Yusuf/Cat Stevens live in Stockholm: a review

Yusuf Islam, perhaps better known as Cat Stevens, opened his new European tour in Stockholm at the weekend. Contributor Oliver Gee was there to see whether or not fans felt the artist lived up to their expectations.

Yusuf/Cat Stevens live in Stockholm: a review

After suffering through 36 year hiatus from having Cat Stevens out on tour in Europe, his fans could be forgiven for being a little sceptical about his return.

With a new name and religion, who could be sure what to expect from Yusuf Islam this time around?

But Saturday night’s performance at the Hovet in Stockholm was certainly worth the wait.

Yusuf played a magnificent and captivating three hour set, featuring some 35 different songs from every stage of his long and varied career.

The 62-year-old showed no sign of slowing down, and was talkative and playful throughout, delighting the crowd with Swedish phrases and anecdotes.

“Did anybody here go to the same school as me in Gävle?” he asked the crowd, referring to his 6 month schooling stint in his mother’s home town, 150 km north of Stockholm.

He continued: “Sweden is where it all started for me. Here is where I saw Elvis for the first time in Jailhouse Rock. It began from there.”

“I had an uncle here, an artist, his name was Hugo Wickman. He was my first encouragement in the arts. I started my little career in music when I decided that a guitar is a quicker way to make money than a paintbrush.”

And the guitar made more than just money for the singer. His string of hits from the 1970s was certainly enough to attract a capacity crowd of Cat Stevens fans to Stockholm’s Hovet in hopes that Yusuf could recall some of the magic that had attracted them to his music so many decades ago.

The evening began with a solo acoustic set, including a slow version of Where Do the Children Play which he dedicated to the memory of his Swedish mother.

He was soon joined by his original back-up guitarist, Alun Davies, to rapturous applause.

It was clear from the outset that Yusuf had not left Cat Stevens behind in the waters of Malibu beach, where a near drowning started him down the path to conversion to Islam.

He glided through the hits, sometimes blending multiple songs into new medleys (I Love My Dog/Here Comes my Baby/The First Cut is The Deepest).

He dedicated a portion of the evening to his current project, ‘Moonshadow The Musical’, which features many of his 1970s classics in a one story. Perhaps this idea owes something to Sweden too – it had traces of the hugely successful musical adaptation of Abba hits, ‘Mamma Mia’.

Between songs, Yusuf was playful and in good humour, at one point spontaneously singing lyrics from a traditonal Swedish folk song (Kom lilla flicka valsa med mig) explaining that it was the first song he had ever learned.

The evening built in tempo as the night wore on, with Yusuf fusing more old hits with his recent releases, with a few stints on the keyboard thrown in.

But he was saving the best last. The concert ended with a build-up of the old favourites, Morning Has Broken, Wild World and Father and Son, the latter complete with photographs projected on the big screen of the audience’s own fathers and sons.

He returned for an encore after a thunderous standing ovation.

“Have pity on an old man,” he pleaded, then finished with Moonshadow, his latest release My People, and Peace Train to a standing audience.

Yusuf had lost nothing during his long absence from the stage, and despite all the changes, the only thing different about Cat was his hair colour and the expanded setlist.

The night was still all about the music.

“Hej då, Stockholm. I hope it won’t be another 36 years,” he said, leaving the stage.

And judging from the response of the capacity crowd, it’s safe to say they shared the same wish.

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What are the best concerts in Sweden this autumn?

Now that Sweden has lifted its audience restrictions for public events, The Local's Paul O'Mahony lists his recommendations for the best gigs to attend over the coming months.

Crowd at a music concert in Debaser, Stockholm
Crowds return to Stockholm venue Debaser after pandemic restrictions on events were lifted. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Sweden’s musicians, concert promoters and venue operators have struggled to varying degrees through the pandemic. One surefire way to help get them back on their feet is to give organisers and artists the financial reassurance they need by pre-booking concerts. 

Of course these recommendations only apply if you feel safe attending large events; remember that you should stay home and take a Covid-19 test if you experience any symptoms that could be linked to the virus, even if vaccinated. And make sure to check with organisers if there are any specific coronavirus requirements you need to be aware of. 

