Sunday, 11 February 2018

Random Album Comments

Loletadude   -   Give me Raincheck from Days Like This. It makes no literal sense, it's all over the place with background vocals weaving in and out with great instrumentation throughout. But that's just it, I guess—Van hits so many people in so many different ways.

Maggie   -   Regarding his more recent albums, I can wholeheartedly recommend Born to Sing: No Plan B, which is actually one of my favorite Van albums ever. Particularly if you appreciate his swinging sort of style. I also enjoy Down the Road, the recent Versatile, and even the Duets album a great deal. And I understand people who prefer Van melancholy are pretty satisfied with Keep Me Singing

Bubba Watson's Chest Hair   -   Hymns to the Silence is one of my top three favourite albums all time. I prefer minimalist Van, such as On Hyndford Street or Be Thou my Vision. Pagan Streams got me through the good times, the bad times, and the in-between times of my young adulthood. 

Mid-90s Goal Shirt   -   Van does a great duet with Knopfler called The Last Laugh on Knopfler's 2001 Sailing to Philadelphia.

LN   -   l love Van Morrison. l think it would take more than that to get along splendidly but l think it would help. Moondance is one of the best albums anytime ,anywhere. It doesn't matter what generation either. My daughter loves it as much as l do. To me that is the true hallmark of success.

Wayne M. Cohen   -   I recently noticed a CD Van did of country and western classics and thought no way he can pull that off–but as I listened to it I would have bet money that he grew up on the stage at the Grand ole OperyHis range is just stunning.

Lorenzo Peroni   -   Van Morrison's best work was definitely in the seventies. Still, I couldn't imagine my life without Common One (1980). That's definitely my favourite. But is it his best? No, because as he unquestionably demonstrated in It's Too Late to Stop Now (1974), his best work is when he's live.So the best album that Van Morrison released in the 1980s is Live at the Grand Opera House Belfast (1984), on which the standout track is, of course, the 9-minute epic Rave On John Donne/Rave On Part Two.

JG Maclean   -   The diptych of Avalon Sunset (1989) and Enlightenment (1990) remain my favourite post '70s Van.  These are highly introspective, spiritually searching albums but full of joy and beauty. More squarely in the '80s, there is some critical force behind No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986).

Tom Tobin   -    A lot of them have great tunes on them.The one I've spent the most time with is Common One, a solid album throughout. Satisfied is a gem, as is Ancient Peace, and Summertime in England.

Ade Osmant   -   Seen Van twice this year and on both occasions he was just awesome. The album Roll With the Punches was IMHO his best work for a long time and I listen to it most days. 

Loletadude   -   With possible exception of A Period Of Transition a very lacklustre release from the mid-70s, any Van album has several moments of tremendous joy within them, some that still make me shiver after countless hearings. That said, I'd never consider Irish Heartbeat to be among them. 

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Meeting Van Morrison: Part I

Here are some meeting Van stories: 

MikeMoonlight   -   I once met Van Morrison in a pub and said "Fancy a game of darts Van, I hear you're quite a player". Van looked at me slightly puzzled and asked "Who said I was good at darts?" I replied "Oh, Jocky Wilson Said..."

Mexile   -   Strange. I met a monitor engineer who worked with him for a year and Van never spoke to him after day one. I also have a close friend who had Van in his house for a few hours, visiting a mutual friend, and Van said neither hello, goodbye nor thanks for the bottle of wine he drank. Among musicians Van has the reputation as one of the most unpleasant people going. Brilliant musician though.

carbonblacktest   -   He's good friends with Bob Dylan by all accounts; who has an equally odd way with people.

