By Douglas MacLaurin
LONDON (Reuters) - British folk singer Yusuf Islam takes the stage on Sunday on his first full tour since 1976, when he was still known as Cat Stevens and was famous the world over for hits like "Wild World" and "Morning Has Broken."
Now 61, Islam is about to seal his gradual comeback to the world of pop music after disappearing from the scene altogether following his conversion to Islam in 1977.
He has made sporadic stage appearances around the world in recent years, recorded a new pop album "An Other Cup" in 2006 and followed it up with "Roadsinger" earlier this year.
The singer said his recent recordings had encouraged him to embark on his first tour in 33 years.
"Thirty-three years is a long time, and I suppose I never imagined that I'd be going back on tour again," he told Reuters at Elstree Studios in London where he has been rehearsing for his four-date tour.
"But things change and when I started to make music again and making records the yearning came to ... do it for real. When you're live it's that much more vibrant, and you're that much closer to the audience ... You can't beat that kind of music."
Being on stage was an important antidote to recording, Islam said, noting the technological advances since his chart-topping heyday in the early 1970s.
"Everything has become a bit more digitalized. It's a cut-and-paste job now, you can do it on a laptop.
"The real material stuff and the physical stuff has become so kind of virtual that it's not real, quite simply, and that's why the road thing -- getting on the road -- is so important because it's real," he said in an interview.
Islam has had his fair share of controversy during the past decade, most notably when he was deported from the United States in 2004 after his name appeared on a "no-fly" watch list designed to weed out suspected terrorists.
He ran afoul of authorities who alleged he supported charities that ultimately funneled money to terrorist groups, but the singer has denied the allegations and has frequently spoken out against terrorism.
Despite the misunderstandings his conversion to Islam have brought, the singer said his life outside the pop world had given him experiences he otherwise would not have had.
"A writer writes from his experience, and the more you experience the more you can write. I suppose that's another good reason for the 33 years, because that gave me time to do a lot more than I could ever have done as a pop singer on the road.
"And having that chance to get a life means that my music and my words and what I put out now have that much more validity I suppose."
Islam's aptly-named "Guess I'll Take My Time Tour" opens in Dublin on Sunday and continues in Birmingham (November 23), Liverpool (December 5) and at London's Royal Albert Hall (December 8).
He has promised to perform old classics as well as music from his two recent albums, and the shows will incorporate elements of a musical he has been writing called "Moonshadow."
Writing a musical has always been a dream for Islam, who grew up in London's West End surrounded by theatres and shows.
"My songs have always been about telling stories and a lot of them are about journeys and that's what music, my music, is about," he explained. "Moonshadow is about a boy's journey from a dark world, a place where there is only night time, to another world of sunshine and glorious light and happiness."
(Additional reporting and writing by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)