Van the anti-lockdown Man… and conspiracy theorists on the march…

VAN Morrison fans expect a certain cussedness from their hero, a singer who can reach transcendental heights or stalk off stage in a mysterious strop after 40 minutes.

I’ve been a fan for so long, it’s embarrassing. Doubly so when Van the Man starts writing Covid-19 chunter songs.

In a new song entitled No More Lockdown, Morrison sings…

No more lockdown / No more government overreach / No more fascist bullies / Disturbing our peace…No more taking of our freedom / And our God-given rights / Pretending it’s for our safety / When it’s really to enslave…

The great man of Ulster is in a funk about the measures being adopted to tackle Covid-19. I see where he’s coming from. A world without live music is flat and empty for fans; emptier still for performers.

I don’t trust Boris Johnson’s government one tatty inch, but still. Van is in danger of siding with the conspiracy theorists who insist the Covid-19 crisis is no crisis at all, but some sort of government plot to control our lives.

I’m not sure Boris Johnson is a ‘fascist bully’, to dip into Van’s box of angry words, so much as a hopeless man without a clue about leadership, cast adrift on the raft of his own ego.

Conspiracy theorists come in many shades, from sceptical to clearly raving. A news story in last Sunday’s Observer had a striking intro, beginning…

Conspiracy theories clashed with police yesterday in Trafalgar Square in London…

I had to read that a couple of times to get a grip. People fed by lurid and potty theories on social media are actually taking to the streets. It’s like a gathering of below-the-line comments on websites made itchy flesh.

Some protesters reportedly carried banners saying “David Icke is right” (ah, so that’s why he was kicked off Facebook for spreading false health information), and “No lives matter to the elite” (ah, the elite – that handy fits-all-sizes menace).

Later in the newspaper, an excellent feature by Jamie Doward examined the right-wing cult movement based around QAnon. This wild and unfounded US conspiracy theory believes an elite cabal of child-trafficking paedophile Hollywood actors, philanthropists, Democrat politicians and Jewish financiers covertly rule the world. And only Donald Trump can bring them to justice.

In return, Trump says of this alarmingly dangerous gathering of loons that they “love our country” and “like me very much”.

Being a conspiracy theorist is, I guess, seductive in that you belong to a gang, membership of which suggests you know the truth, you’ve been gifted the one true vision. Yet at its darkest worst, as with QAnon, it’s a lethal illusion built on manipulating people’s fears and weaknesses.

Anyway, Van the Man. I do hope Morrison hasn’t gone over to the dark side, but was just having one of his grumpy turns. He has those a lot, matching beautiful songs with grumbling blues asides about how it’s a pain being rich and famous. And yet still I love the man. First time I saw him was as long ago as – coughs loudly – 1974 at the Bucolic Frolic, aka the first Knebworth Festival.

Morrison’s lockdown frustrations coalesce around the damage to live music, and to society in general perhaps. But at least he is playing again, doing five socially distanced gigs at the Palladium in London.

There is a positive review in today’s Guardian by Michael Hann, declaring that Morrison brings warmth to the cold, half-empty space. Thankfully, he kept away from his anti-lockdown songs.

Hann writes that even some of the sold seats were empty. That was the same at Holy Trinity Church in March, the last live gig I saw pre-lockdown. O’Hooley and Tidow, the Huddersfield folk duo, had been sold out for weeks, but there were more empty spaces than expected, suggesting some of those who bought tickets had stayed away.

It was a fantastic night in a cold but gorgeous old church. God alone knows where and when the next gig I attend will be.

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