Friday, November 27, 2015

On The Road In France 1979

In early summer 1979 Dave visited me in Bradford On Avon and when he returned to Nottingham I lent him a fiver to get home with. Weeks went by and he hadn't sent me the money. A fiver was a lot of money in 1979.Finally I phoned him up.  "Hey, you bastard, where’s my fiver?"."Sorry, I’m going to France tomorrow grape picking, why don’t you come?"                                                                    
                                                                                             I hitched to Folkstone and met Dave and we got on the Calais ferry. We soon got in with a gang and caroused across the English Channel. In Calais Dave threw up on the war memorial, what a great ambassador for his country he is. We slept the night in a bus station and next morning caught the bus to Bouloigne which Dave assured me was the best place to start hitching south from. The whole day went by and we didn't get one sodding lift. In the late afternoon we were joined by a crazy lady from Watford. I can’t remember her name so I’ll call her Jane. She was also going on the Vendage but she was under the impression that it involved taking your shoes and socks off and standing in a big barrel squashing grapes. After another two hours of no lifts we gave up and went to a bar and got drunk, then the three of us slept in a ditch by the side of the road. The next day we decided to split up, I would try and get a lift with Crazy Jane and Dave would go on his own and we would meet up at the Railway station in Toulouse. Dave walked off into the distance, it was to be a week before I saw him again. Almost as soon as he disappeared myself and Jane got a lift from a businessman on his way to Paris. Jane took a shine to him and changed her mind about heading south and said she fancied smoking a joint on top of the Eiffel Tower instead. At Abbeville we parted company and I was on my own, It felt great, and I began to get lifts now that I was alone and I headed for Amiens and then on to Rouens where Jeanne D'arc was burned. I walked through Liseaux in the rain on a Sunday evening and I thought of the old hobo in Kerouac’s Dharma Bums who was devoted to St Teresa of the flowers and I felt really holy and beat, I realized this was the only way to live. I had thrown myself on top of the world and I was floating. One of the many things I like about France is that your basic essentials of life like wine and tobacco are really cheap. You could get a bottle of Vin Rouge plonk for 3.5francs and I’d stuff that in my rucksack and take a slug anytime I felt my spirits waning.
After Lisieux I ended up in Chartres with its beautiful cathedral and then on to Le Mans famous for the 24 hrs race. A family gave me a lift from Le Mans and I was so exhausted that I slept in the back seat of their car for hours. When I awoke I was in Poitiers and it was hot and sunny. I felt that I was in the south. That night I slept in a field near Perigaux and by Tuesday evening I was cruising into Toulouse, I had made it in about 60 hours, I was really pleased with myself. As I strolled up the main boulevard of Toulouse beautiful girls gazed at me from doorways and they weren't waiting for a bus either. I felt great. At the Railway Station there was no sign of Dave but I wasn't concerned. I got chatting to a bloke from Finland who had a T shirt on that read 'England’s No 1 Girl'. He was a real character who liked the English for some reason and we started knocking about together. He turned out to be the best thief I have ever met. We would go into a shop and wander about in there and on leaving the shop he would produce everything we needed. Then we would go and sit in the park with the rest of the itinerant fellaheen and eat and drink to our hearts content. This was the life. At night I would return to Le Gare and sleep on the platform. As the days went by though I got increasingly concerned about Dave. Six days had passed since he had walked off into the distance. Finally one night I felt somebody shaking me, "Pat, wake up”. It was Dave but I was shocked by his appearance. He had a bruised face and a huge black eye. He told me that after leaving me and Crazy Jane he had made good time to Bordeaux but then couldn't get a lift for 3 days. Just when he was on the verge of giving up and jumping the train a large truck slowed down as it passed him, he ran up to it thinking he finally had a lift and the person in the passenger seat threw a melon at him and he was hit in the face by a melon travelling at about 20mph. He made a good recovery though over the next couple of days. I introduced him to England’s No 1 Girl and we passed the time begging and dossing in the park. After a while though we got bored and decided to head for Carcassone and find some work.
We bunked it on the bus, it was easy because on the buses in Toulouse the passengers get on the bus at the front and pay the driver and exit at the middle of the bus. So we merely entered at the exit! When we arrived in Carcassone we were almost in Spain. We met an English man with a stutter, he said, "I’ve been in Ca Ca Ca Carcassone 3 days now, it’s really boring". After we left him we found the most incredible perfectly preserved medieval castle that I’d ever seen. We kipped on the battlements that night with a brother and sister who came from up north in the Franco-Belgium coalfield. They were really nice but more important they had money so we enjoyed their hospitality for a few days. We couldn't find a farmer though who would take us on and give us a job on the grape picking. We said cheerio to the nice couple and moved on. We went to Narbonne, Beziers, Sete, Montpelier Nimes and Avignon. Finally we arrived in the town of Orange. We were disappointed to find that the Patti Smith Band had played in the Roman amphitheater there only the day before. Our luck had changed though and we got work with a farmer called Maurice in one of the outlying villages. The work didn't start for a week so we had to kick our heels and survive off our wits for a few days. We did this by begging.
"Pardon mademoiselle,je suis pas d'argent ,avez vous un franc pour mange sil vous plait,je cherche pour travail sur le vendage. Merci beaucoups!"                                            
                                                      Every time we got 3 or 4 francs together we would go and get a baguette and some fromage or pate and some wine and sit around in the park. One afternoon I counted nine different nationalities sat in our gang of wastrels and winos. It was great fun. Then the day came to go and start work for Maurice. It was back breaking work at first until we got used to it but I really enjoyed it apart from when Dave would catch my fingers from the other side of the vine with his secateurs. There were two other English on the farm, students from Oxford University but we didn’t hold it against them and a German lad called Werner who we got on really well with. We all slept in the barn on bales of hay and a happy month with Maurice passed really quickly.
When the work ended and we were paid off we said goodbye To Maurice and our new friends and headed north to Bourge En Bresse to visit a couple whom Dave had met a couple of years earlier, they lived with their baby in a tiny apartment but made room for us and we slept on their floor for a few nights. I had developed a nasty ear infection and Dave had some sort of galloping mouth rot. We both went to the doctor in Bourge En Bresse which was quite expensive. One day walking down the street Dave suddenly stopped dead in his tracks.
"What’s up mate, are you feeling rough?"
"No, cake shop”, he said, pointing at a shop window.
                                                                                        He could never walk past a cake shop in France without buying a gateaux. It was in a little flea pit cinema in this town that I first saw the film The Last Waltz where Van effortlessly stole the show with Caravan.
After we said cheerio to Dave’s friends we headed north to find more work on the vendage. We visited Rheims with its magnificent cathedral which I called Le Grande Illusion and then Epernay in the heart of the champagne area. Hundreds of vendageurs were hanging about at the railway station where the farmers recruited their workers. In the waiting room of the station Dave started talking to this girl called Daisy from Belgium who was lying on the floor next to him. Then they joined the sleeping bags together and the next thing I knew he was shagging her, right there in front of everybody in the station waiting room. I was disgusted, (and also quite jealous!). The next day Dave met this old English geezer who had lived there since after the war .He was a drunken old sod but he had some useful contacts.
"Oh my dear boy, don’t worry, I’ll phone my very good friend Madame Jumel, and she will give you a job".

