Maybe it’s his self-confessed love of West Side Story – or Natalie Wood in particular – but the artist formerly (and by some enthusiastic hecklers, currently) known as Cat Stevens has chosen to frame his latest simple show of songs and scripted stories with a relatively theatrical stage set mock-up of his adolescent home in London, the idea being that we are invited into his intimate space where references to his cultural influences abound.
Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow ****
There is a natural front porch feel to his searching but ultimately optimistic and defiantly humanitarian songs anyway, but it was charming to hear how his hermetic world above his parents’ cafe was breached by The Beatles – there was a round of applause for simply sticking Twist & Shout on his turntable. This quiet and thoughtful show traced his roots, early success, late-60s slump, conversion to Islam, decision to retire from pop music and to return a couple of decades later, with quirky biographical revelations including Father & Son’s roots in an abandoned musical about the Russian Revolution and his equal love for Van Gogh and Walt Disney, the latter demonstrated with a quote from Zootopia.
However, it was the songs which spoke most eloquently to his life and work, from the simple, yearning Where Do The Children Play? to the enduring classic First Cut Is the Deepest.
A couple of side players subtly beefed up the sound and layered on harmony, creating a mellow bluegrass take on Love Me Do and a “funky version” of I Love My Dog which neutralized some of the tweeness.
Whether revisiting his biggest hits or serving up some connoisseur selections from throughout his extensive back catalogue, there was a clarity of expression and a timelessness to his tunes and sentiments. The simple, affecting If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out is a celebration of diversity and a plea for tolerance, and it would be hard to argue with the sentiments of Peace Train or the more recent Maybe There’s a World even at the best of times.
As the two-hour set drew to a close, with some of his best loved hits still to be played, the heckled requests came in earnest.
But Yusuf opted instead to shine the focus elsewhere, with a cover of Sam Cooke’s Another Saturday Night and a dedication to the recently departed Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell, company in which he surely deserves to be considered.