Thursday, September 10, 2015
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
To be continued..............................
Monday, September 07, 2015
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.
To be continued...........................................
Sunday, September 06, 2015
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.