BACK in the days before Merseyside had an arena, I was part of the team who regularly brought the world’s biggest acts (and Deacon Blue) to the Liverpool Summer Pops.
Every year when it came to begin the process of booking the bands and singers who would grace the big top by the Mersey, we’d sit down and draw up a wish list of who we’d like to see play there.
To be fair we did pretty well in bringing legend after legend to a 4,500-capacity tent on an old windblown car park.
During my time there, Paul McCartney, The Who, Bob Dylan, James Brown and Paul Simon all graced the stage, leaving us scratching our heads when it came to thinking of a) the realistic and b) the alive.
There or thereabouts was always Bruce Springsteen, but rivalling the Boss on our most wanted list was that other doyen of flannel-shirted classic rock, Neil Young.
Apparently the question was always asked but Neil seemed to prefer Manchester and that’s the way it stayed until this Monday’s brilliantly surprising announcement that the 67-year-old Canadian will pay his first visit to the city since a gig at the Empire back in 1973.
Back then Young was right slap bang in the middle of one of the most glorious runs of albums rock music has ever seen.
From 1969’s Everybody Knows This is Nowhere to 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps, Young barely put a foot wrong.
Tracks like Old Man, Heart of Gold and Only Love Can Break Your Heart sealed Young’s legend, but just as important to so many of us acolytes is the way the old grump has carried himself over a career which seems to have been a one man crusade to avoid “selling out”.
It’s one of the reasons the announcement of Young’s August show has left so many people excited.
Only Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and David Bowie have been able to maintain anything like Young’s consistency when it comes to putting out albums that still seem to strive for something approaching artistic expression.
Obviously, I’m not claiming all of his latter career has approached the brilliance of his 70s output but it does take a certain amount of guts to open an album with a 27 minute track as Young does on his latest long player, Psychedelic Pill.
A rejection of convention is typical of Young: back in the 1980s he pulled off the neat trick of actually managing to get sued by his record company for not sounding enough “like Neil Young” during a period when, it’s fair to say, he went a bit bonkers.
Synthesisers, electronic beats and “robot voices” saw Young collaborate with art poppers Devo and then proceed to make an album of rockabilly covers.
By the 1990s, our hero was undergoing a massive renaissance as his use of heavy feedback and distortion chimed with the likes of Kurt Cobain and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder who cited Young as a huge influence. One of my own earliest memories of the man was seeing him headbang his way through a version of Rockin’ In The Free World with Vedder and co.
Young’s always managed to garner the respect of the younger generation – back in the punk days he paid tribute to the Sex Pistols in his song Hey, Hey, My, My and part of a lyric from the song, “it's better to burn out than to fade away,” became infamous after being quoted in Cobain's suicide note.
These days, Young has settled into his role as politically aware guitar toting curmudgeon with typical eccentricity and bloody-mindedness. All things considered, he’s probably our greatest functioning rock legend.