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.