Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Seeing Van Morrison At Liverpool Feis 2018

Teena Lyle, Tony Fitzgibbon, Dana Masters, Paul Moran, Mez Clough, Van, Paul Moore, Jay Berliner, Dave Keary.

It was Saturday morning somewhere in North Wales and I had just woken up, all bleary eyed and goopy and the events of the previous night came back to me. What an incredible night it had been. Then I thought to myself, “Oh no, I’ve got to do it all over again”. I knew I gotta go, on that train up to Liverpool. I made the supreme effort to get out of bed and sat on the balcony watching the boats go by and contemplating the day ahead. After breakfast I found there were no taxis available for an hour, so I decided to walk into Chirk. I soon realised that was a mistake because it was already hotter than Mojave. Luckily for me a bus came along, and I used my old gits senior bus pass to get me to town where I caught the 11.48 train to Liverpool Lime Street changing trains at Chester.

When I emerged from the station I had no idea how to get to my hotel, so I asked passers by. They were all helpful and friendly and pointed me in the right direction. I like the people of Liverpool, everyone I met was chatty and hospitable. I wish people in some other places were like the Liverpudlians. I was too early to check into my hotel so left my bag with them and went for a wander. Just around the corner on Hope Street I found the famous Philharmonic Pub. This was recently featured in a video with Paul McCartney & James Cordon which you may have seen. It is a pub well worth visiting if you ever go to Liverpool. The interior is all preserved from about 100 years ago and even the toilets have marble and stained glass.  I had a couple of pints of cider and returned to the hotel at 3.00. I watched the first half of England v Sweden in my room and then got a taxi to the Pier Head where the Festival was being held.

The festival was called the Liverpool Feis and was a celebration of Irish music organised by the great Vince Power. With 75% of the population of Liverpool being of Irish descent you can imagine the audience. They were good natured and boisterous and having a great party. They were also mainly a helluva lot younger than most audiences I have seen recently. When I arrived, I watched some of a band on stage 2 and then went to the main stage to see The Chieftains. The whole schedule was running a bit late. I hadn’t seen The Chieftains since Glastonbury 1982 and I only recognised three of them, Paddy, Matt and Kevin. They were great though and had guest singers, choirs and dancers. They performed a stunning version of Shenandoah which I really enjoyed. I had to go to the bar then where I had arranged to meet some friends.
Me, Daria, Dana, James, Michelle, Maurice, Stuart, Filippo, Othmar.

Before long, along came Othmar, Daria, Dana & Filippo who I had seen the night before. I hadn’t met James Tennant & his wife before, so Othmar introduced me to them which was nice. Then who should come along but Stuart & Michelle who had jetted in from San Diego. I first met them on a freezing night in Nottingham about 12 years ago and it is always great to see them again. They were with Maurice from Belfast who organised the historic concerts on Cyprus Avenue to celebrate Van’s 70th birthday. I can’t believe it is nearly three years already since that unforgettable day. The Van fans will always be grateful to Maurice for that. While we were chatting, The Hothouse Flowers were performing but I didn’t pay much attention I’m afraid. I was too busy catching up with my mates. Maurice, Michelle & Stuart were in the VIP area and Stuart said he would get me a drink from there because there was no queue.
Teena Lyle, Me.

While I was waiting for Stuart to re-emerge I spotted Van’s percussionist Teena Lyle who was waiting to meet up with Fumiko. I introduced myself to Teena and along came Fumiko, Miquel and his daughter arrived and then Stuart. We all stood around talking for a few minutes and taking photos with Teena until she had to go backstage again. Stu went back to the VIP area and we arranged to meet up after Van. Foy Vance was on next and I have heard great reports of him, but I wanted a sit down in some shade because I was knackered and too hot.  Van was due on stage at 8.00 but everything was running very late now. “This will make him really grumpy if he has to go on late”, I thought to myself. I was in the queue for another drink when Fumiko came up and said, “Van is on in 5 minutes, he has changed places with Imelda May”.
Paul Moran Teena Lyle, Tony Fitzgibbon.

