‘Going down to old, old Woodstock/Feel the cool night breeze.’ No, not that Woodstock, an ocean and half a lifetime away.
This was newly knighted Van Morrison’s headlining appearance on the massive stage set up in the Great Court of the 18th century English baroque palace, in yes Woodstock... Oxfordshire.
While ‘Old Old Woodstock’ didn’t make it on to the set list, ‘Wild Night’ from the same classic 1971 album Tupelo Honey did. And joining it in an extensive trawl through the singer’s sparkling back catalogue of great songs was the timeless ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ from 1967 now residing in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Mere weeks before the Belfast legend returns to his native city for 70th birthday shows on Cyprus Avenue, here with his Irish/American band of guitarist Dave Keary, bass guitarist Paul Moore, keyboardist/trumpeter Paul Moran, energised ex-Sam Butera drummer Bobby Ruggiero and superb backing singer Dana Masters, the hits kept on coming on a warm night as people got out of their seats to dance in the aisles.
From Them-era vintage songs ‘Here Comes the Night’ and ‘Gloria’, belted out at the end, to more recent songs such as ‘Open the Door (To Your Heart)’ from 2012’s Born to Sing: No Plan B, Van, inscrutable behind dark glasses, a striped trilby hat pulled down over his face set off by a matching pin striped jacket, opened playing tumbles of notes on the alto saxophone as the band strolled into gear. With strong rapport developed during the set between Sir Van and the South Carolina-born backing singer Dana Masters, who has been in Morrison’s band since the Harp bar show at the end of 2013, highlight for me was ‘Carrying a Torch’ originally on 1990s double album Hymns to the Silence and recently included to magical effect with Clare Teal on the new Duets album. Masters has a gospel-soaked voice of real character that blends beautifully with Morrison’s and she steps in and out of the backing singer role, soaring meltingly on ‘Sometimes We Cry.’
Gregory Porter opened with his band of pianist Chip Crawford, double bassist Jahmal Nichols, bow-tied shades-wearing drummer Emanuel Harrold and alto saxist/flautist Yosuke Sato. A set sprinkled with songs from the Californian’s superb Grammy-winning album Liquid Spirit, ‘Water Under Bridges’ still retains the capacity to put a lump in your throat particularly the lines “Somebody told me, Get over it/It’s like water under bridges/That have already burned.” But it was ‘Hey Laura’ that roused the crowd first off and Porter kept their attention delivering ‘1960 What?,’ one of his most meaningful lyrics from early album Water, right at the end, power and emotion united.
Van Morrison, top, on one of the Nocturne big screens stageside at Blenheim; and Gregory Porter, above
Photos: Marlbank/Jazz FM