Top Aussie performer Darren Coggan is bringing his hit Cat Stevens show to the UK including a date at Leicester De Montfort Hall.
The singer chats to Marion McMullen about the tour and what it was like growing up in a musical household.
What is your first musical memory?
My parents have cassette tapes of me when I am about three years old singing Rhinestone Cowboy by Glen Campbell – whom years later I got to tour with in Australia as his support act. The first time I ever performed in front of an audience I was 10 years old. It was at a family friend’s 60th birthday party in front of about 100 people in a small country town called Deniliquin. I sang The Gambler by Kenny Rogers and I’m not sure if it was the ‘little kid cute factor’ or if in fact I was actually good, but the crowd erupted, all standing up cheering – I’d had my first taste and I was hooked!
Can you remember your first concert?
The very first concert my parents took me to see was John Denver in Canberra at Bruce Stadium. I was 12 years old. It was incredible, I couldn’t believe that one man, armed with just his guitar, his powerful voice and the messages in his songs, could elevate and uplift a stadium of people as much as he did that night. He was inspiring and he filled the room with love.
Did you grow up in a musical household?
Yes, my sister is an incredible pianist and is the musical director of my show Peace Train – The Cat Stevens Story. We have been performing together since we were kids. We both did our first pub gig together with our band Typhoon when I was 12 and she was 10 years old! I think we got paid $40 each. Our parents were both lovers of all genres of music and as kids they would take us to see as much live performance as they could. We made so many journeys to Sydney and Melbourne (each about five hours from my home in Wagga Wagga) to see musical theatre, local and international artists that were touring.
How did Peace Train come about?
The idea for this show came about from people constantly telling me that I sounded like Cat Stevens. I was never intentionally trying to channel him or emulate his voice, but for some reason there is a very similar timbre in our voices. I would be touring around Australia promoting my own albums and would often include a Cat Stevens song in my set. People would come up to me after the show and say ‘we really enjoyed your new songs, but, oh my hat, you sound just like Cat Stevens!’
What can audiences expect?
Cat Stevens, who is now known as Yusuf Islam, defined a generation with songs that the whole world sang along with including Moonshadow, Wild World, Peace Train, Where Do the Children Play, Father and Son, Morning Has Broken and many more. His messages of peace, tolerance and understanding are still just as relevant as when they were first written, perhaps even more so today.
What is involved in bringing the show to the UK for the first time?
It’s a big show on the road, with a six-piece band. I am bringing with me my Australian pianist Daniel Murray and backing vocalist Erin Mortimer. We hit the road for three weeks, 18 theatres across the UK. I’m particularly looking forward to the Glasgow Concert Hall on September 1, my birthday, it certainly will be one to remember.
Have you ever met Cat Stevens?
In 2007 I had the great privilege of being invited to London to meet with the great man himself, along with his brother, David Gordon. One day before a performance in Melbourne I was handed a note backstage from the theatre manager that read ‘My name is Stephen Georgio, I am Yusuf’s nephew, and I would love to meet you after the show.’
I was somewhat curious and perhaps sceptical, however, to my delight, standing in the foyer after the show was indeed Yusuf’s nephew Stephen, and his family. He was very complementary and said that he would contact his uncle to tell him about the performance. The next thing I knew I was on a plane, heading for London. Yusuf showed me the school he founded near Queens Park and he took us to his favourite local restaurant for lunch, kindly autographed my Cat Stevens albums for me, it was so surreal.
What did he think of the show?
I gave Yusuf a DVD of my performance in Peace Train and, as he watched it in front of me (which was terrifying), he paused after I sang Father and Son, put his hand on my shoulder and said ‘that’s pretty close,’ which was the greatest complement I could ever have imagined.
What do you always pack on tour?
I always take a jar of Vegemite for after the show when I find myself starving and nothing is open and there is no room service. I also like to take a good book, usually a biography, currently reading Bruce Springsteen Born To Run.
What are you listening to at the moment?
I’ve actually just taken delivery of my new album The Wide Horizon, which I’m really proud of. I’m also thoroughly enjoying the Passenger album ‘young as the morning, old as the sea.’ My great friend, Ben Edgar, who produced my new album, is the guitarist for Passenger, so it’s always a treat to hear his great playing.
You’ve appeared in a lot of acting roles. Do you have a favourite?
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of the characters that I’ve played in the various musicals I’ve been cast in; Teen Angel and Vince Fontaine in Grease and Col Joye in Shout - the musical of the Wild One. Probably my favourite role though was playing Richie Cunningham in the world premiere Happy Days The Arena Mega Musical. I had the opportunity to work with two of the original TV series cast – Tom Bosley, aka Mr C, and Henry ‘The Fonz’ Winkler – it was very cool.