Rock column, Mail on Sunday, October 8 2017

Neil Diamond
Manchester Arena

The merchandise stalls at Britainís arenas have seen most things, but this may be a first: an official tour blanket, costing £60. Just the thing for the senior music-lover to spread across her lap.

The type is large, so thereís no need for reading glasses. The singerís name is printed twice, to guard against short-term memory loss. And, to keep the customer feeling young, the design is the logo for Neil Diamondís 50th-anniversary tour Ė the back pocket of a pair of faded jeans. In a perfect world, he would come out and sing Forever In Faux-Denim Blankets.

The only jarring note is that 50th. Itís actually 55 years since this Brooklyn boy of Polish-Russian descent dropped out of New York University, where he was a fencing scholar, to sell his songs. A slow starter, married with children before he had a hit, he was nonetheless built to last. In a week when we lost another master craftsman in Tom Petty, it feels as if Diamond is forever.

At 76, the role of his immense black sideburns is now played by a neat grey beard, but everything else is still there: the slender frame, the effortless voice, the gleam in his eye and the glitz in his trousers.

He is two parts chutzpah, one part cheese. His video screen is diamond-shaped and rather too inclined to display a blazing sunset. If Diamond hadnít written songs, he could have had a hell of a career at Hallmark Cards.

But his music is often magical: simple, conversational, a march of the monosyllables that can make you cry. ĎVulnerability,í he tells us, Ďis the key.í

While some superstars donít know Manchester from Munich, Diamond dedicates a song to the 22 who died here in May, and receives a standing ovation. The arena, incidentally, has been spruced up as well as repaired. The toilet signs now say CALL OF NATURE, which sounds like a particularly tense video game for the over-60s.

There have been three Mrs Diamonds, the latest being his manager, but heís really married to the muse. Song Sung Blue, Play Me, Beautiful Noise: these are songs about singing itself, expressing undying love.

By the time Diamond and his outstanding band reach Sweet Caroline, a sometimes soulless space is alight with swaying arms and smiling faces. After 29 songs, he leaves you wanting more.