Highland News - Margaret Chrystall
A FROSTY Friday and a marvellous night for a moondance, something almost pagan about the way we lifted our faces up to worship legend Van Morrison as he started bang on the minute of eight, as threatened.
The Ironworks bar had been shut, the late were barred until a suitable break in the music and drinkers had been herded behind a yellow and black emergency tape on the floor of the Ironworks.
Van the Man had gone all diva on us, laying down the law and not being daft. Of course it all added to the feeling that this gig was something special and we just had to behave to deserve it.
The venue was full to the rafters with your more mature fan, as excited as a busload of teens on a school trip. And throughout the 90-minute set, there were constant pinch-me moments as you looked up into the blank mask under the hat and the closed eyes behind the tinted specs and said to yourself: "That's Van Morrison, here in Inverness. Van the Man. The real one. Here."
A stage bristling with the world's finest musicians added to the sense of occasion, though truthfully, the musicians veered from looking as if they were having a great time playing with the honoured genius or dreading that they were going to fail to please him.
Trombonist Chris Barber, a band leader and veteran maestro in his own right, was caught on the hop a couple of times when Van pointed the "your solo now!" finger. And you felt the pain of the guitarist who muffed a couple of notes, as we all looked at Van to see if he'd get mad.
He didn't. Nor did he get wild or smiley or crazy or sentimental or emotional or animated – or grumpy. He blinked, breathed, sipped from a constantly-replenished cup and did a lot of pointing at his band members when he wanted a solo or up to the soundmen when he wanted more volume.
But he did play a mean sax, a fired-up moothie and played havoc with your sense of reality, as that voice – the one you know so well from pub jukeboxes, bedroom record-players and iPod playlists – came at you, live.
As predicted, the set majored on the 37 tracks compiled by the man himself for Still On Top, his third greatest hits collection. Back On Top opened the show.
And with everything from the classics such as Have I Told You Lately, Moondance, Days Like This, Jackie Wilson Said (I'm In Heaven When You Smile), Brown-eyed Girl, Tear Your Playhouse Down and Gloria, to slightly more obscure ones such as Magic Time and Sold Me Out for the real fan, it was a set packed with treats.
But we didn't get much light and shade or much of a change of pace. The whole thing rattled along with barely a break between songs, the musicians swiftly turning to the right page in their music before the next one began.
From a bluesy beginning, it was on to a jazzy treatment for the rest of the numbers. Even the aching love ballad, Have I Told You Lately, was turned into a trotting style workout and drew a testy order "Shuffle!" from Van, as the keyboard player failed to get the feel just right.
With no communication whatsoever between Van and the crowd, you felt ridiculously grateful when he rewarded our singing on Jackie Wilson... Heaven When You Smile with "You did really well!".
And when we joined in on Brown-Eyed Girl, he gave us a quiet "Just like that!", to show we'd met his approval.
There was little dancing, even down the front, as though none of us wanted to break the spell – or make fools of ourselves in front of the great man.
One tanked-up bloke with a blissful smile pushed down the front to take some camera phone pix and make us all wince at his irreverence – and got yanked out for his trouble.
By finisher Gloria, Van had turned in a value-for-money set, no sign of the dreaded huffy walk-off, band-slagging cringer or failure to play everybody's favourites. He did forget to introduce his band, something he apparently rectified on Saturday, his second sell-out night.
As he waddled off like The Penguin off Batman, probably with the tired bones of a sixtysomething man who had turned in a marathon, non-stop performance, there's no doubt his fans were happy.
But as someone who had never seen Van before and had hoped to be touched by the live magic so many of his fans had promised me, the legend left me cold.
The gig was one of the most soulless experiences I have ever had.
The night before, in a warm, intimate gig a few minutes away in Hootanannys, Scotland's own answer to Van, Jackie Leven, had taken the simple man and guitar format to perform stunning songs, witty stories for a gig with a heart and a guaranteed place in the memory forever.
Though I could have listened to the delights of Van's ace musicians forever – the emotional pull of Sarah Jory's pedal steel just one – for me the mystery of Van's live genius remains just that.
Press & Journal
Hundreds of fans packed into an Inverness venue to see legendary singer Van Morrison perform at a charity concert at the weekend.
The multi-award winning singer performed two sell-out shows at the Ironworks, on Academy Street.
All the profits from the shows are going to Cancer Research UK. The charity's Black Isles branch was closely involved in organising the concerts.
Originally the Grammy award-winning artist was lined up to play just one gig in the Highland capital.
But after tickets sold out in just over 24 hours, another concert was organised for the fans who had missed out.
And on Friday and Saturday night "Van the Man" did not disappoint, belting out some of his best-loved hits to audiences of around 750 people.
Van Morrison's career has spanned five decades. He first became known as the lead singer in Northern Irish band Them and wrote their most famous hit, Gloria. He is due to return to Britain early next year where he will perform gigs in England, including London and Manchester.
Van Morrison at his most charming. Rapport with the audience impeccable. A set list packed with greatest hits from his recently released best of cd. The place was one huge party. The bar has never been busier.... actually, not a word of that is true!!!!
No artist <->audience interaction. The hits that were featured had a jazz arrangement that's not to everyones taste. No refuge at the bar... it was closed "at the artists request" and heaven help you if you needed the toilet. Allowed out or in between songs. Just like being back at school!!!
The show WAS for a terrific cause but the money raised was the only plus for me.