                 It was great at Madame Jumel’s, we had a great big dormitory to sleep in. The first night there when I got in bed I realised this was the first bed I’d slept in for two months. In the morning we just had coffee and biscuits, then all piled into the camion. We did about two hours work and then had breakfast out in the fields. Lunch was also outdoors. We used to work our way along the vine singing Old Macdonald had a farm in French, Coupe ici coupe la etc. When you got to the end of the vine there was always a crate of wine there so you would have a good slug of it and start off down the next vine. The evening meal was great, it started about 7.00 and ended about midnight with everyone as drunk as a bishop. We had some great laughs. We were in a village called Cramant. Some evenings we would walk to the next village called Avize and visit Daisy and her friends. We used to get drunk on champagne every night and also champagne brandy which was like rocket fuel.We got really friendly with this couple called Cati & Claude.
I met this really nice girl from Morlaix in Brittany. The Bretons are different to the rest of the French, they are a Celtic people, maybe that’s why she liked me, I don’t know. Sadly the happy days at Madame Jumel’s came to an end. Dave headed for Alsace Lorraine to do more grape-picking with Daisy but I decided to head for home. I said farewell to the little Breton and caught the train for Paris. In the bar at the Gare Du Nord I got chatting to this American bloke who said he was a performance artist. He was really into Lenny Bruce and hundred per cent truth and all that sort of thing. We chatted about books and music all the way to Calais. On the ferry it was a beautiful hot sunny day although it was now October. Britain was enjoying an Indian summer and looked really beautiful as we sailed towards the white cliffs of Dover. I had left three months earlier with nothing and had emerged from France with £200 and clutching two bottles of champagne. What a great year it was.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Van Morrison: His Band And The Street Choir Revisited.

