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Cat Stevens fans await their hero's return

By Peter Wilkinson, CNN
  • Artist once called Cat Stevens prepares for his comeback tour following a 33-year break
  • Gigs feature Yusuf playing acoustic guitar in first half, followed by preview of his new musical
  • 61-year-old looking forward to playing old hits, such as "Wild World" and "First Cut is the Deepest"

London, England (CNN) -- The artist once called Cat Stevens is warming up his vocal cords ahead of his comeback tour following a 33-year break in which he retired from the music scene to embrace Islam and support charitable causes.

The singer, now known as Yusuf, is playing four dates in Britain and the Republic of Ireland from Sunday, but said he hoped to take his unusual concerts to other countries if it's "within my energetic abilities."

"I'm glad to say my voice is still there, for the majority of songs," Yusuf tells CNN. "Certain songs I can't hit that note up there again, but the majority of them I find very easy to sing."

The 61-year-old certainly seems spry and excited as his band rehearses at a cavernous movie studio in north London in advance of the first date in Dublin on Sunday. He even catches one-handed a television light that falls towards him while he conducts a series of media interviews, threatening to call time on the tour before it even starts.

Video: Yusuf back in the mix
Video: Yusuf: Full interview

The gigs feature Yusuf playing acoustic guitar accompanied by a band in the first half, followed by a preview of the new musical, "Moonshadow," that the London-born singer has written loosely based on his own early life.

The singer described how he was looking forward to playing the old Cat Stevens hits, such as "Wild World," "Father & Son" and "First Cut is the Deepest," and still related to those he wrote before his conversion to Islam at the height of his fame in 1977. Born Steven Demetre Georgiou, he later adopted the Muslim name Yusuf Islam before auctioning off all his guitars for charity and sensationally abandoning his pop career.

In recent years, Yusuf has appeared more comfortable with life in the spotlight, and released two albums, but there was an air of expectation among fans as they counted off the days until the first concerts. "I had my first twinge of real emotion yesterday when I realized I was going to be seeing you perform for the second time this year after waiting 33 years," one devotee, Jane, told the singer's official Web site. "I can't wait to see you and everyone else next month in London! I just know it will be majik!"

The following is an edited version of Yusuf's interview with CNN:

CNN: Why are you going on tour again after all these years?

Yusuf: It's not a matter of needing the money because I'm gonna give most of the money away to charity, that's an important project that I'm trying to support. It's more to do with connecting again with my audience. Having come back and made two records after having been away for many years there's still a disconnection. The best way to get close to them and for them to get close to me a live gig. It's a valuable experience.

I'm glad to say my voice is still there. Certain songs I can't hit that note up there again, but the majority of them I find very easy to sing.

CNN: Will you be touring in other countries?

Yusuf: We'll see how well this goes. If it goes well and it's within my energetic ability ... we do want to travel it.

CNN: Can you tell us about the musical?

Yusuf: It's not quite a mirror of my life. I've taken the liberty of extending it into a fable-like, spiritual story about a boy, who like many boys -- like me -- had a dream of wanting to find something he didn't have. In this world that we've created, it's permanent night time, there's only a moon and there's no days. This boy has dreamed of finding a world where there's sunshine, light and heat. It's kind of like paradise. I've integrated that kind of story in with my songs. A lot of songs are about seeking that place ... an intangible place, which usually are about finding, not the outer world, but the inner world.

CNN: What's it like playing the older songs again?

Yusuf: I'm glad to say my voice is still there. Certain songs I can't hit that note up there again, but the majority of them I find very easy to sing.

CNN: Are your early songs still relevant to your current thinking?

Yusuf: I still relate to them: a lot of them talk of about experiences that I still feel and I believe. A lot of songs are directly related. Today we're talking about ecology. "Where do the children play?" is an iconic song about we build our cities and how we maintain the balance of nature to allow our children to play, to enjoy life. I grew up the city so I never enjoyed that particular aspect. We had parks but we had to walk a long way to get there on concrete. And "Wild World" ... it's even wilder now than when I wrote it. So I still relate ..."

CNN: Does the persona of Cat Stevens feel like a different person to you now.

Yusuf: No, you go through phases. As a child you remember being in shorts but you don't wear those things any more. But you're still you ... you've developed and evolved. I happen to have done a lot of it in public view. I've also taken some gigantic steps which a lot of people haven't also done. So that makes me a little bit of a focus for someone who's lived and who's changed, has adapted and has learnt a lot.

CNN: Why did you abandon your pop career in the 1970s?

Yusuf: I tried any times to get out of it. I was hit by a bout of tuberculosis which took me away from the music world that I'd just entered and then things got bigger and more successful. I tried to find out where I really wanted to go at certain points in my life: I studied different spiritual paths; I was a vegetarian and I studied meditation. At certain points I tried to get out of the machine but I didn't really know where I wanted to go. But when I got finally to learn a few things about Islam, to me it was a missing piece of the puzzle. A lot of people overlook it. Perhaps they're looking at the wrong kind of picture of Islam, but they don't see what I see, which is an amazing conversion of what I believed as a Christian, what I read in the Bible, and what I understood about Transcendental Meditation. It all came together in a religion which wasn't really a religion as such, more a spiritual path -- so that made a big impact on me.

CNN: How do you keep fresh as a performer?

Yusuf: I keep on doing something different and don't stay in the same place. Right now we're introducing a musical in the middle of my concert and that hasn't been done before. It's exciting and it's great to see.