Thursday, September 10, 2015

Down On Cyprus Avenue. Part 1. 'Get On The Train'.

It was Sunday morning in Dublin and I was awoken by the sound of seagulls outside my hotel room window. Then I realised the big day had finally arrived. I had to go, on that train from Dublin up to Belfast Central. There was a big party that night for all the Van Morrison fans followed by two concerts on Cyprus Avenue on Sir Van's 70th birthday. When Maurice told me at the start of the year what he was planning to do I thought Maurice had flipped. I thought he would never get permission to close down the road and put on a concert, and what about the residents?. They would go mad surely. As the weeks went by though it became apparent that Maurice's beautiful vision was going to happen and Van was going to make it real one more time on the mystic avenue that he immortalised on his Astral Weeks album. As soon as the tickets went on sale I snapped one up. The concert sold out immediately and a second concert was added and I was lucky to get a ticket for that one as well.

                                                                                 I had arrived in Dublin on Thursday night on the ferry from Holyhead having brought my travel plans forward because of a threatened train strike. That meant spending two days in Dublin kicking my heels and wishing I was in Belfast where hundreds of Vanatics had already arrived from all over the world. Dublin is a wonderful city and I have been there several times before but always with Kim who loved Dublin and everywhere I went such as O'Donaghues, Trinity College, Stephens Green, Grafton Street, Temple Bar etc brought back memories of previous visits with Kim to Dublin City in the rare old times.(See photo of Kim with James Joyce). I shouldn't have gone on my own. Any city however nice can be quite lonely if you are on your own.
By Saturday evening I was living on lonely avenue and feeling quite sorry for myself until something really nice happened. I was sitting outside a pub in Temple Bar when this man came up to me and said, " Is your name Pat?, I think I know you". It was Michel-Yves Balin. I had never met him before but he recognised me from my blog page & Facebook. Michel-Yves is French but he lives in Denmark with his lovely Danish wife Marchen who was with him. What a nice couple they are. I was really glad to see a couple of friendly faces and we had a nice chat and a couple of drinks. When we went our separate ways after about an hour I told them I'd see them on the 10.00 train at Connolly Station next morning. I had a couple more drinks on my way back to the hotel feeling much more cheerful.

                                                                                 Next morning however I was late. I didn't get out of bed till gone 9.00. I packed hurriedly, checked out at 9.45, told them I'd be back on Tuesday and rushed to the station. There was a long queue for tickets and I missed the train by two minutes. There wasn't another train till 12.00 so I decided that this was a blessing in disguise. Something had been worrying me. The organisers of the dinner that evening had asked everyone to wear a Van t shirt so that the group photo would look spectacular. I had packed four t shirts but unlike a lot of the fans I actually wear mine and they were all old and shabby. " I can't wear those rags", I thought to myself, "They will think who is this tramp?". I waited till Penneys Department Store on O'Connell Street opened at 10.30 and bought myself a new shirt and waistcoat for the evening which relieved one of my worries and finally caught the 12.00 train to Belfast.      
 Just outside Drogheda the train crosses the River Boyne and Van in his song Madame George mentions 'throwing pennies at the bridges down below'. Unfortunately you can't do it any more because you can't open the train windows. Before long we were in Northern Ireland and arrived in Belfast. This was the first time I had ever been in the north and the main reason was because I was scared. Ever since I became a Van fan in the early 70's I had wanted to come here but because of the troubles I never had. I had stupidly thought with a face like mine,the name Patrick and coming from an Irish catholic background that East Belfast would not be a welcome place for me. I must say though that in my brief  48 hour visit to Belfast I met nothing but kindness, friendship and hospitality. It all started with the receptionist at the Park Inn who asked if I had visited before and when I said it was my first time in Belfast she said, "Shame on you". Anyway, thanks to the likes of Maurice I was finally here.