Street Choir isn't one of my favourite Van albums by any means. When I reviewed all Van's work a few years ago I think I rated it about 22nd of all his albums. Having said that I have bought it three times now. The first time was about 35 years ago when I was living in The Netherlands and Warner Brothers re-released it on vinyl in a double package with Tupelo Honey. About twenty years later Kim and I bought  Street Choir on cd. It was in a record store in Bath. Recently it has been re-issued again with five bonus tracks so I bought it again for the sake of completeness. Van wasn't happy about the Moondance re-release a couple of years ago and I bet he isn't happy with what WB have done with Astral Weeks and Street Choir either. When the album originally came out in 1970 Van expressed disappointment with it and said he lost control over it. He wanted to call the album Virgo Fools but the record company changed that to the unwieldy title it has now. I bet it is Janet Planet's favourite Van album though. Janet is the muse for many of the songs and she wrote the sleeve notes as well as designing the cover. There is also a nice photo of Janet and Shana on the inside cover.
The opening track is Domino which gave Van his biggest ever hit single in the USA  and got even higher in the charts than Brown Eyed Girl. Some people have suggested that it is a homage to Fats Domino but I'm not convinced about that. Crazy Face is a nice song which I think would have fitted nicely on the Veedon Fleece album. Give Me A Kiss is a very upbeat happy song which features the street choir including Janet. Take 2 of this song is also included on the reissue in a stripped down version which is still very enjoyable. I didn't realize till just now that there is a reference to Van's friends 'The Band' in the song. I always thought he was talking about his own band. There are two versions of I've Been Working as well, both of which are really cooking. This is a great song in Van's live repertoire as demonstrated on the It's Too Late To Stop Now album. I think on this album I actually prefer the alternate version where the horn section really excel themselves. Call Me Up In Dreamland  also has two versions here. There is some wonderful sax playing going on here. The alternate version has a long jazzy intro and you almost thing the record is stuck. I don't think it adds anything. A while ago ago I  was watching the telly and suddenly I heard the unmistakable sound of Van .It was I'll Be Your Lover Too  from the soundtrack of the film Moonlight Mile and it sounded great. Both versions on this album are great. "How's that?" asks Van at the end. He knew it was brilliant. Blue Money is a fun song maybe inspired by Janet's work as a model and gave Van another USA hit song.

Virgo Clowns is another great song. I know Van is a Virgo, I don't think Janet or Shana are though so I don't know why the title is plural. The guitar playing is great and there is some very nice John Platania mandolin tinkling out of the speakers on this song. I think Virgo Clowns would have been a good title for the album. Gypsy Queen  is another nice song, gypsies crop up again often in Van songs and things like, "let your love come tumbling down", appear elsewhere in another great Van song. This is sung falsetto style which Van did a lot early in his career. In the Take 3 version here I think his voice sounds quite strained but this song demonstrates that he can sing soul as good as anyone on Tamla-Motown or elsewhere. Sweet Jannie is obviously a quasi-autobiographical song inspired by Janet. If I ever Needed Someone  is another song deserving of a mention on this album. It features the trio of Emily Houston, Judy Clay and Jackie Verdell who Van had used to great effect on the Moondance album and earlier.The album ends with Street Choir which is a good song but I'm not quite sure what it is about. There is some nice harmonica on it towards the end.

