Yusuf/Cat Stevens, Hammersmith Apollo, review: Cat’s folk-rock classics restore the faith

'Moonshadow', from the time in the Seventies when Stevens was beloved on a near-Beatles scale, becomes a folk hymn

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The Independent Culture

If the emanations from any stage could actually influence world peace, the man sometimes still known as Cat Stevens provides them tonight. The beatific waves washing over a crowd ranging from young hijab-wearing women to older fans needing wheelchairs and walking sticks pacifies heartbeats, while engaging minds.

“Moonshadow”, from the time in the Seventies when Stevens was beloved on a near-Beatles scale, becomes a folk hymn. It’s sung along to by a congregation who thought they’d never see this man again, after he convinced himself that pop was incompatible with his 1977 conversion to Islam.

Shortly afterwards, Stevens became Yusuf Islam. In the quarter-century of estrangement from the music business that followed, he was routinely portrayed as a fatwa-wielding madman.

As with Bob Dylan’s over-zealous Christian conversion around the same time, it perhaps took a while for his values to find a balance. His ease with either Yusuf or Cat now, eight years into his professional return, as with his hard-won joy at musically expressing his faith, is that of a sane and humble man.

He sings many sorts of holy, hopeful songs tonight. Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” provides Christian civil-rights transcendence from the Chicago ghetto. “Where Do the Children Play?” is typical of his own simply disarming truths. 1970’s “Bitterblue” finds equal potency in the depths of romantic despair.

He hasn’t yet, Yusuf/Cat admits with understatement, stopped being “annoyed”. During his second, bluesier set, the new “I Was Born in Babylon” lacerates the history of the British Empire and the Holy Land with stinging directness; our current paranoia at immigration is later contrasted with “an open world, borderless and wide”.

“Morning Has Broken” is Sunday school-pure, “Father and Son” fundamentally rousing. Welcome back.