Neil’s still a diamond geezer
Those immense black sideburns are gone, but the master songsmith is still going strong at 76
The merchandise stalls at Britain’s arenas have seen most things, but this may be a first: an official tour blanket, costing £60. Just the thing for the senior music-lover to spread across her (or his) lap.
The type is large, so there’s no need for reading glasses. The singer’s name is printed twice, to guard against short-term memory loss. And, to keep the customer feeling young, the design is the logo for Neil Diamond’s 50th anniversary tour – the back pocket of a pair of faded jeans. In a perfect world, he would come out and sing Forever In Faux-Denim Blankets.
The only jarring note is that 50th. It’s actually 55 years since this Brooklyn boy of Polish-Russian descent dropped out of New York University, where he was a fencing scholar, to sell his songs. A slow starter, married with children before he had a hit, Diamond was nonetheless built to last. In a week when we lost another master craftsman in Tom Petty, it feels as if Diamond is forever.
At 76, the role of his immense black sideburns is now played by a neat grey beard, but everything else is still there: the slender frame, the effortless voice, the gleam in his eye and the glitz in his trousers.
He is two parts chutzpah, one part cheese. His video screen is diamondshaped and rather too inclined to display a blazing sunset. If Diamond hadn’t written songs, he could have had a hell of a career at Hallmark Cards. But the music itself is often magical: simple, conversational, a march of the monosyllables that can make you cry. ‘Vulnerability,’ he tells us, ‘is the key.’ While some superstars don’t know Manchester from Munich, Diamond dedicates a song to the 22 who died here in May, and receives a standing ovation. The arena, incidentally, has been spruced up as well as repaired. The toilet signs now say CALL OF NATURE, which sounds like a particularly tense video game for the over-60s. There have been three Mrs Diamonds, the latest being his manager, but he’s really married to the muse. Song Sung Blue, Play Me, Beautiful Noise: these are songs about singing itself, expressing undying love. By the time Diamond and his outstanding band reach Sweet Caroline, a sometimes soulless space is alight with swaying arms and smiling faces. After 29 songs, he leaves you wanting more.