Thursday, March 26, 2015

Van Morrison, Teenage Cancer Trust Concert, Royal Albert Hall, London 25/3/ 2015.

Last nights concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London was one of the most enjoyable evenings I have had in ages. Here is what happened. I arrived in London at about 12.30 and as it was a nice sunny day I decided to walk to Kensington through Hyde Park. I had lots of spare time so looked at an exhibition in the Serpentine Gallery. It was really interesting, the work of an American artist called Leon Golub who I had never heard of but the work was quite brilliant. I finally emerged from the park just by the Albert Memorial so I thought I'd have a walk around to the stage door of the Albert Hall because you never know who might be hanging around but I didn't spot anyone. Then I had a spot of lunch in the Queens Arms and found my hotel. A really nice hotel which had an Indian Restaurant on the ground floor. "That will come in handy tonight", I thought to myself. I had an hours nap then walked down the avenue again back to the Queens Arms where I met up with Mike (Nosey), Hugh and Ivan from Northern Ireland (Not that Ivan!). It was really nice to meet Howard for the first time and his son Matt. We had a couple of drinks and a chat and then made our way to the Albert Hall. Just before showtime I was pleased to bump into Amanda who I have met at a lot of Van shows. I was in row 18 but had a really good view.
A man whose name I didn't catch came on to introduce the show and talked briefly about the Teenage Cancer Trust. Roger Daltrey has organised these annual shows for 15 years and they have raised £20,000,000 in that time. Then there was a short but very moving film about the charities work. After that Roger Daltrey came on stage and introduced a group of young people who have benefited from the Teenage Cancer Trust and one of them spoke briefly to the audience. Roger Daltrey has gone up in my estimation since last night. He deserves a lot of praise for all his hard work. Finally Roger introduced Van  and the show got under way.
                                                                              The band of Paul Moran, Dave Keary, Paul Moore, Bobby Ruggeiro and Dana Masters began playing and then Van walked on stage to huge applause and proceeded to play Celtic Swing. This was followed by Higher Than The World. Dana looked really nice but I was slightly bugged that her contribution on backing vocals was so quiet. What is the point of backing singers if you can't hear them?. Then Van introduced his first guest of the evening which was Clare Teal. They sang one of my favourite songs from the new album Carrying A Torch which was fabulous and then a song from Astral Weeks The Way Young Lovers Do which I don't think I have heard Van perform live before because I didn't go to the Astral Weeks shows of 2008.
 Paul Moran excelled himself on this song which was great. Clare left the stage to warm applause and Van launched into a medley of  Baby Please Don't Go/Parchman Farm/ Don't Start Crying Now. This was really good and Van introduced some dark humour into the Parchman Farm segment with some pretend gun-play. Roger Daltrey was the next guest to be introduced and seemed a bit nervous about singing with Van. " This should be interesting", said Roger hesitantly . I think he had probably only heard about the song that very afternoon and had to read the words off a music stand but he was really good on Talk Is Cheap and I never knew Roger was such a good harmonica player. Roger was rewarded for his brave effort with a big hug from Van which was nice to see, there was a lot of love about this concert.and he left the stage.

 Then it was time for the enigma that is P.J.Proby to take the stage. He clearly relished every moment of his appearance. I bet P.J. thought his days of appearing on a stage like this were well and truly over so he loved to be back in the spotlight. They sang Van's song What Ever Happened To P.J.Proby and then a song that P.J. had written in reply which I think was called P.J.Proby Calling Van Morrison, It was ok and fun and Van played some nifty saxophone on it. I really enjoyed their next duet, Sam Cooke's Bring It On Home To Me. P.J then left the stage after milking the applause. I had actually quite enjoyed his contribution. Precious Time followed with Paul Moran again showing how great he is on the trumpet.

                                                                                Van's old friend Georgie Fame looking resplendent in a white suit then came on-stage and  seated himself at the keyboards for Get On With The Show but as on the Duets album I think Georgie's huge talents are not really utilised  on this song. The cha cha cha ending is quite humorous though. Georgie was much more to the fore on The New Symphony Sid and Centrepiece which evolved into Corrina,Corrina. I should mention Dave Keary on guitar who was outstanding all night. George departed and then it was time for a really soulful Days Like This and finally Dana made herself noticed with her vocal contribution. Van's sax playing was great as well. One of the absolute highlights of the evening for me was when Mick Hucknell arrived on stage and performed a stunning Streets Of Arklow with Van. I must say that after about 3 decades of not liking Mick Hucknell due to stupid gingerist prejudice  I am now a fan. He is a great soul singer.Van played some great electric guitar on this song. I filmed it and you can see the result below.

