Larmer Tree Festival
Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset
17th July 2013
Posted on Van Morrison’s FaceBook page, by the time I’d driven home
Avalon of The Heart (duet with Shana Morrison)
Got to Go Back
Days Like This
Baby Please Don’t Go
Here Comes The Night
Moondance / My Funny Valentine
What Am I Living For?
Open The Door To Your Heart
Sometimes We Cry (duet with Shana Morrison)
Brown Eyed Girl
In The Garden
Haunts of Ancient Peace (Van Morrison: piano)
Whenever God Shines His Light (duet with Shana Morrison)
From Van Morrison’s FaceBook page … view of Larmer Tree Gardens
It’s ten years since Van Morrison did the Larmer Tree Festival, and after a few years of appalling weather, his return was on the warmest evening of the year, in the beautiful 18th century gardens. It was a perfect evening for standing outdoors listening to music.
The band was the same (or virtually the same) as Bournemouth in March 2012, and again he didn’t announce names. Again they set up with the guitarist and bass guitar / double bass player facing inward toward the keyboard player to get signals (the guitarist never faced front at any point). A percussionist who also played rhythm guitar, the drummer, and the horn section … saxophone plus trombone doubling on tuba (I think it was a tuba). Van Morrison played harmonica, sax, guitar and piano. On the three numbers in a row he played guitar, What Am I Living For? Playhouse, Tupelo Honey, he used a Les Paul, leaving guitarists in the audience salivating at the beautiful white acoustic guitar on a stand next to his mic. It was never picked up. The drummer didn’t have a cage, but as an outdoor gig, had to be mic’d up, so had a barrier between him and the horn section.
I didn’t mention the addition, and what a marvellous addition it was: Shana Morrison, Van’s daughter, on vocals. I didn’t recognize her, and was surprised to see the “backing vocalist” so far forward, but she wasn’t just a backing vocalist, but duetted with Van on the opener, Avalon of The Heart, Sometimes We Cry (replacing Tom Jones / Chris Farlowe) and Whenever God Shines His Light (replacing Cliff Richard). Sometimes We Cry is a favourite. I’ve seen it live several times. This was the best version I’ve ever heard and it lit up the night.
Sometimes We Cry: iPhone picture
The set list was outstanding. Well-chosen and sequenced. Because of the high degree of signalling by both Van and his keyboard player for stops and starts, plus Van telling the band the titles, I assumed the setlist was flexible. By the time I got home, ninety minutes after the concert end, there were pictures up on Van Morrison’s Facebook page, including a picture of the setlist sheet, proving it was pre-planned, and to my surprise, set in stone. It really felt as if he was going with the organic flow of the evening.
As so often the first three numbers are somewhat lesser known. Avalon of The Heart (from 1990’s Enlightenment) is one I haven’t heard in concert before. It wasn’t even among the mere 138 selections on my iPod Van Morrison Playlist, but it is now. I’d forgotten how much I like that song. Got To Go Back opens No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986) and The Mystery is from Poetic Champions Compose (1987), an old favourite but one that I hadn’t heard for a while either. So all three are from the same era of his career, and fit together in mood.
Then he launched into Days Like This, and really got the feet moving in the crowd with Baby Please Don’t Go / Here Comes The Night … songs he’s been singing for close on fifty years. Almost alone among his stellar contemporaries, his voice is better now than it was back then.
We were pretty far forward to stage left (audience right), and the sound suffered a little from sheer volume at that proximity. As we walked out to the cars, Ahab were playing on the second stage and it was obvious than close up they sounded loud, slightly distorted but as we got further away, sounded much better. I’m sure the same was true of Van, and on Sunday for Bellowhead, I’ll try further back. Musically, the band sounded less polished than indoors last year, with some transitions to solos during Moondance slightly ragged, but I think that enhanced the live feel, and is also sound balance and hearing each other out of doors rather than in a concert hall. One of Van’s few introductions was to Chuck Willis’s standard, What Am I Living For? Which was something along the lines of it being completely different and “from an album no one knows” which indicates that sales of Pay The Devil were disappointing.
Anyway, everything coalesced soundwise on Playhouse, given a storming rendition, and one of several high points of the show. Tupelo Honey went into the last (virtual) single Open The Door To Your Heart and at this point the band were really motoring, leading into that sublime Sometimes We Cry. Brown Eyed Girl got the “new” jazzy version, as last year, and a change from the closing slot too. Green lighting means In The Garden though to the intense relief of Larmer Tree’s organizers, the actual garden wasn’t misty wet with rain as in recent years, but baking in late evening summer warmth. Van Morrison moved to electric piano, for Haunts of Ancient Peace, the two songs pleasing we ageing Van fans who wait for him to get into the mystic on shows. Whenever God Shines His Light was so infectious you could feel the entire crowd bobbing in time, another excellent duet.
For years, I complained about the ever-present Help Me, but the last couple of times it’s reached a different level. Tonight with the Talking-That-Talk sequence shared with Shana Morrison, it was the best I’ve heard it. Help Me signals the end. With Van you expect an exact 90 minutes … and he’d started on the dot of the advertised 8.15 pm. It’s an unusual night that passes one hundred minutes, and this did. Gloria was the extended “Van has left the building” version, and the band have got that off into a free-soloing, flying finale. It lasts a long time, presumably allowing Van to get well clear. You could move to the exits knowing he won’t be back, but it’s always fantastic, so you stay.
Shana Morrison was the major uplift on the show. I always feel slightly sorry for female backing singers, basically having to do a standing shimmy for 100 minutes, but she did it superbly. Great show.
Ambience: Larmer Tree Gardens, 10 minutes before show time