Stechris Willgil   -   People need to grow up and realise that fame is an illusion , it's a double blind where the fan and the star play a role . Why should Van Morrison have anything meaningful to say to you beyond the usual cliched phrases the famous trot out when caught off guard in public ? The " I've met so and so " tales round the dinner table are tedious and usually mean the narrator of the anecdote is living a sad and unfulfilled life. Meeting a famous person does not mean that you possess the same qualities as that person albeit in a very small degree. 

arfurarf   -   Another fan saw Van eating in a cafe. The fan went up and said hello, Van looked up and replied, F### off son, can't you see I'm eating my breakfast?

nigeljones   -   I saw Van Morrison in 1990 playing in the Kings Hotel in Newport. It was a tiny venue, with probably no more than a few hundred squeezed into the upstairs room. There are not many stars of Van Morrison's stature who would play such a venue. I have no idea what Van is like as a person, but I thought at the time that he clearly didn't have a "big star" ego syndrome. Perhaps that's why Van likes to have his cup of tea in peace from time to time. Seems fair enough to me.

weeblewobbler   -   I was once at a bar with a mate and he said, 'isn't that Van Morrison?' But I could only see the back of his head as he walked out so no idea if it was him or not. But I've never forgotten our night out with Van.

Suggs   -   In 2016, Van played at a concert in London to raise money for a drugs and alcohol rehabilitation charity that my relatives help. People were predicting that he wouldn't show, but there he was and no one was talking to him, so I went up and said hello. He was very charming and very lovely. And later, when Van played, the whole place went nuts.

Kakaokuchen   -   Before he became famous Van Morrison once met a distant cousin of mine in a local pub and the two started talking about a tricky boiler repair job when they were interrupted. Van Morrison left the pub and subsequently his career took off, fame etc. Several years later, my cousin met him by chance at a function and Van Morrison's first words were "About that boiler . . . ".

ID8840546    -    In the 80s I was in Bath with my parents and two daughters. It was a beautiful sunny day and I left my parents sitting near the baths and took my daughters, aged 11 and 8 ish, to explore. We were in a covered walkway with shops on either side, don't know Bath very well so not sure where. I saw Van Morrison and a striking dark haired woman walking towards us. I was a huge fan and had seen him perform on a number of occasions. Rather like the author of the article I just wanted to tell him how much his music meant to me but knowing his reputation I also thought he would tell me to "eff off". On a mad impulse I told my daughters to wait in a nearby record shop, I know crazy, and started to follow them. We went some way and walked near a young man who was busking. Van put some money into his pot and walked on. At this point reality kicked in and I realised I had to get back to my daughters, but not before I asked the young man if he knew who had given him some money, he didn't and his face was a picture when I told him. I wish I'd had the nerve to say to Van how much his music meant to me but then again I didn't want to be told where to go!

SwamiPete   -   I am a huge Van fan but have never met the man. A friend of a friend was in a restaurant in Marin when he saw Van Morrison dining with a companion at another table. This person went up to him, expressed his admiration and asked for his autograph. Van Morrison, he reported, was friendly and polite and gave him an autograph but immediately after that picked up and left even though he had not finished his meal. The person felt very bad about precipitating this.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Van Facts for the Young

The Living Legend

I couldn't get this post done in 140 characters but I thought I had to get this out to edjumacate the young. 

Van Morrison is not an Instagram model. Nor does he pose with skate shoes or vanilla Coke to create an extra income stream. He doesn't do "unboxing" videos on youtube after companies send him free stuff. He's never made a video of himself gaming. He's never recommended food or fashion tips to anyone and he keeps most of his opinions to himself unless it's about music.  He doesn't do bottle flipping, parkour, fidget spinners or take selfies.  He doesn't ask you to like him or the videos that people have posted of his interviews or music clips. 

To all confused young people out there the man Van Morrison has something that makes him extremely passe nowadays.  He has talent. In a culture basically built on an army of tech-savvy talentless young "stars", Van Morrison stands out like an alien leaving his spacecraft parked beside the freeway.  

Now this might sound crazy, but decades ago music didn't come in a can.  It didn't all sound the same with computer generated instruments and auto-tuned vocals. You probably won't believe this, but real musicians, who could play things called musical instruments, would actually craft songs in music studios. In those days the clothes the artists wore and accompanying artwork were considered less important than the music. Go figure?    

So, especially for the young, here's a brief kind of Van Morrison primer.  (That means a kind of introduction.)

