I knew it was going to be a great Sunday. I woke to see three swans gliding on the glass water of our dock, in the weak autumn sun of a chilly blue sky. It was a majestic start to a day that ended with a Van Morrison concert at the Royal Albert Hall.
If you have read any of my blog posts, you will know I am crazy about Van Morrison’s music. Like silly crazy. So when my husband got this new job, we celebrated by buying tickets for this one-night-only Classic Van concert at the Royal Albert Hall. He knew it was a big treat for me, as I had eyed this show since it was first announced back in June. I think we got the last two tickets in the house. We didn’t even sit together. And our seats were in the “choir” section, above and behind the stage. We had a fabulous view of the band, and – knowing Van and his propensity to turn to face his band – I was pretty confident we’d see more of his face that way. And we did.
We had to brave the cold London evening and cross the city on unreliable weekend public transport, but we arrived a good hour early. The Royal Albert Hall is a beautiful, regal venue in South Kensington, built as part of Prince Albert’s vision for the promotion of the arts and science. It was completed after Prince Albert’s death from typhoid, and opened in 1871. Directly opposite it, in Hyde Park, is the famous golden memorial to the Prince Consort, described as one of the grandest, high-Victorian gothic extravaganzas anywhere. At night it stands in grand, spot-lit splendour against a dark sky.
We went into the Hall as soon as the doors opened, bought some coffee and hung around the foyer and the corridors. We looked at brochures and framed photographs of stars on the hall’s hallowed stages, reckoning we’d take our seats about 15 minutes before the show was due to start. I was so excited I couldn’t stand still … classic Van, man! Does it get better than that? Seriously? I don’t think so.
Our seats were not too bad, one row and about five seats apart. Enough for me to keep looking at my husband and smiling and waving and winking and smiling and waving and, did I say smiling? There was not much leg room between the rows, and I was glad not to be long-legged, nor to have shoes one size bigger. The seat was big enough for me to boogy in, though, and boogy I did!
I sat next to a stiff-lipped English couple, and a cheerful Dutch chappy in a checked shirt. Turns out he was as much of a Van fan as I am – sheesh, he’d flown in from the Netherlands for the concert – and we soon became new best friends.
The band started to arrive on the stage, the lights went down and that big voice said, “Ladies and gentleman, MR VAN MORRISON!” I like that voice. And that’s when I began to scream. And whistle.
Van, in trademark dark suit, dark glasses and black fedora, walked on to the stage, microphone in hand, harmonica in mouth, and opened his show with a medley of Baby, Please Don’t Go and Here Comes the Night. I felt like crying. He went on to sing his well-known favourites like Brown Eyed Girl, Moondance, Have I told You Lately, Into the Mystic, Ballerina, Bright Side of the Road. My personal favourite was All in the Game, which he teased out into the most incredible arrangement with solos from each of his band members: trombonist, pianist, saxophonist, drummer, double bass player, lead guitarist and acoustic guitarist. The double bass player doubled as a bass guitarist, and Van doubled as a saxophonist and harmonica player. I can’t even describe the music they made – just sublime.
I loved watching Van control his musicians with the flick of his hand and a trilling of his fingers. He did what he does so well – brings the music to a stomping crescendo and then right back down to a whisper. I was with him on his every word, every note and I didn’t want to miss a thing. He closed with a rousing version of Gloria, which brought the entire audience to its feet. It was indescribable to experience a packed Royal Albert Hall, filled to the rafters, with Van-loving punters clapping and screaming and whistling for his music never to end. We couldn’t take photographs, but that sight – and feeling – overwhelmed me as it etched itself in my mind.
I made a note of Van’s playlist, lest I forget, and my Dutch neighbour chipped in when he thought I might not know the title – which, believe me, wasn’t often! If I couldn’t sit with my husband, it was wonderful to sit beside another fellow Van fan. After the show finished, we agreed we had just experienced a very very special concert. I told him I had felt like crying, and he said, “Yes, I had some of those moments too.”
One thing about Van’s music is that it is so difficult to categorise. When I look for his music in a music shop, I never know whether to look in the soul section, R & B, jazz, blues, folk. His music could be in any or all of those. But last night, I was reminded that he is in a category all of his own: awesome. Totally awesome.
Sunshine signing off for today!