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Van Morrison, 16 March 2013

Europa Hotel, Belfast

16 March 2013

Well, the gamble paid off.

It was certainly worth the trip to Belfast and a stonking ticket price and braving the washed-out St Patrick's Day weekend weather to take front row seats to see Van Morrison playing on his home patch to an audience of 250.

The Man was in mellow mood, clearly enjoying himself: teasing the band and treating us to a range of apercus - on subjects ranging from grumpy people who manage to avoid the criticism he gets (eg HM The Queen) to the equally regal Cliff Richard (substituting 'when Sir Cliff shines his light' in the lyrics when he revisited their one - award winningly unlikely - collaboration).

We travelled up in the lift afterwards with MD Paul Moran, who confirmed with a grin that a good time had been had by all.

It was a jazzy set, geared to the supper club ambience - as the setlist shows. Two songs from last year's album, some standards; the band trading solos fluently and Van contributing a fair amount of sax himself.

The highlights for me were an unexpected rearrangement of 'Wavelength' and a beautiful, luminous, reading of 'In The Garden' - real hairs on the back of the neck stuff.

The bluesey triptych at the end was great,too - muscular performances with Van blowing some fine harp. The audience got up and crowded to the front of the stage and suddenly it could have been some small club, way back when.

Daughter Shana Morrison opened the evening with three songs of her own and then sang backing vocals through the evening, which also seemed to suit the home town vibe.

It's great that Van has found a way of working that really suits him, but the growing sequence of Irish supper club gigs this year may test his fans' wallets and diaries. People seem to be flying in from all over - we were sitting next to a Dutch couple, there was a good sprinkling of Americans, apparently some from Australia - and I hope they continue to do so and he can carry on filling the venues.

I leave you with a man and his mouth organ... his element.

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