Maybe it’s the earnestness through which he still speaks, or the age-defying wisdom that courses through his classic early ‘70s work. Or maybe it’s the fact his new material shows an unwavering commitment to the spiritual cause; his passion and devotion undimmed by time’s incessant march.
Whatever it is, it had the effect of getting Glastonbury-goers moist of eye beneath cloudy skies on 2023’s final day. “I’m just thinking back to the time I nervously walked up to a microphone in a small folk club in Soho in 1965. And now walking onto the great Pyramid Stage of Glastonbury. What a journey,” he remarked, visibly touched by the sight in front of him.
The spindly melodies of ‘The Wind’ and ‘Moonshadow’ preceded a medley of his ‘60s work, including ‘First Cut is the Deepest’, which prompted the first mass singalong of the afternoon. It was followed promptly by the buoyant brass pop of ‘Matthew & Son’ – his 1966 single that explored capitalism’s cruel master-servant dynamic.
— José Frugoni (@jafrugoni) June 25, 2023
Yusuf dedicated ‘Hard Headed Woman’ to his wife, while ‘Peace Train’ and ‘Morning has Broken’ provided affecting communion. Bafflement flashed across faces at Yusuf’s mention of Ricky Gervais’s name, but the penny dropped when the subsequent ditty (‘Tea for the Tillerman’) revealed itself as the theme to the sitcom, Extras.
Some choice covers, including an ecstatically-received version of The Beatles’ ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and Nina Simone’s ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’, were dropped to pad the familiarity out further – and also to give Yusuf a degree of license to expose the crowd to tunes from this year’s exquisite LP, King of the Land. It’s fair to say that the likes of ‘Take the World Apart’, ‘Pagan Run’, and ‘Highness’ sounded extremely comfortable amid such hallowed company.
Even during the late-‘60s/early-‘70s singer-songwriter boom, Stevens was an anomalous figure. While his peers gazed down at their navels and refused to look away, he remained preoccupied with looking up and out at humankind’s collective potential.
It’s a view that not only survived the hippy dream’s demise but has weathered postmodernism’s unhelpful latter-day rise; a place where self-interest and self-preservation not only reigns, but masquerades itself as healthy cynicism. Yusuf’s presence was therefore a welcome tonic at Worthy Farm and someone you sensed is plugged into the sort of ideals that got this festival started in the first place.
Thanks so much for the beautiful reunion. For sure the best show I have done in UK since my return. An unforgettable moment on my life's journey. Peace. #Glastonbury #PyramidStage #thanks #peace pic.twitter.com/aD60sy9ryq
— Yusuf / Cat Stevens (@YusufCatStevens) June 26, 2023
When the time came, he signed-off with a crowd-pleasing one-two. First there was a light-footed, floaty ‘Wild World’, before Yusuf entered into dialogue with his younger self for an extremely moving ‘Father and Son’. Video footage showed a younger, tousle-haired Stevens singing portions of the song while his septuagenarian relation looked on.
Yusuf didn’t really need to pass advice on to that particular young man though. He was always an old soul.