Yusuf Islam


The O2 Dublin

YUSUF, the man who was once known as Cat Stevens, has a brilliant backstory: a groovy pop star about London town in the mid-1960s, Stevens (his birth name is Stephen Dimitri Georgiou) contracted tuberculosis in 1968, and experienced something close to a spiritual epiphany. Within a year, he had transformed himself into a bearded bedsit singer-songwriter, whose 1970s albums Mona Bone Jakon, Tea for the Tillerman, Teaser and the Firecat, and Catch Bull at Fourset the template for generations of sensitive types to express their innermost thoughts and turmoil. And now? Well, Yusuf (he converted to Islam and changed his name in the late 1970s) has “let the music take him where his heart wants to go”. And if this means highly disgruntled sections of an almost sold-out show voicing their displeasure at a lengthy segment of professional musical theatre, then so be it.

The first section of the show was loyal-fandom heaven – some new songs astutely interspersed with old. Then it was interval time, with, Yusuf assured us, big surprises in store. The second half was then taken up with the stage debut of Yusuf’s new work, Moonshadow: The Musical, where stage actors and singers performed several of the former Cat Stevens’s best-known songs (including Matthew & Son, Father and Son, Wild World).

This work was cut short, however, when angry sections of the audience walked out, shouted out, booed, whistled, slow-handclapped. In fairness to these people, paying money to hear formatted Broadway/West End versions of their hero’s songs was not what they paid good money for. In fairness to Yusuf, he stepped in (albeit not quickly enough, perhaps) and reverted back to a normal show.

“Now I know how Dylan felt like,” he said, in reference to Dylan’s liberating/estranging folk-to-rock appearance in 1965 at the Newport Folk Festival, as the remaining audience took refuge from bewilderment and hostility in songs such as Peace Train, Moonshadowand a Ronan Keating-accompanied Father and Son.

But it was too late. It’s an interesting point of conjecture: how patient a supposedly loyal audience will be when faced with – as 61-year-old Yusuf himself admitted – an artist who has reached an age where he feels he wants to please himself. The answer is not very patient at all.