After listening to the album again carefully I still think that it is just outside his top twenty albums but that just shows what a fabulous body of work Van has produced. I think that after Astral Weeks and Moondance the Street Choir album must be viewed as a bit of a disappointment for Van’s third Warner Brothers’ album but the two previous albums were masterpieces, among the best albums ever made, so history should look kindly upon Street Choir. By any other artist this album would be a crowning achievement.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Lady In The Van

It was a dark and dirty day today, windy with squally showers but I needed to get out of the house because I would get cabin madness if I was cooped up any longer. I decided to make use of my bus pass and go to Trowbridge and check out the charity shops. I couldn't wear my beloved hat because the wind would have blown it clean off my head. When I got to Trowbridge I had a quick look in Oxfam but couldn't find anything worth buying. Leaving the shop, the rain was lashing down and I didn't want to do anything else. Then I remembered that friends of mine Angela & Mark had been to see 'The Lady In The Van' and had said it was really good. " That will get me out of the rain", I thought to myself and scurried the short distance to The Odeon.

They don't seem to have Box-Offices any more. You have to buy your ticket from a machine. After I worked out how to use the machine I hurried to Screen 7 and nobody asked to see my ticket. I could have strolled in for nothing. The film was due to start at 2.20 but first you have to wade through about 20 minutes of adverts and trailers. If I ever go to the cinema again I will remember that.
It was worth the wait though. Maggie Smith is great in the lead role of Mary Shepherd/Margaret Fairchild. It is 46 years since I saw her in 'The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie' and she just gets better with age. I hope there is an Oscar or a BAFTA for Maggie after this performance. Alex Jennings is also really good as the writer Alan Bennett who allows her to park on his driveway and she stays 15 years. There are also great supporting roles from the entire company such as Francis De La Tour as Ursula Vaughan Williams and Jim Broadbent as a crooked copper.It is all a 'mostly true' story full of humour and sadness. I won't tell you what happens in case you want to see it yourself. I'm glad I did.

                                                                        When the film ended I hurried to the bus-stop in the gathering gloom and I could see the 265 to Westbury waiting . I ran to catch it and just as I arrived the driver closed the door. I banged on the door but he deliberately looked the other way and drove off. The dirty bastard. I couldn't be bothered to wait for the next bus so I got a taxi home which cost £14.50. Then I went to the pub after a very enjoyable afternoon.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Astral Weeks Revisited

I think Astral Weeks by Van Morrison is the best album ever made. It is also the most difficult of Van's albums to talk about. I can blather on for hours about all his other great albums but Astral Weeks is so subjective and personal it is hard to describe the impact it has on you. There are adjectives such as gentle,literate,pastoral,searching, laid-back,mellow,wistful, plaintive, poignant,reflective,dreamy, nostalgic and spiritual that you could use but words become meaningless when listening to this album. You have to listen several times and you either get it or you don't. Recently I heard that Warner Brothers had re-issued it with four bonus tracks so I bought it again. I have been listening to the new CD this afternoon and it inspired me to rewrite a story about Astral Weeks from a few years ago.                                                                                                                                                       
      It was the cold winter of 1973 when I first became aware of Astral Weeks. I was in my final year at teacher training college and it was all going wrong. My supervisor Miss Pinnock had it in for me and I couldn't get motivated to do any work. I would just lie on my bed and wonder why I was so lazy. One night I was lying there and music drifted into my room from next door. I thought, "I know that record".It was  an album I had heard a few weeks earlier in Manchester. It sounded great. Finally I banged on the wall and shouted, "Turn that music up mate", the student in the next room was called Roger. I think he came from Gloucester. He invited me into his room to listen to his album. It was Astral Weeks. “I like that Madame Joy”,I said to Roger. “Actually it is called Madame George”, Roger replied. “Oh well, I like it anyway”.   

