Van Morrisonfest on BBC Four: a mixed bag

Last weekend’s trio of Van Morrison features on BBC Four, an all-too-rare appearance by the Ulsterman on the grown-up TV channel, was a mixed bag.

 

The main event, a live show performed in February at LSO St Luke’s for the BBC Four Sessions series, promoting the new album, showcased Morrison the peerless live musician as he is today.

 

With an accomplished 11>13-piece band, he showed how he’s still cutting it as a great performer.  Improvisation has always been his calling card, and the scatting, swing and dynamics of this performance were exquisite. 

 

The artistry was most evident in benchmark performances of three varied classics – I’m Not Feeling It Anymore, Vanlose Stairway and Help Me.

 

But stirring performances of the new material couldn’t rescue it for this viewer: reverence for the bulk of the magnificent Morrison catalogue is matched by disdain for most of the material recorded since Back On Top, most of Keep It Simple, the new album, included.

 

Van Morrison on Later … was a compilation of weak clips from three shows, in 1999 and 2005.  Of the six tunes, only a stirring Philosopher’s Stone, was memorable.

 

BBC Four then pulled a fast one with its third programme, the 60 minute Van Morrison at the BBC, by including all six clips already seen on Later… .  A great pity, because the rest of the songs, notably And The Healing Has Begun, from Saturday Review of November 1986, were beautiful performances of great songs.

 

Occasionally, in all three programmes, I pondered: “why on Earth did I kick my two-gigs-a-month Van habit?”  The post-Millennium material peppering all three supplied a ready answer.  

 

 

Gerry Smith

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