 After I had dumped all my stuff in my room I went for a walk to get acquainted with the area. The very first people I met were Simon and Sandra. I was really pleased about that because Simon was the originator of all the Van fans pre-show get together's through his Wavelength magazine. You could always rely on seeing Simon at a show. I remember once being at a concert in Yeovil when me, Kim and Simon were the only Vanatics there. Simon had organised the party for Van's 60th birthday in 2005 but I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would one day go to a pre-show party of 250 Van fans from 16 countries. Tonight was going to be awesome. I told them I would see them later and went back to my hotel to get ready for the evening. Then I had a wee drink in the hotel bar and watched some of the All Ireland Football between Dublin and Mayo and then went out looking for other Van fans. I met Paul and his daughter in the street and said hello and then I discovered a bar called 'Morrison's'. "There is bound to be a few Van fans in there", I thought, and sure enough I met Diana and Theo from Belgium and we chilled out at a table outside and were soon joined by Alan Lloyd, Becky, Irish Echo, John C and Valentina, Blair Whyte who took that photo,Peter Cunningham, and a couple of others. Precious time was slipping away and soon it was 6.00. Time to go to the party. Here comes the night !. The fun was about to begin. .
To be continued .............................

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Down On Cyprus Avenue, Part 2, 'Even My Best Friends'

                                                                                         Diana & Theo led the way across the road to the nearby Clayton Hotel. I had been worried earlier that this would be a bit overwhelming for me meeting 250 people all at once but luckily I had already had three large Chardonnays and two pints of cider so I had  reached the 'I don't give a shit' stage when I arrived. Also, almost the first people I saw when I arrived were Colleen, Barry, Stu and Michelle so that was a relief. Colleen gave me a really nice present. She is too kind.

                                                                                 It was great to see other old friends who I have met at previous Van gigs such as Dail, Mike, Carol Lattmann, Brendan, Othmar & Daria, Peter & Kathryn, Mike & Lori, Kjell, Brenda, Joost, Ian & Chris Wright, David Kerr-McCullough, John Melrose,Janice, Birgit, Nell, Julia, Marion, Amanda, Paul, Bert, Petra & Uwe, Brian Leahy, Dave Cooper,Johnny G, Art & Carol, Donnie, Hilary Scanlon, Pat Woods, Jane Haslam, and I bet I have forgotten loads of people.
                                                                              It was really nice as well to meet for the first time people who have been internet friends for ages but I had never met before such as Rhonda, Max, Jean Calhoun, Laura Mrakovcich, Christine McGillan, Christine Robinson,(Little Miss Dynamite!), Kerrie Brown, Patrick Alberini, Ken & Alice Mills, Anne Burke, Boom Baker, Oliver Gordon, Lorna Elias, Mandy Macleod, Brian Heffler, Troy, Marja, Robert Schwartz, Ann Henry, Rick & Karla Haught, Leslie Berg, John Dunn, Rhiannah, and probably lots of others I can't remember. If I have forgotten you I am very sorry. Let me know and I'll add you in. To tell you the truth, by the end of the evening I didn't know who I had spoken to.

                                                                                Soon, poor Al had the difficult task of ushering 250 people across the road for the group photo. The crowd was so big they were spilling off the pavement into the busy road. "Get off the road", shouted Al and his wife Lynn, obviously fearing a tragedy before the evening had even begun. Eventually they managed to get the people at the front to sit down and they got the photo taken. I felt sorry for some of those at the back though because all you can see of them is their hands waving in the air. Then it was time to return inside and take our places for dinner.                                                                      
This had been my next worry. Ever since I found out they had put me on 'Table 1 Astral Weeks' I had been fretting about it. I imagined that Table 1 would be right at the front and everyone would be looking at me. I'm paranoid enough at the best of times. As it turned out there was nothing to worry about. Everyone was really nice. Ralph McLean was on our table. He is a BBC Radio Broadcaster and he had been doing a run down on his show of Van's top 70 songs as chosen by the fans all week. Into The Mystic was number 1. We had a bit of a chat because I had met him before briefly in a pub in London before Van's 'Lit Up Inside' show. Ralph was the MC for the evening and he was also hosting the BBC live broadcast of Van's show the next day.
Al and Lynn were also on our table which was great and Andrew and 'Full Force' Gayle. It was great to see them again. The others on the table were Fred & Susan, Bob, Don and Brendan. I was pleased that Brendan was on our table because I have met him a few times and he writes great reviews of the shows. Maurice was meant to be on our table as well but he was too busy with organising the concerts. We all got a free poster designed by Dail and I got her to sign mine. I'll get it framed soon and that will be a great souvenir of the evening. The food was delicious and the entertainment was great.