                                                             Shortly afterwards I bought the vinyl album for myself in Woolworths in Wrexham and it was a 'Nice Price' if I remember correctly. I think it was £5.99. I must have listened to Astral Weeks maybe a thousand times over the years and I have never got bored with hearing it. The listener is rewarded with constant playing and the album reveals its secrets by and by. The first songs I got hooked on were Madame George and Ballerina and for a while I only played side two but gradually I began to realise side one was just as great. Although I think it is the greatest album ever made I still think it was a bit of a fluke. When Van entered that studio on the evening of September 25th 1968 he could not have known for certain how the music would sound because he had not rehearsed with or even met most of the musicians on the album. The producers Lewis Merenstein and Bob Schwaid deserve credit for assembling some of the finest session musicians around and they in turn deserve credit for intuitively understanding what Van was trying to create. They were Jay Berliner, guitar, Richard Davis, bass, Connie Kay drums, John Payne, flute and sax and Warren Smith, percussion and vibraphone. In an interview Van claimed that he recorded Astral Weeks three times. I think he must have been talking about the songs that were recorded with Bert Berns on the Bang label and also to the demo tapes that he made with guitarist Mick Cox in Belfast before leaving for the states. I think that some of the songs like Ballerina might date back to 1966. 

 Let’s have a look at the songs. The opening track is Astral Weeks and the words of the title don't actually appear in the song. I wonder if the viaduct of your dreams idea might have occurred to Van from the Boyne Viaduct that crosses the River Boyne carrying the main Dublin to Belfast rail line. I think it’s possible because later in the album Van sings about travelling from Dublin up to Sandy Row and throwing pennies out of the train windows so he must have known this viaduct. Also I wonder if the 'immobile steel rims crack' is a reference to the Harland and Woolf shipyard where Vans dad and Van himself worked. At this shipyard they had two huge immobile cranes called Samson and Delilah. Just a thought, .The song seems to me to hint at reincarnation, to be born again in another time and another place.               Beside You has some of the most poetic lyrics ever written in popular music.  The words are as good as Bob Dylan,Keats or Shelley or any of those romantic poets. On my new CD Jay Berliner's guitar sounds better than ever. On the new re-issue there is a bonus track of the first take of this song which has some chat between the producer and Van. I don't particularly like this track and they definitely made the right decision to choose the take on the original album. 

                                                                                'Sweet Thing' is fantastic. It really inspires me. My favourite line is 'And I shall drive my chariot down your streets and cry, "Hey, it's me, I'm dynamite And I don't know why". Van knew that what he was saying was dynamite, as he said in a later song, 'Well, I may be wrong but something deep in my heart tells me I'm right and I don't think so'. 'And I will never, ever, ever, ever grow so old again' reminds me of Dylan’s 'My Back Pages'.
                                                                                Cyprus Avenue is next, The acoustic guitar is brilliant, the lines 'My tongue gets tied every  time I try to speak, my tongue gets tied, every time I try to speak, and my inside shakes just like a leaf on a tree' are lifted from All Shook Up by Elvis but who cares. Mansion on the hill is a reference to a Hank Williams song, 'If I pass the rumbling station where the lonesome engine drivers pine', reminds one of Jimmy Rodgers the singing brakeman. In an interview Van said that Jimmy Rodgers was the first music he heard.  Van returns time and again to the mystic avenue on later albums. Listening to the album again this afternoon 42 years after I first heard it the song took on new meaning for me because of my recent trip to Belfast and in my minds eye I could see the leaves falling one by one just as they did on August 31st this year up on the mystic avenue.
 'The Way Young Lovers Do' is the song that I think is my least favourite but lots of people love it. I think what maybe put me off this song sometimes is because it can seem like a cacophony of sound which can break the mesmerising spell of the other tracks. I  think that this song with its brassy Sinatra type feel might have been better re-recorded and saved for the Moondance album where it might have fitted in better because it is a great song but maybe out of place on Astral Weeks. Instead of this song I think a re-working of Joe Harper Saturday Morning which I think is a lost Van classic might have fitted in better with the vibe of this album. Possibly also if TB Sheets which I think of as the companion song to Slim Slow Slider could have been re-recorded and put in after Ballerina. That might have made the album much too painful though.
                                                                                 Let's move on to hearing Madame George which is genius, The young 14 year old of Cyprus Avenue so young and bold is much older now with hat on drinking wine and getting into all sorts of escapades. Vans early memories seem to mirror my own in some ways. Near where I lived as a child there was a factory which employed hundreds of girls and they used to traipse along the pavement in their high heeled stiletto shoes and leave thousands of tiny holes in the pavement. That’s what the clicking clacking of the high heeled shoes means to me. Compare the exuberant youthful joy of being on the train and throwing pennies out of the window to the bleak desolation of being on a fast train going nowhere in a more recent world weary Van song. On the new re-issue there is Take 4 of Madame George and I really like it.There are some small changes in the lyrics with mentions of cigarette lighters and 'getting soaking wet'. When Van breathes, 'Dry your eyes' is especially poignant. This take of Madame George is as good as the original in my opinion.

