Van Morrison seems to like playing at Nell’s in West Kensington. Last night when I was leaving the club I thanked the owner Vince Power for a great evening and he told me that it was the 18th show Van had played at Nell’s. That is quite amazing when you think it has only been open since November 2014. I think it is because Van likes playing small intimate venues when he gets the chance. Maybe it reminds him of when he began his career at the Maritime Hotel in Belfast over 50 years ago. This is my story of yesterday.
I arrived in London Waterloo Station at about 1.00 and as it was a nice sunny day I took a leisurely stroll across the river to Embankment underground station. By the time I crossed the river I was singing Van’s latest song ‘Every Time I See A River’ in my head. Then it was just a short journey on the District Line to West Kensington. As soon as I came out of the station who should I meet but top Van fan Kerrie Brown. Kerrie had seen Van the night before and had got a signed CD and photos with Van so she was well chuffed. I told Kerrie I’d see her later and found my hotel which was only a couple of minutes away and had a snooze for a couple of hours.
It was 5.00 when I woke up. I had a look at the queue outside Nell’s and Kerrie was right at the front of it. She told me that our friend Yves-Michel ‘Burning Ground’ Balin was in the pub so I went to the ‘Famous 3 Kings’ to see him. It was great to catch up with him again and we had a good chat for about an hour. Eventually Yves-Michel went off to get in the queue but I stayed and had another drink. About 7.00 I thought I had better go as the doors were opening. In the queue it was brilliant to see my Spanish friend Miquel Rovira and his lovely wife Elena and their friend Thomas. I hadn’t seen Miquel since the ‘Lit Up Inside’ show in 2014.
Once inside, I spotted Brendan from Ireland which was the first time I’d seen Brendan since I was sat next to him at the Van fans party for Van’s 70th birthday in Belfast 2015. Brendan always writes great reviews on the Mystic Avenue site so I am looking forward to seeing what he thought of this show and see if he agrees with me. Also, tucked away in a corner at the back, relaxing before the show I spotted three members of Van’s band, drummer Mez Clough, guitarist Dave Keary and singer Dana Masters. I don’t want to sound sexist but Dana looked stunningly beautiful. I had a little chat and they were very polite but I bet they just wanted to have a few quiet moments. I asked if it was ok to take a photo and they obliged. I had turned flash off on my camera so the photo isn't that great.
Then it was Showtime. It was nice to see Sumudu back, sharing backing vocal duties with Dana. The last time I saw Van in Nottingham 3 months ago was Sumudu’s first show with Van. The opening song was Goldfish Bowl which isn’t one of my favourite songs by any means but in this tiny venue, up close you don’t mind so much. Symphony Sid followed. It isn’t a favourite of mine either but Dana added some really nice vocals. Do you know that Symphony Sid is mentioned in my favourite book of all time which is On The Road by Jack Kerouac.
“Dean took the wheel and drove clear the rest of the way to New York, and we began to hear the Symphony Sid show on the radio with all the latest bop, and now we were entering the great and final city of America.” (Jack Kerouac, On the Road, pt. 3, ch. 11) See photo of Symphony Sid.
Then it was Keeping Mediocrity At Bay, another of Van’s lesser songs in most fans opinion but Van seems to like it. Maybe he is trying to tell us something. Beautiful Vision was next and this was really nice and it was 35 years to the day since that great album was released.I wonder if Van realised that or if it was just coincidence. Tear Your Playhouse Down followed and again I think this is one of my least favourite Van songs but it allowed Dave Keary to show what a great guitarist he is. In contrast Sometimes We Cry is a classic Van song and Dana added some wonderful vocals to this song.
Van then added to his vast repertoire of instruments I have seen him play by picking up a pair of maracas. This is the first time in about 60 concerts where I have seen him play maracas, he said,” This is a Jazz & Blues club, so I’m gonna play some Bo Diddly”, I think the song was called ‘I Can Tell’. It was ok I suppose but when you are sat about 12 feet away from your favourite singer of all time you don’t care.
Then Van said, “I’m going to sing some songs that we used to do in the Maritime Hotel in Belfast back in 1964”, and sang Baby Please Don’t Go, Midnight Special, Parchman Farm, Don’t Start Crying Now and Custard Pie. It was great, I think Van is quite nostalgic for the olden days in Belfast when he was young and just starting out. There was a complete change of mood then for In The Midnight in which Dave Keary played some wonderful pedal steel guitar. The song had a sort of 1950’s doo-wop feel for me. This was followed by Think Twice Before You Go and then Precious Time which I know some of the Vanatics don’t like all that much but Dave on pedal steel and Paul on trumpet were excellent.
The show went from really good to sublime then, when Van put on his electric guitar for Why Must I Always Explain. It was fabulous and was followed by Ray Charles’s I Can’t Stop Loving You. Dana & Sumudu were great on the backing vocals for this song which reminded me of when Van had the Crawford Bell singers in the band about 10 years ago. The brilliance continued with In The Afternoon. Van stopped the song to have a little mini-rant about BBC Radio 2 presenter Steve Wright who has a show called ‘Steve Wright In The Afternoon’. Van said he had met him about 20 years ago and he still has a grudge against Van now. Van said, “ Anyway, up your’s Steve Wright”. I agree with Van, I can’t stand the pillock either. Apart from that the song developed into Raincheck and it was great.
The show was coming to a climax now with All In The Game in which Dave on guitar and Paul on trumpet were magnificent and the song evolved into You Know What Their Writing About /No Plan B No Safety Net. This is the transcendental stuff that keeps us die-hard Van fans coming back for more. Van left the stage but came back for Help Me which was good but I’ve heard it many a time before. When Van left the stage again I was heading for the door because I knew the band would be playing away for another ten minutes. That’s how I managed to have a chat with Vince on the way out.
Outside on the pavement in the rainy London night I said cheerio to Kerrie who had to rush off and then me, Burning Ground, Miquel, Elena & Thomas went to the pub. Marcel-Yves was buzzing from the concert. We all agreed it was great. They were playing bass and drum dance music in the pub and Marcel-Yves couldn’t stand it after seeing Van so he headed off. Eventually the pub closed and I said goodnight to the others and headed back to my hotel.
This morning it was a beautiful sunny warm Spring day in London town and I went for a nice walk along the river. I was early for my train so went in a pub near Waterloo called The Hole In The Wall. Guess what music they were playing ? Only Tupelo Honey by Van Morrison. The perfect end to a really nice trip to London to see Van the man. Let’s do it again soon !