Van was born in Belfast which is actually a city in Northern Ireland. (a basic knowledge of geography was once considered essential in accumulating an education.) He was born in 1945.  He’s so old that he actually looks at you, not at a device, when you talk to him.  Yes, he’s recorded songs like Gloria, Brown Eyed Girl and Moondance, but his back catalogue consists of so much more.  Don’t think of an engagement ring with three diamonds.  His output is like the whole Tiffany’s store. His 37 studio albums stand out like an open, full treasure chest in a cave littered with pizza boxes

He has so many awards and honours that he has to have a separate house to store them in. He has been knighted and is a member of both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I'll stop now. You've read enough. For those too young to know what a "Van Morrison" is, I urge you to access (i.e. listen to) the music.  As for me?  I'll just leave here now and venture out to the cold, dark world filled with body shaming micro-aggressors who are out there doing evil things like assuming genders and using trigger words. 

Friday, 26 January 2018

Van Morrison: the Blues & Love

Gary Burnett's blog called Down at the Crossroads (where blues and faith meet) is an interesting mix of blues strained through a Christian worldview. Here are Gary's comments about Van's Roll With the Punches album. 

Van Morrison has been singing the blues for a long time. In a Rolling Stone interview a while back he said he first realised he had a voice when he recorded himself singing on his dad’s reel-to-reel tape recorder. What did he sing? – “Leadbelly songs.” His influences were, he said, all black and he “related to the lyrics in Chicago blues and the stuff I heard by John Lee Hooker.”

Fast forward a few decades and Van Morrison’s new album, Roll With the Punches, is an unashamed album of blues songs which pay tribute to the influence of the blues on his own body of work. As well as a number of original songs, there are numbers by Sam Cooke, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Bo Diddley, Mose Allison, Little Walter, T-Bone Walker, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, as well as jazz musicians Count Basie and Jimmy Rushing.

Van Morrison’s 37th studio album, is one of the best blues album you’ll hear all year. The fifteen songs feature guest appearances by Jeff Beck, Paul Jones, Georgie Fame, Chris Farlowe and Jason Rebello, as well as some outstanding gospel-tinged backing vocals from Dana Masters and Sumudu Jayatilaka. The blues piano throughout is fabulous and Jeff Beck’s guitar work, especially on Bring It On Home to Me, is quite wondrous. The superb musicianship and production serves as a solid platform for Van’s vocal performance which is quintessentially Van, with its exquisite phrasing and characteristic stretching of words across musical phrases.

“From a very early age, I connected with the blues,” says Van. “The thing about the blues is you don’t dissect it – you just do it. I’ve never over-analysed what I do; I just do it. Music has to be about just doing it and that’s the way the blues works – it’s an attitude.” Attitude is what this album has in spades. It’s solid, traditional blues, but always sounds up-to-date and the visceral attraction of the blues that the artist must have felt when he first heard the blues as a teenager is here channelled and explored, so that you can’t help but be drawn in and made to feel the emotion – the trouble, the loss and the joy that is the blues.

That dual sense of trouble and joy is explored in Morrison’s own song Transformation, again with some delightful Jeff Beck guitar work. “Remember when we were downhearted, didn’t have nowhere to go…” he sings, before, “Then something starts happening, feel like you’re on a roll
Gonna be a transformation, baby, down in your soul.”

The reason for the transformation? Love – “Love like a river keeps on wanting to flow…Love is for ever, baby, down in your soul.” It’s easy to simply think of the casual romantic love – the careless love – of a thousand pop songs. But an old preacher I heard once defined love as a “conscious choice for someone else’s good – a decision, not an emotion.” Coming at it like that puts a different perspective on things. That’s the sort of thing that might, just, cause a transformation down in your soul. That strikes me as being a world away from Mose Allison’s “self-love” in Benediction, which for all its thanking of God, doesn’t give a proper answer at the point “When burdens get heavy, And hope starts to fade.” We need something more than self-love. Actually, that might be counter-productive.