                                                                              'Ballerina' is superb with the relentless energy of the guitar pushing it forward. As Brian Hinton said in a biography something like, 'all emotions are crystallised here such as desire,joy, hope, world weariness,consolation, awe and anticipation. The new reissue has a longer version of Ballerina with more orchestration and flute but I don't think it is better than the original track.
        Well it’s getting late, just a little, just a little so I’ll move on to  Slim Slow Slider' which is quite harrowing and reminds me of another Van song TB Sheets, and must be partly autobiographical because I don't think you could have written a song like this without having experienced something like it yourself. This song is really sad and ends Astral Weeks with a feeling of despair. The saxophone at the end is almost like a scream. The new re-issue contains a longer version that I don't particularly like. The bass and flute continue to battle it out and at the end Van repeats, 'Glory be to him'. It was quite astute of the producer to cut the song short I think.

                                                                                                     Anyway, I have said enough. Listen to the album and judge for yourself. My opinion is no more valid than yours. I think though that this music is timeless and will be listened to in hundreds of years time when it will be seen as classical music.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Review: Rhiannah Warm & Tony Floyd Kenna, Live And Acoustic.

I met Rhiannah Warm in Belfast at the end of August when she and her friend Christine Robinson kindly gave me a lift from Van Morrison’s concert on Cyprus Avenue to the post-gig party at the Park Avenue Hotel. I knew Rhiannah was a musician so a few days later out of curiosity I looked on youtube and found a video of her and her friends playing in O’Donaghues in Dublin in the very seats where I had been sitting just a few days before. I liked what I heard and recently Rhiannah told me they had a new CD coming out so I ordered a copy which arrived two days ago. I must say it is a most enjoyable CD as well. On opening the package the first thing I thought was that I really liked the artwork by John A Rubery which is very attractive. The sleeve notes tell us that the album was recorded live at Ram Alley Studio in Belfast in September. There is practically no post-production so I would imagine that this is exactly how they would sound if you heard them live in a club.

The first track is called Light And Shade and written by Tony. He is an excellent guitarist and sings the lead vocals on this track. I am pleased to say that all the songs on this album are original. There are no cover versions which shows how clever they are. The next song was a collaboration of Rhiannah & Tony called My Bones Belong In This Place which demonstrates what a good vocalist Rhiannah is. The following song Cold Lonely Nights was written by Rhiannah and is one of my favourite songs on the album. It is quite up-tempo and driven along by Tony’s guitar work. The next four songs were all written by Tony. The first of which is Suzanne Vega’s Eyes. Tony sings this one and the lyrics are quite humorous. Rhiannah’s vocals are very soulful on the next track, My Man Blues. Her bluesy voice also excels on All The Colours which to begin with reminded me of ‘Motherless Child’. It is a complete change of mood when Tony takes the lead on Bought And Sold. The quite angry social commentary of the lyrics show what a good songwriter he is. The next track was written by Warm/ Cunningham and shows that like Van the man Rhiannah can sing any genre of music with the country flavoured Texas Plates. This is a very enjoyable pop song and probably the most immediately accessible song on the album. The final song is their homage to Belfast written by Kenna/Mannah McMeeken called Belfast, City Of Life which ends the album on a very optimistic high note.
I must say I have really enjoyed listening to this music on a dark rainy Saturday afternoon and if you ever get the chance to see Rhiannah Warm & Tony Floyd Kenna at a folk club or a festival then I urge you to go along. I certainly would.

