Stevie Winwood was a household name when I was in my formative teen years, and a pioneer among many others of the time. But it was arguably Winwood’s innate talent, coupled with his shunning the limelight wherever possible, that made him something of a mystery and a contradiction in terms.
And as this excellent documentary on BBC4 last night showed, Stevie was/is arguably only ever really happy when immersed in the English countryside. Not very rock ‘n roll eh? Yet he’s the embodiment of the words through his writing and multi-instrumentalism.
Filmmaker Paul Bernay took us by the hand and led us back to the formation of seminal band, the Spencer Davis group in the ‘60s, through Traffic and Blind Faith, and back again, and all the while, Steve wrote prodigiously and seemed always to be longing for his cottage in the middle of nowhere.
Contributions to last night’s film came from some of the biggest names in music, including Eric Clapton, Paul Weller, Bob Weir and many others, but for me, the best part was the archive footage.
Not that it wasn’t fascinating to hear the behind-the-scenes narrative, but as the best music does, the footage evoked wonderful memories. I could almost smell the grass, of both kinds, again.
And apropos of which, we heard a good deal of testimony about the role drugs played in the lives of musicians of the time. But of course, the propensity to ‘experiment’ caused the deaths of many of Winwood’s peers, and for those who weren’t killed by drugs – such as Steve himself – the legacy of long-term use is evident now in a verbal hesitancy and shaky demeanour.
Two of the members of Traffic have of course died – Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi – and one touching segment of the film showed Stevie revisiting the cottage where the band lived commune-like lives. As he looked at photographs and mementos from the time, he became a little teary, as did I.
Stevie now lives in Gloucestershire – in what he described as “semi retirement” – and plays organ in his local church; a far cry indeed from the drug fuelled, hazy halcyon days of his youth, but surely infinitely better for the soul.
And he’s never stopped seeking the exact blend of rock, jazz and soul that he clearly feels still eludes him.
A fascinating film which, if you missed, you can catch here, on BBC’s iPlayer.