

“I try to look ahead to the future,” he says. “I’m definitely one for going forward.”

The golden age, he says, is hardly over, and there’s no reason why the time for making music history isn’t right now.

“There’s some wonderful music being made now,” he says. “Just look at Adele… she’s a magnificent artist.”

Not to mention the changes to the industry as a whole. It goes without saying that everything from recording methods to the way we listen to and purchase music has been completely revolutionised in the past couple of decades.

“There’s a lot more available,” Stewart says. “[There are] different sounds now, with synthesizers and, for instance, I don’t record in a studio anymore. I record at home on a computer and create wonderful, mystical sounds. It’s changed so much. The last two albums I made sound nothing like Every Picture Tells a Story [Stewart’s third studio album, which he released in 1971]. You know, I think even my voice is better.”

And improve and move forward he most certainly has, throwing out casual collaborations with A$AP Rocky and jamming with James Corden on Carpool Karaoke. It might have been a while since he last donned those leggings, but he’s still no stranger to the odd pair of animal-print loafers and a jazzy blazer, and at times it’s hard to believe that we’re actually talking to a 72-year-old.

“I’m a flash Harry!” he proclaims, laughing. “A show-off! I was always a bit of a clothes horse before I was famous. I adore clothes. It’s an extension of your personality for me.”

He’s got a charming, carefree manner about him that’s almost impossible not to like. He’s confident, as you’d expect, but not overly so, admitting that the success of his 28th studio album Time is what gave him the courage to release Another Country, and making an offhand comment that he’d already proven himself as a songwriter, before pausing to re-consider and correcting himself.

“I don’t know what that means… let’s say I had some success as a songwriter.” At one point he even interrupts to ask – sounding authentically curious – whether we agree that his vocals have improved. We do (obviously, this is Rod Stewart we’re talking to) and he does seem genuinely chuffed with our response.

And his Abu Dhabi gig, he tells us, is going to be much like his personality – jazzy, energetic and with plenty of new hits as well as golden oldies. “There are 12 in the band; there’s six gorgeous women who all play fantastic instruments and sing and dance,” he says. “It’s going to be a lively, lively, two-hour show!”
We’d expect nothing less.
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