 After Mick left the stage it was Moondance a song I am usually bored with hearing too often but I enjoyed it tonight and Dana's contribution was really nice.This was followed by Magic Time which was ok because Van & Dave were tip top on sax and guitar. Following that Paul started the familiar intro to Whenever God Shines his Light but on the spur of the moment Van cancelled it and they did Brown Eyed Girl instead. This shows the genius of Van. He makes it up as he goes along.The audience loved this and sang along with it.
                                                                             The pinnacle of the evening for me was was next with Into The Mystic. It was magical . The only distraction was silly people in the audience who whooped and whistled at certain points. Van ad-libbed on the lyrics and started scatting words like "Don't worry child, I'll carry you, till we get the healing done". I found that very poignant indeed especially in the context of it being a charity event for teenage cancer. Well done Van. He disappeared into the wings to tumultuous applause.The house lights came on and I thought that was the end. I left my seat and walked to the front to try and get a photo of the band but suddenly Van reappeared and I sat down on the floor to listen to a wonderful rendition of  In The Garden. I was spellbound. There is no finer musician on the planet than Van Morrison.
                    That was finally the end of a wonderful concert. I met up with my friends for a quick pint in the pub then back to the Indian Restaurant at my hotel for a nice feed and then to bed and fell asleep into restful slumbers. Thank you very much the Teenage Cancer Trust, Roger Daltrey, Van Morrison, my friends and the Montana Hotel, Kensington for a most enjoyable visit to London. A big hand for the band !

Friday, March 20, 2015

Review : Van Morrison: Duets: Re-Working The Catalogue

It has been a long wait for Van Morrison's 35th studio album to be released since Born To Sing,No Plan B came out in October 2012. I must say it has been worth the wait because this album is a triumph. At 76 minutes long you certainly get your money's worth. That is only 14 minutes less than the average Van concert. One thing that annoys me when you hear a Van song on the radio is that it is either Brown Eyed Girl, Moondance, Bright Side Of The Road or Have I told You Lately?. The radio stations seem to think that is all he ever recorded. Van has published well over 300 songs and there are many little gems hidden away in his back catalogue waiting to be re-discovered so hopefully this collection of duets will introduce some of his lesser known songs to a wider audience than just the hard-core of Vanatical fans. Let's look at the tracks one by one.

1) Some Peace Of Mind  with Bobby Womack. 
Bobby Womack sadly died recently so Van was lucky to get to record this great song with him. It was originally on the Hymns To The Silence album. The lush sound of Fiachra Trench's string arrangements introduce the song. Van has worked with Fiachra occasionally over four decades and he provides strings for four songs on this album.Van's normal band is augmented by Mike Osborn on percussion. I must say that Van's brass section of Chris White and Alistair White excel themselves on this track as does Paul Moran on the Hammond organ.This opening track is meritorious and I hope Bobby got to hear the finished product. Marks out of ten: 9

2)  If I Ever Needed Someone, with Mavis Staples.
Van has worked with Mavis before.I have seen footage of when they both guested with the Candy Dulfer band. I first became aware of Mavis when the Staples Singers appeared in the film The Last Waltz in which Van effortlessly stole the show. One thing that this album shows is that Van's voice is as good as ever. The same can't be said of Mavis, her voice sounds a bit frayed around the edges but in a strange way this seems to make the song even more soulful. This song was originally on the Street Choir album and is one of Van's most underrated songs so it is great that it has been re-visited. Abass Dodo helps out on percussion on this track. Marks out of ten: 9

3) Higher Than The World, with George Benson
Like Mavis Van has also performed with George Benson before. If you look on youtube you can see a wonderful video of Van, George,Carlos Santana, Dr John and Etta James performing Moondance in 1977 and also Van & George performing Misty. On this track several of Georges own band play with just Paul Moran, and Alistair and Chris from Van's band. It is another peerless song with George playing some great jazzy guitar and the brass section are wonderful. Marks out of ten:9