You can see a video below if you scroll down. Also, you can visit Rhiannah & Tony's Facebook page here-

To order the album you can contact them on Facebook or visit the website here-

Monday, November 09, 2015

Van Morrison & Tom Jones At London Blues Fest 2015.

It's not unusual for trains to be late in this country but yesterday was ridiculous. I got to Westbury station in plenty of time for the 10.52 to London and discovered it was running 90 minutes late. It was due to 'poor track conditions' caused by leaves on the line. Autumn happens every year, surely they should be prepared for it. Anyway, I was in no mood for songs about leaves a tumblin' down I can tell you. I will be writing to the rail company in the strongest possible terms to demand my money back. By the time we got to London Paddington I was feeling quite grumpy.
                                                                                                                                     At the Underground station I found I had to change at Baker Street, Canning Town & Blackwall and even then I had to walk to my hotel. I couldn't be bothered to queue for the ticket machines which I wasn't sure how to operate anyway so I got a black cab. London is always busy, even on a Sunday. The slow journey across London was quite painful. Sitting at traffic lights watching the meter as the fare gets more and more outrageous. Finally £42.50 later I arrived at my hotel in London's Docklands area somewhere.

                           Once I got in my room I had a quick power nap. Then I awoke and looked around me at four grey walls that surrounded me and I realised, yes, I was on the wrong side of the river from the o2. I wasn't sure of the best way to get there so I went to the bar and asked the nice Polish girl if she would order me a cab while I had a large Chardonnay to calm my nerves. The taxi driver relieved me of another £15.00 but I finally arrived at the o2. What a garish futuristic soulless  place it is. As soon as I set foot in the foyer I knew I hated it. It was teeming with people. Like being in a shopping mall just before Christmas. As well as Tom and Van in the Arena there were lots of other events going on. Jamie Cullum was playing in there somewhere, there was a cinema, bars, restaurants and all sorts of things. Bands were playing all over the place. I watched one band for a while. God knows who they were but they were really loud. On stages elsewhere were The Blues Band ( Playing in a bowling alley!), Georgie Fame, Chris Farlowe, Dr Feelgood and lots of others. I didn't have time for all that though. I had to find my friends.

 I made my way to the 'Slug & Lettuce', (that is a crap name for a bar as well). The first person I spotted was Amanda. She is great. I first met Amanda a couple of years ago outside the Colston Hall in Bristol when she said to me, "Is your name Pat?, I know you from your blog page". I was really chuffed about that. It made me feel like I was famous!. I have been bumping into Amanda ever since at Van gigs. She was there last night with her friend Diane from Pontypridd which I think is Tom Jones home town. We were soon joined by Alan Lloyd who I have met at dozens of Van concerts. Alan is a great guy and really knowledgeable about music, especially of the Blues variety. Then Lynn Corken arrived. Lynn had just jetted in from Belfast. She is really nice and is the official guide on the Van Morrison Trail in Belfast. We were also joined by Treve Walsh who I had never met before. Anyway, it was a small but select band of Van fans. After a couple of drinks I had to go and collect my ticket from the Box-Office. What a hassle. There were about ten queues, each about 40 yards long to collect tickets. That is another racket as well. They charge you £3.50 just to give you your ticket. Why,Oh Why Delilah?.

