The Nineteenth Lucca Summer Festival

Van Morrison and Tom Jones at one of Lucca’s Summer Festival’s evenings? Not an immediately obvious combination perhaps.

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One, an introverted song- writer from Northern Ireland , sometimes called the creator of Celtic soul, a great instrumentalist too, with a gravelly voice; someone who shot into fame with ‘Astral Weeks’ and ‘Gloria’, that perennial rock classic with ‘Them’; someone who is a great song creator.

The other, son of a Welsh miner, with an expansive baritone voice recognised from his schooldays; someone who magics his audience and is constantly reinventing himself, from seductive balladeer to resolute rock singer; sometimes his own songwriter but largely with some of the best songwriters for him; a supreme performer.

Yet these two singers have more things in common than one might realise.

Towards the end of his one and a half hour session at Lucca’s Piazza Napoleone Van Morrison was joined by Tom Jones in a moving duet backed by particularly virtuosistic instrumentalists (especially the Hammond organist) in addition to the Van’s contributions on sax, guitar and harmonica.

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Could anyone beat that? Yet when Tom Jones began the second half with a dynamically raw rock number we knew that his image as the ‘housewife’s choice’ so many had remembered from the 1960’s had long been superseded. Las Vegas shot the Welshman into worldwide fame and brought the influence (and friendship) of such immortals as Elvis Presley. (One of the songs Jones sang was dedicated to Elvis). From then on Jones has been open to country and western, delta blues, soul, gospel and R&B without forgetting his own natural gift for projecting great ballads. Tom Jones also delighted us with a very up-beat almost oriental ‘Delilah’, ‘It’s not unusual’, ‘Thunderball’, ‘Sex Bomb’ and even ‘The green green grass of home’! They all sounded so fresh and new too and didn’t make me feel one bit older than when I first heard them!

Tom engaged his audience with a rather greater élan than his predecessor did. That’s Tom’s personality. He also talked about loving Lucca’s humidity (it was humid that evening!) which he said did wonders for his voice and declared how much he loved the Lucca he’d visited that morning. ‘A very special city’, in his words. Tom also mentioned that Italy and Wales had two major points in common. First was that humidity and second was the ability to produce great singers. He mentioned how Pavarotti had told him when he’d visited the Llangollen International Eisteddfod as a young lad how both countries had this wonderful thing in common: the love of music and song almost inborn into their people’s  psyche.

There was one song which made our hearts melt and eyes weep: ‘The Tower of Song.’ It was only last April that Linda, Tom’s beloved wife of almost sixty years of marriage, died. She was his muse and he’d always gone to her when he’d recorded a new album to ask her what her favourite song was on it.

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The lyrics to this song, originally by Leonard Cohen, are so wonderfully moving that they must be quoted in full now:
Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey
I ache in the places where I used to play
And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on
I’m just paying my rent every day
Oh in the Tower of Song
I said to Hank Williams: how lonely does it get?
Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet
But I hear him coughing all night long
A hundred floors above me
In the Tower of Song

I was born like this, I had no choice
I was born with the gift of a golden voice
And twenty-seven angels from the Great Beyond
They tied me to this table right here
In the Tower of Song

So you can stick your little pins in that voodoo doll
I’m very sorry, baby, doesn’t look like me at all
I’m standing by the window where the light is strong
Ah they don’t let a woman kill you
Not in the Tower of Song

Now you can say that I’ve grown bitter but of this you may be sure
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor
And there’s a mighty judgement coming, but I may be wrong
You see, you hear these funny voices
In the Tower of Song

I see you standing on the other side
I don’t know how the river got so wide
I loved you baby, way back when
And all the bridges are burning that we might have crossed
But I feel so close to everything that we lost
We’ll never have to lose it again

Now I bid you farewell, I don’t know when I’ll be back
They’re moving us tomorrow to that tower down the track
But you’ll be hearing from me baby, long after I’m gone
I’ll be speaking to you sweetly
From a window in the Tower of Song

Yeah my friends are gone and my hair is grey
I ache in the places where I used to play
And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on
I’m just paying my rent every day
Oh in the Tower of Song

The Lucca summer festival continues to delight and often amaze. It may not have yet been able to tempt Adele, (sadly, another great female vocalist, Amy Winehouse, died shortly before she was due to appear), but it is a showcase for such classic artists as Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Eric Clapton and many others who have written the history of rock and pop.

The festival’s now finished for this year but its programme was again superb. (See for more details ).




One thought on “The Nineteenth Lucca Summer Festival

  1. This annual festival could ALMOST convince me to visit Lucca in the summer time.

    Thank you for including the lyrics of one of Mr Cohen’s wonderful songs. (Songs seems a weak word for it, somehow.)

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