4) Wild Honey,  with Joss Stone
The brilliance continues with this song originally on Van's Common One album. Van is joined by Joss Stone who is not only beautiful but also one of Britains greatest young singers.I think this version is better than the original. The perfect music for late night chilling with a bottle of wine.Marks out of ten: 9

5)Whatever Happened To PJ Proby?, with PJ Proby.
After the incandescent tip-top opening four tracks things were bound to dip which they do a bit on this song which is the novelty song on the album. PJ Proby emerges from obscurity to join Van. I am seeing Van next week at the Royal Albert Hall and I am reliably informed that PJ is one of Van's guests so that should be quite amusing. Vans daughter Shana provides some backing vocals on this one. The intro makes me think the Pink Panther is arriving. Marks out of ten: 7

6) Carrying A Torch, with Clare Teal
On my first listen to this album I thought this track was the best one. Van has previously recorded this as a duet with Tom Jones which was really good  but I much prefer this version. Of all the great singers guesting on this album Clare is probably the least known especially to a non British audience but she proves that she is the equal of any female singer. She was thrilled to get the opportunity to sing with Van and she rose to the occasion.I don't suppose Van has hit singles any more but this duet would certainly make a great record of the week for BBC radio2. It is scintillating. Clare lives in the beautiful city of Bath which is only a few miles from here so we should be proud of our local singer. Marks out of ten: 10

 7)The Eternal Kansas City, with Gregory Porter 
I never particularly liked the original version of this song on the Period Of Transition album and I don't think this version improves it at all. I quite like the frenetic trombone and piano parts of the arrangement though. Van is on a double bill with Gregory at Blenheim Palace in the summer if you want to see both of them. Marks out of ten:7

8) Streets Of Arklow, with Mick Hucknell
I have never been a fan of Mick Hucknell's music but you can't fault his performance on this song. Unlike most of the other guests on the album whose songs were suggested by Van, Mick asked Van if he could perform this classic track from the Veedon Fleece album and what a great choice it is.Van plays acoustic guitar and Dave Keary excels himself on guitar and Chris White plays tin whistle. Paul Moran deserves a mention as well for his contribution on piano and Hammond organ.Marks out of ten:9

9) These Are The Days, with Natalie Cole
Some of the songs on this album improve on the original versions but this one doesn't in my opinion. These Are The Days is one of my favourite songs on Avalon Sunset but I don't like this jazzy arrangement. There is nothing wrong with Natalie's voice though. Marks out of ten: 7

10) Get On With The Show,with Georgie Fame
I can't see the point of this choice of song. It is one of the better songs on What's Wrong With This Picture but this version adds nothing to it. Georgie has done some great work with Van in the past and I always liked the lush sound of his organ playing but I don't think he plays anything on this track and his vocals are completely overshadowed by Van's. Marks out of ten: 6

11) Rough God Goes Riding with Shana Morrison
I have seen daughter Shana perform this duet with Van several times live and always enjoyed it.Mark Nightingale joins the band on trombone, Alistair must have been away that day.Van the Belfast Cowboy shows his humour at the end by reciting the names of his favourite western heroes. Marks out of ten: 8

12) Fire In The Belly with Steve Winwood
Steve Winwood is the only guest on the album not to record in the studio with Van. He recorded his contribution in his home studio and sent it in. That shows how clever he is because you wouldn't notice listening to this great track.I love Stevie's distinctive playing on the organ which reminds you of the great music he made with Traffic. Marks out of ten: 8.