By the time I got my drink Van had already started his performance. This is his setlist at Liverpool- Astral Weeks, The Way Young Lovers Do, Sweet Thing, Thanks For The Information, Foreign Window, One Irish Rover, Broken Record, Have I told you lately, I Can’t Stop Loving You, Moondance, Wild Night, Jackie Wilson Said, Baby Please Don’t Go/ Got My Mojo Working, Help Me, Brown Eyed Girl. The performance was shorter than Llangollen with a few different songs, but I still really enjoyed it. To start with I was right at the back, but I gradually wheedled my way forward until I got to the barrier at the front.
Jay Berliner.

 It was great to find Treve Walsh who I have known since Van played at the O2 Arena in London with Tom Jones a few years ago. I also spotted Fumiko who had also managed to get to the front. As I got nearer to the front it got noisier and noisier with people chattering and singing along. In a concert hall this would be annoying and unacceptable but when you buy a ticket for an event like this you should know what to expect so you can’t really complain. The young audience seemed to really enjoy it and hopefully some of them might buy a Van album and get into the music. I took a few photos and used up the last of the memory in my camera filming I Can’t Stop Loving You. Sorry it ends so abruptly.
After Van’s show I met up with Stuart, Treve & Fumiko by a statue. Imelda May began her show, but I was too tired by now and after seeing Van everything else always seems a bit flat to me. I said goodbye to Stuart and Treve and hoped to meet up again soon. Then I walked to the taxi rank with Fumiko where I said cheerio and set off to walk to my hotel. After a long walk I recognised the Philharmonic pub that I was in earlier and chilled out with another couple of pints before calling it a day.

Next morning, I walked to the station and began the long journey home. Back to the forlorn rags of everyday life, Brexit, Trump, and all the rest of the bollix…But wait…… There is hope,  I’m going to see Van again in October. See you In Torquay Van fans.


Monday, July 09, 2018

Seeing Van Morrison At Llangollen Eisteddfod.

So, I set out one midsummer’s morning on yet another of the world’s great train journeys, Westbury to Chirk, changing trains at Bristol, Birmingham and Shrewsbury. The journey was uneventful, I passed the time reading a book called A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, or I gazed out of the window, alone with my thoughts, what did the night have in store? Little did I realise the fabulous drama that lay ahead. Finally, I arrived in the quaint little town of Chirk. I was glad to get off the hot overcrowded train. I went to college near here in Wrexham and used to pass through Chirk every day 45 years ago when I was on teaching practice, so when I got my first glimpse of the famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct all the memories came flooding back.

My hotel turned out to be about 3 miles outside Chirk, so I had to get a taxi there. It was a really nice hotel. My room overlooked the Llangollen Canal and I sat on the balcony and watched the boats drift by. I could have walked to Llangollen along the canal, but I was too tired, and I didn’t fancy walking across the aquaduct. I watched the first half of France v Uruguay in the World Cup then took a cab into town. When I arrived in Langollen the streets were closed to traffic because there was a parade through the town of choirs from all over the world who were appearing at the Eisteddfod. It was quite spectacular, colourful and good fun. 

I had a quick pint in the Bridge End Hotel because you never know who might be hanging about but I didn’t spot anyone I knew so I made my way to the Ponsonby Arms.
As soon as I walked through the door I spotted friends Othmar & Daria from Switzerland who I don’t think I had seen since Cyprus Avenue in 2015. They were with Filippo & Dana from Italy who I hadn’t met before, but they are really nice people.  We were joined by Van Fan Dutch who reminded me that we had met a few years ago when Van played the Albert Hall in London. A nice lady from Belgium arrived, I think her name is Lut. It was a great little gathering of international Van fans. Then Jane & Charlie from Oxford arrived with their lovely little dog Aggie and it was especially great to see Cuttsy from Manchester who I hadn’t seen for years. I thought he had almost given up going to Van concerts.
Filippo, Me, Othmar.

