In June 1972, I went to one of my first concerts at the Bristol Colston Hall. I was still a spotty young teenager but had managed to acquire, all on my own, a front row seat, on the right hand side in front of a massive bank of speakers. The artist was Neil Diamond, who today is celebrating his 80th birthday.
Diamond played two shows that night. An early evening show at around 6.00pm and another at around 8.30pm. I attended the latter.
I had been a fan since 1970 when I bought my first album with my own money, Taproot Manuscript.
Side One was classic Diamond, starting with the brilliant Cracklin’ Rosie, including his greatest little known song Coldwater Morning and ending with a cover of He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. But it was Side Two that was revelatory.
Years before ‘World Music’ became a thing, Side Two was entirely devoted to a themed piece called ‘The African Trilogy – a folk ballet’. It’s truly gorgeous, with African instruments and sounds. Way ahead of its time and bringing one giant hit, ‘Soolaimon’.
Diamond was then known as more of a singer songwriter, having composed hits like I’m A Believer for the Monkees and The Boat That I Row for Lulu. When I saw him, he was in a transition period between singer-songwriter and the middle of the road Vegas performer he soon became.
I am not going to pretend I remember the setlist. So I googled setlist sites and found that, like most performers, Diamond played exactly the same set every night.
His voice, bearing in mind this was his second show of the evening, was strong and clear. You could clearly hear him above the speakers. I was mesmerised.
I must have been the youngest person in the Colston Hall by some considerable distance, something that became clear when I left the hall at the end of the show to get the bus back to Brislington village.
Within a couple of years, my interest in Diamond fizzled out. I loved the older songs but his newer material, like Song Sung Blue and Forever In Blue Jeans left me stone cold. I never saw him again and I never wanted to see him again, even in recent years when he played an outdoor show of oldies at Bristol City’s stadium Ashton Gate. Like Mike Love’s touring Beach Boys band, Diamond had become little more than a touring jukebox. I preferred to listen to his stuff from the comfort of my man cave.
The great man has retired from touring now, having been afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, but he is still making new music. Good for him.
Of the songs I remember Diamond performing, ‘I Am…I Said’ is the clearest memory, albeit nearly 49 years on. My late mum always felt that the lyrics were about her, as much as they were about Diamond. Diamond wrote about how he now lived in Los Angeles but was a New York City boy:
‘Well I’m New York City born and raised
I’m lost between two shores
L.A.’s fine, but it ain’t home
New York’s home
But it ain’t mine no more’
My mum lived in Bristol, but Rotterdam was home, ‘but it ain’t mine no more’. That’s the greatness of a songwriter, where she or he can paint vivid pictures by way of words and melodies. And Diamond was a great songwriter.
Happy 80th, Neil. Good times never seemed so good.
Bristol Colston Hall 20 June 1972 setlist (probable):
- Done Too Soon
- Solitary Man
- Cherry, Cherry
- Sweet Carolin
- Hear Them Bells
- Black and Blue
- Chelsea Morning (Joni Mitchell cover)
- Song Sung Blue
- Cracklin’ Rosie
- Holly Holy
- I Am…I Said
16. I Think It’s Going To Rain Today
17. Brother Loves Travelling Salvation Show