Saturday, 31 January 2009

Van on ebay

A ton of Van Morrison stuff exists on ebay.  After a few years of using "Van Morrison" as a search term I've learned a few things.  In Australia the term "Van Morrison" nets about 500 to 1000 hits, while the Worldwide search nets around 5000 to 10, 000 items.  I've also noticed the huge difference in prices for the same items.  Of course, some items are collectable and attract higher prices.  There seems a particular fascination with any Van CD produced in Japan.  (Japan is known for its high quality productions and the generous inclusion of bonus tracks.)

A warning for any Van collector must be issued concerning the notorious Bang material.  When Van first left Them to embark on a solo career, he hooked up with producer Bert Berns at Bang Records in the U.S.. Van had worked with Berns in Britain when he was in Them and the partnership had been good for Van.  Berns gave Them the hit single Here Comes the Night.  In 1967 Van joined Bang as a solo performer.  Van soon had a big hit with the infectious Brown Eyed Girl (supposedly called "Brown Skinned Girl"at first.).  Anyway, the Berns/Morrison partnership soured overartistic differences. It reached rock bottom when Berns released some tracks Van had been working on as a completed album.  Van was furious and moved to quit Bang.  Bert Berns died suddenly and Van left the label.  Bert Berns' widow reminded him that he owed an album of songs.  Van then recorded what must be the worst contractural album of all time.  It consisted of 20 or so tracks of Van strumming a few chords and muttering inane lyrics.  (Although the 'song' (I can Tell By the Look on Your Face) You Have Ringworm" has some merit!)

Van thought he got the better of Bang but maybe the opposite is true.  Bang has produced various collections of the inferior material for more than 40 years.  They've also on-sold the songs to dozens of labels and to numerous 'collection' albums.  Every year at least a dozen or so collections of the Bang material released throughout the world.  Every time I log onto ebay I see new titles.  They are the cheapest of the Van CDs and a frustration for any collector.  If you're a completist the frustration is magnified.  Do you really want to buy 200 Bang material Van CDs each with similar songs but with different pictures on the cover?

Anyway, ebay remains the best way to complete your collection of Van CDs, get Van vinyl, get clippings for scrapbooks or purchase Van T-shirts.  Once you complete your collection of official albums it's time to go after the bootleg stuff. 

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

St Dominic's Preview

"Saint Dominic's Preview" was the first Van album that I ever bought.  I bought it on vinyl through the Australian record club.  It came out in 1972 but I bought it a year or two later.  I remember buying a lot of albums in those days and trading them at school.  Albums by Deep Purple, CSNY, the Rolling Stones, Iron Butterfly, Black Sabbath (hated that stuff!), Neil Young, David Bowie, Yes, etc. went through my hands.

Anyway, I remember liking Saint Dominic's Preview rather than loving it as I do now.  I guess image is everything with young teenagers and Van just didn't seem cool sitting there in front of a church with a noticeable split on the inside seam of his jeans.  St Dominic's Preview was released in 1972. It consists of seven songs: "Jacki Wilson Said" (2:56), "Gypsy" (4:35), "I Will Be There" (3:03), Listen to the Lion (11:08), Saint Dominic's Preview (6:24), Redwood Tree (3:01) and "Almost Independence Day" (10:03).  The two 10 minute plus tracks allow Van to stretch out and enter territory that is like a meditative state.  Listen to the Lion is one of the most popular songs among his hard core fans. Gypsy and I Will Be There are considered the weakest songs. 

The album opens with Jackie Wilson Said.  This song became more famous later when it was released by Dexy's Midnight Runners in 1982.  Jackie Wilson is the name of a crooner best remembered for his 1957 hit Reet Petite which is name-checked in the song.  He also spent the last 9 years of his life in a coma following an accident.  "Jackie Wilson Said" is an upbeat R&B song. Next up is Gypsy which is a useful addition to his cannon of minstrel/gypsy song offerings over the years.  Thematically Caravan and One Irish Rover spring to mind.  Gypsy contains timing changes which adds to the listening experience.  It starts slowly but then builds to its rapid fire choruses. 

I Will be There comes next and is a deceptively simple blues number enfused with honky-tonk piano and evoking Ray Charles.  At its end Van delivers a last line containing classic strange lyrics where he speaks of grabbing a toothbrush, an overcoat and underwear. Next up is the sheer magnificence that is Listen to the Lion.  This 11 minute opus must rank as one of his all-time greats.  It begins slowly but by the latter part of the song Van is transformed into a lion and growling and scatting like crazy person. 

The title track, Saint Dominic's Preview is next.  It was supposedly composed by Morrison after he saw an ad for a peace vigil to be held at St. Dominic's Church in San Francisco.  Redwood Tree is next and appears to be about a boy and his father going out searching for a lost dog.  It is a celebration of nature and a boy's childhood experiences. The last song is Almost Independence Day talks about Van's feelings as he looks out across San Francisco harbour.  Along with Listen to the Lion, it is more than ten minutes in length. Clinton Heylin in his notoriously negative book about Van called "Can you hear the silence?", said that the song was a kind of extended jam and only put there when two other songs didn't work out. 

I have a special attachment to Saint Dominic's Preview for another reason.  The album was one of the reasons I called my son Dominic.  He's a great guy and I love him like crazy but he's all grown up now.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Guenter Becker's Van Song Database Site

Guenter Becker's Van Song Database site is a fascinating insight into Van's song output, performances, tours, books about Van, films featuring Van, press releases, magazines featuring Van, etc.  It's an incredible cornucopia of graphs, charts, tables, etc. covering most aspects of Van's career.

 Did you realize only one of Van's songs has been played more than 1000 times in concerts?  It's Moondance from the 1970 album of the same name.  Or that Van's more than 3000 appearances average about 88 minutes each? If this kind of information interests you then go to the Song Database for thousands of more gems like these.  

Another interesting part of the data is the section that concerns the times that songs run for when they're performed.  For example, Summertime in England has been played for a maximum of 18 minutes 42 seconds in concert and a minimum of only 2 minutes at its shortest.  The stats here show what attracts many Van fans.  Van's songs in concert are always a little experimental and are not simple reproductions, note for note, of the album tracks.  There's also a section on the medleys Van's performed over time.      

The Van Song Database can be accessed at the top of this blog. The site is probably for the obsessives only. It's brilliant.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Why I'm Jealous of UK Van Fans!

Every real Van Morrison fan knows Pat Corley.  He's the creator of the "Visions of Pat" blog which long ago scored a link from the seminal Mystic Avenue blog. He lives in Wiltshire in a glorious part of Mother England. I really love his blog which is mostly about the great Belfast performer George Ivan Morrison.  Pat has been a Vanatic for over 35 years. The blog reviews many of the albums and the 50 or so Van concerts he has attended.  Pat seems to be able to remember where and when he purchased each Morrison release. He also recounts interesting journeys in getting to actual concerts.  Mostly he and his now deceased partner Kim took trains to the various Van venues, checked into glorious old hotels and then sought out the Simon Gee arranged meeting spots with other Van fans.  After a meal and a few pints they made their way to the concert hall. Post concert they usually headed to another pub and discussed the night's performance.

Now this is where the jealousy comes in. Living in Australia provides few chances to see Van the Man live.  He played a brief Australian tour in 1985, but that's it.  So, for many Aussie Van fans Pat's blog is a chance to experience something of Van vicariously. His pals from all over the world seem like a great group.  

(The photo above shows Pat in the blue soccer shirt and Simon Gee wearing a black shirt standing in the middle of the photo.  He's the one with glasses and white whiskers.)