Two Sirs, with love

It was beneath a warm Tuscan sky in July that we took our seats for the second gig of the 19th Lucca Summer Festival. It was surreal in so many ways.

Our seats were in the front row, the outdoor venue (Piazza Napoleone, in the heart of the historic walled city) was magnificent, we were on our first-ever trip to Italy and we were about to see two legends on stage: Sir Van Morrison and Sir Tom Jones. I was lost for words.

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The couple sitting next to us arrived shortly after we did. She was beside herself, and I couldn’t help but engage with her. While we were there for Van Morrison, she – and her reluctant partner – were there to see Tom Jones.

“I don’t know what it is – whenever I see him, I just go funny all over. He doesn’t have to sing or anything – just looking at him, I just go all funny. I’ve never known anything like it. He doesn’t like it,” she said, pointing to her disengaged, eye-rolling partner.

On the dot of 8.30pm, Van Morrison and his band opened the show with the beautiful and lyrical Moondance. With characteristic lack of engagement with the audience, Van moved on to The Way Young Lovers Do and Magic Time, with its superb trumpet solo.

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He followed with By His Grace, Someone Like You (the romance in both the melody and lyrics floor me, as did the performance of Van’s stunning backing vocalist, Dana Masters), Whenever God Shines His light, a fabulous remix of Have I told you lately, and Wild Night.

I’ve learnt that when Van picks up his harmonica, he starts to play it upside-down. He did so and remedied it quickly in the intro to the stunning Enlightenment, and again enthralled with his saxophone in Little Village.

It was at this point that my neighbour demonstrated what ‘going all funny’ meant. She jumped six inches off her seat, her legs went flying and kicking, and she screamed spontaneously. She was the first of thousands to scream in adoration as Sir Tom Jones strode across the stage in front of us to join his good friend, Van, for What Am I Living For?

It was Sir Tom who introduced their second number – “This is one we actually recorded together,” – Sometimes We Cry.

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Sir Tom left the stage and Van picked up the pace with a medley of Baby Please Don’t Go / Don’t Start Crying Now and, as the light began to fade, Here Comes the Night. He followed with the lilting and romantic In the Afternoon / Ancient Highway / Raincheck, before strapping on his guitar for The Beauty of the Days Gone By, Why Must I Always Explain, and Think Twice Before You Go.

Van took his cordless mic, and I knew the end of his set was in sight. Not before the popular Brown Eyed Girl and Help Me. A quick “Thank you!” and he walked off the stage.

He responded to the audience’s applause and imploring screams to come back, and we leapt to our feet to his rousing, signature encore: Gloria. Van briefly thanked his band and, at 10pm, left the stage.

I often listen to Van – and on such wonderful occasions as this, watch him – and wonder where the music comes from. Where does he find it? That depth of passion and emotion? His words reflect deep, deep feelings and he writes extraordinary, awe-inspiring music to express it.

I don’t go ‘all funny’ when I see Van. But when I listen to his music, he reaches me in places I didn’t know could be reached. His gift is astonishing, his music sublime. He speaks a lot about ‘transcendence’; I think I’m getting to understand just what he means.

It was 10.30pm, the beautiful Lucca night was gently cooling and Sir Tom walked on to the stage with his fabulous band. After a moving Burning Hell, he greeted the audience in Tom style.

“Everybody feeling all right? Are we gonna have a good time?”

He talked about his years in Las Vegas in the ’60s, and introduced his next song:  Run On.

“I used to spend time with Elvis Presley. After the shows, we’d sing all night – well, he did and I’d listen. He loved gospel music, bless him. I learnt a lot from him.”

His huge band backed him with enthusiasm, a huge amount of fun and jolly fine music. We couldn’t take our eyes off the horn section – the saxophone, trumpet and trombone/tuba players. The three excellent musicians who sang, danced and interpreted the lyrics in such a spirit of fun were a delight to watch!

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Sir Tom followed with the popular Hit Or Miss, Mama Told Me Not to Come, Didn’t It Rain, and the wildly ‘funny-inducing’ Sex Bomb.

“Grazie!” he yelled to the audience. We responded loudly with screams and whistles.

After a brief nod to the recent wins of his much-adored Welsh football team, he talked about his late wife.

“When I used to make a new album, I’d bring it home and play it for my wife, Linda. She always had a favourite song. This was hers on my new album, The Long Lost Suitcase.

After a beautiful and emotional Tomorrow Night, he said, “Ok. Well, here’s a happy song!”

A delightful and high-energy Raise a Ruckus drew huge applause and a huge “Yeah!” from the 76-year-old legend.

Take My Love (I Want to Give it All to You), led into the new Latin-esque Delilah. This got his band dancing and the entire audience singing.

