Friday 3 December 1999
Originally published in Wavelength magazine
My Happy Day lead vocal Geraint Watkins
Did Ye Get Healed?
In The Afternoon / Joe Turner Sings / Don’t you Make Me High / Sex Machine
When The Leaves Come Falling Down
Mick Green comes on stage for the rest of the show.
Back On Top
Vanlose Stairway / A Fool For You
Stormy Monday Chris Farlowe lead vocal
Early in The Morning with Chris Farlowe
It’s A Man’s, Man’s World with Chris Farlowe
It’s All In The Game / You Know What They’re Talking About
See Me Through / Soldier of Fortune / Burning Ground
When The Healing Has Begun?
Help Me / Be Bop A LuLa
The support act was Chris Farlowe with the Norman Beaker Band. Farlowe appeals to a similar audience (and has similar mannerisms) but was somewhat hampered by the band. They got away with it on the blues standards, and sounded good on the Small Faces’ All or Nothing. But then he tackled Loving Arms. I might have enjoyed it, but I had made an in-car compilation a couple of weeks earlier featuring the Millie Jackson version and had heard it twice that day alone. While Farlowe could sing it credibly, the group weren’t up to playing it. They didn’t have the crispness, and I wondered if the bass player had ever heard the loud, simple, authoratitive David Hood bass on the Jackson version. They were lacking crispness on Out of Time too. Pity.
We got a full and generous two hours twenty minutes of Van Morrison. Geraint Watkins has taken over Georgie Fame’s introductory role. I thought My Happy Day was a lacklustre start, but I said the same about Fame on Yeah, Yeah. For me, the early 80s with instrumental versions of Van songs is the best intro.
Van was the jolliest and most talkative I’ve seen him. It was a slightly weird concert. Van spent even more time than usual conducting his band with his back to the audience. He kept them at a remarkably quiet level for most (but not all) of the show. There was a lot of light and shade. Van used to build himself into the mystic, but on recent shows the mystic comes early and the soul / blues interpretations late. So we started with Did Ye Get Healed and continued into Northern Muse. The mood was maintained through to Vanlose Stairway.
He had a mic technician (he’s had mics changed mid-act the last three times I’ve seen him). And a cigarette technician. A roadie brought on lighted cigarettes for him about seven or eight times. The first four he smoked with his back to the audience then he stopped bothering. He was in a very loose and funny mood, with great intros. Van was in quotable form throughout. “How many of you bought Back on Top?”, yells from most of the audience, “It’s kind of an incentive to keep making them”
When he asked (three times) for requests , there were persistent shouts for “Radio” which others corrected to Caravan. I’ve heard this “radio” shout all the way along the south coast since the early eighties. Good on you, it’s my choice too and that’s how I think of it. The other notable yell was Sweet Thing. No luck with either, but I had the strong impression that the jovial democracy was part of the act. He seemed to be choosing the songs at that moment, but I don’t think the audience swayed the choice that much.
Mick Green arrived as a guest before Back On Top and was introduced as “ex-Paul McCartney” to general amusement. When I got home I switched on the video to watch the recording of Parkinson meets Paul McCartney, which was broadcast during the show. I got that “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” shock, because there was Mick Green accompanying Paul at the same time that he was on stage with Van in Bournemouth. Now how did he do that? Green stayed on for the rest of the show, and I noticed he was reading over the pianist’s shoulder in one song, probably the excellent take on Mr Thomas.
Chris Farlowe came on for three numbers, and benefitted at once from having Van’s band cooking along behind him. Stormy Monday is like Help Me, I can take it or leave it, and would just as soon leave it. I thought “The seagulls fly in Bournemouth” was a nice improvisation. It works anywhere on the coast too. But there was a magnificent duet with Chris Farlowe on It’s A Man’s, Man’s World. Van started, and did a few lines then abruptly said “Take it over” leaving Farlowe to jump in. The best laugh of the evening cracked up Van as well. He carefully brought the band down to near silence, and suddenly a door slammed loudly back stage. Farlowe got great applause at the end, and well-deserved it was.
About half an hour before the end a large white stuffed animal was brought on stage left, then edged further centre about ten minutes before the end. we never did find out what it was for. The fact that Van has two guitars ready, and only used one of them once (for a crackling solo) shows that the show develops its own natural progress and that branching paths may or may not be used. Tonight was harmonica night.
Precious Time was ragged and rather chucked away, probably because it didn’t fit the mood he was creating. The extended medleys are taking over the late nineties shows, and I don’t know that a quote of a couple of lines from a song requires a full credit. I just think of them as the basic song. They are getting very long, and the fact that they’re free form is one reason why Van Morrison is such an unmissable live act. He’s calling songs from a huge songbook, and while there are still “preferred 1998 to 99” sequences, enough will shift to make people keep coming again and again. Well, it works with me.
Philosopher’s Stone led into See Me Through / Soldier of Fortune / Burning Ground which was a tour de force, though whether it was even longer than the 17 minute version on the December 1998 German TV broadcast is hard to judge. Who’s going to lose the mood by looking at their watch?
Politics: there were just a couple of rare flashes. As Van sang “They don’t know what they’re talking about” he went aside to add, “just like this government” to a few politically-correct oohs. When he encored with When The Healing Has Begun he mentioned the Northern Ireland peace agreement a couple of days earlier, referring to Bill Clinton’s citing of this song. Then he didn’t elaborate, he just sang it.