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Sunday, 9 January, 2000, 10:39 GMT
CD Review: Van Morrison
Van Morrison - The Skiffle Sessions (Virgin)
By the BBC's Nigel Packer

It's amazing what can be achieved with a battered acoustic guitar and an old washboard.

Back in the mists of time some of rock's greatest musicians - from Lennon and McCartney to Van Morrison himself - cut their teeth playing in skiffle bands.

Now Van has teamed up with the man who helped set the musical revolution in motion - Lonnie Donegan - and veteran jazzman Chris Barber for this back-to-basics live album.

Perfect partner: Lonnie Donegan
Recorded in Morrison's home city of Belfast, it's a relaxed and intimate affair which catches the notoriously moody singer in an unusually cheerful mood - we even get to hear him laugh.

Lonnie's affable persona and nasal twang provide the perfect complement to Van's gruff bellow, while Barber and his largely acoustic band bring some delicate twists and turns to the 12-bar blues format.

From the moment he takes to the stage during the second song Lost John, it's clear that Morrison is relishing the prospect of a return to his musical roots.

The much-loved Celtic mysticism is put firmly on hold as he reverts to a collection of blues standards - swapping alternate verses with Donegan and occasionally taking a step back to puff contentedly on his harmonica or pick at his guitar.

Unusually upbeat: Van Morrison
Faster tracks like Don't You Rock Me Daddio are rattled out at freight-train speed, while Morrison brings all his trademark intensity to bear on slow-burning songs like Alabamy Bound.

Donegan's performance at last year's Glastonbury Festival helped rekindle interest in the history of skiffle, and a such a fine album can only help build on that success.

It proves that however far music has progressed in the past half century, the songs which set the ball rolling have lost none of their magic.

And if you're wondering why the washboard didn't retain its place among the essential instruments for any self-respecting young band, look no further than the invention of the washing machine.

Otherwise it could all have been so different...

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