As concert venues go, Audley End certainly beats your average sticky-floored dive. I went down to the stately home last night with my parents to see Van Morrison in concert, in the most comfortable surroundings of a performance I’ve ever experienced.
As Van’s principal audience mature into late middle-age, they look for a bit more luxury in their leisure time. So, playing at the foot of a rolling hillside carpeted with picnic blankets and folding chairs, while not hugely rock’n’roll, is at least in keeping with the fans. And while it all seemed pretty sedate on the surface, the area closest to the stage was packed with standing concertgoers, and the whole hillside erupted when Van the Man took to the stage.
Before that, however, we had to sit through the support act, an insipid female singer-songwriter who began and ended every song with a high-pitched “Thankyooouu!” and gushed about how honoured she was to open for Van Morrison. I wondered what the notoriously grumpy old legend made of her stage manner, especially when she prefaced one song with an extended story about how her tentative romantic experiences with a guy called Roland prompted her to write this song. Listening to that oddly grating, helium-tinged voice, I hoped that at that moment Roland was cavorting on top of a pile of models and cocaine.
Van Morrison was, of course, the exact opposite; a brisk “Thankyou” at the end of each song, and then straight into the next one. As he and the band played on through his huge back catalogue, we watched the sky slowly change and its colours deepen as the sun sank below the horizon. Seeing acts outside is always a special experience, but in this case the combination of great music, relaxing surroundings and a beautiful summer evening was something else entirely. Having consumed ridiculous amounts of TV coverage of both Glastonbury and Live 8 lately, I’m glad I got at least a taste of the outdoor music experience this summer.