Wednesday 20 February 2019

Our love for Neil will never hit the rocks

If you've turned on a radio over the past two months you can't help but be aware that Neil Diamond is heading for Dublin this weekend for a show at the Aviva Stadium. Normally, such blanket promotion is a sign that ticket sales are a tad on the slow side, and that's a surprise.

Surely the lumping of pub bawler Mary Byrne -- karaoke fodder for people who mistake volume for emotion -- onto the bill couldn't have deterred Diamond devotees to a great extent? And Diamond's legion of fans here are out of all proportion to his per capita following anywhere else in the world.

Quite why Neil Diamond struck such a chord in Ireland is a mystery. Certainly he's a fine singer-songwriter. From back when he penned the classic I'm a Believer, A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You and Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow) for The Monkees through to his solo career, he's a classic stylist in the old Brill Building tradition, but why did he click so comprehensively in this country?

It could be the fact that scarcely a wedding reception or pub singalong in the past four decades has passed without a rendition of Sweet Caroline, or perhaps that his 1972 live album Hot August Night was a staple of Radio Eireann back in the day -- I seem to recall that Liam Nolan was forever rhapsodising about it.

Indeed, way back before the concept of tribute acts took off, Dubliners who liked music with their Sunday morning pints could catch dedicated shows to Diamond's music in the Wexford Inn and Grace's Place by Pearse Webb and his band (with the great Ronan Collins on drums).

Diamond is an artist who crosses pretty much every musical barrier in this country. Whether it's Dublin punk outfit Revolver cheerfully admitting that they stole the riff for their only single Silently Screaming from Diamond's Crunchy Granola or Paul Woodfull's rendition of Love on the Rocks in the guise of sleazy lounge lizard Tony St James, he has permeated areas which most artists can only dream of.

Watching him perform in the RDS in the late '80s was to see a man who'd fully mastered the art of putting on a show and could still get a kick out of the fact that a whiny reggae band from Birmingham had given him another UK number one. And when the Stars and Stripes and Tricolour unfolded together during the intro of America, the place went berserk as he tapped into the reality that many of the audience had sons and daughters working in the States.

He's damned good -- and he's entitled to know it too. >George Byrne

Neil Diamond plays the Aviva Stadium on Saturday

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