13) Born To Sing with Chris Farlowe
Like the Shana song I have also seen Van perform this song live with Chris Farlowe and not particularly enjoyed it. When a Van concert only lasts 90 minutes it always annoys me when Chris Farlowe is introduced because to me it is using up valuable Van time and I bet this song will be inflicted on us at the Royal Albert Hall next week. Having said all that I really like the tenor sax and trombone and Van's alto sax. Shana & Bobby Ruggiero help out on backing vocals. Marks out of ten:7

14) Irish Heartbeat with Mark Knopfler
This is magnificent. Mark has worked with Van before. I love that song The Last Laugh on his Sailing To Philadelphia album. Unlike a lot of the songs on the album this is a very well known Van song and a brilliant choice. Marks out of ten ;9

15) Real Real Gone with Michael Buble
Most of this album was recorded at British Grove Studio or Air Studios in London but this song was recorded at an Arena in Manchester. Maybe to fit in with Buble's tour schedule. Michael Buble's own band are used on this recording with just Paul Moran from Van's own band. I have never really liked Buble's music but you can't fault this song which is guaranteed to get lots of air-play and I think Van has been very astute to record with Michael Buble because he sells millions of albums and packs out stadiums around the world so this song will introduce Van to lots of Buble fans and will be a good education for them. Marks out of ten: 9

16) How Can A Poor Boy? with Taj Mahal.
This is a brilliant song to close the album with. The perfect choice of song for Taj Mahal to get to work on. Recorded at the Slieve Donard hotel in Northern Ireland where Taj was Van's guest.The harmonica and Hammond organ are haunting and like John Lee Hooker and Doctor John Taj Mahal has a shamen-like quality. He is a healer and you can feel the enjoyment they had in working together. This song is anointed and appointed ! Marks out of ten: 10.

Total marks out of 160 : 133
Average mark per song :8.312

I have been trying to think of adjectives to describe this album because I can't keep saying brilliant and excellent all the time so I have thought of incandescent, scintillating,tip-top, meritorious, peerless, transcendent, sterling, divine, hallowed, rapturous, superlative,celestial,rightious and sanctified. Buy this album!.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

In Search Of Dion Fortune.

On Monday morning I was lying in bed as usual and reading a book I had found in a charity shop which was called 'The Battersea Park Road Road To Enlightenment' by Isabel Losada. I had only bought it because it was a signed copy and I thought it might be worth a few quid. I found it very funny and readable. In the first paragraph it said,'I want to find out how to live life completely, abundantly, joyfully, stupidly. This is my quest, Enlightenment. I'm not doing very well so far'.                                                                                 The words struck a chord with me. It seemed to be about me. It was all about this adventure of self discovery and personal growth involving Insight Seminars,Ta'i Chi, Astrology, Tantric Sex, Re-incarnation, Hypnotism, and loads of other stuff. " I want some of this", I thought to myself. I was thinking more of the tantric sex. Anyway I decided that if the weather was nice on Tuesday morning I would get out of Westbury and where better to go to than Glastonbury, the world centre for spiritual growth and new age alternative life-styles. I only live 25 miles from Glastonbury and I have been there loads of times so I needed a new reason to go. To do something that I had never done there before.Then I remembered another book I had read a couple of years ago called Glastonbury,Avalon Of The Heart by Dion Fortune. I had discovered this book because of being a Van Morrison fan. On Van's album Enlightenment  there is a song with a similar title and I am convinced that the book was the inspiration for the song. Glastonbury is situated in the Vale Of Avalon which was a huge influence for Van in the 1980's. Dion Fortune lived in a tiny house at the foot of Glastonbury Tor and when she died in 1946 she was buried in Glastonbury cemetery. I decided that I would go and see if I could find her grave. I put my copy of the book in a plastic bag and  and put a little note in it saying whoever finds the book is welcome to it and I sealed it with sellotape to keep out the rain. This is what I was going to leave on the grave of Dion Fortune. Crazy I know but as Van might say, " It ain't why, it just is". If you have never heard of Dion Fortune then I suggest that you read about her on Wikipedia, I can't be bothered to tell you all about her here when you can find it all at the click of a mouse.
 I stayed out of the pub on Monday night and woke up Tuesday morning feeling really good and the sun was streaming through the window. It was a beautiful day as I set out for Glastonbury. I arrived there about 11.45 and I couldn't check into my hotel till 2.00 so I wandered the streets taking photos of the crazy shop signs. One shop was called 'Enlightenment' which reminded me of the Van album. Glastonbury has a very strong feminine vibe to it. Lots of goddess's walking around dressed in hippy type garb. One or two smiled at me. "I bet they are getting loads of tantric sex", I thought to myself wistfully. Then I had a look in a museum that I had never visited before. It was really interesting, all about the Iron Age people that used to live around here. Some of the pottery and tools they used were amazing and they even had an Iron Age canoe which had been discovered locally. The Tourist Information Office was in the same building and I asked the lady if she could direct me to the cemetery. She gave me a bit of a funny look. I think it is because tourist information ladies usually get asked about hotels  or bus timetables, not cemeteries. Anyway,she told me to go to the top of the High Street and turn left and it was about half a mile.

