Van Morrison is doing socially distanced shows in the U.K. — but unlike other artists who have hailed the new way of gigging as a necessary stopgap measure, Morrison is making it clear that he couldn’t be less happy about the compromise.
In fact, he’s calling social distancing “pseudo-science” and calling for an immediate return to full-capacity concerts.
Morrison is also calling for fellow musicians to join him in protesting strictures that have been put in place against concert business as usual. It’s a call that is not likely to put him in good stead with other music stars, who have largely stood firm in a “all for one and one for all” stance in favor of putting off shows until a vaccine has produced widespread immunity to the coronavirus.
In a post on his website titled “Save Live Music,” Morrison wrote, “As you know, we are doing socially distanced gigs at Newcastle Upon Tyne’s Gosforth Park, Electric Ballroom and the London Palladium. This is not a sign of compliance or acceptance of the current state of affairs; this is to get my band up and running and out of the doldrums. This is also not the answer going forward. We need to be playing to full capacity audiences going forward.”
The veteran singer then urged his contemporaries to join him in a resistance to the current pro-distancing orthodoxy. “I call on my fellow singers, musicians, writers, producers, promoters and others in the industry to fight with me on this,” he wrote. “Come forward, stand up, fight the pseudo-science and speak up.”
Although no other musicians of his stature have taken a similar stand so far, Morrison claimed the world’s most famous composers of musicals as a kindred soul on the matter of social distancing.
“Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and myself appear to be the only people in the music business trying to get it back up and running again,” Morrison wrote. “Come forward.
It’s not economically viable to do socially distanced gigs. Come forward now, the future is now.”
He closed his message by asking other artists to go public with their support for a fast return to full-on concerts. “We would like to publish a list of names of all those who are supporting the industry,” Morrison concluded. ” If you would like your name included contact us at email@example.com.”
Morrison is scheduled to kick off a series of socially distanced shows — reluctantly — with an outdoor show Sept. 3 at the Newcastle Racecourse in Newcastle Upon Tyne.
That sprawling U.K. venue was inaugurated in mid-August with a pair of internationally publicized, sold-out shows by British star Sam Fender, who played to crowds of 2,500 per night spread across 500 separate viewing platforms, in groups of five. Reports from the shows indicated most fans on hand were thrilled with the arrangement, under the circumstances.
In an interview with Variety after the gigs, when it was brought up that Fender would be the test artist for a series of shows that would include Morrison, the young singer said, “I will happily be the trial for Van f—ing Morrison any day. That’s an honor in itself.”
Added Fender, “Obviously I was skeptical. It was like playing in front of the biggest human cattle market. But it was fantastic. Of course it’s not going to have the same vibe as a gig where there’s a mosh pit and then people having to go to the emergency room. There weren’t as many pints flying around and flags and crazy stuff. But when we went on stage, there were two and a half thousand people singing the songs back to us. The drinks were flowing. The classic British weather came in with a nice rain. It was fantastic. It was a show. And that’s what we need. I think we’ve proven that it can successfully work, and we have at least some format in which we can enjoy live music as punters and as artists to tide us over until we get out of this parallel universe that we live in, this weird nightmare. It’s a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.”
It’s unclear whether Lloyd Webber, who owns seven West End theaters, exactly shares Morrison’s views about getting back to full capacity and “pseudo-science,” although the composer has been outspoken about the limitations of socially distanced live theater.
“Theatre can’t run with social distancing. It’s just not economically possible,” Lloyd Webber told the BBC in July, as socially distanced stage shows were about to resume. He touted models for the future he said would not require social distancing, in which attendees would have their temperatures tested before entry, hygienic door handles and thermal imaging cameras would be employed, and an anti-viral mist “imported from Korea” would be sprayed over crowds..