Thursday, 21 September 2017

10 Outrageous Van Moments

1. Van's contractual obligation album  -  When Van was trying to leave Bang shortly after the death of Bert Berns, he was reminded by Berns' widow that he still owed Bang an album.  He sat down and recorded 31 "tracks" and handed over the masters. The "songs" revolve around twin themes of mocking Berns' songwriting and Van's stupidity to have even been a part of Bang records.  Unfortunately, it has come back to bite him as these songs have turned up on various compilations and I'm sure people listening must have said "this Van fellow isn't much chop".  Many have urged Van to buy the rights to these things and either work on them o delete them.

2. It ain't easy being green  - Van recorded Joe Raposo's gentle song at the height of Kermit mania.  It was a bizarre move for a performer who claims that "it's all about the music" to record something that can only be called a 'novelty song'.  Since when did 'whimsy' trump Van's usual homage to the great blues and rhythm and blues artists of the past?

3. No beer at shows  -  Van is ever the man to get a "bee in his bonnet" about something.  A few years ago it was the serving of alcohol at concerts.  Van was understandably upset with patrons going in and out of the concert hall mid-concert carrying pints.  As a person who has courageously battled a struggle with alcohol he was less than impressed with the multiple interruptions and ordered alcohol sales to stop before show-time. Audiences weren't amused. 

4.  Linda Gail Lewis  -  The partnership with LGL was always likely to end badly. Van assumed the sister of Jerry Lee Lewis had more of the Lewis musical DNA than she had.  Also, when they met she was touring Britain with a Welsh "band" called the Red Hot Pokers.  I hesitate to call them "amateurish" because all musicians should be respected but they weren't up to the usual high standard of artists who usually grace the stage with Van. Some comical moments ensued for long term Van fans and, dare I say, 'connoisseurs' of his music.  There were threats of harassment lawsuits and eventually everything was settled out of court.  The country album they recorded together was released but eventually it was allowed to drift into obscurity. Like a scene from Orwell's 1984, Van seems to be trying to erase all memory of the album. A bit like his changing of the cover of the album Days Like This to remove Michelle Rocca's photo.  

5. The Baby crisis and tragedy  -   The baby and Gigi Lee controversy started as a fiasco that gave birth to a wealth of punny headlines and ended in tragedy.  Van really must have suffered emotionally through this time. Of course, the main tragedy was the death of both mother and child.

6. Richard Gere fiasco  -  As much as Van claims on Keep Me Singing that the 'home boys welcome me back' he really has been chummy with some famous celebrity names  -  Pamela Anderson, Farrah Fawcett and Richard Gere to name a few. Sometime in the 1990s Richard Gere even joined Van on stage for a few shows. Then there was the much-publicised bromance break up.  Some said it was because Richard's cachet with the ladies was outshining Van.  Others said it was because Richard's peace and love Hollywood version of Buddhism was only skin deep and he was real jerk underneath. Whatever it was Richard Gere is now officially off Van's Christmas card list.

7. Web Sheriff  -  Sometime in the first decade of the new millennium Van attacked the Internet via the web sheriff.  Anything anyone published that Van didn't like, he allowed the web sheriff to threaten them.  He has a point with so many people specialising in offering illegal downloads of Van materials. But the attack affected great sites like Wavelength and the famous SFU site by Michael Hayward.  All those sites ever did was promote Van interest and scholarship and probably helped generate sales for Van.

8. Complaint songs  -  For awhile Van songs were all sweetness and light.  Except maybe for T.B. Sheets.  Then one of these complaints songs found its way onto an album.  Then another and another until there was a veritable cottage industry of complaint songs.  We half expected an album of complaints songs to be released,  but that hasn't happened yet. From comments online, it really turned a lot of people off. They often point out the fact that Van has had a pretty damned charmed life compared to most people. 

9. the kaftan  -  Groovy baby.  The 60s and 70s were a time of great experimentation and it lead to some of the best popular music of all time.  (Who can forget Up, Up and Away and Tie a Yellow Ribbon?) Clothing too was getting brighter and drawing on influences from around the world.  The kaftan, the Nehru jacket (still worn by evangelist Benny Hinn), the fez, etc were being worn by performers who should know better.  Then Van joined in with a little kaftan number on the back cover of Astral Weeks.
10.  the high kicks and 'onesie' on The Last Waltz  -  Apparently Van was very nervous on the day of the Band's last concert dubbed The Last Waltz.  Martin Scorcese was signed to do a concert film and Van's performance is captured for the world to see.  Yes, he's wearing a spangly purple onesie. Yes, he finishes the song off with a series of dramatic high kicks.  In between it's an absolutely brilliant performance that blows them all away.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Jackie Wilson Said

“Mike T's A Boat Against the Current Blog has has a good piece about Van's Jackie Wilson song.  

