Concert Review: Yusuf Islam / Cat Stevens

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By Shane Jones

Artist: Yusuf Islam / Cat Stevens

Date / Venue: Tuesday December 19th, 2017 - Horncastle Arena, Auckland

The year is 2010, July 2nd to be precise, and who should be playing at Christchurch’s Al’s Bar?The one and only Mr Paul Diano, the former original lead singer of Iron Maiden. So I indulged on the former Maiden’s singers show, knowing only a few miles down the road The Peace Train, was chugging along at the Westpac Arena, with Yusuf Islam (formally known as Cat Stevens) at the controls, of his first only tour to New Zealand.

7 years, 5 months and 17 days later, he returns again to bring the Choo Choo back down the same tracks to the Station, formally named Westpac Arena, now called Horncastle Arena.

Like all trains they can run late, but its no wonder as this station is a full capacity of around 8,500 fans, waiting for them to grab their merch, drinks, something to eat, and stub out that ciggy, as this is one big non smoking carriage inside. The final whistle blasted and the trains on its way.

A thunderous roar of cheering, clapping, whistling from the audience, Yusuf appears on the platform and delivers “If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out” followed by “Don’t Be Shy”. After his welcome to the Christchurch audience, he then started re-taking ownership of his song “First Cut Is The Deepest”, and said he wrote it alot earlier than Rod Stewart (by 9 years), followed by “People Get Ready” a song he paid tribute to its owner Curtis Mayfield.

He would play a song, have a chat, play a song have a chat, throughout his musical biography, telling his stories from go to woe.

Introducing his very first single “I Love My Dog” then he said, “Lets go to my attic”, and a huge backdrop curtain would fall to the stage floor and we would be greeted with a replica attic from above his parents cafe shop in his birthplace of London.

He heads over to a big red armchair and picks up an LP, dusts it off puts it on to the turntable and jokes on how to use it…. an except of “Twist And Shout”, by The Beatles now starts playing before he jumps into singing “From Me To You”, paying homage to The Beatles on giving so many inspirations back in the day to musicians around the UK etc.

With continuing on his musical trip down memory lane, he then starts telling more stories of how he was bought up musically from his producers on what they wanted from him, but he had other plans.

Yusuf would be doing 3 shows a night, smoking, drinking, and touring with Jimi Hendrix, until he caught TB and was hospitalised, then his inner journey began with writing “Road to Findout” to which he sang for us, then walked off stage while his band carried on playing the instrumental part out, breaking into a 20min Interval.

Yusuf and band return to the stage, he has had a clothing change during the break and the first song off is “Remember The Days Of The Old Schoolyard” in a more upbeat reggae style sound, which yes I’m only 47, but its not how I remembered it, (as I preferred his original).

Now I also know he plays piano, so he files his Gibson guitar into its stand, sits down at the piano and “Sad Lisa” sounds out from the ivories.

Alun Davies arrives on stage with his guitar, Yusuf introduces him to everyone, hes a veteran of 47 years himself with Yusuf and they both get straight into songs “Miles From Nowhere”, “Where Do The Children Play” and “Wild World”, where he then introduces the rest of the band members of Eric Appapoulay on guitars, Glen Scott on Bass and Keys, and Kwame Yeboah on Drums, Percussion, Keys and Bass, before heading into “Moonshadow” a huge crowd favourite.

Yusuf dedicates “Ruins” to Christchurch, from what we have endured in the past and how we have come through it.

With more personal chat, on how close he became to not being here after being caught in a rip of the Malibu shores, dragging him out further out to sea, he bought God into his life and that’s where “Here Comes The Sun” comes from, and of course “Father and Son” more huge crowd favourites, with plenty of singing in full voice to cheering, clapping and whistling.

The message in the song “See What Love Did To Me”, finally broke him he then put his guitar down for quite a number of years, until one day his son bought his guitar back to his house and the CHOO CHOO had finally arrived with “Peace Train”. By now the crowd was in full voice not to mention other songs along this nostalgic musical journey tonight, but no-one was left sitting in there seats and to a huge standing ovation, he and his talented band walked off stage again, to return a few moments later to do the final encore of 3 songs “Can’t Keep It In”, “Tuesdays Dead” (seeing today is Tuesday) and “Morning Has Broken”, which had then brought out the torches on peoples cell phones as it had been up to then, a respectful audience of his wishes of no cellphones during the show, being waved slowly from side to side before walking off stage for the final Southern Hemisphere leg of his tour from playing venues throughout South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. He spoke…… “Peace be with you all, God Bless.

Well this Peace Train certainly delivered the goods from old to new to old again in the classics we all have grown up with, with a total of 32 songs over a 2 hour session, was pure delightfulness, which showed that the 69 year old has still got the goods.  I’m rating this one with a Peace sign followed but a exceptional 11 out of 10 performance, and I’m very grateful that he has come back to sing for us one more time, seeing I had missed him 7 years beforehand, CHOO CHOO…….