Spirituality is never far away in Van Morrison, and he includes Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s How Far from God, and features something of the barrel house piano of the original – expertly done by Stuart McIlroy. In Tharpe’s song, Van sings, “Well since I received the blessing, My so called friends turned their backs on me.”  Seems like sometimes having a definite faith – or worse still, talking about it – doesn’t go down too well. In Rosetta Tharpe’s song, it seems that some “playmates” have walked and talked her down the road before she came to the realisation of how far she now was from God

Monday, 8 January 2018

Mystic From the East

A couple of years ago Larry Kirwan posted this on the Belfast Media Group site.  The article has been edited for brevity’s sake. Check out the link for the full article.
Van Morrison: Mystic from the East

With James Brown and Bob Marley gone to the great soul house in the sky, Bob Dylan would appear to be Morrison’s only living musical peer. Both handily pass the “great artist qualifying tests” of singularity of vision and a voluminous body of groundbreaking successful work; in fact they share so many traits, obsessions, and dislikes as to make them seem like cosmic twins. But what really unites them is a fierce and unrelenting drive to create.

Both have little use for the press or publicity. While Dylan remains enigmatically aloof, the Belfast mystic has made it clear that he considers explanations about his art entirely superfluous, and that he despises the trappings and business of music. Some of this antipathy may date back to his teenage years when he was shamelessly ripped off by record and music publishing companies.

Dylan and Morrison share a deep personal connection to their music with little thought to commercial success. They have scant interest in contemporary social media and, indeed, at recent concerts I attended neither seemed to acknowledge the presence of the audience, much less tailor their set-lists to suit its tastes.

It was while on a visit to East Belfast, however, that I found the deepest link between them: their work is firmly rooted in place and time. Dylan’s songs range all across the US on an eternal Highway 61 with mentions of Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans, and New York City among others. Van is much more firmly rooted in his hometown, in particular, the area around his parents’ house that he celebrated in one of his great tone poems.

On Hyndford Street where you could feel the silence…
As the wireless played Radio Luxembourg
And the voices whispered across Beechie River…

Violet and George Morrison raised their only child in one of the old red-bricked terraced houses built for Belfast’s shipyard workers. Close by you can still see The Hollow referenced in his pop classic, Brown Eyed Girl, and the towering electric pylon that he mentions in various songs and introductions. It’s a short walk from Hyndford Street to Cyprus Avenue – the names of both roads are employed as titles of Morrison classics - and yet there’s a wide sociological gulf in between. Van bridges it with his bluesy, moody treatments of both songs but you’re never less than aware of the class divide between his red-bricked working class street and the leafy avenue he was drawn to.

That’s the genius of the Belfast mystic. In a couple of songs he can summon up his hometown to the outsider – its dour impenetrability as well as its worldly sophistication. Like James Joyce, Van had to go away to find home. Now that there’s relative peace in Belfast we can all visit the mystical claustrophobic “East” that spawned this great artist. We can also measure the reality against the images that we have constructed from his melodies and lyrics. Hallelujah that both Van Morrison and Bob Dylan, his American twin, are still out there yearning, learning, and supplying us with songs of innocence, passion, and truth.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Van in the 1980s

A lot of people undervalue Van's 80s decade of work mainly because of the brilliance of his 70s output which rivals the Beatles run of quality throughout the 1960s. The 1980s were a consistent time of quality.  Take a look at the list of the 9 albums he produced:

Common One (1980)
Beautiful Vision (1982)
Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (1983)
Live at the Grand Opera House Belfast (1984) (Live)
A Sense of Wonder (1985)
No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986)
Poetic Champions Compose (1987)
Irish Heartbeat (1988)
Avalon Sunset (1989)

Sure not every one of these albums was an Astral Weeks or a Veedon Fleece, but there is so much of interest here and it's time to look back on this much maligned period.  For myself, I think both Common One and No Guru rank in his top 10.  Nearly all of these albums highlight, to some extent, Van's ubiquitous attempt to fuse the sum of his musical influences (jazz, R&B, blues, soul, folk, rock'n'roll, Celtic and mystical imagery, gospel, etc.) It's a unique ambition that produces a unique sound loved by his hard-core fans.
Take the 15-minute Summertime In England for example.  Some writers have referred to it as practically the Morrisonian manifesto.  The song breaks down into a crazed mumble evoking the names of poetic champions (Wordsworth, Eliot, Coleridge) and abstract fantasies of romantic love and nature, and imagery as improbable as the voice of Mahalia Jackson (revered gospel songstress) coming through the ether while he walks with his beloved through Avalon, that lost Arthurian paradise of the pre-Saxon British. None of it makes rational sense, but as Van explains "It ain’t why, it just is."