          Fifteen minutes later I arrived at the cemetery entrance. Inside the deserted graveyard there was a really peaceful atmosphere, not a cloud in the sky and just the sound of birdsong disturbing the tranquillity. I had expected my intuition would lead me to the grave like a holy magnet but after a few minutes I realised that I had a major problem. There were hundreds of graves, a lot of them covered in lichen and so worn that you couldn't hardly read the inscription. I wandered up and down the rows for about half an hour looking at graves that looked about 70 years old. "This is impossible", I thought to myself and was beginning to despair.
                                                                             Then I noticed a van parked nearby with a man in it eating sandwiches. " He must be a gravedigger or a sexton or whatever you call them", I thought, "He might be able to help". He put down his sandwich and gave a cheery smile. "I wonder if you can help me, I'm trying to locate a grave but I don't have a clue where it is. Violet Mary Evans better known as Dion Fortune". " I know exactly where it is", he replied, "You're not the first person to ask me about that grave,I'll show you it". " Oh brilliant, thanks mate".

 He led me up towards  the far end of the cemetery and then down a few rows and there it was, my quest was over. I had found the grave of Dion Fortune. I thanked him and shook hands and he left me alone at the graveside. Even after 69 years she obviously still had visitors because there were recent flowers left there and various trinkets and things. I took a few photos and then I noticed just a few feet away the grave of  her patron and secretary in the Fraternity Of The Inner Light Charles Thomas Loveday who died in 1948 so I took a photo of that as well.

 Then I got the book out of my bag and placed it on Dion's grave. The book she had written all those years ago. I hope somebody finds it soon and enjoys it. Then I made a little video which you can see below if you scroll down. I left the cemetery feeling quite pleased  with myself. Mission accomplished. Walking back down the High Street I spotted a second-hand bookshop and thought I would have a look in. There was a huge range of books on all sorts of topics such as the occult, mysticism,theosophy etc and guess what was almost the first book I saw in there?. Yes,Glastonbury, Avalon Of The Heart by Dion Fortune. The rest of my 24 hours in Glastonbury was good fun. The 15th century hotel The George And Pilgrim is nice. Kim and I stayed there a few times previously. I had a nice meal and saw a band in the hotel next door. Next morning I climbed the Tor which was beautiful and then I sat in the Chalice Well gardens for about an hour basking in the sun which was amazing for February and I had a drink of the cool water to quench my thirst and then I hopped in a taxi to Castle Cary and caught the train to Westbury. Today it is back to being dark, rainy and miserable so I am really pleased I chose the best two days to go away and I have even started writing again so thank you very much Dion Fortune for inspiring me from beyond the grave.

The Grave Of Dion Fortune.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Review: Fairport Convention, Cheese & Grain Frome 3/2/2015

