We jump into a taxi and are whisked away from our Hotel, with trees flashing by at speed, and corners being cut by the driver but I guess that’s what you do on country lanes. We pull into the grounds of an old Psychiatric Hospital in which a small theatre sits. Apparently it was originally used for shows and performances for the patients. The theatre is lovely, warm and inviting and intimately seats about 200 people.
We grab our seats in the 3rd row and wait. The stage is all set to go, but Van’s entourage are running in and out back stage. At one point one of them passes us by with large white bags, and runs behind the curtain. A few minutes later, there is a strong aroma of Chinese food. I hear people around me muttering “surely he’s not having a Chinese takeaway before he starts”. Suddenly, there is an announcement demanding everyone to take their seats, and that mobile phones must be switched off at all times. Everyone frantically rummages in their pockets and bags for fear of expulsion.
On stage are keyboards, trumpets, trombones, a clarinet and Saxophones of various shapes and sizes.
There was also to be found a double bass, a couple of base guitars, and 7 lead guitars, quite an ensemble. Van has both his mic stands in gold/brass, whilst everyone else has the bog standard black. Fair enough I think.
The band arrive, begin to play and then out Van marches onstage straight to the mic and into song. No one would have any other expectation of this man with a notorious reputation for non recognition of his fans and crowd, but as the audience clapped and cheered him, he gave an unexpected ‘thank you’. Woohoo, so far so good.
Van Morrison is in complete control from the very beginning. The lead guitarist doesn’t even face the audience, instead directly facing Van. He is clearly conducting everyone from his position on stage. All the band members are concentrating on his every move. He conducts them from crescendos to diminuendos. They watch him with such intensity as he can change his mind at any point as to how they are to play. It was like watching a symphony orchestra.
The musical ability of this man and his deliverance of it are sublime. I was hooked, as everyone else in the room appeared to be. Most of the music travelled down the blues route. Van was clearly having a great time, and loved the direction he was taking it. At one point, a ukulele was brought on stage and he immediately ushered it away. It was obvious that any previously arranged set was blown out the window. There was no Moondance nor Brown eyed girl, but you would have hardly noticed. There were 4 guitars in front of Van and he never touched one all night. He played his trusty Sax many times and of course his harmonica, using a distortion mic along side it that he also used for changing his vocals. There was at no point any real communication with the audience, but when recognition was showed for a particular tune, he did say “thank you” or nod. It was very unexpected from Van really.
There were a few times when his well known stage attitude came to light, when there appeared to be something he didn’t like from the drummer and bass player, which was unnoticed by the audience of course. He showed signs of irritation and quickly whipped them into shape. He doesn’t attempt to shade his voice from the mic. Its all about the music and if something isn’t to his satisfaction, he will let it be known. Likewise he also vocalised when he liked something. ‘ Nice, I like that, that was good, do it again’.
During instrumentals, Van occasionally took to the mic and rambled background talk. At one point, he randomly quotes Mae West as Lady Lou “Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just glad to see me”. He made people laugh. Yes you have read it correctly. He made people giggle, several times I might add.
This was a performance I will never forget. I danced in my seat all night and wished it had been a standing only performance as the music absorbed me. I wouldn’t usually be that enticed by blues alone, but I was hooked and had wanted to move. Then an hour and half in, Van says thank you and walks off. The audience erupts; everyone rose to their feet and chanted him back. Back he came to the ever-famous “G L O R I A”.
Everyone was delighted and danced throughout the song. Towards the end of the tune, Van pointed to the band and said “The band” and walked off. It was pretty clear he wasn’t coming back. The band seemed to breath a sigh of relief, and they each in turn did a solo. It was awesome that they had the freedom to do it their way, and their way they did it. It was immense and highly appreciated by everyone.
Van Morrison you are a genius!
Next time I see you on Holywood high street, I won’t say hello.