A few years ago, hearing Van Morrison’s classic rock hosanna on my friend’s car radio, I suddenly had the urge to leap to my feet, clap, jump on the roof, and sing at the top of my lungs to innocent bystanders. I had to settle for turning up the volume, snapping my fingers, and rocking back and forth in the passenger seat.

My friend eyed me in the same quizzical way he had at the end of a Bruce Springsteen concert two decades ago, disbelieving my transformation from a sedate passenger to someone possessed. “What’s with you?” he asked.

“I’m so wired up/Don’t need no coffee in my cup,” I sang, by way of answer.

“Well, obviously not,” he said with a chuckle.

I learnt later that he had reason to be understanding of my passion for this song—his girlfriend had jumped up in an ecstatic dance as soon as she heard the opening chords of this same tune in concert.

Enlightenment was the title of a Morrison album from the 1990s, but perhaps, in terms of what he’s always sought, that was a misnomer. What he’s really wanted all along has been rapture, a kind of ecstatic transport. Yammering incessantly about the experience only drives it away—which is why Morrison might be the most notoriously cranky introvert in rock ‘n’ roll history. But rapture was exactly what he found and transmitted in less than three minutes of this infectious tribute to soul man Jackie Wilson.

Wilson was one of the African-American R&B artists whose rhythms Morrison and other Belfast lads absorbed “down by the pylons” in their adolescence. As a youngster, I wondered what Reet-Petite meant. I even speculated that I might have misheard the phrase.

I finally found out what it meant in a fine essay by Brian Doyle—titled, concisely and inevitably, Van, that appeared in the Summer 2001 issue of American Scholar Magazine. The phrase, Doyle revealed, came from Wilson’s first chart hit, penned by Motown-mogul-in-the-making Berry Gordy Jr., from 1958.

Morrison acknowledges Reet-Petite not just in words but in the exuberance that lifts this tribute immediately from its famously inviting opening—“Da, da, da, da, da,da, da, da…” Both works celebrate the joy generated by the mere sight of a woman—“the finest girl you’ll ever want to meet,” Wilson calls her, while Morrison simply declares, “I’m in Heaven when you smile.”

Wilson’s career was tragically cut short by a 1975 heart attack suffered in concert that rendered him, helpless and in agony, until he died a little more than seven years later. His commercial peak was even more truncated. Though his greatest hit, (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher, came out in 1967, he had to hit the oldies circuit a mere two years later.

But, though death took Wilson far too soon, he had already lived his life at the fullest every moment he was onstage.  And you don’t have to look very far to find his DNA elsewhere at the heart of rock ‘n’ roll.

That dynamism carries over into both Morrison’s performances (when he’s in the moment and not royally pissed off at someone or other, that is), and the same urge to raise the roof, to hold a rock ‘n’ roll counterpart to an old-fashioned revival meeting, can be seen in almost every live Springsteen performance.

So now “lonely teardrops” for Jackie Wilson today. Turn on his music and exult that he and his apostles—Morrison and Springsteen—make you happy to be alive. Let it all hang out!

Saturday, 9 September 2017

The Last Waltz: The Lost Photos

The Band’s final concert known as The Last Waltz is firmly part of rock music folklore. The concert farewelled a great band seemingly at the heights of its power. A number of talented performers like Neil Young, Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton Ron Wood, Ringo Starr, Dr. John  and Joni Mitchell contributed to the event. 

The following post is by Bill Van Niekerken who wrote about the discovery of long lost photographs of the concert taken by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Gary Fong several years ago.  Bill Van Niekerken is the library director of The San Francisco Chronicle, where he has worked since 1985. In his weekly column, From the Archive, he explores The Chronicle’s vast photography archive in search of interesting historical tales related to the city by the bay.

Long-Lost 'Last Waltz' Photos From Legendary San Francisco Concert Discovered Amid Dust

For decades, The Chronicle’s photos from “The Last Waltz,” one of San Francisco’s greatest rock music events, were lost, thought never to be seen again.

The concert at Winterland in 1976 was to be the final concert that The Band performed on the road, and filmmaker Martin Scorsese was on hand to shoot it and produce a feature-length movie.

