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Van Morrison - The Pavilion, Bournemouth on 4 December 1999

I was at the Bournemouth gig last night (unfortunately not on Friday as well), and had no intention of writing a ‘review,’ but it appears that no one has written anything yet (still sleeping it off, I guess). So I’ll submit something in the meantime, but please keep in mind that I am distinctly unqualified for the task because, in terms of the Van fan hierarchy, I am at pond scum level compared to the universal experts who attend most of his gigs. Also, I often recognise songs but never remember the names, so the set list will be distinctly dodgy. I do, out of habit and because I’m a pathetic anorak, often take the odd note at concerts so that I remember that I was actually there (I have the memory of a goldfish), but my scribble is, unfortunately, always indecipherable. I should have been a doctor. So I’ll shut up about that if you bear it all in mind...oh, and as usual, this will be about 58 pages long. Sorry.

There was a pre-gig gathering of members of the Van discussion list at the Bourne Hall Hotel, most of which I missed, but it was great to see so many Van-listers present, even a few who had come from the States for the weekend. Upon arrival, I was greeted with the devastating news that Van’s guitarist and front man Johnny Scott had been sacked and would not be playing. I’m a huge JS fan and couldn’t begin to picture the show without his excellent guitar playing, heavenly vocals and smooth MC-ing. Later, we heard that he was definitely going to be playing that night, but everyone worried that it might be for the last time.

On to the venue...the Pavilion seemed modern on the outside but had the appearance of a stuffy old theatre inside. Cards had been placed on our seats advertising the release of the Skiffle Sessions in January, as well as the single ‘I Wanna Go Home’ at the end of that month with two extra ‘B-sides.’

The first act on was 59-year-old Chris Farlowe (real name John Deighton, not sure why that was apparently so unbearable), who I have seen referred to as ‘one of the great underrated British soul and blues influenced singers,’ which seems to be a fair assessment. Clearly, Van respected him. CF had a number one hit in 1966 with the Stones’ ‘Out of Time,’ and did well the next year with Mike d’Abo’s ‘Handbags and Gladrags,’ which was later covered by Rod Stewart. He started in a skiffle group and was often produced by Mick Jagger and Eric Burdon. On Saturday, he delivered a most impressive, energetic set and clearly was having the time of his life. I felt that his band seemed to be rather divorced from the proceedings, although the bass player strummed up enough enthusiasm to break a string, which I’ve never seen happen on bass guitar before.

When Van’s band took to the stage, initially without him as always, Johnny Scott was with them. One of our party who was seated behind me boomed out ‘Johhhhnnnneeee Scccccccottttttt!’ and cheered him on. Several of us were perfectly willing to join in, and Johnny just smiled shyly on stage, focussing on his guitar. Then another of the Van-listers called out, ‘So last night wasn’t your last gig after all!’ and poor Johnny’s jaw just dropped. (Happily, both JS and VTM were very smiley throughout the evening and seemed to be friends, which I hope means that any nonsense and tantrums from the night before had been firmly put behind them, though this is all simply supposition. They certainly did not act like people who had fallen out, and Johnny didn’t act like someone about to pick up his P45.)

With that interesting welcome out of the way, the band performed an original song by keyboardist Geraint Watkins, but rather than being the usual ‘My Happy Day,’ GW sang another from his 1997 album Bold as Love called ‘I Love Being in Love.’ (Personally, I think this album is tremendous fun; there are plenty of fast foot-tapping numbers that would be great for opening a show, like Big Bad Dog.)

Then came a wonderful performance of an instrumental, still without Van of course, which I think was Connswater, though it seems weeks ago now so I’m uncertain. A roadie kept popping on stage to whisper into Johnny’s ear, clearly that Van was delayed, and giving him instructions to stretch things out. At a gathering after the show, one of the musicians explained that (a) Van was on the phone and/or (b) he found himself without shades, naturally could not possibly go on without them, so had to wait until some were procured from the audience. Frankly, I think it is a wee bit scary that there is more than one person in Bournemouth who wears sunglasses indoors in the winter at night, particularly during an evening concert. But, let’s just be glad, although it is almost a shame that they weren’t fuchsia-coloured star-shaped ones, as they would have made any photographs more interesting, since there are truly a limited number of ways in which you can make pictures of a man in a black hat, black suit and shades look particularly different from one another.

After this, Van joined them, in fine voice and great form (with slightly different shades on from the norm), much happier than the other times I’ve seen him. As usual, he always decided which song to perform as he went along, and got his new buddy Johnny to convey it to the band with 30 seconds’ notice in which they could prepare, which always fascinates me. He also would almost randomly point at any instrumentalist during any song, and that musician would be expected to pipe up with an amazing solo without hesitation...and that musician always did. He surrounds himself with people of enormous talent. Every single solo on this night was exciting; they were all on fabulous form.

