Father & Son: A Duet 50 Years In The Making

Father & Son: A Duet 50 Years In The Making

‘Father & Son’ is the latest release from Tea For The Tillerman2. The song is probably the most archetypal and beloved from the original 1970’s album, examining a theme which has invaded the emotional gaps in the lives of so many generations worldwide. 

Yusuf / Cat Stevens’ 50th anniversary re-imagining of his classic album presents a brand new version of the song and has Yusuf now singing the role of the father brought together digitally with a recording of his 1970s self singing as the son – taken from a recording at the legendary Troubadour Club, Los Angeles. The effect of the two generations of one man duetting is deeply moving and gives a whole new level of meaning to this most profound song. 

Another stunning stop-frame animated video from Chris Hopewell accompanies the release of ‘Father & Son’ – following the massively successful video for ‘Where Do The Children Play’ which uniquely visualised the ecological tsunami sweeping across the world today. The result is another moving piece of cinematic art which admirers of Yusuf / Cat Stevens’ music will undoubtedly relish. Once gain, one of his quintessential songs has been enchantingly envisioned for a new age.

Look at me, I am old but I’m happy

At the age of 21, inspired by living in the West End, Cat set out to write a musical. It was to be about the Russian revolution and he’d come up with the title ‘Revolussia’. A script was produced but when Cat’s soon to be label boss, Chris Blackwell of Island Records, heard the musical’s anthemic centrepiece he instantly knew it to be a hit. ‘Father & Son’ was featured on what would become Tea For The Tillerman. The album was a runaway success and the song was one of the reasons for that.

Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go
Away, I know, I have to go

Though written 50 years ago, ‘Father & Son’ very much captures the unending intergenerational tensions which expose the fractures within many families and cultures. One of the reasons for its timeless relevance is its deft and non-judgemental handling of this passionate subject which cuts the blood-bond between parents and offspring. 

Youthful rebellion is hard to quell, especially when it it is challenged and confronted by the pattern of conformity and pacificity which oftentimes settles in the heart with age. The drive for younger generations to free themselves from the expectations and constraints of their forebears is fuelled by a virulent desire and yearning for adventure. It is certainly a song for all ages.

It’s always been the same, same old story

Contemporary society is attacking the traditional family structure in a myriad of ways. One of which is that economic forces are making it very challenging for young men to step into the paternal roles occupied by their fathers and grandfathers. They are certainly finding it harder to be the bread-winners and protectors of their families. At the same time, even the very notion of paternity is a target for those who see it as an expression of ‘toxic masculinity’. The answer being given to these young men seems to be ‘adapt or die’ – said metaphorically but tragically this may tie into the fact that the world is experiencing an all too silent crisis of male suicide. To wish to provide for your partner and children cannot be considered a glitch to be written out of the code. Children benefit from family units that deliver both strong maternal and paternal influences and there are untold numbers of adults those who benefit from becoming parents. In ‘Father & Son’ we see that the paternal role acts to impart wisdom and guidance but also as a point of authority to push against. It is, in fact, ambiguous who is actually in the right in the song and this is part of its brilliance, it sews together the tension of differing perspectives. Ultimately the child must find their own path through life but the parent can use experience to shepherd them along the way. Maybe their youthful inexperience is a fault. All too often though, young ears hear this being said as an attempt to blame them.

It’s not time to make a change
Just relax, take it easy
You’re still young, that’s your fault
There’s so much you have to know

Good communication in family units has some new and unfamiliar challenges. Technology is competing for the attention of parents and children alike as they are preyed upon by phones, tablets, computers and consoles. This new influence has invaded the home and is wreaking all sorts of havoc – as anyone who has tried to take a phone away from an unwilling child will attest to. Furthermore, and as was emphasised during lockdown, parents are increasingly relying on electronic devices to keep children occupied and pacified in the home. Children are subject to the uncensored influence of the internet and for a parent to keep up with, explain and regulate the experience is an immense undertaking. There’s certainly a key place for technology as a tool and educational guide. However, good communication within the family is vital and if used irresponsibly, technology can be a real menace.

How can I try to explain, when I do he turns away again?

Of course, in time the child may grow to become a parent and the parent has always been the child. Models of compassion and discipline are established and carried across generations, being refined and adapted along the way. A child may end up caring for their parents at some stage, perhaps in later life, and the roles get inverted. It is a complex exchange based on the deepest of bonds. In the best of circumstances we aspire to act with fairness and love but even then, it’s not always received that way. This primary connection between child and parent has untold power in shaping us and is an inescapable factor of life itself, we should cherish it dearly.

Take your time, think a lot
Why, think of everything you’ve got

Yusuf is at a stage in life where he has been both son and father – not to mention a very proud grandfather too. In the duet with his younger self on the new version of the song he brings a knowing nuance to his performance. He also acknowledges the porosity of adhering too ardently to labels, saying recently that he has always identified more with the son’s role and there’s a glint of that youthful revolutionary spirit in his singing even now. And of course, there are many more kinds of fathers and sons than just by birth and it could equally be mothers and daughters or any combination thereof. Globally, with some key socio-political issues diving us, the conditions feel worryingly conducive to fostering revolution. Restraint, composure and love, as one would ideally carry into any such relationship, is needed. 

I was once like you are now
And I know that it’s not easy
To be calm when you’ve found
Something going on 

‘Father & Son’ tells an age old story with the characteristic Yusuf / Cat Stevens imaginative flair. It will live on and continue to be interpreted by many artists because it resonates on such a fundamental level. Yusuf’s own father, Stavros Georgiou Adams, passed away in 1978 and as well as having four daughters Yusuf also has a son, Yoriyos. The new release of the song, along with its gorgeous video, feels like a fitting tribute to them as well as to the original recording which it seeks to compliment. Both the original and T4TT2 versions capture nuanced insights into the emotions of the struggle between parent and child and the unity that they form. The song is an anthem to parents and families. It’s also a call to freedom tempered with a plea to be more considerate of others, particularly the family.  

Stream Father & Son: https://catstevens.lnk.to/FatherandSon
Pre-order Tea for the Tillerman² here: https://CatStevens.lnk.to/TFTT2
Learn about the good things to come: peacetrain.org