                                                                                 They had Amanda St John who is a great singer. She was accompanied by Dean Stevens on guitar and Kathy McKeagney on piano. Also they had members of  the Ards Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann (CCE) who played accordian, bodran,guitar, flute, whistle,banjo and fiddle. They were all youngsters but quite brilliant and they had been practising hard all week with the main band. I was also really pleased to meet Performance Poet Alice McCullough who I have become a big fan of in the last few weeks. Alice performed her brilliant poem 'The Lion's Roar' which is all about Van. I went walkabout quite often to go for a ciggie but also to talk to as many friends as possible. When I returned from one trip outside the organisers of the evening Al, Bob, Andrew and Fred were making little speeches and they talked about the Van fans who had passed away and they were kind enough to remember Kim.

                                                                                 Anyway, the main band of the evening was Celtic Soul who are absolutely brilliant. I know I am prejudiced because some of them are Facebook friends of mine but they must be the best Van tribute band in the world. They come from Bangor in Northern Ireland so if they play a gig near you please go and listen to them. If they ever perform over here on the mainland I will certainly go and see them. The floor was wedged with people bopping away to Celtic Soul. I don't usually do dancing but I had a dance with Amanda to In The Garden. Well it was getting late,just a little,just a little and I was extremely wasted. They had a raffle for which Dail had donated a painting and 'Keep It Simple' had won the quiz. The bar had closed so I scrounged one last glass of wine from John Dunn's prize and made my way back to my hotel. I fell asleep about 1.30 little realizing that the following day was to be one of the best days of my life.

To be continued..................................


Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Down On Cyprus Avenue, Part 3. 'On A Throne Of Ulster Day'.

It was Monday 31st August 2015 at 8.30 when I woke up. Sir Van Morrison's 70th birthday. I knew it was going to be a long and exciting day and made the supreme effort to get out of bed. After breakfast I strolled the merry way into town and picked up one of my concert tickets from the Visit Belfast office before hailing a cab.
                                      I asked the cabbie to take me to Hyndford Street which is somewhere I have wanted to visit ever since the Hymns To The Silence album came out in 1991. He dropped me off at the corner of  the street and I walked along to number 125 where Van lived from 1945 till 1961. I wondered where he lived after that because although he was away a lot of the time with Them it wasn't till 1967 that Bert Berns took him to America. I expect it is in the biographies somewhere. Anyway, it is a tiny wee house so it is, Big enough for the three of them though. At least being an only child Van would have had his own room where he could read his Jack Kerouac, play his guitar,listen to Muddy Waters and Radio Luxembourg while the voices echoed across Beechie River and carry on dreaming. A neighbour came out of his house and I asked him to take a couple of photos of me by the front door with the plaque. That must have happened dozens of times that weekend with all the visitors in town.

 I had my little booklet with me called ' Mystic Of The East', The Van Morrison Trail which John Melrose had kindly sent me which included a map of all the local places mentioned in Van's songs but I still managed to lose my bearings in Orangefield Park and I asked this man the way to North Road. We got chatting and I told him I was going to the concerts in Cyprus Avenue. "I used to go to school with Van Morrison", he said. That would have been Orangefield Boys School as it was called then. I met three people who claimed to have been to school with Van on this trip. Anyway, I made my way along North Road until finally I reached Cyprus Avenue.
 I had imagined Cyprus Avenue to be just another street that you could find in  leafy suburbia anywhere and it was only Van's vivid imagination that had turned it into something that it isn't but I was pleasantly surprised because it really is beautiful. It is the trees that make it so. They are all different and seem to have their own personalities. This really is Van's equivalent to William Blake seeing angels in trees in Peckham Rye. The contrast to Hyndford Street only about half a mile away is amazing and this street must have seemed exotic to young Van after the ordinariness of Hyndford Street. I got another fan to take my picture by the street sign and then walked along the mystical avenue taking pictures of the trees as I went. The stage had been set up at the far end and it looked great because the backdrop was pictures of Cyprus Avenue giving the illusion that the stage was in the open air. I needed to pick up my ticket for the second show here at the box office but they told me it wouldn't be open till 1.30. On my way back up it was nice to bump into Alan Douglas who has been another Van fan friend from way back when.            
 I had three hours to kill before the first show so there was no alternative but to go to the pub and I found a nice one round the corner on the Newtonards Road. I had dinner in there as well which set me up nicely for the day. At 1.30 I nipped back and picked up my precious ticket and then back to the pub. I was chatting outside to a couple of local lads who were going to the concert and who should I meet but Ken Mills. I had met Ken the night before and he is one of the nicest people you could hope to meet and he has lived in this area all his life. Ken invited me inside to meet his family and friends and we had a good chat. Finally we realised it was nearly show time and made our way to Cyprus Avenue. The magic time was about to begin.

