Royal Albert Hall
Brendan sent in this review
Given that this concert for the Teenage Cancer Trust coincided with the worldwide release of Van Morrison's new Duets album and that there were rumours of many special guests there was a great sense of anticipation in the air before the concert. As it transpired, the rumours proved well founded with no less than five special guests partaking at various stages during the night.
The opening Celtic Swing featured a much longer intro than usual from the band which was really nice and then Van appeared playing saxophone to bring the song to it's conclusion. Higher Than The World followed and while it did not feature any duet it was very impressive. Van then introduced Clare Teal who performed a beautiful duet with Van on Carrying A Torch. A surprise followed with a further duet between them on The Way Young Lovers Do. What really struck me during this number however was how much the absent brass section is missed at times, particularly on a song like this. The brass element has been synonymous with the'Van Morrison sound' throughout almost all of Van's career and it's absence results in Paul Moran having to double up on trumpet solos during particular songs leaving the piano/organ unplayed while he is doing so. Very strange!
Baby Please Don't Go/Parchman Farm/Don't Start Crying Now were powerful as always and went down a storm. Roger Daltrey then joined in on Talk Is Cheap to Van's obvious delight and while his voice was no match for Van's he contributed some fine harmonica playing.Following this, Van asked if anyone had heard of P.J.Proby(who must have been delighted with this introduction) before PJ and Van dueted nicely on Whatever Happened To PJ Proby. Pretty surreal really!.PJ then contributed a song he wrote in tribute to Van in his hotel room after seeing him in concert a few years ago. The kindest thing I can say about this song is that I don't quite see it re-launching PJ's career in any major way. Their final duet delivered a nice version of Sam Cooke's Bring It On Home To Me.
Precious Time provided a filler before Georgie Fame appeared for a good duet on Get On With The Show which has more than a passing resemblance to Stand By Me. Van then announced that as Georgie Fame was on stage they would play some jazz and my heart immediately sank. No Vanlose Stairway and instead we got fairly mundane versions of Symphony Sid and Centrepiece/Corinne Corinna. Georgie Fame's exit was followed by an uninspired Days Like This and I feared the worst but when Van announced Mick Hucknall I knew what was coming and they certainly delivered on a wonderful performance of Streets Of Arklow which saw both singers scale the vocal heights and Paul Moran contribute magnificently with an organ sound throughout that swirled all around the famous concert hall. This was musical magnificence and Van summed it up perfectly at the conclusion when he said "wasn't that really something?".
Moondance, Magic Time (featuring another great organ solo from Paul Moran) and Brown Eyed Girl brought a bit of a lull to proceedings but thankfully Van delivered yet again with a superb Celtic Excavation/Into The Mystic during which I heard gasps of astonishment at various stages from several members of the audience at the wonder of it all. When Van departed the stage he continued to sing on in the wings for what seemed like an age only stopping when drummer Bobby Ruggiero's booming voice cut in to shout VAN MORRISON. The band continued to play on until it became clear Van would return which he did for a beautiful In The Garden which featured really fine guitar from Dave Keary and piano from Paul Moran before Van left the stage and the band played on for several minutes to a standing ovation. That's just the way to provide a fitting end to a Van Morrison concert.
This concert was rather unusual in that it included several moments of absolute musical magnificence which were matched in almost equal measure by moments of comparative mediocrity. However it is the former, including those possibly never to be repeated duets with Mick Hucknall and Clare Teal, which will provide the lasting memories and were worth the admission price alone. Van's voice was really powerful throughout and the vast expanses of the Royal Albert Hall failed to inhibit it's impact.
What to expect from a Van Morrison concert, then? Morrison, of course, has a reputation as an unpredictable live performer. Anecdotal evidence gathered from around the Uncut office suggests he is just as capable of transcendent moments of sublime mystery as he is of turning in perfunctory, no frills sets. Will he favour the roaming spirit of his peerless Seventies albums, or the blues and R&B numbers from his youth that have become increasingly foregrounded in his live sets? Tonight, there are two additional elements that might inform the tone of tonight’s show. First, this is part of this year’s run of Teenage Cancer Trust shows; a cause that obliges the artist to ensure they’re at their best. Secondly, this show convenient falls close to the release date of his new album, Duets: Reworking The Catalogue, and there is in all likelihood an imperative to support that.
