Neil’s still a di­a­mond geezer

Those im­mense black side­burns are gone, but the mas­ter song­smith is still go­ing strong at 76

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - FILM - Tim de LiSLe neil­dia­

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.

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