To be continued..............................

Monday, September 07, 2015

Down On Cyprus Avenue, Part 4,' Days When The Rain Came'

Most people on their 70th birthday would probably like to just have a nice dinner,a few drinks and put their feet up and watch the telly. Not Van Morrison though, oh no. Van decided to do what he enjoys doing best which is play music and have 3,000 people come to the party. So here we were. I was in Row U sat next to Ken & his brother on one side and Rick Haught and Karla on the other. The front rows were packed with fans who I knew and also lots of Slebs such as Eddie Irvine, Chrissie Hynde, ( Maurice has told me since that Chrissie gave up her front row seat and asked Maurice to give it to a fan who would like to go but couldn't get a ticket, which Maurice did. That was really kind of her and Chrissie watched from the back) Cerys Matthews, Robert Pattinson, Rick Stein, Kim Cattrell and some others. I didn't recognise any of them but they were all splashed across the papers the next day. It had been a beautiful morning but just before showtime the wind got up, the sky darkened and I knew we were in for it. The rain came down and everybody reached for their poncho's. Van came on stage to a street misty wet with rain. I thought it was quite funny actually. I knew this was going to happen. One thing I liked was because it is nearly autumn the heavy rain caused lots of leaves to come a tumblin' down one by one which seemed very Van-esque to me.
Van and his band began with the instrumental Celtic Swing which I am getting a bit bored with now. This was followed by Close Enough For Jazz and Moondance. Van seemed to blow his saxophone for an eternity at the start of the show. This was all warm-up stuff as far as I was concerned. I knew after going to 50 Van concerts that you have to be patient and the magic will come. Also I knew that Van was pacing himself because he had 3 hours of music to perform. Then on came P J Proby to duet on Whatever Happened To PJ Proby?. I have seen them sing together once before which was a novelty but I didn't need PJ on this special day. If Van wanted to plug his Duets album I would have preferred if Clare Teal had been flown over. Things nose-dived for me even more when Chris Farlowe was brought on to sing Born To Sing. I'm probably being a bit unfair but I have seen Chris Farlowe at more than enough Van gigs, thank you very much.

                                                                        The rain let up, the sun came out and we were getting dry and next was the first highlight of the afternoon for me when Van said, "This is for Brian Keenan". Brian was brought up just a few streets away from Van and is a hero who survived four years as a hostage in Beirut and he was in the audience. It was Motherless Child. I'm sure Van has played this live before but I can't recall hearing it at any show I have been to. It was brilliant. Mystic From The East from the Born To Sing album was great as well."I'm a mystic from your streets",said Van, very tongue in cheek. Brown Eyed Girl and Days Like This both received warm applause and took on extra meaning for me on this special day. A medley of Baby Please Don't Go/ Parchman Farm/ Don't Start Crying Now was really good with Van enjoying himself and displaying some spontaneous humour at the expense of the owner of Hastings Hotels who was sitting in the front row. I didn't like his joke about the Dalai Lama much though because I've heard it before and it's not original either and after seeing his holiness twice in a day at Glastonbury I don't think it's all that funny.

 I did enjoy Enlightenment though and the Guitar Slim song Things We Used To Do was good without being great. Van had saved the best till last. And The Healing Has Begun/Burning Ground was transcendental. " I think we are in for a great last half hour", Rick said to me after that song and he was right. Ballerina was sublime with Van saying how New York City is a long way from Cyprus Avenue. Finally it was In The Garden which brought the first show to a magnificent conclusion. My words could never do it justice, you have to hear it.
After that I hurried back to the pub for a quick drink before the 6.00 show. It was turning into a nice summers evening. There was to be no further need for plastic poncho's. Outside the pub I got talking to this really nice couple called Dermot & Mary who were there with their friends to see Van and we got talking about Van and how he deserved his Knighthood for what he has done for Belfast and the peace process alone. It turned out that Mary had also been to the palace to receive the CBE for her work in the community and for peace. It was a real pleasure to talk to them and the time went really quickly. I got their email address and told them I'd  be in touch when I had finished my story so I hope they enjoy reading this. It was time to return for the second show. As Van once said, " The best is yet to come".

