Van Morrison: A hit or a miss live at Royal Sandringham?

Van Morrison
Van Morrison / Astrida Valigorsky/GettyImages

Van Morrison was the opening headliner at a weekend of outdoor concerts on the royal estate at Sandringham, Norfolk. He was followed by Robbie Williams for two nights and The Who on the final night on Monday.

Sometimes, you never know what to expect from a Van Morrison concert. The legendary singer can be a bit moody or temperamental on stage. Morrison has been touring for much of this year to promote his Moving on Skiffle album. Those concerts haven’t included much in the way of his classic hits. His Sandringham appearance coincided with the release of his next album, Beyond Words: Instrumental.

So, there was added uncertainty about what Morrison would play on stage. A large summer’s evening festival-style crowd is usually looking more for old favorites and hits they can sing along and dance to. And perhaps expecting some interaction with the crowd too.

Morrison may have decided some of the set on stage at the time, as he occasionally does. Barking out the next song title as soon as the last has finished and expecting his band to kick off whatever he has selected. But whether on stage or pre-prepared he chose reasonably well overall.

Van Morrison and his skiffle tour setlist

His set opened with the band wandering on a minute or two early and taking their places. Morrison himself was announced as he strolled on stage to join them. Given his occasional mood swings the organizers might have had a panic when the first couple of minutes had no stage sound. They soon found the right switch and let the crowd in on the act.

Largely playing from his skiffle tour setlist, Morrison took the band through a range of great songs. Some were familiar as covers from the likes of Hank Williams, others less so, but they all carried his very distinctive style. Everything sounded like a Morrison classic; they just weren’t as well-known to a lot of the crowd yet.

Morrison was on top form musically, even if he wasn’t saying much to the crowd. The songs came quick and he showed his full vocal range, his harmonica skills along with being pretty cool on the saxophone and various guitars. 

Several times, he was joined on stage by Chris Farlowe to share vocals. Farlowe is an English rock, blues, and soul singer, perhaps best known for his 60s hit “Out Of Time.” He and Morrison sparred vocally on stage, duetting on quite a few numbers throughout the night, often providing real highlight moments.

Van Morrison plays the hits too

Towards the end of the set, Morrison switched to a few hits of his own and from The Them, perhaps as a nod to the crowd and the event. “Days Like This," “Precious Times," “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue, “Baby Please Don’t Go” and finishing with the tremendous “Gloria” where Morrison, Farlowe, and the whole band had their chance to shine.

On “Gloria,” Morrison followed his usual format of exiting the stage to applause and leaving the band to play on for a good while longer on their own. We could see behind the stage, and I swear there was a limo which drove off just after Morrison left the stage. He was probably well out of Sandringham while the band played on.

For some people, all of that shows a negative side to the singer. Disinterested in being there, not playing what the crowd wanted, exiting without a word. On the other hand, it's pretty normal, his voice and musicianship were top-notch, the music was all distinctively his style, and he played a few big hits too. He was pretty charismatic in his whole on-stage style, even if he didn’t say much. 

Perhaps I was better prepared for what might happen. This was my first chance to see him live and I thought he was magnificent. He was definitely a huge hit for me. I’d love to see him perform again.

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