Wessex Hall, Poole Lighthouse
24th August 2007
Originally published in Wavelength magazine
I Love My Baby (?) (Chris Farlowe solo)
This Love of Mine
Have I Told You Lately?
Early in the Morning
Bright Side of the Road
Cry from Home (with Chris Farlowe)
Hey Mr DJ (with Chris Farlowe)
I’m Not Feeling it Anymore
Sometimes We Cry (with Chris Farlowe)
Stranded (with Chris Farlowe)
I Can’t Stop Loving You
Don’t Start Crying / Custard Pie
Tupelo Honey (with Chris Farlowe)
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (with Chris Farlowe)
Brown Eyed Girl
Stand By Me (with Chris Farlowe)
I hadn’t seen Van since Salisbury in November 2005, so although I have the Austin City Limits CD, this was my first time with the pedal steel / violin / three backing singers line up. The last time he played this hall (when it was called Poole Arts Centre) was the first gig with Linda Gail Lewis and the Red Hot Pokers in 2000, which was the low point of 25 years of Van concerts for me. So the only possible way was up.
I’ve always maintained that Van is better with backing vocalists, so this show ticked all my boxes. Great sound in a proper concert hall, superb backing, Tupelo Honey, Bright Side of the Road, he didn’t play my least-favourite song, Help Me and he even exceeded the 90 minutes for a change. Compared to other artists’ shows, Van’s insistence on starting on time, playing at the right volume rather than blasting the audience and eschewing the normal charade of so-called “encores” (Paul Simon did five recently), is absolutely right.
It was a Chris Farlowe-heavy show (we tend to get Chris Farlowe along on the South coast), with a solo vocal introductory song and seven duets with Van. The focus was the new “Best of Volume 3” and this was clear from the moment Van announced that Farlowe was to sing Tom Jones’ part in Cry For Home. Farlowe went on to replace Bobby Bland’s part in the “Best of Volume 3” version of Tupelo Honey, and Van visited “Volume 3” for Early in the Morning (minus B.B. King obviously), Stranded, Little Village, Hey Mr DJ, Precious Time and the album got namechecked. The amount Farlowe did seemed to surprise even him. After Sometimes We Cry, he turned to leave the stage and Van said “No, stay on …”, which he did for Stranded.
The textures added by violin (doubling on mandolin) then pedal steel (doubling on banjo) and the backing vocalists (doubling on trumpet / guitar) refreshed the songs in a positive way. I never liked the “new” Cleaning Windows of a few years ago, but I loved the banjo-driven version of Bright Side of The Road in Poole. While I missed the horn section of Matt Holland and Martin Winning, in their absence, Van had to play more sax than usual, which was a good thing. I thought the line up would mean a more country-ish sound, but as before, the change in musicians soon becomes melded into Van’s style, rather than imposing a new style on him. The showcase for solos was Early in the Morning, and very good it was too. Throughout solos were economical, beautifully taken and varied.
The outstanding song for me was I’m Not Feeling It Anymore from Hymns to the Silence. I don’t think I’ve heard it live before. So it was the obligatory and now expected “surprise song”. Hymns to the Silence must have been on his mind because we also got the backing vocalists coming into their own on the best I Can’t Stop Loving You that I’ve seen him do. I’m pleased that Tupelo Honey is back in the set after too long in exile (sorry!) but I missed the segue into Why Must I Always Explain? of ten years ago. I don’t much like Bobby Bland’s additions, and I would rather have heard Van do this on his own than with Chris Farlowe.
I enjoy Farlowe’s contributions on the whole. He still has the vocal power as demonstrated on Cry For Home and Sometimes We Cry. I’ve seen them do a better duet on It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, and I know Farlowe’s soulful but histrionic interjections grate for some listeners, but the song goes back 43 years for both of them. Stand By Me was a terrific closer, and made a change from Gloria. The lyric suits Farlowe’s voice in a way that Dylan lyrics never can. Walking out, there was a very positive, happy buzz from the audience. I’ve seen a few shows where people seem vaguely disgruntled in the past, so it was good to hear people talking excitedly to strangers, and all agreed that it was one of the best shows they’ve seen. And these were regular Van concert attendees … the couple behind me groaned in disappointment when he started ‘Precious Time’ and one said, ‘Well, that’s it … he’s heading for the end.’