After a while it was time to go to where the festival was being held. I noticed they were selling Wrexham lager, I should have bought a pint for old times sake because that’s what I used to drink in the olden days when I lived near here. Anyway, I wanted some food and I was sitting at a table with Jane and who should come along but John C who I last saw at Nell’s club in London. Then we were joined by Linda & her daughter from the USA who I hadn’t met before and it was nice to meet Fumiko for the first time as well.  When we took our seats, who should I see but Miquel & Elena from Spain and their two daughters. I could see Hugh as well down nearer the front, but I don’t think he saw me. The concert was in a huge marquee and the stage looked spectacular, absolutely bedecked with flowers. I sensed this show was going to be something special, but I had no idea how great it would be.
Linda's Daughter, Linda, John C, Fumiko, Cuttsy, Jane, Me.

When the band shuffled on stage it was a nice surprise to see Jay Berliner back on acoustic guitar and also Tony Fitzgibbon returning on violin. It was almost like the Van band of about eight years ago. This band is even better than that though because now we have the wonderful Teena Lyle on percussion and Dana Masters on backing vocals. The other members of this splendid ensemble are Mez Clough on drums, Paul Moore on bass, Dave Keary on guitar and Paul Moran on keyboards and trumpet. It is 50 years since the Astral Weeks album was released and tonight’s show turned out to be a homage to that album.  The show began with three tracks from the greatest album of all time which were Astral Weeks, The Way Young Lovers Do and Sweet Thing. The best start to a Van Morrison concert that I have heard in many a long year. I can see Van’s thinking in having Jay, Tony and Teena in this band because their contributions were essential in capturing the magic of Astral Weeks.  (See my video of Sweet Thing below and I think you will agree) It was back to more familiar recent territory then for the medley of Baby Please Don’t Go/ Got My Mojo Working. It was very enjoyable with Dave Keary showing what a fine guitar player he is. Then Dana and Van sang a beautiful duet of Sometimes We Cry. A real treat for me followed which was One Irish Rover. I can’t remember the last time I saw Van perform this great song from the No Guru album. Teena played what looked like a recorder to me, it sounded very nice and Tony’s contribution was marvelous as well. 

The wonderful Days Like this pleased this audience, as did the upbeat version of Have I Told You Lately which I don’t think the hardcore fans are that keen on. Never mind, the next song was Foreign Window, again from No Guru which I sometimes think is Astral Weeks re-visited in many ways, with similar themes and phrases in the lyrics. It was sublime, as was Beside You with Jay again demonstrating his virtuosity. Wild Night woke up the audience who seemed to be in a hypnotic state and then it was one of my favourite Van songs of all time Listen To The Lion. I hadn’t heard Van perform this song live since Dublin in 2003. Another great song was Little Village which always comes alive when performed on stage, with Tony excelling on mandolin, Paul on trumpet and Van on Saxophone. Van’s voice by the way is as great as ever. No singer has looked after their voice better than Van Morrison. Then it was the obligatory Moondance which I suspect for many in this audience was their highlight of the evening, but not for me. They also seemed to really enjoy Broken Record probably because of it getting a lot of air play on Radio 2. Van and the band seem to enjoy playing it, especially Teena who always seems to be really enjoying herself on stage. Then it was back to the truly great music with Did Ye Get Healed? which took me right back to the fabulous Van shows we used to get in the early 90’s. This show in Llangollen was like a renaissance of that era. If that song was great the next one was in the stratosphere. It was Slim Slow Slider with Van on acoustic guitar and he even added new lyrics about ‘Your fur coat is lying on the floor and a note that says, you don’t live here anymore’. Van was still singing as he left the stage. We knew he would be back, which he was for the usual suspect of Brown Eyed Girl.
Othmar, Lut, Daria, Dana, Filippo, Van Fan Dutch.
When I got outside I saw John C and Cuttsy who wasn’t the ‘misery from Manchester’ anymore. We all agreed it was one of the best Van shows in years. I said cheerio to them and made my way to the Bridge End Inn where I had a last drink with Miquel, Elena, children, Othmar, Daria, Filippo and Dana. Everyone was buzzing from the brilliant concert. Finally, at 11.00 my taxi arrived, I got into my hotel room and fell fast asleep, exhausted after a long fabulous day that I’ll remember for a long long time to come. I was blissfully unaware of how exciting the following day would also be.

