Neil Diamond is still a gem of a performer

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Sad to hear the news yesterday that Val Doonican has died. He’s one man who must have single-handedly done more to boost the sales of Aran jumpers and rocking chairs in the 1960s than any business or craft initiative.

I’m sure, like me, you remember him in his heyday when he entertained on TV in The Val Doonican Show and apparently he even knocked The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album off the number one spot in the music charts when they were also at the height of their fame. Val Doonican was 88-years-old and his death brought to mind the subject of longevity and true showmanship in the entertainment industry.

Neil Diamond

Neil Diamond

Coincidentally, I had been to see one of the ultimate showmen just the night before - Neil Diamond in concert at the Odyssey along with my good friend Carolyn Stewart, who you’ll know from the successful lunchtime bistro show and the big Saturday night disco she hosts on U105 radio.

I suppose because of her love of music and working in the entertainment and broadcasting industry, Carolyn is a regular concert-goer and the talk of the evening was how Diamond still looks so good and moves so well – at the age of 74. He’s been churning out hits since the 1960s and dressed in his diamante studded black trousers, he still rocked the house, singing the big pop anthems and power ballads that made him famous and pleased the crowd no end as we sang along to Cracklin’ Rosie, Red, Red Wine (including a bit of rapping in the middle), Hello Again and I’m a Believer a hit for the Monkees, but written by Neil Diamond.

The song that got the loudest voices was of course, Sweet Caroline – bizarrely, now an anthem of Ulster Rugby where fans regularly hear it played in the Kingspan Stadium, and goodness knows why, other than it’s a good tune.

For Carolyn and me the song was particularly appropriate - I regularly tease her about the pronunciation of her name because some people still insist on calling her Caroline, or as we in our Belfast accents say it, “Corrrr-line”.

There was a nice touch when he sang Brooklyn Roads, all about his childhood in that area of New York, where incidentally, he went to school with Barbra Streisand, indicative I suppose of how compact the Jewish community would have been in the city at that time.

Throughout the song, old black and white cine footage of his childhood with his brother and parents play in the background – a lovely, moving and personal touch that added warmth and brought him closer to his audience and gave some indication of just how hard life must have been growing up in those times.

Neil Diamond admitted in an interview that if he hadn’t gone into the music performing and song writing business, he’d have been a doctor by now.

He went to medical school on a scholarship for his skill at fencing. I wonder if some of today’s performers, the likes of One Direction or Miley Cyrus will still be packing in the crowds in several decades’ time like he’s doing? In today’s celebrity culture of instant fame success is seen almost as an entitlement – starting at the bottom and working hard to make your name isn’t really the way it’s done any more.