- 17 Sep 20
John McKenna experienced first-hand why The Man is such a hometown hero.
Just put yourself in the position.
You lay your guts onto the floor for some female (or male), for a crowd of on-lookers or listeners, with that variety of longing inherent in a conversation with your mother where your points of view could never be reconciled. And you fail. You are rejected, ignored, spurned, termed ‘a pompous bastard’ in many cases. Very bad if your views are new and outrageous. Worse if you are established and recognised. Imagine Van Morrison in Dublin. Compare Van Morrison in Belfast.
In Dublin, Morrison was confronted by the ‘Brown Thomas’ crowd. He tried, he turned in one of the finest middle sections of a performance it has ever been my privilege to witness, ‘Hungry For Your Love’ being particularly tremendous, but surrounded by gems such as ‘Tupelo Honey’ and ‘Moonshine Whiskey’ poured out in a manner that evoked never experienced dreams of the Maritime Hotel. He was rejected. Like a frivolous lover the polite applause visibly tore the man apart. The fur coats retired home, at least armed with something to talk about.
Belfast may not be what it was, thankfully it has become more than it could ever have hoped to be. With a finger on the pulse of the times and no seats in the Whitla Hall, it was often impossible to determine who was actually producing the sound, audience or entertainer. Morrison revealed vitriolic power and moody perfection to outstrip the 1978 classic Dylan performances in England.
He did not dive up his own asshole, instead he delivered the goods with a searing vindictiveness that more resembled Brando in On The Waterfront than a musician returned to his hometown for the first time in 12 years. Dublin received no ‘Cypress Avenue’ or ‘Gloria’, Belfast was literally raised to its feet by definitive performances of both. The performance oozed spontaneity, Morrison quieting Peter Van Hooke with a wave of the hands, “When it gets to you, when it gets to you, when it gets to you” , power incarnate, the total performer, forced from the sheer presence, the bite of the music, the soul searching and anxiety, the fear of the man leaving at any time (which often seemed likely), the demented cries for encores, the sheer raising of 2,000 people to fever pitch by means of 75 minutes of music (ridiculously bad value for £5!) Dublin got the cabaret, Belfast got the man’s soul, bought by feverish response and participation, they received Toni Marcus’ debilitating violin solo on ‘Caravan’, the best moment of the night, not surprisingly left out in Dublin.
It is hard to state in words the sensation. Power and warmth such as comes from one whiskey, longing as intense as the threat of the sweetest thing this side of Greenwich going elsewhere, pain worse than any kick in the balls, fear and suspense, greater than your first sexual escapades. A man pouring hot, molten music onto people who could never have imagined it to be like this. It was as if Van came and stuck a knife in our bellies and we begged him to come back and turn the blade around to sever our intestines. He played ‘Gloria’ and we fell bleeding, and happy.
In Belfast a bloke behind me begged and screamed: “For fuck’s sake just let me touch him!”. In Dublin, a ligger in front took notes in between looking to see if any one could spot that he was pretending to have a good time. He didn’t clap, he didn’t sing. Just like everyone else. Dublin has its finger on the asshole of the world, and the world is not entirely healthy.
Purchase our special Rave On, Van Morrison issue below.