Northern Ireland

Tributes to The Band guitarist Robbie Robertson who featured a high-kicking Van Morrison in legendary farewell concert

Robbie Robertson. Picture, Luis Sinco
Robbie Robertson. Picture, Luis Sinco Robbie Robertson. Picture, Luis Sinco

As the rock world mourns The Band guitarist Robbie Robertson, many will remember his turn with a high-kicking Van Morrison during the group’s legendary farewell performance.

The lead guitarist and songwriter was behind classics like The Weight and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.

A huge Van Morrison fan, Robertson had invited the Belfast singer to take part in The Last Waltz concert film in 1976.

Filmed by Martin Scorsese in San Francisco, it boasted a who’s who of rock royalty including Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Ronnie Wood, Neil Wood and Ringo Starr.

Just six weeks before the gig, Robertson had called Scorsese to direct the film, and was quickly told: “Van Morrison? Are you kidding? I have to do it. I don’t have a choice”.

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Further proof of their mutual appreciation can be seen online, with one clip of a blissfully inebriated Robertson backstage with a drink and a cigarette in hand, insisting the Goodfellas director listens to ‘Tupelo Honey’  by “Van the Man”.

Robertson tells an amused Scorsese: “I wanna play you a song before we knock off here. This song...has go nothing to do with anything, but you’ll know exactly what we mean, this is by Van the man.”

On stage with The Band, Morrison performed an arrangement of Tura Lura Lural, and a rousing edition of Caravan punctuated by Van Morrison’s high-kicks for good measure.

By all reports it was one of the less stressful parts of the evening, with Bob Dylan notoriously withdrawing permission to film his performance at the 11th hour.

With Dylan's inclusion a condition of the film's funding from Warner Bros, it prompted frantic backstage negotiations before Dylan begrudgingly agreed to allow his last two songs to be recorded.

A statement from Robertson’s family said he was surrounded by his family at the time of his death, noting he had recently completed his fourteenth film music project with Scorsese, on the upcoming Leonard Di Caprio western ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’.

Others paying their respects included singer Neil Diamond, who said: “The music world lost a great one with the passing of Robbie Robertson. Keep making that Beautiful Noise in the sky, Robbie. I’ll miss you.”

Van Morrison.
Van Morrison. Van Morrison.

The former US President Bill Clinton added: “Robbie Robertson was a brilliant songwriter, guitarist, and composer whose gifts changed music forever.

“I’m grateful for all the good memories he gave me—going back to his time in the Hawks when I was a teenager—and for his kindness through the years. I’ll miss him.”