Brighton is incurably cool and quirky. In the matter of half an hour on Tuesday we saw a unicyclist, a banjo-playing busker, a sulking angel, a blue-mohicaned Doc Martens-booted guy taking out the trash from a coffee shop called Lucky beach, and a pug called Gertie. In the weak winter sunlight, against a dramatically beautiful sunset, we soaked in the sea air and the cheery atmosphere that this unique seaside town offers for free. When we saw Van Morrison in concert at the Brighton Dome later that evening, it seemed he had done the same.
It’s no secret that I adore the musical genius that is Van. I have a list as long as the phone directory of my favourite Van songs and, to be honest, he could sing the phone directory and I’d be clapping and whooping along with the rest of them. Having seen him three times in concert so far, I’ll declare it’s not his stage presence that keeps me buying tickets. But honestly, on Tuesday night at Brighton Dome, Van not only interacted with the audience, but he actually cracked a joke. I kid you not. Let me tell you: an all-singing and slightly-talking Van in action was a sight to behold.
His daughter, Shana Morrison, opened the show with three numbers. Apologising after her first number No more Mrs Nice Girl that she wasn’t going to take up any of our ‘Van time’, she told us she was ‘just singing while [we] all got seated’. After Ten Thousand Things and Rainy Day, she stepped aside as “Mr Van Morrison!” took to the stage.
In trademark brown fedora, cool shades, a dark grey suit and playing the sax, he walked on to the stage to joyful applause, bringing with him the sounds of Celtic swing. With appreciative shouts of ‘yeah!’ to his lead guitarist, he took us through Close enough for jazz, followed by Higher than the world. As Rough god goes riding’s lyrics faded (Riding on in, riding on in, riding on in, riding on in) so began the first of his interactions. ‘Vanter’, if you will.
“Just like Jesse James. Just like John Wayne, just like Billy the Kid!”
Shana joined in, “Just like Van Morrison!”
Van replied, “No! Just like Clint Eastwood; he just mosies along. He looks extremely bored and he says, ‘Howdy ma’am! Go ahead and have a nice day!’”
Picking up a mouth organ, Van led us through Back on top. As the audience responded to the opening bars of So quiet in here, he said “Thank you” and took us through a cracking version of this hauntingly beautiful number.
As he sat down and strapped on his ukulele for Keep it simple, he told us a story. Deadpan and actively unsmiling, he said:
“Apparently I’m a comedian. A friend of mine who knows Billy Connolly said Billy Connolly had said ‘Van Morrison is very, very, very funny.’ So this is a platform now.”
The jokes didn’t follow, but the music that did was outstanding: Queen of the slipstream, Keep mediocrity at bay (with Van at the piano), and Benediction, which he introduced by acknowledging it was written by his friend Mose Allison.
Shana joined him for Whenever God shines His light, and then he introduced his friend Chris Farlowe who joined him on stage to ensure we had ‘rhythm and blues’. Together, like two great buddies, they took us through the rocking sounds of Early in the morning/Rock me, in which Van got the audience clapping and he thanked us for that afterwards, Hoochie coochie man and a crazy bluesy Stormy Monday, and Born to sing. Van and Chris had so much fun!
To enthusiastic and appreciative applause, Chris left the stage and Van, at the keyboard, took us through a beautiful alternative version of Have I told you lately (joined ably by Shana), followed by Old black magic and Brown-eyed girl.
A few times through the evening, Van implored us to “give it up for the band”. They were outrageously talented: keyboard/Hammond organ/trumpet player, trombonist, trumpet/sax player, drummer, percussionist, bass guitar/double bass player and lead guitarist. They reacted to Van’s twirling fingers and swinging arms and fashioned and fine-tuned the music to mandatory Van-perfection.
Chris joined him again for Stand by me before a predictably rousing, rocking and crazy loud drum-soloed finale in the form of Gloria. Joking, chirping and ‘vanter’ aside, there was still not going to be an encore. The lights went up and Van left the building.
Brighton had delivered, and I’d put money on it: we weren’t the only ones who’d seriously enjoyed the gig.
Sunshine signing off for today.