FIFTY-ONE years since the release of the seminal Astral Weeks and little more than 51 hours before the arrival of his latest offering Three Chords And The Truth, Van Morrison bestrode the BIC stage.

And while it is considered to be lazy journalism to suggest he is either amazingly good or terribly awful live, there is always a general frisson of anticipation and slight apprehensiveness as the house lights go down.

Thankfully, tonight tended towards the former with Norn Iron’s finest musical export laying down a diverse set; a melange of styles encompassing increasing amounts of jazz, plus blues, gospel, country, skiffle and Celtic traditional tunes drawn from his vast repertoire.

The six-piece band arrived without fanfare, Sir Van following shortly afterwards and immediately launching into Gonna Send You Back To Where I Got You From, then It Was Once My Life and St Dominic’s Preview before the 60s classic Baby Please Don’t Go proved to be one of the night’s highlights.

Now 74 and showing little sign of slowing down, Morrison tends to gig in short bursts – tonight was the first of four shows across the UK before more in December and a five-night residency at the London Palladium next March.

And, crucially for anyone wishing to remain relevant, he serves up a regular stream of new music. Thus, the title track from George Ivan’s 40th studio album Three Chords also featured.

Ninety minutes of favourites – Brown Eyed Girl, Moondance, Have I Told You Lately and Days Like These – were interspersed with possibly less familiar tunes such as Ain’t Gonna Moan No More, Broken Record, Roll With The Punches and Magic Time.

Renowned for his unpredictable stage performances, The Belfast Cowboy’s coterie of excellent musicians needed to remain on their toes as the set list and order seemed to vary at will.

They were note perfect, technically brilliant but maybe less soulful than one would have liked. Morrison was a generous leader, standing aside for regular solos, but they only really got into a groove on the In The Afternoon medley towards the end.

And the sound was so pinpoint sharp that I could even grasp most of his words.

Van ultimately employed his regular exit strategy, disappearing stage left to a roadie waiting with a fresh towel during last song Gloria, leaving the band to continue stomping through interminable solos for another 10 minutes until the house lights went up.

Morrison, typically, didn’t communicate much throughout, although didn’t seem grumpy. However, this was a somewhat low key gig. File it under good, but not great.

Cliff Moore