To be continued...........................................

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Down On Cyprus Avenue, Part 5, 'Caught One More Time'.

Although it was a sunny evening a gentle breeze blew down Cyprus Avenue and I was getting a bit chilly so I bought a t-shirt from the merchandise stall for an extra layer of warmth. For the second show I had only managed to get a standing ticket. I was talking to Gaynor and Lesley from Cardiff by the barrier when Maurice spotted us and asked us if we would like to sit down. He ushered us past the stewards to three seats that I think were unused press seats. Thank you very much Maurice. Even this wasn't good enough for me. I noticed there were lots of people standing along the sides so towards the end of the show I left my seat and weedled my way almost right to the front and managed to take a couple of snaps . I could see all my friends in the front rows but I don't think they saw me. They were all mesmerised by the hypnotist on the stage called Van Morrison.
 The second show began with the usual Celtic Swing but from the second number Kingdom Hall I could sense there was more energy than in the first set. Van wasn't concerned with pacing himself any more. As with all Van shows, no two sets are the same. That song wasn't in the first set and neither was Carrying A Torch in which he duetted with the talented Dana Masters. Van got lucky when he discovered her right here in Belfast. PJ returned again to repeat Whatever Happened To PJ Proby but we will move quickly on to Cleaning Windows/Be Bop A Lula which like Kingdom Hall recalled his young days in Belfast. Days Like This and Precious Time got lots of applause from this audience but not I suspect from the die-hard fans who had come for the transcendental stuff. Mystic Of The East from the sometimes unfairly criticised  Born To Sing album was again great as was Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child. Sometimes We Cry with  Miss Masters was excellent.
This was followed by the medley of Baby Please Don't Go/ Parchman Farm/ Don't Start Crying Now. For those who came to hear his hit records Whenever God Shines His Light On Me was next which a lot of the audience loved but I was waiting for the great stuff which was provided by It's All In The Game/ You Know What They're Writing About/ Burning Ground. This is what had brought hundreds of people from all over the world to Belfast. The music that puts Van in a class of his own. Absolutely spell-binding.
 Chris Farlowe returned for Stand By Me which was ok I suppose. Then it was time for another master-class by the genius And The Healing Has Begun. which was sanctified and anointed and peerless. Help Me which I have seen Van perform on countless occasions was really good but then Van finished with one of the best performances of a song I have ever seen which was On Hyndford Street. It started quite slowly with Van in a jokey mood saying how he couldn't believe he had put the bit in about Debussy and asking if anybody remembered Fusco's? and how he is still trying to sell the 'Lit Up Inside' book. As the song developed though he got more and more into it and he took it to church as they say. For me and many others having walked these streets that very day it was deeply moving. Afterwards there was a lot of debate amongst the fans because a lot of people couldn't believe that he hadn't sung Cyprus Avenue in either show. I don't know why he didn't. Maybe Van felt that some of the lyrics which were written in the mid-60's when he was barely out of his teens are not relevant in this day and age. Or maybe he felt  that On Hyndford Street better summed up what his childhood in Belfast meant to him and Cyprus Avenue did get a mention..Or maybe being Van he just didn't want to do what was expected of him.

                                                                                    As we walked down the avenue again I met Brenda and Joost  and we started walking along together. Brenda and I got asked by a reporter from a local radio station what we thought of it all and I blathered some nonsense into the microphone. I don't expect it got broadcast. As I saw in the next days papers and on the radio later I think half the people I knew were either photographed, interviewed or recorded by some media outlet. Brian Leahy even got interviewed by Rolling Stone magazine so I will have to see what's in the next issue of that. At the corner of the road Christine Robinson and Rhiannah Warm spotted me and kindly gave me a lift to the post-gig bash at the Park Avenue Hotel. I was completely exhausted by now but  hey, the wild night was calling and what a night it was to turn out to be !.

ps, I pinched the collage of photos from Dail Gibson. I hope you don't mind Dail.

To be continued in the 6th and final part tomorrow.......................................

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Down On Cyprus Avenue, Part 6. 'The Angels Of The Trees'.