Van’s first song was Did Ye Get Healed (I think!) and when he eventually added the usual discussion about feeling his thigh, he managed to get an excited reaction from some female element in the audience. After seeing so much of that at the Brian Kennedy concerts I’ve been attending, it was refreshing to know that the older man still has it....

Next came, I think, Star of the County Down, but I may be way off. Vanlose Stairway followed, with the magnificent Johnny Scott demonstrating his sweet vocal talent as he took the lead on one verse.

All this time, Mick Green had been waiting in the wings with his guitar already strapped on. He had done the same in Brighton, where he came on after Van gave him a glowing introduction, saying how lucky Van was to have Mick play for him, since he usually was to be found with Sir Paul McCartney these days, whereas Van is only an OBE. But this time, Mick just seemed to wander on stage so quietly that Van jumped later when he came across him (which led to more giggling, how welcome it was!). His first song was Back on Top.

Next came a marvellous rendition of When the Leaves Come Falling Down, with Richie Buckley making magic on the flute as well as the sax (though not at the same time, although I’ll expect to see that he’s mastered that trick one day).

After that, Van launched into Goin’ Down Geneva which, as usual, blended into Brand New Cadillac, and then wandered briefly into Dylan’s Rainy Day Women No 12 & 35 (ie ‘Everybody must get stoned.’) Here, Johnny performed an amazing solo on guitar. Mick also gave several spectacular solos during the evening-jaw-dropping stuff, an original guitar legend displaying his wares, in a sense.

I am not sure of the title of the next track, which I’ve never heard. I feel somewhat vindicated in that Mick Green clearly did not know the song either, so he tucked himself behind Robin Aspland and managed to come up with a wonderful guitar contribution based on the piano score he was reading. I believe that this was where Van exclaimed that things ‘can’t get better than that’ and then drifted into a monologue lamenting the fact that nobody calls anybody these days unless their lawyers are standing by, making a ton of money.

As the band struck up In the Afternoon, Van signalled desperately for a roadie to rush on to attend to him. Oh, dear, was there a problem with the mike (nightmares from London Fleadh never escape me..)? Was he not well? No, it transpired that what he had needed was a light. The roadie lit Van’s cigar (or perhaps just a seriously smelly cigarette) with such aplomb that he got applause as he left the stage, and VTM encouraged it by holding his arm out in the direction of the roadie as he scurried off, the same way he did to Richie Buckley later after he completed an amazing soprano sax solo.

Van then invited Chris Farlowe onto the stage to sing what I think was called Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying. Van introduced Chris as having one of the best modern British voices, but he then disappeared and left Chris to sing on his own with the band. He did a terrific job; he really does have an admirable voice.

Van came back on stage to join Chris on Lonely Avenue, which was wonderfully exciting. At this point, the woman behind me became abusive about the fact that I’d snatched a few photos, and since I was one of many dozens of others in the venue doing so, I guess I had not realised it was a problem. In London, I will not take a photo until everyone else goes mad with it, unless it would be too distracting to the mood, and I try not to use a flash when possible. Seems photography is a hanging offence down south. Once this spitting woman’s fury was pointed out to me with a sharp jab in the shoulder (Bournemouth folk sure are friendly) and some incredibly harsh words, I ceased taking pictures of the show, even though the people either side of me continued to do so, and were frankly lost amongst the hundreds of continuous flashes all night. So I sat there, tortured by the myriad missed photo opportunities developing before me (I’ve never seen Van smile so much) whilst so many others went mad with flash photography and yet weren’t attacked by other audience members, feeling sorry for myself. No fair.

In the Midnight followed, during which Van mentioned that ‘This finger hasn’t healed yet but I’m praying for it.’ This was clearly hilarious as everyone in the place roared with laughter, but as with most Van jokes, it went way over my head. I miss all of his jokes; I can rarely understand what he’s saying when he tells them, as he seems to insert the mike actually into his mouth in order to ensure that whatever he says is as clear as a Tannoi (loudspeaker) announcement in the Tube. To me, they sound completely inaudible. When I do hear them, I seem to be the only person who doesn’t comprehend them. This is a weakness that I must work on. The particular remark about his hand did cause Van to giggle, which was a delight to see. At some point he also mentioned ‘Robert Plant, what he done is throw the TV out the window,’ which I noted by the audience reaction also was hilarious. [I should have figured this joke out:  the band had already begun the introduction to the next song, The Healing Has Begun, so it was a reference to healing, ha, ha.]