TO BE CONTINUED………………………………

Van Morrison: Sweet Thing At Llangollen

Friday, June 22, 2018

One Sweet Day: When Fairport Played In Peterborough

There was a time from about 1969 to 1971 when Fairport Convention were my favourite band. Up to that point my music taste was American, mainly the Beach Boys but I started going to Peterborough Folk Club in 69, went through a period of transition and entered my folk-rock era. I discovered the album What We Did On Our Holidays. This was followed by Unhalfbricking, Liege & Lief, Full House, Angel Delight and Babbacombe Lee. After that I began to lose interest in Fairport. I think that was because the two people I really admired in the band who were Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson had departed. Another reason was that I entered my Van Morrison period which has lasted to this very day. However, in the last few years my interest in Fairport has been rekindled, mainly due to seeing them live a few times and enjoying their last two albums Myths & Heroes and 50:50. They are a great live band and still producing splendid new music. Also, they are nice people who take the time to talk to the fans at the gigs as I have discovered at the Cheese & Grain In Frome in the last few years.

Recently I saw that a new biography of the band had been published so I sent off for a copy which arrived a couple of weeks ago. It was signed by the author Clinton Heylin. I don’t like him very much because he wrote a biography of Van Morrison quite a few years ago which I took exception to because of his sarcastic comments. I don’t like this Fairport book all that much either. Maybe the band should write their own autobiography to put the record straight. There was one thing though in the book which made me sit up and take notice.

On page 62 I read that Sandy’s second ever gig with Fairport Convention was supporting John Mayall’s Blues Breakers and Donovan at Whittlesey near Peterborough on June 2nd 1968 almost exactly 50 years ago. If only I had discovered Fairport a year earlier than I did, I could have seen them on my own doorstep. Mind you, I was only 16 at the time so I probably wouldn’t have been allowed to go. Although I have seen Fairport many times over the years I never saw them when Sandy was in the band. This particular two day event was organised by the same people who a year earlier had put on an event at Spalding Nr Peterborough featuring Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Cream, and Geno Washington & His Ram Jam Band !. Imagine seeing all that lot in one day for £1. What really intrigued me reading Heylin’s book though was when he said that a tape of Fairport’s gig was in existence.

“I want a copy of that tape!”, I thought to myself. Not only was it recorded in my home town, it is also the earliest ever known live recording of Sandy Denny singing with Fairport and only two weeks after she joined the band. An important historical document. Thanks to the good old internet I was able to do some research. I discovered that the recording had been made on a Telefunken cassette recorder by a member of the audience called Anders Folke. It lay in his attic for 30 long years before it was transferred to cd and bootleg copies began to circulate. I expect this tape is well known to hardcore Fairport aficionados but not to me until today. After a bit more googling I found a site called ioffer where someone had a copy for sale.
The cd popped through my letterbox this morning and I immediately slammed it into the music machine. The sound quality is quite poor, but I was expecting that. To save his batteries Anders had also stopped recording between songs so there is no talk or introductions by the band. Listening to the music you wouldn’t think that this group in less than two years would invent a whole new genre of music, namely British Folk-Rock. On this recording which is only seven songs in just over twenty minutes the band sound like a bluesy loud rock band. Richard Thompson’s excellent guitar playing is apparent though and Sandy’s wonderful vocals. There are no original Fairport songs. It is almost all covers of American singer-songwriters. I can see why someone described them in their early days as the British Jefferson Airplane. If I had to choose, my favourite song is Sandy singing You Never Wanted Me, written by her boyfriend Jackson C. Frank.

Although the CD is very short with poor quality sound I am really pleased that I discovered it and finally heard Fairport Convention fifty years after they played in my home town of Peterborough. Thank you very much Anders Folke for making this historic recording back in the mists of time all those years ago.


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Seeing The Rolling Stones In Southampton.