Common One (1980) began with Morrison and a group of musicians travelling to Super Bear, a studio in the French Alps, to record what would be become a hotly disputed album. Reviews tended to be extremely critical and casual fans were alienated.  Van later admitted that his original concept was even more esoteric than the final product. Common One consists of only six songs. NME magazine's Paul Du Noyer called the album "colossally smug and cosmically dull; an interminable, vacuous and drearily egotistical stab at spirituality: Into the muzak."

Beautiful Vision (1982) was relatively well received by the critics and public and contained the minor , it produced a minor UK hit single, Cleaning Windows, that referenced one of Morrison's first jobs after leaving school. Vanlose Stairway and She Gives Me Religion were popular songs in concert. On songs like Celtic Ray he incorporates a mysticism and an investment in ancient Britain that had only subtly manifested in his work beforehand. “All over Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales,” he sings, “I can hear the mother’s voices calling / ‘Children, children, children."

Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (1983) was supposedly a move towards creating music for meditation with synthesisers, uilleann pipes and flute sounds and four instrumental tracks. Controversially, the album gives 'special thanks' to notorious science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard whose Scientology "religion" is based on a short story about an alien named Xenu.  

Live at the Grand Opera House Belfast (1984) is not as strong as his strongest shows which are the stuff of legend.  His live appearances are usually fantastic but his this live recording doesn't showcase the stage magic that Van usually creates. The backing vocals, in particular, are shrill and obtrusive.

A Sense of Wonder (1985) has an odd cover with Van in a cape. The album is usually ranked in the lower half of his albums but its collection of unusual songs holds some interest. The single, Tore Down a la Rimbaud was a reference to Rimbaud and an earlier bout of writer's block that Morrison had encountered in 1974.

No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986) is one of his most critically acclaimed albums. Its cover photo was token in the walled garden of Holland Park in Kensington, and portrays the artist as balding, middle-aged man beside a weather-eroded statue of some long-dead worthy. The album's title reflects Van's distancing himself from various mystical explorations. Elsewhere the set abounds in musical and lyrical references to Astral Weeks, as well as having a song called Here Comes The Knight, a pun on one of the best-known numbers from his mid-'60s days with Them. It contains the song, In the Garden that, according to Morrison, had a "definite meditation process which is a 'form' of transcendental meditation as its basis." He's scathing, to unreasonable extent, about singers such as Springsteen and Bob Seger who he alleges owe it all to him. "Copycats ripped off my songs” he scowls in the album's A Town Called Paradise.

After releasing No Guru Morrison's music appeared less gritty and more adult contemporary with the well-received 1987 album, Poetic Champions Compose, considered to be one of his recording highlights of the 1980s. The romantic ballad from this album, Someone Like You, has been featured in a number of movies. 

Irish Heartbeat (1988) is a collection of traditional Irish folk songs recorded with the Irish group the Chieftains. It contains re-worked versions of two appropriate numbers (the title track, which was first on Inarticulate Speech, and Celtic Ray from Beautiful Vision) with a number of traditional Irish songs, from the heart-rending lament of Carrickfergus to the playground jig I'll Tell Me Ma

Avalon Sunset (1989) featured a Christian duet with Cliff Richard Whenever God Shines His Light and the ballad Have I Told You Lately which highlights Van’s evolving spirituality. The two tracks are directly pitched to God. Orangefield is another strong song where Morrison remembers someone he fell for while attending school in Belfast. There is also Van’s first spoken-word track, Coney Island on which reminisces, in a strange, circulatory way, about his trips to County Down, where he’d birdwatch and have good craic (an Irish term for conversation). He describes himself looking at the side of his mother’s face “as the sunlight comes streaming through the window in the autumn sunshine, and all the time going to Coney Island I’m thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time?’