As it transpires, all these things become to some degree relevant. Critically, we get an avuncular Morrison. He is hardly an unstoppable raconteur – he says very little, in fact – but his demeanour suggests he is at the very least enjoying himself. Sauntering on stage a few minutes after his band have started playing the light, jazzy grooves of “Celtic Swing”, he joins in with an expansive saxophone solo. His five piece backing band are dressed soberly in blacks and greys; Morrison himself wears a black suit, hat and sunglasses. I’m reminded to some extent of Dylan’s current touring band: another group of well-drilled musicians who are sensitive and discretely responsive to both the material and the demands of a notoriously capricious frontman. Under Morrison’s current musical director Paul Moran, they hold the line admirably. Admittedly, it’s not that difficult in the early part of the show. No sooner have the band warmed up, than Morrison introduces his new album to the audience and brings on the first of tonight’s duet partners, Clare Teal, for “Carrying A Torch” and “The Way Young Lovers Do”. The vibes are a little Pizza Express Jazz Club; fortunately, Morrison moves on to a persuasive version of “Baby Please Don’t Go” before he is joined by Teenage Cancer Trust founder Roger Daltrey for “Talk Is Cheap”, which never quite lifts off. Perhaps they’re under-rehearsed, but instead of the fiery R&B thrill they’re presumably aiming for, the song feels sluggish where it should swing.
Personally, I find this section of the show a little difficult to get my head round. As he brings out PJ Proby for three songs, including one of Proby’s own and a cover of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me”, it begins to feel suspiciously like two old mates have a laugh. Morrison dwells too long here and what could passably be considered a generous act of sharing the stage with a favourite contemporary begins to feel like an indulgence. Things pick up, though, when Georgie Fame sits in for a handful of songs. This seems to change the shape of the music; the songs become looser, jazzier, fuller. The night’s brief collaboration with Fame culminates in a warm, gently swaying version of “Centrepiece”, which seems to segue into Dylan’s “Corrina Corrina”, lubricated by Morrison’s extraordinary baritone and Fame’s evocative Hammond playing. Fame is followed by Mick Hucknall, who gives a pleasingly restrained and sympathetic reading of “Streets Of Arklow”.
By this point, it’s increasingly hard to guess where Morrison is going with his set. Is this a promo job for the Duets album, an opportunity to dust down some old R&B and soul covers or a leisurely trip through his capacious back catalogue? Or is it all three? And if so, is the balance of material right? But then he pulls out a final clutch of songs that showcase not only his most famous work but also mark a foray into the wild beauty of those Celtic landscapes. “Moondance” appears as its lightest and most delicate, lifted by some nimble sax work from Morrison. “Magic Time” continues to illustrate Morrison at his freewheeling best before we get a galloping “Brown Eyed Girl”. For a finale, he plays magical, meandering versions of “Into The Mystic” and “In The Garden”, rich in wonderment, that transport and elevate.
It’s arguable to a point that Morrison is at a place now where he is entitled to play what he wants, when he wants. Indeed, some might find the digressions into old soul and R&B pleasing in their own right. But there’s enough in Morrison’s own formidable back catalogue that he doesn’t need to dwell too long in other people’s music. We are here for the mystic; and when it finally arrives, it is a most astonishing thing.
Higher Than The World
Carrying a Torch w/Clare Teal
Young Lovers Do w/Clare Teal
Baby Please Don't Go/Parchman Farm/Don't Start Crying Now
Talk is Cheap w/Roger Daltrey
Whatever Happened to PJ Proby w/PJ Proby
P.J. Proby Calling Van Morrison w/PJ Proby
Bring It On Home To Me w/PJ Proby
Get On With The Show w/Georgie Fame
New Symphony Sid w/Georgie Fame
Centerpiece w/Georgie Fame
Days Like This
Streets of Arklow w/Mick Hucknall
Brown Eyed Girl
Into the Mystic
In The Garden
Big Hand for The Band!
Dave Keary (Guitar)
Paul Moore (Bass)
Paul Moran (Keyboards)
Bobby Ruggiero (Drums)
Dana Masters (Vocals)