To get the constant confusion out of the way right off the bat, Dave Stewart the keyboardist/vocalist is not David A. Stewart, guitarist for the Eurythmics. This Dave Stewart is a legend in British progressive music circles, first as keyboardist for Egg, Hatfield and the North, and National Health, and then as half of a collaboration with his wife, Barbara Gaskin, which had surprising British chart success during the '80s synth pop era.
Dave Stewart was born in the Waterloo section of London on December 30, 1950. Something of a child prodigy on piano, he switched to electric guitar as a teenager, that being the instrument of choice in mid-'60s swinging London. He played guitar in his first local band, the Southsiders. But by 1967, when he formed the trio Uriel with his school friends Steve Hillage on guitar, Clive Brooks on drums, and Mont Campbell on bass and vocals, Stewart switched permanently back to keyboards. When Hillage left the group to attend university, the remaining trio changed their name to the suitably inscrutable Egg and signed with Decca's progressive subsidiary Deram in 1970. The trio recorded two albums for Deram, 1970's Egg and 1971's The Polite Force. Interestingly, an old session from the group's Uriel days with Hillage was released in 1970 under the name Arzachel, with false names and bios to avoid contractual difficulties with Decca; it's an album that now commands huge prices on the U.K. psychedelia market. (A third Egg album, The Civil Surface, was recorded for Virgin during a temporary reunion in 1974.) During his time in Egg, Stewart began to compose longer and more complex pieces of music; along with Chris Cutler, Stewart formed a large ensemble called the Ottawa Company to showcase these. He also formed a sort of progressive rock supergroup, Hatfield and the North, with drummer Pip Pyle (Gong), guitarist Phil Miller (Matching Mole), and bassist Richard Sinclair (Caravan). Hatfield's whimsical, jazzy pieces often featured the vocals of three Canterbury-based singers, Amanda Parsons, Ann Rosenthal, and Stewart's girlfriend Barbara Gaskin, who were dubbed the Northettes. When Hatfield and the North broke up after two albums, 1973's Hatfield and the North and 1975's The Rotter's Club, Gaskin and Parsons joined Stewart's more challenging new project, National Health, for two albums, 1977's National Health and 1978's Of Queues and Cures.
After National Health's 1979 split, Stewart spent two years playing keyboards for ex-King Crimson drummer Bill Bruford, but increasingly disenchanted with the progressive scene and inspired by the DIY aesthetic of the post-punk era, Stewart decided to return to the sort of pop music that had originally inspired him. In 1981, he released a solo single of Jimmy Ruffin's "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?" with ex-Zombies singer Colin Blunstone on lead vocals on his own Broken Records imprint. For the follow-up, Stewart and Gaskin re-teamed for an ironic but respectful version of Lesley Gore's girl group classic "It's My Party" that, surprisingly, made it all the way to number one in the U.K. charts. A full-length album provisionally entitled Disappear was recorded in early 1982, but rather than release it as a full album, Stewart and Gaskin released the songs two at a time on singles for the next three years. A compilation of these singles and some tracks from the abortive Disappear sessions, Up From the Dark, was released on Rykodisc in 1986. For completists, the Japanese label Midi Records released two albums, Broken Records: The Singles and As Far As Dreams Can Go, in 1987, collecting all of the previously recorded material. The Big Idea, a full album of all-new material, was released in 1989, followed by Spin in late 1991.
Dave Stewart has written two instructional books, The Musician's Guide to Reading and Writing Music and Inside the Music. In 1984, Stewart and Gaskin recorded a comedy album with Nigel Planer of the British sitcom The Young Ones, Neil's Heavy Concept Album, which featured an enormous U.K. hit single, a spaced-out cover of Traffic's "Hole In My Shoe." ~ Stewart Mason