Michael McDonagh was at a special Van Morrison concert for BBC Radio 2
Such is the popularity and reputation of the legend that is Sir Ivan Morrison that over 30,000 people applied in the ballot for tickets to attend this special BBC Radio 2 In Concert last Thursday night. As a guest of Van I was one of the three hundred or so very lucky people who managed to get in to enjoy a truly remarkable show by a man with his band in great form.
Now beautifully renovated this historic bijou concert hall, buried in BBC Broadcasting House, created an intimate environment for 6-time Grammy winner Van to give us a delightful demonstration of musical perfection. Over many years I have attended numerous ‘In Concerts’ here but there can be no other band as tight, rehearsed and accomplished as the five virtuoso musicians hand picked by Van to back his unique music.
Limited by it being a one hour live broadcast, Van wasted no time and from the off raced through his set of 16 songs selected from his new album ‘Keep Me Singing’, as well as favourites from his vast catalogue of classic songs. From Too Late from this, his 36th studio album with hardly a pause for breath he then gave us Magic Time, Wild Night then upped the tempo with a bluesy cover of the Big Joe Williams song Baby Please Don’t Go.
At 71 there is nothing wrong with Van’s voice and he was clearly enjoying himself here. I loved the version of his classic Cleaning Windows, especially when it seamlessly became Gene Vincent’s Be Bop A Lula, in homage to his early Rock Roll influences. I am sure the Radio 2 audience at home loved that too. He followed this with a change of mood by singing the popular When Ever God Shines His Light, which is always nostalgic for me.
I was working for Van on the release of Avalon Sunset in 1989 and at short notice I got Cliff Richard to duet with Van for that song which then became a hit single. At the time we were involved with Van moving his recordings to Polydor, where the late Irishman George McManus together with David Munns, the MD at the time, enthusiastically welcomed the enduring talent of Van. This was after the eejit MD of another major label had foolishly sneered in telling us that “Van Morrison’s career is over as he does not sell records anymore!”
A few months later on release Avalon Sunset was Van’s fastest selling album going gold straightaway and selling millions across the world. Now 27 years and numerous albums later it is wonderful to see Van himself in such great form here at the BBC, whilst the arrogant record company mogul has long since been given a well-deserved P45.
Van ended his set by returning to a deeply spiritual mood by taking us back with his evocative In The Garden before ambling off the stage still singing “No Guru No Teacher…In the Garden’, leaving this lucky audience hoping he would keep on singing for years to come.