The evening started with a Thanksgiving dinner for the 5,000 concertgoers, with the diners entertained by Berkeley Promenade Orchestra, a 40-piece string group. Bill Graham borrowed set decorations from San Francisco Opera’s production of La Traviata and he added chandeliers and a fountain in the lobby. After dinner, The Band took the stage, and as the night went on the musicians were joined by several famous friends: Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Ronnie Wood and Ringo Starr.

It was a San Francisco concert filled with rock royalty in a starry setting, but the images disappeared among the dust of The Chronicle’s vast archive. Then, 40 years later, fortune smiled on fans on The Band. Chronicle pop culture critic Peter Hartlaub and I had searched extensively for the photos and negatives but had come up empty-handed. Last week, our luck changed. We were searching through shots of a 1980 Bread and Roses show featuring Joni Mitchell playing guitar with B.B. King. Looking at the negatives as I scanned them, it became clear it was a different show.

The first few negatives showed an indoor venue with ornate decorations. It didn’t look dilapidated enough for Winterland, but by the 10th negative I was looking at couples dancing, maybe waltzing, and I started to get excited. I kept scanning, and there they were: dozens of shots of the concert, taken by ace Chronicle photographer Gary Fong, showing The Band, the guest rockers and the final jam with all of the musicians on stage. After 30 years digging through The Chronicle’s archive as a big rock ’n’ roll fan, this might be my favourite find.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

The Bert Berns Story (2017) Documentary

Bang! The Bert Berns Story (2017) 

Directed by: Brett Berns and Bob Sarles. 
Written by: Christina Keating, Joel Selvin.  
Starring: Ilene Berns, Cissy Houston, Solomon Burke, Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Van Morrison, Ben E. King, Steven Van Zandt.

Bert Berns deserved more recognition than he received. The new Bang! The Bert Berns Story documentary will, no  doubt, help redress this oversight. He had an amazing influence on music, maybe even more than Slipknot, the Captain and Teneille and Tiny Tim. He's credited with a hand in 51 pop hits in a seven year span from 1961. His 51 hits included Hang on Sloopy performed by The McCoys, Van Morrison’s Brown-Eyed Girl, Twist and Shout (originally performed by the Isley Brothers but made incredibly popular by The Beatles), Piece of my Heart as performed by Erma Franklin and shortly after covered by a young Janis Joplin, and Strangelove’s I Want Candy just to name a very select few. It’s fascinating to know that one man is largely responsible for all of these iconic songs, and Bang! The Bert Berns Story does a good job at telling the story of the man responsible. 

In some ways the film is the typical rock/pop documentary that you find so numerously on YouTube.  There are the interviews, narrations of his history and influence, all set to a soundtrack of amazing songs.  IMdb refers to the documentary as "music meets the Mob in this biography of '60s hitmaker and 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Bert Berns".

Some critics have commented about the narration by Steven Van Zandt saying his voice "just isn’t the right choice". One critic commented "the narrator’s voice took me out of the experience and put me in a coma". 

The film (co-directed by Berns’ own son, Brett Berns) introduces the audience to Bert Berns as the son of Russian Jewish immigrants living in the Bronx, New York City. Berns suffered from rheumatic fever at a young age which damaged his heart and lead ultimately to his early death.  As a teenager he studied and practised music eventually discovering Latin and African rhythms which he incorporated into several of hits.  

A feature of the documentary is the number of people who comment on Berns and his legacy. Some are the musicians he wrote for and some are artists he directly influenced.  There are also contributions from family, especially wife Ilene Berns who died in February this year aged 73.  

Van Morrison was also part of the Bang Records story and he benefited from Berns' production and song writing skills.  Bert Berns wrote Them's 1965 hit Here Comes the Night and produced Brown Eyed Girl. However, the partnership would quickly descend into one of the bitterest fights between label and artist around.  In 1967, just as the relationship was completely disintegrating Berns died of a heart attack, aged just 38. Eventually Van turned over 31 hurriedly produced tracks to Bert's widow some of which poked fun at Bert and the types of music he was making.  In recent decades the unfinished tracks have found their way onto poorly produced rip-off albums.  Ringworm is a particular favourite.  