I didn’t even know that the Rolling Stones were playing in Southampton until my brother Paul phoned me on Sunday afternoon. My niece Lee had bought the tickets as a birthday treat for Paul. Unfortunately, Lee couldn’t get the time off work so when Paul asked me if I would like to see The Stones I couldn’t say no, could I. Thank you very much Lee x. Paul picked me up from my house and we set off on Tuesday afternoon about 1.30. The journey was quite uneventful apart from a long slow crawl through Salisbury and driving in torrential rain was a bit tricky. The rain had eased off by the time we reached the outskirts of Southampton and it stayed dry for the rest of the day. We weren’t quite sure how to get to St Mary’s Stadium but there were lots of people walking to the concert so we knew we were going in the right direction. Finding a parking place was a bit difficult because the car-park had been turned into a big market area with food outlets, merchandise stalls, bars and even BBC Radio Solent broadcasting from there. We got lucky and managed to park the car in a side street only a couple of minutes’ walk away. In the market area the sponsors were holding a scratch card competition to win a Jeep. I entered and didn’t win but got a free Keith Richards style bandanna which I tied around my hat.

At 5.00 the doors opened and in we traipsed. It’s nearly five years since I last saw the Stones at Glastonbury and two weeks later with Colleen & Barry on a scorching hot day at Hyde Park. Both those events were great but maybe a bit too big. At St Mary’s it was just right. Everybody got a decent view. From our vantage point it was quite good fun just watching the people down on the pitch. We spotted snooker star Jimmy White having his photo taken with people who recognised him. We also spotted comedienne Jo Brand. Finally, the support act The Vaccines came on stage. I don’t know all that much about them except they are a British Indie band. I have never heard their music before. I thought they were very good at first with a driving guitar sound and very loud drums. The crowd seemed to love them. I got a bit bored after a while. They started to sound a bit samey to me. That’s because I didn’t know the songs. Most of the audience thought The Vaccines were great but it was The Stones I was here for.
Me trying to look like Keef.

Eventually after what seemed an eternity the greatest rock n roll band in the world appeared. I’ll just give you the set list. Start Me Up, Let’s Spend The Night Together, Tumbling Dice, It’s Only Rock n Roll, Just Your Fool, Under My Thumb, Sweet Virginia, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Paint It Black, Honky Tonk Women, The Worst (Keith), Before They Make Me Run (Keith), Sympathy For The Devil, Miss You, Midnight Rambler, Jumping Jack Flash, Brown Sugar, Gimme Shelter, I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.
Some of those songs were long extended versions. It was about 11.00 when we left the stadium. The energy of the band has to be admired, especially when you consider their ages. Drummer Charlie is 77 in a few days’ time and he is still the best rock n roll drummer in the world. Mick said that the first time they played in Southampton was 1963 when they supported the Everly Brothers and they played a lot of blues numbers. That was why they played the blues song Just Your Fool. He also said being back in Hampshire brought back some memories because it was here that himself and Keith were in prison. That’s when they got busted back in 67. Keith was on great form. I enjoyed his two songs with accompaniment by Ronnie on pedal steel guitar. I enjoyed the whole show. It would have been nice to hear Wild Horses or Ruby Tuesday but they have so many great songs you can’t hear everything. I must mention their backing musicians who all received a deserved bow. I think they were Darryl Jones – bass guitar, backing vocals, Sasha Allen – backing vocals, Karl Denson – saxophone, Tim Ries – saxophone, keyboards, Chuck Leavell – keyboards, backing vocals, percussion, Matt Clifford – keyboards, percussion, French horn, Bernard Fowler – backing vocals, percussion.

I have seen the Stones four times now and I think Southampton was the best. Driving home was a clear run once we got out of the city and I was back home by 12.30 tired but still buzzing after a great show. Thank you very much to Lee for my ticket, Paul for getting us there and home again and thanks to the Rolling Stones for a great evening.

The Rolling Stones - Gimme Shelter - live, Southampton 29/05/18

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Review: Van Morrison & Joey DeFrancesco, You're Driving Me Crazy.