I had a great time seeing Fairport Convention in Frome last night. This is what happened. My friend Jacquie called at mine at 6.00 and we had a bite to eat and then got a taxi to the Cheese & Grain in Frome. I have seen some great acts here over the years but I think last nights show was one of the best ever. The venue has been refurbished since I was last here two years ago with a new foyer and bar and cafe area which is really nice. It was more or less a full house for Fairport and promptly at 8.00 Ric Sanders came on to introduce the support act who were Rosie Carson and Kevin Dempsey. Rosie hails from Cincinnati I think and Kevin comes from Coventry.Rosie is tall and beautiful and plays violin and sings exquisitely and Kevin is a superb guitarist. They played instrumentals and songs such as Green Grows The Laurel, The Music Ringer, a song about making shoes which might be called Peg It All. Kevin gave the guitar players in the audience a handy tip, " Don't buy your guitar strings from Aldi". Ric and Gerry joined them on stage for their last song All For You and by the end all the members of Fairport were on stage.
The current line-up who have been together a long time by Fairport's standards are Gerry Conway, Dave Pegg, Chris Leslie, Ric Sanders and Simon Nicol.
 Rosie & Kevin then left the stage after their warmly received set and Fairport sang Sir Patrick Spens from their Full House album. It was great but they were not here tonight to just relive old history, no siree, the band were here to promote their new album of new material called Myths & Heroes. I am listening to it at this very moment and I must say that it is a great album.They performed the title track next which rocked at a frenetic pace.Chris Leslie excelled on this one and Gerry Conway and Dave Pegg showed what a great rhythm section they are. A Ralph McTell song Clear Water was next with Simon Nicol  taking the starring role on vocals and acoustic guitar. The next song was very moving and called Weightless and written by James Wood and Chris Leslie who sang the lead vocals. Another Ralph McTell song followed which I think is called Around Wild Cape Horn and is the true story of an American man  called Irving Johnson who sailed from Hamburg on a four-masted Tall Ship around the world and filmed the voyage.
Ric Sanders then introduced his own new composition called The Gallivant which was brilliant. On the new album the band are joined by seven members of Joe Broughton's Conservatoire Folk Ensemble on this tune and it is great. The following song is very poignant and called John Condon who was an Irish soldier who was believed to have been only fourteen years old when he was slain in the first world war. Being from an Irish background his story intrigued me so I looked him up on Wikipedia and it said that it is now thought that he was actually eighteen when he died in Belgium but that doesn't make the song any less powerful. Simon did a great job singing on this one. After that sombre melancholy song the mood was much lighter for the last song of the first half  Bring Me Back My Feathers written by Anna Ryder which is a very catchy jolly song with Chris excelling himself on vocals and banjo.

                                                                                 In the interval I knew I had to get the new CD in case I didn't have time at the end. Having played it three times now I must say it is a labour of love, not only in the great,well produced music but in the whole design and artwork and a brilliant booklet with all the information you need. At the back of the hall we met Simon Nicol who was kind enough to let us take a couple of photos. All the band were chatting to the fans which is great of them.You would think they would prefer a bit of a sit down in the interval.
                                                                        The second half began with Peggy and Chris Leslie starring in The Fylde Mountain Time and Roger Bucknall's Polka. The tunes take their name from the Fylde Guitar Company who made Peggy and Chris's bouzouki's. The Wassailing Song was next featuring Chris Leslie. If you don't know what wassailing is look it up on Wikipedia like I did. It's all to do with going from house to house singing Christmas Carols in the winter or singing to trees in cider apple orchards in the summer. Mercy Bay was the next song. It is all about Lord Frankin's doomed expedition to the icy wastes of Canada in 1850 and I thought Gerry Conway on drums who had kept a great rhythm all night was really brilliant on this one. Love At First Sight written by Chris was next and is a song about a girl who disguises herself as a man to join a Morris Dancing team. A song from Liege And Lief, one of the best albums ever made followed which is Crazy Man Michael.
 I did my best to film this one but it was difficult filming between the heads in front and impossible to get the whole band in shot. Still, I think the sound is quite good. You can see the result below. Festival Bell  followed with Fairport trying to get the audience to join in with the one word chorus of  'Jack' which was quite good fun. Also they told us about their annual festival which is held at Cropredy and amongst their guests this year is Emmylou Harris. I would really like to go to that because Emmylou is great and I have never seen her live but I have made lots of other plans for the summer.
                                                                   Then disaster struck, Jacquie pointed to her watch. It was 10.30. Two and a half hours had shot by and I had ordered a taxi thinking it would be all over by now.It's my own fault for going to all those 90 minute Van Morrison shows. It was too late to cancel the taxi, he was already waiting. We heard one more song which was called Home and written by PJ Wright. Simon did another great performance on this and then we had to drag ourselves away. I bet Fairport played on for at least another half an hour. They looked like they were enjoying themselves. I wasn't familiar with a lot of the songs but I didn't mind one bit because I don't like bands that live in the past. Fairport Convention are alive and well and coming up with great new music.We headed home in time for a last drink in The Ludlow Arms after a great night. Thank you very much Fairport Convention and I urge you to see them on this tour if you get the chance and buy the new album because it is great.

                                                                      THE END.                         

Crazy Man Michael. Fairport Convention.