A little glory in the Black Hills

Van Morrison invited to open the Hay-on-Wye literary festival? It's more of a masterstroke than a mistake. Shun the spoken word as he might, The Man is loved by the bookish.

Van Morrison is both the most and the least appropriate pop star to be the opening attraction at a literary festival. On the one hand, no other musician's work aspires so purely to the condition of literature. He wrote "Rave On, John Donne", and wasn't "TB Sheets" about John Keats? On the other, festivals require artists to gabble about their work. Van is very un-Irish about gabbling. He'll howl into the microphone, he'll moan, he'll screech for the notes at the peak of a register that's a good deal thinner than he is; he also gives exceptionally good Coleridgean trance. But he shuns the spoken word with practically Trappist rigour, except to make important announcements such as "give it up for Pee Wee Ellis" after another of the great saxman's sobbing solos.

But give it up for the Hay-on-Wye organisers for having the balls to invite him. His acceptance sets a daunting precedent. How does Cheltenham top this? Bob Dylan wows Gloucestershire: it just doesn't sound right (and anyway, Dylan's heart condition has put him out of the loop, enforcing the cancellation of the tour he was about to embark on with Morrison). But Van on Wye does sound right. His hosts will have pored over the lyrics, spotted the promising references to ancient roads and Celtic mystics and guessed that he might just fancy performing in the sort of wilderness he sings about. Their invitation may have mentioned that Offa's Dyke is just next door.

The auditorium of the Carlton Marquee holds no more than 400, which may be a stadium-size venue for Beryl Bainbridge (due on tomorrow), but it's a potting shed for Van. So the show took the form of two sets, one at 7.15pm, another at 9.15pm (and two more at 11.15pm and 1.15am would have just about met demand). By the end of the first set, with the sun bowing down behind the Black Mountains, it was way past half the audience's bedtime. One little mite was bobbing in the arms of its mother deep into the first encore - a woozy version of "Moondance", which has never sounded more pagan.

This is now an established rite among neo-quasi-quondam-hippies. Bearing small children aloft to the lip of the stage where the shamanistic old strop completely ignores them has become a kind of non-Christian benediction: it gets them on to the bottom of the "Vanlose Stairway" (which he sang, by the way, gloriously). In years to come, a bunch of festival-goers born this side of Hymns to the Silence will be able to say the first concert they ever went to was by The Man. Presumably, it was for them that he bounced through "Domino", not normally thought to be a song about a children's tile game.

There was some entertainment for adults too - from the opening "Days Like This" through to a heroic "Summertime in England" (sung, for perhaps the first time, just a few yards inside Wales), on which he and his three horns exited druidically in a procession. In between came quotations from all over the Morrison canon, plus a couple of respectful nods to his eclectic roots in George Gershwin's "How Long Has This Been Going On?" and Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come".

It should be noted, incidentally, that when the great man made his initial entry, in grey suit and black fedora, the only people who stood to clap him in were the novelist Sarah Dunant and the poet Brian Patten. Both of them scheduled to talk at the festival, they may have wished to encourage the notion that all performers at literary events should be thus greeted.

Van Morrison will be performing at the Fleadh on 7 June in Finsbury Park, London

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits