Van Morrison sued after cancelling pub garden gig

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The Independent Culture

The landlord of a country pub saw his thriving business collapse when the musical legend Van Morrison pulled out of a gig he was due to play in the back garden, the High Court was told yesterday.

Gary Marlow is suing the singer and his production company, Exile, for up to £400,000 over the cancellation in August 2002 at the Crown Hotel in Wiltshire.

Mr Marlow took two years to persuade Van Morrison, 57, to play at the venue in Everleigh, which had previously hosted concerts by Peter Green, the reclusive former Fleetwood Mac guitarist, and the veteran blues man John Mayall. Finally they agreed a deal, signed contracts, and 1,500 tickets were printed at £32.50 each for a one-night only special at the 17th-century inn.

But four weeks before the concert Van Morrison pulled out, claiming that Mr Marlow had broken a clause in the contract prohibiting publicity.

Stuart Cakebread, counsel for Mr Marlow, said the claim had a devastating effect on his business. "It simply collapsed and turnover plummeted," he said. The claim includes £20,000 for the return of Van Morrison's advance, plus lost profits from ticket, alcohol, food and tobacco sales. He said the damage to the reputation of the 400-year-old inn, which Mr Marlow had built up since buying it in a "pretty moribund" state in 1997, was so serious that he was now struggling to make a living.

Turnover of about £25,000 a month had plunged to £7,000 and a recent beer festival had attracted only 20 people, whereas previous similar events had brought in 2,000. Even the introduction of a previously successful chef had not helped business.

"Whilst before this incident the Crown was the venue of choice for locals for christenings and parties and so on, nothing happens now and none of the locals use it. People don't come back to an empty venue," Mr Cakebread said.

Van Morrison, who will not be attending the hearing, and Exile deny there was a breach of contract. Their counsel, Thomas Croxford, said the concert was cancelled at the beginning of July 2002 because Mr Marlow breached a condition restricting publicity.

He said that the contract contained an express provision dealing with all advertising and promotional materials in any form.

"It is a deliberately broad provision designed to catch everything. We say that where there is advertising and promotion, we are entitled to veto it unless we are happy with it," Mr Croxford said.

Mr Marlow had been told he could advertise in the local paper and on a blackboard inside the pub, although there was disagreement over to whether he could use the pub's website.

Mr Marlow, 44, claims that he was not behind the widespread coverage in the national press that followed and had no control over it.

Mr Cakebread said: "The point seems to be that Van Morrison doesn't like this sort of publicity, that's the crux of it and that isn't a basis for repudiating the contract."

In late June, Mr Marlow was quoted in a newspaper as saying: "It's a bit of a coup. He's very pedantic and choosy, but it'll be worth it."

He told the newspaper that he had a list of about 100 food and drink items so the singer had a choice of what to eat on the night.

Mr Cakebread said that when Mr Marlow investigated insuring against any cancellation by Van Morrison, people had laughed. He had understood that it would be extremely expensive even if it could have been obtained, Mr Cakebread added.

The case continues today.