The documentary is Brett Berns’ first film.  He says it “was a 10-year effort. The biggest challenge was just getting started,” he said. He gradually conducted interviews with his father’s friends, collaborators and well-known soul singers, enabling him to land major stars. Berns said of his father that he "never gave up on his dreams, and he lived life like there was no tomorrow. I think there’s a lesson from that for everybody. He inspired me, and I hope he’ll inspire generations to come.”


gosh717   -   I had the extreme pleasure and privilege of attending a preview of this film in Hartford, Connecticut December 17th, 2016. All I can say is "Wow!!" It held me mesmerised from beginning to end. Bert Berns was a hip genius, a perfectionist, a man who dreamed big--whose body of work as writer and producer gave us some of the greatest musical moments from that time. Incredibly, he shot to the top of the charts and the industry in a short span of seven years, before passing away at 38.

Esesean   -   Sounds good, I had never heard of him.

Marmil   -   Joel Selvin's Bert Berns: Here Comes The Night - The Dark Soul of Bert Berns And The Dirty Business of Rhythm & Blues is the best book on the early days of the R&B/R&R record biz and a great biography of an absolutely fascinating character.

Koabac   -   Jeff Barry sang background vocals and played many instruments on a ton of his stuff, as well as being a member of The Raindrops. He even sings multiple tracks of "Sha la la's" at the end of Brown Eyed Girl when Bert Berns (his close friend) decided he a needed bigger sounding ending chorus on the track and Van Morrison had already left. Knowing my father's voice I can clearly hear layers of him doing his best Van impression. He's actually great singer and a natural performer. 

Moj   -   You absolutely have to own TB Sheets (the song), Who Drove The Red Sports Car?, and the early Madame George. All three appear on TB Sheets (the 1973 Bang compilation), and The 1967 New York Sessions, and the new Authorized Bang Collection.  

Coniferouspine   -   I have a promo copy of the Bert Berns - "Heart and Soul of" - compilation collection on CD from 2002, was very disappointed to pull it out not too long ago and find out that it was actually a bad needle drop of many of the songs. So avoid that one, if you haven't already.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Funny Things People Say - Part 19

Arlene Goldbard   -   For me, Astral Weeks and Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose have that same quality of supersaturated yearning, perpetual desire/renewable fulfilment that rhymes with the kernel of truth at the centre of my heart: always coming home, never arriving. The music swoons its way into my memory, and I’m under the covers in one of those rooms—who can say what city, what year?—anchoring myself to this world with the imagined scent of citrus and rose, the imagination of cool water drunk from a silver cup.

Serving the Music   -   Van sings off key far more frequently and I find his scatting to be over done and annoying.

Dave   -   And Van Morrison – The Belfast Cowboy? When did you last see a herd of cattle in Belfast? Or Van on a palomino? You can see him, instead, in Holland Park, walking his dozen Pomeranians and poodles, with his pointy shoes with the big shiny buckles.

Sleepy Horse   -   I read an article in Rolling Stone once on Van Morrison where the writer said he was made to wait like 2 hrs while Van Morrison paced the floor, too nervous to sit for the interview because he didn't want people to say bad things about him.  I jus' know what I read , surely Rolling Stone would get their facts straight.

Reinvented Daddy   -   I often say “Van Morrison is proof God loves me”.  

defpublic   -   My first concert was The Stones at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium in 65/66. I was in 8th grade so 12/13. I wore a green voile dress, carried a handbag and clapped politely. Saw Van Morrison a year or so later at a roller rink (as Them with the hit G-L-O-R-I-A) but it was a dance, not a concert. I believe I did the jerk, the frug and the shing-a-ling.

Brakeman   -   I am thrilled to report that it looks like the great Van Morrison finally let somebody with some marketing savvy into the inner sanctum of Van-ism. It has always appeared that Van could care less about the commercial success of any of the albums that he put out. He has always been in it for the music (and some might say also occasionally in it for God) and although many people believe Van to be a guru, nobody has ever accused him of being a marketing guru.

Boyo Jim   -   I set up a Chris Isaak station on Pandora and started listening. Most of the songs playing now are already reruns from just a few hours. And 80% of the related tracks are Van Morrison and Dire Straits. Okay, I understand the Morrison connection, but the Dire Straits one is tenuous at best.

Seth Godin   -   Lou Reed was outsold by Van Morrison at least 40:1. But again, our image and memory of Lou compares to Van's, it's not a tiny fraction of his.

Howeeee   -   Morrison is and always was arrogant, self absorbed, extremely moody, very critical of others, nothing new, but still a great entertainer.

Mike Ness   -   Van has no need to 'shake the sugar down' in Sugar Town. He spills that stuff every night on stage. Just lap it up y'all. 

timoneil5000   -   There are few people whose voices annoy me as much as Van Morrison's. The best Van Morrison record is the sound of silence for forty minutes after you pull the 8-track of MOONDANCE out of the stereo and toss it out the window of a moving car.

