Several songs in this beautifully played concert by Yusuf/Cat Stevens were greeted with cries of joy. Father and Son, Wild World and Miles from Nowhere were embraced like childhood friends. Someone near me kept calling out “You’re a legend!”. Stevens is a man who years ago presented us with memorable music and words, and clearly those gifts stayed with his audience through their lives. There is simply something deeply emotional about seeing and hearing the man responsible for that music standing in front of you and performing it. This was a night which illustrated what a powerful emotional force music can be.
It was made all the more powerful with a talented band of multi-instrumentalists who felt the groove of Stevens’ music and played it with as much skill and touch as the man who created the music. Stevens often turned to acknowledge his band mates, and with good reason. His “attic ” set was tasteful, and often decorated with video images of his own artwork. And, unlike Stevie Nicks a few weeks earlier, while he did chat between songs about his career, he did so briefly and self deprecatingly, the intention clearly being to introduce the next song. So we heard about him growing up above his parents’ London cafe, about getting his first guitar, playing with Jimi Hendrix, and finding himself challenged by the material world.
There was no preaching. He famously converted to Islam, but that religion was never mentioned. He merely said if you wanted to know more about a 27 year period in his life you could read his biography.
This was certainly a collection of greatest hits but within it he played some material probably not so well known. I hadn’t heard Big Boss Man before, but his voice fitted around its blues structure with ease. There was a new song from his latest album. And he showed us that his signature folk attuned voice could handle other musical styles with aplomb. His soulful cover of People Get Ready was a case in point. He also reminded us that some of his best songs were made into hits by others, and then played The First Cut Is The Deepest, to show us how good his version was.
Perhaps his earnestness and desire to do good work got the better of him when he compared his own internal battles with the struggle of refugees, in introducing the song Blackness of the Night. But we can forgive him that. You couldn’t doubt he was genuine, and as we saw in a huge poster which was highlighted after he left the stage, he was raising funds for Rohingya refugees in Burma. And when he played his first set closer, Peace Train, you thought hey, he has been consistent with his message all his life. Plus the song got everyone on their feet.
But sometimes a whole concert can be about just one song. So forgive the indulgence, but there was a song here, rapturously greeted by the audience, which reduced me to tears. It was Where Do The Children Play. When I started to learn a few guitar chords in my teenage years, this was the first song I learnt to play. I sang it a few times here and there over the years. I had not expected to react the way I did, but to hear him sing it took me back to my early life and to the wide open hopes one feels in those years. So my heart swelled and the tears flowed. In a good way. So for that, thank you Yusuf/Cat Stevens.
Thanks to David Watson for photography!