It had been a long hard road daddio. From Hyndford Street in the morning to two Van concerts and I was tired Joey boy. I knew I had to make one last effort to enjoy myself and talk to my friends because it was my last night in Belfast. Rhiannah and Christine gave me a lift to the party. I must say that it was worth going to Belfast alone just to meet Christine Robinson. She is planning to abseil down the front of the Europa Hotel soon for charity. Christine deserves an award for her courage and personality. Rhiannah is a musician herself so I am going to get a CD of her music soon.

                                                                                 I spotted Amanda as soon as I arrived and in the corridor we met Rhonda. She told us that Van had been here in-between the two shows and when Van and his entourage left Rhonda had held the door for them and they didn't even say thanks. That is showbiz I suppose. There was music going on in two different rooms. I really enjoyed Kaz Hawkins And Her Band O'Men. Kaz is Belfast's answer to Etta James and Janis Joplin. She is funny, feisty and fabulous and deserves to be more famous than she is. Another singer I thought was really good was Kenny Haddock. Amanda requested he do Tupelo Honey and I think he did a great version of Into The Mystic as well.

                                                                                Although the music was great I spent a lot of time outside, in the bar, or in the corridor just talking to people. At the bar it was a real pleasure to talk to Brian Keenan. Brian went to the same Orangefield school as Van but being five years younger I don't think he would have known him at school. He was an English teacher in Beirut when he was kidnapped and kept a hostage for over four years from 86-90. He later wrote a best selling book about his experience called 'An Evil Cradling'. We just talked for a couple of minutes about Van though and how great the shows had been. I asked Brian if I could have a photo and he was happy to oblige.

 I can't remember all that much about the rest of the evening. I was gone for cigarettes and matches to the shops but Tesco's had just closed. When I got back Christine McGillan & Amanda both gave me some cigarettes which was nice of them. I talked with Rhonda, Nell from Australia and Colleen and Max and Diana and Pat Woods but it is all a bit hazy now. About midnight people started to drift away. I knew it was time to go. I think Marion was the only person I said goodbye to. It would have taken an hour to say goodbye to everyone and I knew my female fans would start crying. As I left I could hear laughing music, dancing music but I just walked away from it all so cool and just like Sir Cliff  I slipped quietly into the shadows. I shared a taxi back to town with Amanda to our respective hotels.

 Next day I said cheerio to my favourite hotel receptionist Caitlin and walked to Belfast Central. In the queue for the 12.35 I was really pleased to see Brian Leahy with two of his American friends Jan and Tina. That made what would have been a boring journey quite good fun. Brian is a great guy and we chatted about all sorts of things all the way to Dublin. We had a last cigarette outside Connelly Station and then went our separate ways. Before I checked into my hotel I bought another t-shirt in Carroll's so I had something fresh to put on. After five days I was now reduced to a bag of laundry. The t-shirt read 'Feck It, Sure It's Grand' which seemed quite funny at the time. After a wee nap I headed out again for one last night in Dublin. In Madigan's I had a pint of Guinness and a great big plate of Irish Stew which set me up for the evening. Then I headed for Temple Bar.
                                                                                                       The night before I had told Max I would be in The Auld Dubliner at 7.30 if he and the rest of that crew wanted to meet up. They had live music on and I sat at the bar and shouted out requests for Van & Christy Moore. Standing outside, who should come strolling along but Mike & Lori, Dr Boom,Don, Laura and Bob. This was a photo opportunity. They were on their way to an Italian restaurant so I walked with them there so I knew where to find them later. I went back to the Dubliner for another pint, then another. By 9.00 I was fed up waiting. Max had been suffering with a bad leg and was awaiting surgery but had still flown 12,000 miles from New Zealand to see Van. I decided that maybe they didn't feel up to it. (They turned up at 9.15, sorry I missed you) I headed back up O'Connell Street and went in a nice pub I had found near my hotel in Talbot Street called 'The Celt' which had great music and was less hectic than Temple Bar.
     Next morning a taxi called for me at 7.00 to go to the ferry port. Before long I was aboard the 'Jonathon Swift' and heading across the Irish Sea. It was a nice smooth crossing and a sunny day so I found a sheltered spot on Deck 5 and watched Ireland slowly disappear over the horizon. What a great little country it is. As I sat there I thought about all the amazing people I had met over the previous six days, not just the Van fans but also the people of Belfast. I remember how a few years ago at a rainy Glastonbury Leonard Cohen had described the audience as 'The angels of the mud' so I will always think of  the friends who had travelled from all over the world to share the historic concerts on Cyprus Avenue as 'The angels of the trees'. I also thought about the man who had made it all possible, Maurice Kinkead. Without Maurice's vision and audacity it would never have taken place. If Maurice doesn't get some sort of award for all his hard work then there is no justice. He is to Belfast what Michael Eavis is to Glastonbury.

