Reintroducing Cat Stevens
Yusuf Islam doesn’t look like a threat to anyone’s national security. As he bounds into the room dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt, he looks strikingly like a slightly older version of the gentle singer-songwriter we used to know as Cat Stevens. “Ever since I became a Muslim, I’ve had to deal with attempts to damage my reputation and countless insinuations seeking to cast doubt on my character and trying to connect me to causes which I do not subscribe to,” he said recently. For fans clinging to memories of Cat Stevens, perhaps the most remarkable thing about this story is that it hinges on “musical ideas’’. For more than 20 years, Yusuf Islam and Cat Stevens have been estranged. He didn’t just stop making records after releasing his 1978 album ‘Back to Earth’: he sold his guitars, disowned his past and became the most zealous of converts. It was as if he was trying to deny Cat Stevens had ever existed.
Yusuf and Cat first cautiously shook hands in 1999, when for the first time since his “retirement”, he endorsed a new collection of his greatest hits. Since then it’s been a step-by-step process back to full musical health. Shortly after 9/11, he sang an a cappella version of “Peace Train” by video link to the charity concert in New York for the victims. It was the first time he had performed a Cat Stevens song in public in almost a quarter of a century. Then he penned some affectionate liner notes for a box set of his old songs.
And now, at last, there is a new single: “Indian Ocean”, the first song composed since he retired from music in 1978. A six-minute epic inspired by the tsunami, it boasts all the melodic facility of old and the yearning of his voice remains unmistakable. It was released this week as a download; one of a batch of new songs; an album will follow.