July 08, 2008

Rocking your gypsy soul

The Man

I don’t go to many non-pipe-music performances any more, but when Van Morrison is in town, as he was last night, he’s a must-see, no matter what the price. He played at Massey Hall on the same stage that SFU and the 78th Frasers have occupied. We, along with about half of the other 2600 fans, didn’t see or take seriously the ticket stating the start-time as 7:00 pm sharp. He and his nine-piece band started exactly at 7 as most were still filing in or waiting in line outside on Shuter Street.

It’s impressive to see such musicianship. No pre-recorded stuff to flesh out the sound; just 10 players doing everything there and then, often with great spontaneity. Even though Van the Man is legendary for wanting things just so, it seemed like the band wasn’t exactly sure what he would do next. Their eyes were glued to him all night and the band communicated with subtle body language that only they understood.

Van Morrison is Northern Ireland’s greatest contribution to world culture. Greater than Seamus Haney. Greater even than FMM. At 63 he’s as irascible as ever, but he continues to produce inspired music and a sound that a few have tried to imitate, but always comes across to me as what it is: an imitation. Despite the fact that he doesn’t seem to care what people think of him, he’s a true original.

It’s his devil-may-bother attitude that serves him so well. Pipe bands all too often play what they think people (mostly judges) want to hear, and it all too often sounds that way. Any piping people who see Van Morrison live will see terrific buttoned-down musicianship, but with honesty and spontaneity mixed in. It’s a good recipe to follow.


  1. It seems the piping industry has created it’s own dilemma in terms of being stuck in an idiom that only satisfies the rules of a game that they all want to win.

    Like many genres of music, the artists themselves are all calling for something different or fresh, but their fan base doesn’t want change as that’s the material they like and paid to hear. Imagine going to a U2, AC/DC, Van Morrison, Metallica, or even a Rolling Stones concert and they all played new material without including your favorite songs that made them famous? How disappointing would that be?

    If you want change, then you have to change the rules to reflect the new attitudes towards doing something different.
    Lets start with increasing the time limit on the 7 minute Medley to 12 minutes. You don’t have to use the entire 12 minutes, but this allows enough time to develop something more creative than the standard medley layout that we have now. How about we get really adventurous and allow portions of pipe or drum sections to drop out and come back in when needed to create more dynamics in the volume of a band.

    Bands have to take ownership of what is labeled acceptable and not some obscure judging criteria that is anybody’s guess on the day. This all being said, I wouldn’t want to be a judge as it’s a very tough job to place bands where everyone else thinks they should be. Maybe we should just keep it simple and only have MSR contests and leave the creative stuff for the concert stage?

  2. I have been a Van Morrison fan ever since Moondance was released and I saw him live on that and many other tours. His performances always seem to be spontaneous, however once in Toronto at the O’Keefe Center I enjoyed the first performance so much, I went to the second of the back to back concerts.

    It was a exact carbon copy of the first performance.

    Prior to that he always had me fooled!



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