“I love Lucca! It’s humid, and that’s good for the voice. That’s why Italy has so many good singers. And why Wales does too!”

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The Soul of the Man followed, then Elvis Presley Blues – a haunting tribute to Elvis, written by Gillian Welch. The Tower of Song, and Green Green Grass of Home and a samba version of It’s Not Unusual were followed by a raunchy You Can Leave Your Hat On.

Between each number, Sir Tom yelled, “Yeah?” We responded, “Yeah!”, so he yelled, “Oh yeah! Come on!”

After If I Only Knew, Sonny Boy Williamson’s Early In the Morning offered each of Sir Tom’s band members a chance in the spotlight. As  I Wish You Would ended, Tom left the stage and the audience screaming, whistling and shouting for more.

It was past midnight, and Sir Tom and his band came back on stage for Thunderball, with a collage of Bond movie-clips on screen behind them. The beautiful Kiss, a gracious tribute “to the genius that is Prince”, was followed by a song that Tom described as “rock ‘n roll, blues, gospel, with some boogie woogie on the side”. An extraordinarily arranged Strange Things Happening Every Day showcased his band’s energy and depth of talent, and ended the evening on a high.

Sir Tom Jones, to the adoring screams of thousands of devoted – and a whole lot of new – fans, assembled his band members. He introduced each fondly, and then thanked the audience.

“It’s because of you, that we do what we do. Thank you, and God bless you!”

The Two Sirs, the two legends, have 146 years between them. The two friends, with two hugely differing styles, gave us four hours of musical magic. It really was one hell of a gig.

 

 

 

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Van is The Man. The End.

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!

The meaning of Sunshine

When my boys were small they used to play hide and sneak, as they called it. My elder son would hide and my younger son would look for him. He would squeal and jump up and down with excitement when he found his big brother, and then it would be his turn to hide. He would always choose the same spot his brother had just hidden in until he learnt the value of finding his own hiding place.

So today it’s my turn to find my own hiding place. Well, I guess it’s exactly the opposite of a hiding place. My new blogging friend, the delightful and outrageously talented writer, Maura at 36×37, tagged me a few weeks ago and handed me a task, which is this: to answer some questions about myself and my blog. And then to tag some other bloggers in turn.

Here goes nothing!

1. If you could have any superpower, which one would you have and why?

I guess I can only be selfish in answering this question. I would choose the power to be in two places at once: in Cape Town and in London. Every day. To be able to skip between the two cities, without taking an 11 hour flight. My heart is in both places. London is our adventure, yet I yearn for my sons who live miles and continents away. My parents too.

2. Who is your style icon?

This question makes me want to laugh. Me? I have a style icon? If I wear clean clothes, dry my hair and brush my teeth, that’s me styled up.

I used to love Princess Diana’s style and I guess she was my style icon in the 80s and the 90s. And if I think back further, I loved the soap opera fashions of Dallas and Dynasty! I know that is sooooo uncool, but it’s the truth. I promised I wouldn’t hide.

When my younger son was small, we spent a few days off school and work together as he was unwell. For some reason, we sat and watched a few re-runs of Dallas on daytime TV. I told him how much I used to love the programme, and how I loved watching all the fashions. He swung round to me, looked me in the eye and asked, “Did those used to be fashions in the olden days?” I rest my case.

3. What is your favorite quote?

I have a few:

“Sometimes a sad man can speak the sadness right out through his mouth.” (John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath.)

“Is this tomorrow?” (my younger son, at age 3.)

“Quote me to your heart’s content, Mom. I’m k*k funny.” (my elder son, at age 22.)

“We don’t need a major bloody march past.” (A client of the PR consultancy I used to work for. We did loads of work for his company and I always remember this regular instruction to us.)

“That’ll do pig.” (Babe.)

4. What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?

“You’re cute.” A shy, drop-dead gorgeous student said this to me when I was 19 and at university. That was almost 30 years ago, and he still tells me that today.

5. What playlist/cd is in your CD player/iPod right now?

Anything and pretty much everything by Van Morrison. He is the man.

6. Are you a night owl or a morning person?

I go to bed late in the hope I can sleep well, but I don’t, so I don’t wake early. In my previous, more ordered, life I would get up at 5.45am and start my week days with a 6.30 gym class and head off to work. So I guess, in an ideal world, I’m a morning person.

7. Do you prefer dogs or cats?

I grew up loving dogs and not knowing cats. My husband and boys taught me to love cats, with a passion.

Some years ago, we were on a family holiday at the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. We stayed over at a hotel, and were treated to some hilarity in the dining room that night. The waiter, who ground his teeth and kicked the kitchen door open as he entered and exited, stirred some hysteria in my sons and their cousins. When he came to take orders from the set menu, he asked each person in turn, “Beeffffffff or fishhhhhhh?” By the time he got to my son, he couldn’t resist answering, “Bothhhhhh.”

