With legal action threatened due to allegedly libellous chanting when a series of concerts in his hometown of Belfast was cancelled due to Covid restrictions, Van Morrison could be forgiven to have been even less chatty with his audience than we have come expect. In fact, he doesn’t chat at all beyond thank yous.
That chanting, if I have worked it out correctly, seems to have been about the impact of Covid measures on live performance and riled the North Ireland health minister, Robin Swann, into action. Similarly, some of the subjects of his songs on the latest album called Latest Record Project have caused some raised eyebrows. However, as I could hardly make out any lyrics from these songs (apart from an obvious Latest Record Project and Thank God for the Blues) I cannot illuminate you any further.
Fortunately, Van and a six-piece band (strings, keyboards, percussion) played songs that I did know, such as ever popular Moondance, although I am not sure if the audience quite recognised it as this was not an arrangement I am most familiar – and, of course, the encore (oh why do they bother with this trite showmanship of encores?) brought the audience members to their feet with Brown Eyed Girl and Gloria. Van is such a big name and his audience clearly made up of devotees who have followed his career for many, many (did I say many?) years that he didn’t really need the “you can do better than that” panto routine from one of the band members ,who at least did communicate with the paying public, if only to get them to cheer more for the main attraction.
With his dark glasses, hat, and suit, it could almost have been any smallish chap on the stage but fortunately such is the continuing strength and distinctiveness of his voice it could only have been Van Morrison. This man has some stamina and goes from song to song almost without pauses, apart from the odd sip of something (it looked a mug of tea and glass of water, but I am probably long) and wiping his nose. Similarly, in his mid-seventies he has plenty of breath in him to swap harmonica for saxophone for his vocals with consummate ease and directs his band with some fierce-looking hand and arm gestures.
We grew up in the same small pocket of East Belfast, but with a few decades and therefore a world between us, and went to neighbouring schools, his was also frequented by George Best but has now gone while mine has turned into a smart grammar school. It would be fascinating to know how Van Morrison’s career and even musical style would have differed had he been brought up in the Belfast of the 1970s (when he had already achieved international success with Them) rather than the Troubles-free 1950s and early 1960s. It is hard to believe Gloria was released as a B Side to Baby, Please Don’t Go 56 years ago.
Double (triple?) vaxed or not, Van the Man certainly has energy by the syringe full and, hey, who needs the usual trite banter with an audience anyway? At least if you don’t say anything you can’t get sued.