Van’s 80s records had a kind of uneven relationship with contemporary recording techniques. He never resisted the studio discipline he absorbed from John Lee Hooker, which required that songs be recorded quickly. Van’s lyrics are often allusive, whether to authors and poets he admires or his own childhood in Belfast. The 80s were a great time for Van, even if the rest of the music world was going through a nadir in quality.  

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Funny Things People Say - Part 21

Whilldtkwriter   -   Gloria by Van Morrison/Them (1963) is actually titled rationally; there is no doubt who or what the main thought is—"Glo-ree-a. G-L-O-R-I-A, …" and on and on and on. Laura Brannigan's version (1982) has Gloria throughout the song, also leaving no doubt as to the topic name. As for Angels We Have Heard on High, Gloria gets a lot more air time than the actual song title's words. I say rename the song to Gloria and really confuse people!

Lauren   -   Fairly early on I knew I had a pretty mom. But my mother wasn’t pretty in the way Van Morrison says, “girls dressed up for each other”.  She wasn’t stuck on having the "it" purse or following the latest trend.

W0   -   Where Van Morrison at almost 70 professed that he has no plan b, The Tragically Hip just presents its plan a: to rock and play!

Marios   -   Now known more for his fearsome reputation as a curmudgeonly r&b shouter in a hat, at one point in the dim and distant past, Van Morrison was, well… a happy curmudgeon. In the early '70s his magnificent voice and mystic vision were wedded to an idyllic private life and final acceptance within a music industry that had consistently dealt him a bad hand.

Bradley Loh   -   Van Morrison's classic Bright Side of the Road seems apt in describing what side of the board to play on. In principle, don't play on the side you are weaker. My opponent's 26. c4 unnecessarily weakens himself, allowing awkward pressure against his pinned King.

Nate Beier   -   But I'm thinking here of how a cowbell can be used off the beat to help generate great joy. Caravan, as performed by Van Morrison and The Band in The Last Waltz, is a great example of this. To help understand this, know each beat of the song breaks into four equal parts: "one-ee--and--uh".  What drummer Levon Helm does is he hits the cowbell on the "ee" section. He does so twice, at the 1:25 and 3:10 marks.  Hitting cymbals is also a great emotional release.

Stephen Walker   -   The Band decided to go out in a blaze of glory and it's all meticulously captured by Martin Scorsese, who gives us a front row seat to witness a succession of guests including Neil Diamond, Neil Young, who legend has it was carefully edited to exclude the cocaine rock hanging out of his nose, and Van Morrison who wanders on stage like Mr Potato Head in a jumpsuit and proceeds to tear the place apart.

Anonymous   -   When you listen to retarded love songs and Van Morrison songs like Into the Mystic and Tupelo Honey, who do you think of. is it the gurl you’re with, or someone else? this i think is another good test. Always pick the gurl that Van Morrison makes you think of.  If you are with the wrong girl, and think of Van Morrison, and then think NO this is totally WRONG, this is not the Van Morrison gurl, then GTFO. A lot of people appreciate Van Morrison's obvious talent in speaking the Universal Language Of Luv. He is very good at it. Now two people can both understand Van Morrison, and one person has Van Morrison Feelings for the other, but THAT person has Van Morrison Feelings for someone else altogether! That is kinda what I ran into here. Well, I am not sure she has Van Morrison feelings for anyone, perhaps the short term boifran who broke her heart. I think she is having trouble getting over him.  Just like I am having trouble getting over her!

R. Gilderdale   -   I saw Van perform at the Scarborough Futurist on October 20, 1990. Van was in sparkling form. For some reason the whole band including Van wore baseball caps, with the exception of Georgie Fame who had something closer to a 10 gallon hat. 

Georgie Fame   -   Van called me Wing Commander Georgie Fame at Fleadh 90 because I live not far from the Royal Navy Air Arm in Somerset and I have some friends who are navy pilots and I had been flying with them. For a while he used to call me Lieutenant Fame.