A quick-fire return to the Phil, this time to see renowned curmudgeon Van Morrison, who it has to be said seemed to be in fine fettle throughout, although he did not address the audience at all, other than the occasional “thank you”.
I wouldn’t say I was his biggest fan, but having never seen him live, and with the number of notable musical deaths earlier in the year, I decided to go to this gig when it was announced several months ago. A decision brought into even sharper focus by the death of the truly great Leonard Cohen three days later.
I only own four of his 36 (I think) studio albums, plus a compilation and practically everything recorded by his 1960’s R&B (that’s the real R&B not this modern version, which I know makes me sound like an old man) band Them. Upon revisiting those solo works prior to the gig, I remained pretty underwhelmed by them all.
Saint Dominic’s Preview from 1972 is probably my favourite, with the acclaimed Astral Weeks remaining rather disappointing to my ears, compared to its critical praise. I bought that back in June 1992 as part of a 3-for-£20 offer from HMV (yes, I have a trusty spreadsheet to give me that information…) along with Bob Dylan’s eponymous debut and Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life, and it is certainly my least preferred of those three.
However, there were still a number of his songs I was looking forward to hearing live, and I was hopeful of a good evening, despite my very limited knowledge of his output in the last four decades.
He started with Too Late from this year’s new album Keep Me Singing, with its rather doo wop backing vocals. He returned to this record in only the third number, but I don’t think he then revisited it again as he cherry-picked from across his career.
An early surprise and highlight for me was a version of Them’s Baby Please Don’t Go, a 1964 cover of an old blues song. Guitar and drums were both rather restrained in this reading that segued into Don’t Start Crying Now, Them’s debut single from earlier that year, with an extra Johnnie Ray reference – very appropriate as he was the “nabob of sob” who had a massive hit with a song called Cry in 1951.
A swinging version of Have I Told You from 1989’s Avalon Sunset (and an even bigger hit for Rod Stewart was followed by Precious Time from 1999’s Back On Top with a nice pedal steel flavour.
Van managed to make the proselytising Whenever God Shines His Light, originally recorded as a duet with Cliff Richard, quite palatable. This was followed by the more prosaically-titled Cleaning Windows which quoted a series of classic rock ‘n’ roll hits such as Be-Bop-A-Lula.
One of his most well-loved songs, title song to his 1970 album Moondance, featured rather unfocused vocals, as he reinterpreted it fairly loosely, as he did with several of his most familiar numbers.
A version of the old-time classic St. James Infirmary Blues (also recorded by the likes of Duke Ellington, Captain Beefheart and The White Stripes) was followed by Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile), the only track he played off my favourite album.
In The Midnight featured more pedal steel and great high doo wop backing vocals and was followed by perhaps his best known song, Brown Eyed Girl. This is a karaoke staple of a good friend of mine, but fortunately this version was considerably better!
Oddly enough, whilst it reach the top ten in the US in 1967, its only UK chart appearance was when it climbed to the not-so-heady heights of number sixty in 2013.
After the bluesy Help Me, the main set ended with In The Garden from 1986’s No Guru, No Method, No Teacher, a somewhat curious set closer to these ears.
Following a standing ovation, Van and band returned for a most welcome version of Them’s Gloria, which evolved into a very extended work-out, with the man himself leaving the stage never to return partway through.
The delay in posting this review is nothing to do with the quality of the show (which was as good as expected, if no better), and more to do with an intervening family holiday.
I wore my red Decemberists t-shirt (under a jumper) for no particularly good reason, though there’s certainly some kinship between them and Van, sadly failing to spot a single other band tee in the audience.
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Here is the music from the night on Spotify: