by IAN GRAHAM
(note: if you are in the UK, click here for details on when you can watch or hear this concert)
The legendary Neil Diamond returned to the UK stage with a superb concert in an intimate setting at the BBC Radio Theatre in London tonight.
I was one of a lucky group of just under 200 fans who obtained a ticket for this free performance. The tickets were instant collectors items because the date on them said 14th May 2007!
After lining up patiently outside the BBC building for about 45mnts we were ushered in and through the airport style search facility before being kept in a holding room with bar and refreshment facilities for about another 35mnts. While waiting for the search process we had the chance to speak with Hadley, King, Bernie Becker and Greg Lopez all of whom seemed to be really looking forward to the tour beginning. After which we were taken to the small intimate Radio studio theatre. The seating was unreserved and we found ourselves in the 2nd row just left of centre stage, less than 6 feet from where Neil would perform. (there were only 13 rows downstairs, and a small balcony)
The BBC Radio DJ Johnny Walker, a known Neil Diamond fan warmed up the audience, though in truth that was unnecessary with a number of familiar long time fans in the audience, and then Neil's full band took the stage ahead of the entrance of the great man himself.
When Neil came out the crowd welcomed him with a standing ovation and the sound was deafening, and he was so close it was like having a concert in your family room at home! Neil was dressed in a charcoal grey jacket with a maroon/grey kind of striped shirt, and ordinary street trousers and shoes.
After smiling and waving to the audience he told us "you can stay standing" and then he launched into Beautiful Noise. This perrenial favourite was greeted with wild enthusiasm before Neil did a Jazz Singer 1-2 with Hello Again followed by Love on the Rocks. Then we had a real rocking version of Thank the Lord for the nighttime in the middle part of which Neil talked about coming home every night to someone he loved and telling them how much he loved them.
We were then treated to 2 songs from the new album, Pretty Amazing Grace which came over really well in this unique setting and was extremely well received. Home Before Dark had the audience spellbound and again received rapturous applause.
Neil then had the entire small theatre on its feet as he gave an energetic and all embracing (literally!) singalong version of Forever in Blue Jeans. As he sang Neil came down off the stage and danced up one side aisle, along the back and down the other side aisle, shaking hands, embracing and singing directly to fans chosen at random as he went. There was a huge feelgood factor and Neil as always was the catalyst for everyone's happy smiles. At the end Neil went through his shall I do it again routine and with considerable encouragement proceeded to reprise Blue Jeans again and this literally brought the house down.
Then Neil went into a quite lenghty explanation of how he never left Brooklyn till he was 16, going into Manhattan to see a show, and paying student rates to do so. He then told us how ironically he spent the next 7 or 8 years going daily into Manhattan to peddle his songs. He talked about meeting Ellie Greenwich and her husband Jeff Barry, signing for BANG and eventually having a hit record. He then said "this is a long introduction" (actually Neil no one minded, I actually love these little tales we hear every now and again between songs) before delivering a truly superb version of Man of God.
After that it was foot stomping time all the way to the finish, first with the huge favourite Cracklin' Rosie swiftly followed by Cherry Cherry, and the singalong favourite Sweet Caroline complete with the Wo Wo Wos and So Good So Good So Goods.
Showing no signs of slowing down Neil then rocked into I'm a Believer. Don't Go There was on the playlist, but after I'm a Believer Neil went straight into I Am.. I Said.. which brought yet another standing ovation from the audience. Then after taking his bow Neil left. There was no encore, but a wonderfully unique 13-song set (14 if you include the twice done Blue Jeans) had simply thrilled us all.
Bearing in mind that Neil and the band have only been in the UK for a few days and were probably still adjusting the energy levels were high. Linda Press and the Waters ladies looked as always like they were having great fun as did the Horn section, indeed all the band were superb as we have come to expect of them over so many years. But the remarkable Neil Diamond both entranced and engaged us in the way that only he can.
I have seen many many Neil Diamond concerts since 1971 but this was unique, the grand old BBC building the wonderful small theatre made it an almost conspiratorial gathering, with the Consprators in chief, Neil and his band, giving us all an evening that we are unlikely ever to forget!
We have tickets to see Neil this coming Saturday night perform live in "An Audience With (Neil Diamond on this occasion!)" in the commercial TV channel studios.
Then on Friday week we are off to Rotterdam for the first of 18 shows throughout Holland, germany, Belgium, Ireland, Scotland, Wales & multiple English venues, topping off with the Glastonbury Festival. So long as there are no Gremlins in our system I hope to post reviews of each and every show.
One thing is for certain, with the living legend getting better and better, like a vintage wine, we are in for one fantastic summer of Beautiful Noises!