Van Morrison Newcastle Virgin Money Unity Arena 3 September 2020

So this was my first concert since seeing Elvis Costello in March and my first socially distant concert! Quite a different and in some ways daunting experience. The arrangements all sounded very well organised with everyone attending being in their own little cell, in my case myself along with my carer, Jackie.

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The advertising for the event said: “Get ready for the UK’s first dedicated socially distanced music venue arriving in Newcastle this summer! If you’ve missed live music, the thrill of a shared experience and are ready to get out in Newcastle – you will need to be at this summer’s biggest music event.”

The Virgin Money Unity Arena is based at Gosforth Park, just a 5 minute drive from central Newcastle. The arena is designed to be safe and encourage social distancing with organised car parking, safe queuing systems into the arena and a dedicated area for car-loads of friends or family to enjoy the event.

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The line-up for the series of concerts at the venue was strong but for me, one name stood out: that of the legend that is Van Morrison. Van Morrison is a true artist, and like any true artist he has his highs and lows. He has given me some of the best concert memories of my life, but I have also seen him deliver performances which were disappointing and where it appeared he wished he wasn’t on the stage. However, I would also rate the time I saw him at Newcastle City Hall with the Caledonian Soul Orchestra in the early 70s as one of the best 10 concerts of my life. But that is part of the magic and mystique that is the artist Van Morrison. You can never quite predict how well he will perform or indeed what he will perform but, for me, the experience is always worthwhile.

The arrangements worked well on the night and lived up to promise. Our taxi driver was led through a special entrance round the back of the racecourse and after a swift entry we walked along a track which had been laid across the grass to avoid my wheelchair sticking in any mud (which would not be good) and were taken to our little private cell near the front of the stage. We had been asked to arrive between 6 PM and 7 PM, and the concert started at 8 PM. We arrived at 6:45 PM, which worked well and meant we didn’t have too long to wait. I was soon fortified by a pint of pale ale and, with blankets wrapped around me (it was a little nippy) I was all set up and ready for a night with my hero. It turned out to be a nice night (I was dreading rain); cool, but pleasant.

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Van Morrison took the stage just after 8:15 PM resplendent in a long, dark coat and complete with a hat with ear coverings and shades. Very well set up for the night ahead. Tonight we were presented with Van on true, top form. Accompanied by a great, jazzy band tonight we saw Van play lots of saxophone and mouth harp and sing a selection of songs drawn from throughout his career, and including some jazz and blues standards, in his best soulful voice. Quite a lot of scat singing (“bit, but, bat”; I think you know what I mean) but it all fitted together well. Early on in the set we were treated to the early Them classic “Baby Please Don’t Go” and a great version of “Moondance”. We were then treated to a set of rhythm and blues and soul classics including “The Party’s Over” and “Have I Told You Lately”. The set drew to an end with “Brown Eyed Girl” with the band playing while Van left the stage. The band played on, looking over to the left of the stage to see if the main man would return. He did, and closed the set with a tremendous version of “Gloria”. We were soon led along over our little track, the theme G L O R I A ! still bouncing around my head.

Our taxi was waiting to take us back home again, picking up my carer Chris along the way, so that he and Jackie could help me get into bed still thinking how great it had been to be in the company of Van Morrison once again. For me, the man stands up there as a true artist/genius, alongside contemporaries Bob Dylan, David Bowie, John Lennon and Pete Townshend. You really can’t get much better on a nice cool, summer night. I just read that Van Morrison played at the Electric Ballroom in London a few days later and was accompanied on stage by Chris Farlowe. Now that would have been something to see!

Setlist was something like this: A Shot of Rhythm and Blues; Three Chords and the Truth; Baby Please Don’t Go; I Can Tell; Moondance; Carrying a Torch; Wild Night; Did Ye Get Healed?; Have I Told You Lately; Ain’t Gonna Moan No More; Precious Time; Sometimes We Cry; Whenever God Shines His Light; Enlightenment; The Party’s Over; Broken Record; Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile); Brown Eyed Girl; Gloria

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