When I heard that Van Morrison was bringing out a third new album in six months I must admit my first reaction was, “Not another one, you must be joking!”. In the past whenever Van had no new songs of his own to offer it seemed to me that he would return to his ‘roots’ and produce a ‘genre’ album that I was sometimes disappointed with. After listening to the new CD this afternoon though I am really pleased that I bought it because it is a very enjoyable splendid addition to his great body of work. It was 1968 when the young Van walked into a New York recording studio to work with a group of jazz musicians who he had never met before. In two sessions they produced one of the greatest records of all time which was Astral Weeks. Fifty years later Van entered a studio on the other side of that great continent to collaborate with another jazz musician Joey DeFrancesco and his band. Van has made albums with other people before such as Mose Allison, Georgie Fame, Lonnie Donegan, Linda Gail Lewis and The Chieftains. They haven’t always been popular with the fans, but I think apart from The Chieftains album this new one with Joey DeFrancesco is Van’s most successful collaboration to date. It is definitely his best album in the jazz medium, that’s for sure.

The album opens with Miss Otis Regrets which is a Cole Porter song first made famous by Ethel Waters in 1934. I think I first heard it sung by Kirsty McColl. Joey plays some nice trumpet on this track. Hold It Right There is a song originally by Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson who is another artist I probably would never have heard of only for Van. Daughter Shana helps out on vocals and Joey’s organ playing and the saxophones of Van and Troy Roberts are excellent. All Saints Day has never been a favourite Van song of mine but here it comes to life mainly due to Joey’s virtuoso organ playing. Van delves right back into Astral Weeks with The Way Young Lovers Do and I like this version with Joey again demonstrating what a wizard he is on the organ. The Things I Used To Do is an Eddie Jones (Guitar Slim) composition. It was a huge hit in 1953 and actually produced by Ray Charles. This new version is great due to Troy’s tenor sax, Dan Wilson’s fabulous guitar playing and Van on harmonica. Travellin’ Light was originally a hit for Billie Holiday in 1942 with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. It was also recorded by the Jimmy Giuffre 3 in 1958, I’m sure Van knows that version. We mustn’t forget the contribution of Michael Ode on drums to this album, especially as there is no bass player in this ensemble. Van has recorded Close Enough For Jazz three times and until now I haven’t really rated it as one of his better songs. This version is fun though and Van is clearly enjoying it, scatting away to his heart’s content and the band are all in the groove. There is laughter at the end which shows they had a great time making this album. I didn’t rate Goldfish Bowl either when it came out in 2003 but Van must think we weren’t listening properly and has re-recorded it here. It is a 7.08-minute romp with all the band showing their skills. One fan said this song was a highlight when it was performed in London last weekend and I can see why now.
Me looking at the album.

Evening Shadows is a song that Van wrote with the late great Acker Bilk. The clarinet of Acker is missing here but that is more than made up for by Troy’s saxophones and Joey’s keyboard skills. Magic Time seems to be a favourite song of Van’s because it has been part of his live repertoire for a long time now. It is an ideal song for the small jazz clubs where Van likes to play. Troy and Van excel themselves on their saxes with this song. I first heard You’re Driving Me Crazy in 1961 when it was a hit for The Temperance Seven. I remember them singing it on The Billy Cotton Band Show. It was written in 1930 and has been recorded by dozens of people since. You can hear Van laughing with pleasure during this song after a solo by Dan. Everyday I Have The Blues is a song made famous by Peter Chatman better known as Memphis Slim although most people probably know the version by B.B. King. This version by Van and Joey is great and the enjoyment they had recording it is apparent at the end when Van exclaims, “I gotta hear this stuff”. Have I Told You Lately is one of Van’s greatest and most famous songs, but I have never been enamoured with the faster ‘Las Vegas’ arrangement that he has often performed live. I do like this version though with Shana joining in on vocals and the exquisite guitar playing of Dan Wilson. Sticks And Stones was written by Titus Turner and was recorded by Ray Charles in 1960. For the final track Van sees what the band can do with his great instrumental Celtic Swing and they don’t let him down. A great way to bring this most enjoyable album to a close.

I have really enjoyed listening to this album today on a rainy Saturday afternoon. All the ensemble obviously enjoyed making the record and their enthusiasm is infectious. I think it will be more than just jazz fans who enjoy this record. A big hand for the band !

Seeing Van Morrison At Liverpool Feis 2018

Teena Lyle, Tony Fitzgibbon, Dana Masters, Paul Moran, Mez Clough, Van, Paul Moore, Jay Berliner, Dave Keary. It was Saturday morning ...