Throughout the evening, Van kept thanking us for our patience, usually at the end of the songs. I doubt he was thanking us for suffering through several minutes of unbelievably grand solos and singing, so I can only surmise that he was apologising for the shades-search time at the beginning. Or perhaps it related to one of those swallowed-mike jokes that I didn’t hear or get. He also had two guitars set on guitar stands in front of him, which were too far away from either Johnny or Mick to be for them, so I was hopeful...but Van did not play them.

Van introduced The Healing Has Begun as the one that Clinton used in his speech, ‘and he should know.’ He made a reference to Jimmy Clitheroe and signalled to Mick Green to move to a mike, and Mick promptly delivered a brief and popular impression of this mystery man, which made the audience fall over laughing again. Sigh, it’s tough being a foreigner sometimes! [Jimmy Clitheroe’s radio series about a cheeky schoolboy, The Clitheroe Kid, was the BBC’s longest-running situation comedy, airing from 1958 ‘til 1972--Bob Monkhouse was even in the cast at one point; Clitheroe also made films with George Formby, Burl Ives and Terry-Thomas].

By this time, Van had switched to the radio mike, always a sad sight. Sure enough, he left the stage with it, and we were left with nothing but a brilliant band to keep us company, until they abandoned us as well.

For the encore, VTM said he wanted to do a tribute to James Brown, ‘the master blaster of the galaxy.’ (My scribbled note looked like ‘master blaster of Galway,’ but James Brown isn’t from Ireland, as far as I know.) Chris Farlowe joined him and got the chance to shine with some witty ad-libbing of lines as they sang ‘It’s a Man’s World’ wonderfully. Van would signal to Chris that it was his turn to take over by saying such things as ‘Explain it to them, Chris.’ During his profound discussions within these new verses to that classic song, Chris explained that happiness could largely be attributed to Tonka toys. And no one argued. Geraint performed a wonderful organ solo, not for the first time, and Van kept calling to him ‘no prima donna.’ All of these factors created a truly magnificent rendition of that song. Och, that old Galway native would have been in tears at the glory of it.

I might be wrong, but I think the concert ended there. It took me by surprise when the lights came on, since the night before, he’d performed for 2.5 hours, whereas we had had a very short set (despite our patience for which VTM was so grateful!). But it was an incredible set, and I don’t think any of us went away unhappy. The infamous sheep remained watching from the wings throughout the concert, without its moment of glory. It was not wired up for a dramatic drop from the ceiling as in Brighton, so any appearance would have had to have been via a roadie shuffling it on unspectacularly, but instead it just sat there, barely visible. Perhaps the necessary Border Collie had turned up for work only to find it had forgotten its shades and could not perform. Instead of the sheep, a skinny, tired, jolly-less Father Christmas shuffled on stage rather unceremoniously after the band left, reached into a plastic white shopping bag and threw small bags of Malteses at the audience. Interesting, and not in as poor taste as the sheep joke. [The sheep joke was a terribly unfortunate running gag in shows at the time after Welsh keyboardist Geraint Watkins joined the band. A frequent but pathetic racist joke in England about the Welsh is similar to one some often apply to New Zealanders...about a certain supposed pastime men of both countries do with sheep. At Van gigs, the sheep would be lowered from the ceiling near Geraint...hilarious, no? No.]

The band was: Johnny Scott on guitar/backing vocals, Geraint Watkins on organ and backing vocals, Matt Holland on trumpet, Richie Buckley on saxes and flute, Bobby Irwin on drums, Robin Aspland on piano (tremendous solos!), Mick Green on guitar, and a chap I don’t know on bass [methinks now it was David Hockney]. He kept calling out things like ‘Jammin’!’ during the songs which made me think he would fit in well in a Jack Kerouac happenin’ cat type of club.

No Precious Time, no Moondance, no Brown Eyed Girl were performed. I guess Van read us to be the intelligentsia, possibly as traditional VTM fans rather than those who had seen him on Top of the Pops and bought a ticket just for something to do one night. In Brighton, he seemed to immediately sense that the audience was packed with people who had travelled there from London and elsewhere, and he kept asking how many people really were from Brighton. In Bournemouth, he just performed, and wonderfully.

I caught the 9:41 back to London the next morning, and boarding the almost empty train with me at Bournemouth was a massive puff of cigarette smoke whom I recognised as Bobby Irwin. I thought he was with his nan (granny) but it turned out that he was just being chivalrous, carrying off the suitcase of a stranger, an old lady (she eventually caught up with him and the police were not called). He then moved up to the first class car whilst I scurried to my lowly place in standard, though I smiled to myself throughout the four-hour journey home because the brief concert had been spectacular.

You’re free to get back to your lives now, and apologies for the undoubtedly appalling errors in my make-shift set list!

Copyright © 1999 by TC. All rights reserved.

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