YORK Barbican will reopen tomorrow when outspoken pandemic libertarian Van Morrison plays the first of two concerts this week, 496 days since the last show by jazz pianist Jamie Cullum.
Today’s Step 4 of lockdown easement facilitates the Northern Irish veteran performing Tuesday and Wednesday’s 8pm gigs to sold-out, full-capacity audiences.
The shows had to be moved from May 25 and 26 under prevailing Covid restrictions, when social distancing was still in place, and by happenstance the dates of July 20 and 21 were chosen, well before the “Freedom Day” delay from June 21 to July 19 was announced.
In May, Morrison, 75, released his 42nd studio album, Latest Record Project: Volume 1, a 28-track delve into his ongoing love of blues, R&B, jazz and soul, on Exile/BMG.
Born in Pottinger, Belfast, on August 31 1945, Van Morrison – or Sir George Ivan Morrison OBE, as a formal envelope would now read – was inspired early in life by his shipyard worker father’s collection of blues, country and gospel records.
Feeding off Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers and Muddy Waters in particular, Morrison became a travelling musician at 13, performing in several bands before forming Them in 1964.
Making their name at Belfast’s Maritime Club, Them soon established Morrison as a major force in the British R&B scene, initially with Here Comes The Night and Gloria, still his staple concert-closing number.
Brown Eyed Girl and the November 1968 album Astral Weeks announced a solo song-writing spirit still going strong, as affirmed latterly by a burst of five albums in three years. In 2017, he released Roll With The Punches and Versatile; in 2018, You’re Driving Me Crazy, with Joey DeFrancesco, and The Prophet Speaks; in 2019, Three Chords & The Truth.
Over the years, Morrison has accumulated a knighthood; a BRIT; an OBE; an Ivor Novello award; six Grammys; honorary doctorates from Queen’s University, Belfast, and the University of Ulster; entry into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the French Ordres Des Artes Et Des Lettres…and a number 20 hit duet with Cliff Richard in 1989, Whenever God Shines His Light.
Sceptic Morrison has said – and sung – his two penneth on Coronavirus, decrying what he calls the “crooked facts” and “pseudo-science”. Last August, he called for “fellow singers, musicians, writers, producers, promoters and others in the industry to fight with me on this. Come forward, stand up, fight the pseudo-science and speak up”.
Ironically, a quick-thinking company promptly launched a set of face masks of iconic Morrison album covers.
From September 25, Morrison launched a series of three protest songs, one every two weeks, railing against safety measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19: Born To Be Free, As I Walked Out and No More Lockdown.
“No more lockdown / No more government overreach / No more fascist bullies / Disturbing our peace …,” he urged on the latter.
“No more taking of our freedom / And our God-given rights / Pretending it’s for our safety / When it’s really to enslave …”
Not without irony, that song condemned “celebrities telling us what we’re supposed to feel”. Issuing an explanatory statement amid condemnation from voices in Irish authority, he said: “I’m not telling people what to do or think. The government is doing a great job of that already. It’s about freedom of choice. I believe people should have the right to think for themselves.”
Last September too, he announced a series of socially distanced concerts, again with a covering note: “This is not a sign of compliance or acceptance of the current state of affairs,” it read. “This is to get my band up and running and out of the doldrums.”
Now, here come the nights at York Barbican: an umpteenth return to a venue where Van The Man has performed in his predictably unpredictable, sometimes gruff, sometimes prickly, yet oft-times sublimely soulful manner on myriad mystical nights.
Alas, CharlesHutchPress will not be reviewing York Barbican’s reopening night as no press tickets have been made available for Van Morrison’s brace of shows.