Van Morrison goes back to Orangefield High School and gets top marks
With bottles of water and fizzy pop the only refreshments on offer and a curfew of 9.30pm in place, last night at the EastSide Arts Festival was a decidedly un-rock 'n' roll affair.
But that hadn't stopped a capacity crowd from shelling out £85 a head to see local legend Van Morrison.
The last time Morrison trod the boards of Orangefield High, he would have been ‘Van the Boy', but he returned every inch the conquering hero.
After the customary Celtic Swing intro had set the mood, the first words out of the singer's mouth were the opening lines of Got To Go Back.
“When I was a young boy back in Orangefield,” crooned the portly figure in black, “I used to look out my classroom window and dream.”
Morrison's dreams have certainly come true, and if his choice of setlist is to be taken at face value, he wouldn't change a thing.
“If I had to do it all over, I'd do the same thing again,” he sang on third song Only A Dream.
As for his erstwhile classmates and teachers, several hundred of them had crammed into the school's assembly hall.
The school’s closure is a shame on many levels, not least because the acoustics in the hall were better than those in many purpose-built music venues.
Every note Morrison and the band played was crystal clear, and the main man's vocals have rarely sounded better.
Needless to say, he was hardly Mr Chatty, but he did seem in good form, whether announcing a “comedy section” (“Billy Connolly said I was very, very, very, very funny”) or delivering an impromptu Clint Eastwood impression during Rough God Goes Riding.
Elsewhere, Morrison delighted with a string of hits including Moondance, Whenever God Shines His Light, Days Like This and Brown Eyed Girl.
The highlight of the evening was arguably the 1999 track Precious Time.
The sentiment of the lyrics (“It doesn't matter to which God you pray/Precious time is slipping away”) took on a deeper resonance given the occasion.
Now in his late sixties, it's clear Morrison has fallen in love with his home country all over again. The star has played everywhere from the Harp Bar to Dunluce Castle over the past few years, and he's booked for two nights at the Europa Hotel in October. But for sheer nostalgia and cultural significance, nothing is likely to top last night's school reunion at Orangefield.