Coming up: top gigs in Sweden over the next few months 

As a regular gig-goer, live music is the one thing I’ve missed most over the past year and a half. So it is with some excitement (and, I’ll admit, a degree of trepidation) that I prepare to go see Norwegian band Pom Poko this Friday at Hus 7 in Stockholm. Their melodic art-punk album Cheater sparked the year into life on its release in January. They’re also playing Plan B in Malmö on Saturday night

Plan B is also the venue when Squid hit Sweden with a thrilling dose of post-punk on October 15th. Tickets remain available for the show at the time of writing (an absolute steal at 120 kronor), though that’s sadly not the case in Stockholm where their October 16th gig at Melodybox sold out a long time ago. (Although you can sign up to be added to a waiting list). 

Another artist well worth checking out in October is Gothenburg guitarist and singer Amanda Werne, better known as Slowgold. Her live shows are great and she is embarking on a Swedish tour on October 8th. 

Emma-Jean Thackray, one of the UK’s most interesting jazz artists, will be at Fasching in Stockholm on October 15th

For the best kind of sonic assault, Anna von Hasswolff’s band Bada are scheduled to play in Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg in late October. 

Have any of you ever seen Gothenburg electronic veterans Little Dragon live? I haven’t but might check them out in November when they swing by Malmö, Stockholm and Gothenburg

Amason are also heading out on the road for a Scandinavian tour in November. If you haven’t heard Amanda Bergman’s voice in a live setting before this will be a treat. 

The inimitable Sibille Attar released her superb second album A History of Silence at the start of the year and she’s finally getting the chance to play her eighties-inspired gems live at Slaktkyrkan in Stockholm on November 18th

Cassandra Jenkins long lurked in the background as a musician in touring bands for people like Eleanor Friedberger and Purple Mountains. But this year’s album An Overview on Phenomenal Nature has really established her as an artist to be reckoned with in her own right. She’s coming to Södra Teatern in Stockholm on November 26th

Always popular in this part of the world, The Jesus and Mary Chain return to Sweden for dates in Stockholm and Gothenburg at the end of November

Wry Finland-Swedish indie outfit Vasas Flora och Fauna have some of the funniest (Swedish) lyrics and catchiest tunes around. They’ll be in Stockholm and Gothenburg the first weekend of December

UK experimental rockers Black Midi are also playing Stockholm and Gothenburg on December 4th and 5th. So prepare to travel if you want to catch both them and Vasas Flora and Fauna. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Bob Hund’s annual ‘week 48’ show also takes place on December 4th. But that has been sold out for ages so no decisions to make there. It is also worth noting though that Sweden’s hardest working band has also written a musical that’s going to be performed in Helsingborg (October-November) and Gothenburg (November)

Bonus: For a post-Christmas pick-me-up try to get down to Little Simz at Slaktkyrkan on January 14th if you’re in Stockholm. The UK rapper’s new album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is one of this year’s best releases. 

Selected artists playing Sweden in 2022: Henry Rollins, Sarah Klang, Yann Tiersen, Mogwai, Pearl Charles, Wolf Alice, Lloyd Cole, Lord Huron, Future Islands, Josh Rouse + Vetiver, Tricky, Snail Mail, Porridge Radio, Aldous Harding, Shame, The Kooks, The War on Drugs, Echo and the Bunnymen, Kings of Convenience, Fontaines D.C., Alex Cameron, Lucy Dacus, The Divine Comedy, Mdou Moctar, Iggy Pop, Chubby and the Gang, Sparks, Belle & Sebastian, The National, Sharon Van Etten, Teenage Fanclub, Tindersticks, Suede, Viagra Boys, Pavement. 

For bigger arena shows, Ticketmaster covers a lot of the bases. Big-name acts with gigs in the offing include Ed Sheeran, Zara Larsson, Whitesnake and, lest we forget, ABBA

And that’s just a fraction of what’s going on. Tour schedules are busier than ever now that artists are finally getting back on the road. To keep track of what gigs are coming up I can recommend checking in with Luger, FKP Scorpio, and Live Nation. Follow your favourite venues too: sometimes they cut out the middleman and do their own booking and promotion. I also use the Bandsintown app, which comes with the added bonus of receiving messages from your favourite artists which let you pretend to be their friend. 

Enjoy the gigs, and stay safe! 

Paul O’Mahony is editorial product manager at The Local. In his spare time he plays the best new indie and alternative music as host of the Signals show on Nerve Music.