                                                                               Then I went back inside because I was getting cold and faced the long journey home through Wales, back to my wee house and my wee garden. There's no need to say another wee word so there isn't.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Pictures In The Gallery.

With all the pictures on the walls of my little house it is starting to look like my own Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. I'm starting to get really excited now about the trip to Belfast at the end of the month to see Van Morrison play on Cyprus Avenue on his 70th birthday and also to meet hundreds of Van fans from all over the world. I just thought I'd write a little illustrated story about the Van pictures in my collection which some Van fans might find interesting. Compared to some fans collections of memorabilia it is quite humble but I like it.
 My favourite is the four autographs of Van Morrison, Billy Harrison, Alan Henderson and Pete Bardens of  'Them'. It dates from 1965. I acquired it from a friend of mine called Phil from Trowbridge. I thought I was the biggest Van fan in my local area but I only got into Van in 1973. Phil has been a fan since 1964. He saw Them three times. Firstly in 1964 at the Top Twenty Club in Trowbridge just after their first single 'Don't Start Crying Now' was released. Phil says that even then Van was something special, he stood out from the rest of the band. Phil also saw Them in 65 at a club in Bournemouth and later at The Pavilion in Bath. I haven't been able to find any record of these gigs but I know they happened. In those days at small clubs you didn't even get tickets, you just paid on the door and often they were arranged at very short notice.

 It was at the Bournemouth gig that Phil got the autographs. A friend of his from Melksham was in a band called 'Dave Bishop And The Preachers' and they were the support act for Them which gave Phil the chance to get the autographs of four of the band on the inside of a cigarette packet. There is one member of the band missing and Phil thinks it was either Pat McCauley or his brother Jackie McCauley. The trouble is that Them changed their line-up so often it is hard to know who was in the band from one gig to another. Phil told me one funny story about that night. Van asked the support band if they had a harmonica that he could borrow and they lent him one. After the gig they went to Them's dressing room but the security wouldn't let them in and they never got the harmonica back. Phil had kept that precious cigarette packet for fifty years till I persuaded him to part with it.
Then I looked on Ebay and found a photo of Them from 65 which I thought contained the four people who had signed it. When I got it all framed up I was really pleased with the result. However, when I showed it to Phil recently he is not convinced that Billy Harrison is in the picture. I am not going to change it now but maybe one of the experts might be able to tell me who is in the photo.

 Another of my favourites is a poster that I got last year from the front doors of the Lyric Theatre in London when Van presented 'Lit Up Inside', an evening of words and music. What an unforgettable night that was. A few months earlier I had managed to get Van's autograph after a concert at the Brighton Dome and I had the poster and the autograph framed along with my ticket to give it extra provenance. I must say it looks rather splendid.
A couple of years ago a friend of mine called Dail who is a very talented artist gave me prints of three pictures of Van  which she had done which I also think are great.

 When Van headlined the Larmer Tree Festival in 2013 they issued a special limited edition hand printed poster . Only 300 were printed and mine is number 208. It is also signed by the artist. That is a really nice souvenir of a very special evening. The first ever poster of Van I had framed is from about 1999 when the album 'Back On Top' came out. I think I bought it at the Bristol Hippodrome. Finally, quite a few years ago I discovered I had two vinyl copies of the Beautiful Vision' album. I liked the cover so much I framed it.

 Anyway, that's my Van pictures so far. I bet after Belfast in three weeks time I will have some more souvenirs to frame. See you in Belfast !
Showed me pictures in the gallery
Showed me novels on the shelf
Put my hands across the table
Gave me knowledge of myself.

POSTSCRIPT. Van expert Blair Whyte sent me this message-
Nice story and a nice collection Pat. To answer your question about the members of Them in the photo, you are right. Billy Harrison is not in it. They are Joe Baldi, Terry Noone, Peter Bardens, Van and Alan Henderson. The missing signature was probably Pat McAuley, as Bardens replaced Jackie McAuley in April '65. Baldie replaced Harrison, and Noone replaced Pat McAuley in Jun '65.