Returning to Camden and the PowerHaus on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings Van Morrison has had a controversial year to say the least since December when he opened the venue to a severely reduced socially distanced audience, continuing his anti-Lockdown protests and in one toe-curling episode that went viral at a cancelled concert in Belfast inviting the North Antrim MP Ian Paisley, ''junior'', as Van referred to him, up on to the stage of the Europa Hotel to chant ''Robin Swann is very dangerous'' about the local health minister who had criticised him in the pages of Rolling Stone magazine.
The double album Latest Record Project Vol 1 which followed in May months after Van's pre-Christmas opening stint at long time promoter Vince Power's fine reinvention of Dingwalls had quite a few excellent songs epecially the formidable 'Blue Funk' and no anti-Lockdown material thankfully. It turned out to be up there with 2008's Keep it Simple, his best record in many years and seems to have sold pretty well and is still a fixture in the UK jazz and blues chart. The blues were at the heart of it all and thinking back to last year's show when none of the new songs ahead were even previewed that was a factor although it was only one element in a big mix. Ray Charles-like soul and a range of Van classics found the singer in very fine voice.
Sadly since an important contributor in Van's sound over many years saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis and most recently another colleague heard on his excellent 1988 trad Irish album Irish Heartbeat the great piper Paddy Moloney passed away, with Van paying tribute to both online. It would be special if he did a tribute at these Camden shows in addition. Thinking back to that very fine PowerHaus show last year even when there was hardly any audience atmosphere because of the rules, Teena Lyle on percussion certainly made a big difference that night in the life of the rhythm section but Van's voice as ever is a remarkable instrument that can melt even the hardest of hearts. There have been a few changes in the band personnel since so this will be no replica experience. Let's hope he plays his classic of recent years still too underknown the beautiful 'Celtic New Year' given Samhain is around the corner but don't bet on it. Venue and ticket details
Dingwalls, now PowerHaus and Van Morrison with his band pictured opening the venue in December 2020. Photos: marlbank