                                                                                              Finally, it got to showtime and I made my way up the escalator to my seat. I haven't seen Van play in an auditorium this big since he played with Ray Charles at Wembley Arena back in 96. There must have been 10,000 people in there. Considering I only bought my ticket a week ago I was quite pleased with my view and the sound wasn't bad either. Earlier I had said to Lynn that I wasn't expecting a lot from this gig but I was to be pleasantly surprised. Van was on really good form and seemed to enjoy himself.

As in previous years it was Robert Elms who introduced the show. It was Van's now familiar band of  Dana, Paul, Paul, Dave, and Bobby. The set began with the usual Celtic Swing followed by Close Enough For Jazz. As a person who goes to a lot of Van gigs I am thinking it is about time he thought about changing the intro. I'm not tired yet of the next song  though which was the up-tempo version of Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child featuring Van on guitar. This was followed by Early In The Morning/ Rock Me Baby in which Paul Moran was brilliant on keyboards. A real highlight followed which was In The Afternoon/ Burn Baby Burn. It was so good that I bet a lot of the women in the audience who were there to see Tom considered throwing their knickers at Van during this song. Tear Your Playhouse Down isn't one of my favourite Van songs by any means but Dave Keary played some great guitar in this song. This was followed by a song which even the Tom fans recognised, Days Like This which got warm applause as did one of Van's rare hit songs Precious Time. Next up was the now familiar Baby Please Don't Go/ Parchman Farm/ Don't Start Crying Now medley which the audience seemed to really enjoy. Another highlight was the Ray Charles classic I  Can't Stop Loving You. I loved it and it took me right back to when Kim & I saw Van years ago. Magic Time was next but I always feel that Van is taking a breather when he performs this song. It never stands out. The next song though was the absolute highlight of the night for me, It's All In The Game/ No Plan B/ No Safety Net. Van was really into this and kept repeating, " Time Is running out, No time for the waiting game, this is it !". This song epitomised why I go to Van concerts.

                                                                                 Van left the stage in triumph but soon returned.He said that he had tried to please everyone and had done his 'club set' and the songs that made him money because hustle is the name of the game. He put his thumb up and said, "Swinging", then his thumb down and said, "Dodgy". Some of the older readers might remember that as the catch-phrase of a comedian called Norman Vaughan when he presented the TV show Sunday Night At The London Palladium. Then Van introduced his old friend Tom Jones and I was also really pleased to see Van's friend and former band member Leo Green take the stage on saxophone. I think the first song they sang was called I Been Abused. It was really good and then Lonesome Road and finally I'm Not Feeling It Any More  which was fabulous and after Van & Tom left the stage Leo played some blistering saxophone. It wasn't the best Van show I had ever been to, nothing could match the Vanscendental experience of the concerts on Cyprus Avenue but I had really enjoyed it despite the crappy venue which I will never visit again.

                                                                                         I'll bring this story to a quick conclusion now because I'm getting tired. During the interval they wouldn't let me out for a cigarette much to my annoyance. I went back in for Tom's set but after three songs I decided to leave. I enjoyed hearing him sing with Van but on his own I found his vocals a bit bombastic. Also to me Van is the real deal. When he sings the blues I believe him but with Tom I think he is just pretending. I feel like he is just trying to get some street cred now that his Las Vegas career is over and is trying to re-invent himself. The other reason I left is that there were too many rivers to cross and I didn't want to be competing with thousands of people for taxis late at night and I didn't want to be wandering the dark streets of London on my own.  I didn't think there was any chance that Van would return during Tom's set. Today, I found out I was wrong there. Van did come back and sing four songs with Tom including Sometimes We Cry and Goodnight Irene so I might have made a mistake leaving early. Also I have heard that Tom sang the Leonard Cohen classic Tower Of Song. I think I would have enjoyed that. Never mind.

                         This morning I found it was really easy to get to Paddington on public transport. I got there no problems. By 12.15 I was back in Westbury. The old town looked the same as I stepped down from the train and there to meet me was the taxi driver. It was good to touch the green green grass of home.