Judy Licht   -   When Marlene, Jake and Adam were little, our car stereo didn't play kid songs. No Raffi, DinoRock or Barney wailing, "I love you, you love me." We were all rock, reggae, blues and folk — without apology.Our kids only protested when they came home from my mother-in-law's house, whining, "How come Gigi can play The Little Mermaid on her tape deck and we can't?" My husband and I would mumble something incomprehensible, duck our heads, turn up the volume on Van Morrison's Hard Nose the Highway and keep on driving.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

"Keepers" (2018) - Van's Best Ever Album?

Someone named Eustice said online "Pay the Devil is crap country boy. I like Keep Me Singing and Keep it Simple.  They're  "keepers". (Get it?)" 

That got me thinking about those two albums and whether they represent the best of his work for the new millennium.  One thing led to another and now I'm putting forward an album called Keepers (2018) consisting of tracks from only those two albums.  Don't call this a mix tape. The only thing you have to think about is:  is this better than OK Computer, Nevermind, Sgt Pepper's, Pet Sounds, Highway 61 Revisited, etc.?

Here's my list of songs for the new combination album:
01.   Let It Rhyme (KMS) - 3:53

02.   Every Time I See a River (KMS) - 4:43
03.   Keep Me Singing (KMS) - 3:39
04.   Out In the Cold Again (KMS) - 7:06
05.   Memory Lane (KMS) - 4:08
06.   Soul (KIS) - 3:37
07.   Holy Guardian Angel (KMS) - 6:18
08.   That's Entrainment (KIS) - 4:32
09.   In Tiburon (KMS) - 5:18
10.   Lover Come Back (KIS) - 5:15
11.   Look Beyond the Hill (KMS) - 2:28
12.   School of Hard Knocks (KIS) - 3:44
13.   Keep It Simple (KIS) - 3:34
14.   Too Late (KMS) - 2:48
15.    Behind the Ritual (KIS) - 6:59


Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Slí Cholmcille

Robert McMillen’s 2012 article about the launch of the Celtic trail known as Slí Cholmcille contains an interesting Van reference. 

Van Morrison and Slí Cholmcille

When I went to the launch of Slí Cholmcille at the Linenhall Library last night, the last person I expected to see was George Ivan Morrison, Van the Man to you and me.  Slí Cholmcille or the St Columba Trail is the first visitor trail between Scotland and Ireland and is named after St Colmcille or Columba, a native of Donegal. The trail stretches from Gleann Cholm Cille in south west Donegal to the Western Isles of Scotland. There are nine interlinked routes, including three in Donegal, one in the City of Derry, and another between Coleraine and Limavady.

But why would the legendary Irish singer be at such an event? The answer came from the always entertaining Dr Ian Adamson, the former Lord Mayor of Belfast who talked of his family connections to the Hebrides – his great granny came from Íle (Islay) – and the young Ian Adamson was taken by his grandfather to Íle and na Hearadh (Harris) and Leòdhas (Lewis) where he imagined the songs of the people to be related to the beautiful birdsong he heard on the islands.

“The love-song of the Wandering Greenshank, for example, is one of the most beautiful birdsongs in the world. It has a haunting quality that is replicated by the Gaelic Singers of the area and I think that is a very important factor in the development of that singing,” he says, before talking about the Ó Muirgheasáins, hereditary bards and brieves (lawmakers, from the Irish word breitheamh) who left Ulster in the 15th and 16th centuries and moved to Harris in the Outer Hebrides where they were bards to the MacLeans and MacClouds.”

The songs of the Macleans were never written down and haven’t survived but the Ó Muirgheasáins did, later became Morrisons. Another family, the MacGilleMhoire clan, also emigrated from Ulster to the Northern Hebrides and had their name Anglicised to Morrison. But, according to Adamson, the tradition of the hereditary bards lives on, that innate, intuitive sense that has lived on generation after generation.

“We have a modern bard, one who has written transcendental lyrics, the greatest of all lyrics ever written by a person of Hebridean extraction, George Ivan Morrison.”

So the Gaelic poets who left Ulster in the late Middle Ages brought their skills to the Scottish islands and centuries later brought their culture to America where it developed into early American music, call it what you will – folk, spiritual, gospel and arguably through to soul and R&B with some scholars claiming that American gospel music has its roots in the Gaelic psalm singing of Lewis.

Van the man is part of that ancient cultural give and take. An interesting photo from the night shows Van Morrison getting an autograph from Linenhall Librarian John Killen.