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Yusuf/Cat Stevens is still making the world a better place

If there were more people like Yusuf Islam, the world would be a better place.

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Image source: 
David Harris

At 69, Yusuf is looking remarkably fit and healthy. Giving up his vices and spending decades in religious observance will do that for you. There was a time when Yusuf didn’t want to indulge Cat Stevens, confused as he was about reconciling the sometimes wild-living pop star of the ‘60s, and the global folk sensation of the ‘70s, with his Islamic faith.
 
Now that fame and fortune is part of Yusuf’s journey. Tonight’s show is broken into two sets. The first, largely acoustic, features a prop of a train station in London’s West End. Yusuf walks on stage, picks up his acoustic guitar and moseys on into ‘Don’t Be Shy’. Such an insidiously attractive pop song, like all of his compositions: ‘Where Do the Children Play’, ‘Here Comes My Baby’, ‘The First Cut is the Deepest’, ‘I Love My Dog’.
 
Yusuf is calm, measured, humble – no wonder the US immigration authorities refused him entry to the US in the aftermath of September 11 – and his voice impeccable. Songs come with stories: the enveloping personal despair that led to ‘Blackness of the Night’, the transformation in the winds of ‘Miles from Nowhere’ and ‘The Wind’. Everybody knows the songs, so ‘Peace Train’ gets a blues spin, and ‘(Remember the Days of the) Old Schoolyard’ comes via Jamaica.
 
For the second set, the stage is decorated with a mock attic, an allegorical window into Yusuf’s evolution from Steven Giorgiou in post-war London kid to Cat Stevens, to Yusuf Islam. ‘Matthew and Son’ has lost none of its garage-pop effervescence, ‘Tea for the Tillerman’ is the ubiquitous folk soundtrack for generations. Yusuf talks of, and even plays, a record in tribute to his love of The Beatles; later in the set there’s even a cover of ‘Here Comes the Sun’. And still the hits keep coming: ‘Wild World’, ‘Moonshadow’, F’ather and Son’, and, to finish up the second set, ‘Peace Train’.
 
The crowd is on its feet, baying for an encore. Yusuf returns, smiling as always, and gives us two more songs: ‘If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out’ and the hymn-turned AM radio pop hit ‘Morning Has Broken’. If there were more people like Yusuf Islam, the world would be a better place.
 
Highlight: ‘Matthew and Son’.
Lowlight: Security.
Crowd Favourite: ‘Wild World’.