It’s been widely noted that a number of celebrities have passed on so far in 2016, with Mohammed Ali being just the most recent. Not too far behind him in status are 2 pop icons of my era, David Bowie and Prince. Back in the 80s both seemed so culturally significant as to be almost immortal, which makes the fact that they are no longer with us all the more poignant.
I found myself mulling over all this last night as I waited for Van Morrison to take the stage of Harrogate International Centre. I’ve been a massive fan of Van the Man for 15 years or so now, but this was only the second time I was going to see him live in concert (last time back in 2004). He was 70 last year, so he’s no spring chicken by a long shot. I’d bought my ticket months ago, and in the light of the bad run celebrities have been having, I’d been getting a few pre-concert nerves. Could he be the next famous pop star making the wrong sort of headlines? This was his first show in Yorkshire for as long as I could remember – should I have gone out of my way to see him earlier?
So when he eventually stepped on stage at 8pm in his low-key kind of way, I suddenly felt enormously relieved, indeed privileged, that I was indeed about to see one of my heroes do the thing that made them famous.
It turned out I really shouldn’t have worried about Van’s wellbeing. From the off he seemed far from being a spent force. The famous voice is as strong as ever, and although his set these days is a rigid 90 minutes, he rattled through 25 or so songs without pausing for breath in between.
As befits someone over 50 years into their musical career, Van has a huge back catalogue to dip into. So, whilst it was great to hear the landmark songs for which he is most well known – including “Brown Eyed Girl”, “Moondance” and “Crazy Love” – perhaps the best moments of the concert were when he put a surprising new twist on some lesser-known tunes, for example more upbeat versions of “Wavelength” and “Someone Like You”. He also managed to get this most committed of atheists to sing along to a couple of his more gospel-ly numbers – “Whenever God Shines His Light” and “By His Grace”.
The highlight though was the closing “Gloria”. I should mention that the audience was largely of Van’s own vintage (I’m decidedly middle-aged by comparison). But when the band really turned things up a notch or two for this 1964 pop classic, it was great to see so-called “old” people out of their comfortable seats, enjoying a great tune that has been with them for so many years.
As a committed fan, I’m probably not the most impartial observer, but overall I thought it was a great concert, in a terrific venue, and the short-sleeved audience went home happy into the warm Harrogate evening. And I felt very reassured that I’d got the concert “under my belt”. I’d driven just 30 minutes up the road from home in Leeds to see my favourite musician perform. But that was a real treat, I realised, and certainly not something to take for granted.