17 September 2003
First published in Wavelength magazine
Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart No. 1; ll Work No Play :Early In The Morning (‘Bout The Break Of Day) :Choppin’ Wood :Talk Is Cheap :Hey Mr. DJ [CF] :Wild Night:Here Comes The Night :Too Many Myths :Don’t Worry About A Thing :Walkin’ My Baby Back Home [CF] :Bright Side Of The Road :Jackie Wilson Said :That’s Life :Once In A Blue Moon :In The Midnight :Moondance :Baby What You Want Me To Do [CF] :Brown Eyed Girl *** :Precious Time *** :It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue [CF] *** :Gloria [CF]
“Not gonna fake it like Johnnie Ray …” Van once sang, and last night’s duet with Chris Farlowe on Johnnie Ray’s massive 50s hit Walking My Baby Back Home was one of the now the obligatory “showbiz” numbers. That’s Life was the other, but more expected one. Last time out for me, in July, we’d been treated to Vera Lynn’s White Cliffs of Dover, so that early 50s Belfast radio is still being turned up.
Summing up the show? All the hits, well, Gloria, It’s All Over Now Baby Blue and Here Comes the Night from them days, or Them days. Precious Time, Hey Mr DJ, Bright Side of The Road, Jackie Wilson Said, Brown Eyed Girl, Moondance.
The highpoint was two songs from his new album, the title track (Too Many Myths) and the forthcoming single, Once in a Blue Moon, which is jaunty in the style of Hey Mr DJ and Precious Time, but I thought the new one the best of the three. My favourite number of the evening was “Wild Night”, maybe not done as well as I’ve seen it done before, but such a welcome song from that era.
Low points? He’s now subjecting several of the hits to the jazzy, high speed gabble that he destroyed Cleaning Windows with a few years ago. On this occasion he crapped on Jackie Wilson Said and Precious Time comprehensively, with Brown Eyed Girl well on the way to the same treatment. If you’re that sick of doing the songs, the catalogue is huge. Do other stuff for a few years then revisit. “Moondance” got the same treatment vocally, but now it’s the tune they take solos in, and as these were all concise it was redeemed.
There was a good start, with a sublime Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, Van playing sax better than ever, leaving me hoping it would set the style for the evening. Wrong again, but the opening three All Work and No Play, Early in the Morning, Chopping Wood, Talk is Cheap were crisp, confident and unadorned by long solos. The habit of recent years of turning everything into medleys has been dropped.
Here Comes The Night was sung well, but the admirable habit of keeping the guitar low in the mix meant that the glorious guitar riff was lost. What was there was anaemic. Maybe Ned Edward’s appeal and survival is because he DOES play quietly.
Five duets with Chris Farlowe on a Blues and R&B lite nite. It was good to see Farlowe’s warm up 15 minutes backed by Van’s band instead of the Norman Beaker Band, and the songs gained in all areas except guitar. I wonder how the band liked the added chore and if they got paid extra. Farlowe can lighten the mood, in spite of his habit of interjecting “Yeah …” and “Awright” into people’s solos. Van lost his temper over an overloud harmonica mic in Talk is Cheap, and when Farlowe emerged for Hey Mr DJ, he immediately changed the words to “When I’m in a bad mood …”.
It’s always a shame when Van gets perceptibly rattled by minor equipment failures. It means a shorter show. While we were waiting for this one, we were exhorted to take our seats at 7.30 as there would be no interval and the show would end at nine forty-five. In practice, it started at 7.45, Van came on at eight, he finished the main set dead on 9.15, then the three encores brought the length to almost exactly the contractual 90 minutes.
Van and Farlowe did a fair take on Baby What You Want Me To Do (Van insisting that Ned replay the fumbled intro guitar part first). I’ve heard better versions.
Towards the end as Van switched to portable mic to sing his way off, Farlowe interjected “He’s leaving the building!” which was sad but true. It’s all Over Now Baby Blue is so histrionic now that it verges on piss-take while JUST staying on the right side of the line. But I do find this duetted interchange hilarious:
Van (Dylanesque): And all your seasick sailors are rolling home …
Farlowe (soulfully interjects): Yes, they are!
When Van leaves, as ever, the band play Gloria for another two or three minutes. I noticed how much tighter they sound on this. Of course they play it every night, but the constraint of watching Van’s signals is removed and they can do a very rehearsed version. It shows.