So, do I prefer dogs or cats? Bothhhhhhh.

8. What is the meaning behind your blog name?

I’ve been dying to tell this story! Sunshine in London has a kind of obvious ring to it, and I have mentioned before that it is both my nature and my intention to find sunshine in otherwise cloudy days. Our London adventure is exactly that, and we seek out fun and brightness in our everydays.

The deeper meaning is this: I worked for a non-government organisation in Cape Town during the 90s. This was the time that saw the end of apartheid and the birth of democracy in a nation that the world thought might implode. For me, it was the most amazing time of personal growth and learning that I have ever experienced in my life. I didn’t like how I thought or what my assumptions were and I worked hard, and with tears, to weave grace, respect and non-judgment into my life.

South Africa is a nation of 11 official languages, three of which are predominant in the Western Cape, where I lived. One of my friends and colleagues, who spoke all three languages (isiXhosa, Afrikaans and English), told me one day that she had been thinking about me, and thought it was time for me to have an isiXhosa name. She said she had chosen one that reflected who I was, and it was Nomalanga. This means “sunshine”. I carry the name, with love and pride, and humility, wherever I go.

So now it’s over to you! My mission, as I did accept it, was to answer the questions, and then tag another bunch of bloggers to do the same. So consider yourselves tagged:

If any other reader wants to take up the challenge, please feel free to do so. And do – all – let me know when you’ve written your pieces, as I’d love to read them.

Sunshine, Nomalanga, signing off for today!

Three chairs for Sunshine

Last year, my husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary by going to see my favourite artist of all time – Van Morrison – in concert at the Royal Albert Hall. We had to book three seats for the two of us; I was beside myself.

It all came about in quite a romantic way. We were still living in Cape Town, and my husband had applied to several universities in London to do his doctorate. He was invited for a number of interviews, and the dates happened to coincide with our silver wedding anniversary. I understood the importance of the interviews, and thought he would go to London on his own and we’d celebrate our anniversary on his return. I was okay with that, I really was.

One evening my husband came home from work and said he had an early anniversary present for me: tickets to see Van Morrison at the Royal Albert Hall in London, two days before our actual anniversary. To say I leapt around the house like a crazed springbok, would be putting my enthusiasm mildly. This was really a dream come true for me. Yay yay yay yay yay!

So that was the beginning of our London adventure. We travelled here for a two week holiday, my husband got offered a place at each of the universities that interviewed him, we stayed with some special friends, spent time with our younger son who had recently arrived in London on his gap year, and SAW VAN MORRISON.

I can’t remember when I fell head over heels in love with Van Morrison’s music, but I’ve been pretty much a lifelong fan. Not of his personality, nor his stage “presence” but his music. In my opinion, it is quite sensational. Sublime.

The concert was awesome. We arrived at the beautiful and gracious Royal Albert Hall in good time, and took our seats. I discovered that our seats could swivel, to give you the best view of the stage, so I swivelled up a storm before the lights went down and a voice announced, “Ladies and gentleman, Mr Van Morrison!” I screamed, did the loud and ugly whistle my sister taught me, squeezed my husband’s arm till it bruised, said I couldn’t believe I was seeing Van live, and I almost cried. All in one second.

The all-too-familiar silhouette of small man in large wide-brimmed hat walked on to the stage, went to the piano and began the two-and-a-half-hour Astral Weeks Live concert. Backed by a full orchestra, he bumbled , swagged and groaned his way through familiar old favourites, Madame George my personal best. Exchanging piano for guitar, and guitar for guitar, he thrilled the hall filled with avid fans, who whistled, whooped and danced the evening away. And I was up there with the best of them – quite in awe of the talent at work in front of my eyes.

I mentioned that my love is of Van’s music, not his personality. He didn’t greet the audience, nor did he interact once. I expected a “HELLOOOOOO LOOOOONDON!” Nothing. About an hour into the concert, Van walked off the stage, microphone in hand. The lights went up and interval was announced. Likewise, an hour and a half into the second half, after a fleeting, arm-flinging “giveitupfortheband”, Van walked off the stage, singing. Despite the audience’s lengthy and vocal protests to the contrary, Van Morrison had left the building. The music didn’t disappoint.

Down on Cyprus Avenue
With a childlike vision leaping into view
Clicking, clacking of the high heeled shoe
Ford and Fitzroy, Madame George.
Marching with the soldier boy behind
He’s much older with hat on drinking wine
And that smell of sweet perfume comes drifting through
The cool night air like Shalimar
And outside they’re making all the stops
The kids out in the street collecting bottle-tops
Gone for cigarettes and matches in the shops
Happy taken Madame George.

Sunshine – with Sunshine beside herself – signing off for today!