Thursday, 28 October 2010

Random Van Stories

1.  Robert Freeman Wexler   -   The Armadillo World Headquarters, The Armadillo, as it was called, was a music hall that closed New Year’s Day 1980, which was just after the first semester of my sophomore year at the University of Texas. I went to the Armadillo only three or four times.  Apparently it was also known for the food. Robb Walsh in The Tex-Mex Cookbook relates an anecdote about how Van Morrison played three nights there and then went on, but after Jerry Garcia told him he shouldn’t have missed the shrimp enchiladas, his agent called to schedule another performance on a night that they were served.

2.  Ady Croasdell   -   In early 1995 I got to meet the legendary soul singer Doris Troy and arranged for her to do a live gig at the 100 Club. Doris was working with her own band by then and wanted to put on a great show, so she sweet talked me into adding extra horns and backing vocalists. Unfortunately those extra costs eventually turned the gig into a loss making exercise for me. Doris had been a darling of the original swinging London rock crowd and counted The Beatles, Pink Floyd and many other superstars as her personal friends, though she never name dropped in the slightest; she was very modest and underplayed her own celebrity.

A huge Doris fan was Van Morrison who came down to the show and duly paid the admittance for his diminutive self and his 6’ 4” minder. However due to having an empty feeling in my wallet, I was not in the best of moods at the end of the gig. Various friends and club regulars were queueing up outside the changing room to pay their respects to Doris and I just happened to be passing when Van and his man walked straight up to the front of the line and attempted to gain entry ahead of the queue. The profit and loss motive is a strong motivator to hardworking promoters, and the disappointment of the door take was sufficient to see me barking at the odd couple that if they wanted to see her Doris-ness, they should wait their turn! Fair play to them, they were very apologetic and did as they were told. They apparently spent quite a while in there with her – it must have been funny for the people queueing next to him.

3.  WYSIWYG   -   I attended the Graduation Ceremony when he received his Honorary Degree from Ulster University – he received a lot of criticism for not making a grand sycophantic speech – blah, blah. I think he’s just a very private person. And wasn’t / isn’t that so refreshing? I also know someone who worked very closely with him for years – his grumpiness seems to mostly be reserved for people who just want to interfere in his life. I wish there were more like him in that respect.

 4.  Greil Marcus   -   “the repetitions in Morrison’s music always signify freedom, a love of words and a lack of fear for what they might say that to be born again might be understood as magic, magic as everyday life; what you to preserve the current that is everyday life. And that current may be the sight of death – a sight that, when one is attuned to contingency as the singer on Astral Weeks is, you see everywhere.”

  5.  Levi Stahl   -   Van Morrison, I think, is a lesser artist than Tolstoy.  I can't imagine anyone suggesting that the chubby lover of late-night wine and craic has any ascetic tendencies. Instead, he leavens his ecstasies with a near-Buddhist argument against the self, an effort to feel oneself to be, at one's heights, a connected, minuscule part of a larger, significant whole. Instead of a closing of the self, as Tolstoy chose, it's viewed as the ultimate opening of the self, an embrace of the universe that, at base, is little different from what Tolstoy ascribes to Olenin in the forest. I don't know Van, so I can't say for sure that he's happy--but I'd be willing to wager that he has been happier than Tolstoy.

 6.  Anna M   -   I was familiar with Moondance, Brown Eyed Girl, etc., then one day on the radio I heard a song that captured me and it was Into The Mystic. I immediately went out and bought an album, then another, then another, then another. The feeling I get when I listen to his music is something I can't explain. I am 58 years old and the emotion, well the emotion makes me want to leave everything behind and go to another place (i don't know where). He has captured my spirit and lifted it so high.
7.  Kshugrue   -   I would list all Van's albums as essential, but if I were to only own one it would be Astral Weeks. 10 Essential Songs: Sweet Thing, Tupelo Honey, In the Garden, Listen to the Lion, Madame George, Astral Weeks, St. Dominic's Preview, Into the Mystic, T.B. Sheets and Joe Harper Saturday Morning.

8.  Zak   -   I'm a little on the young side for the average Van fan (I'm 36) but I realised when thinking about this show, that if I had to take the entire catalogue of just one musical artist with me to a deserted island, I'd choose Van's. Here are five albums why:  Tupelo Honey, Into the Music, Astral Weeks, Beautiful Vision and Avalon Sunset.

9.  Susan Carter   -   Van Morrison was always appealing to me but then in 1979 I heard Into the Music whilst living in Boulder, CO; I couldn't hear it often enough!  My love-life was questionable at the time, and that album pierced me to the quick.  Long story....It's the spiritual and the sexual! He captures both and they become one! I LOVE HIM!!!!!

Monday, 11 October 2010

Madame George and Shalimar Perfume

The following edited post comes from Christopher Laws' culturedallroundman blog.  Click on the link for the full post. 

Madame George and Guerlain’s Shalimar
 A Portal to Perfumery

If asked, and obliged to be concise, I would name Astral Weeks by Van Morrison as my favourite album and Madame George from that album as my favourite song. This is a brief history of how the album and the song came about and how it encouraged, in turn, an interest in a particular perfume.

Van Morrison’s band, Them, disbanded in 1966. Morrison signed a contract in haste with Bang Records – a label just then founded by Bert Berns.  Van recorded over two days a group of songs which Bang Records released as the album Blowin’ Your Mind!. Morrison, apparently neither consulted or made aware of the release, was thoroughly displeased, believing the songs he had recorded would only be released as singles and that they did not, together, comprise a coherent stream of music.

One of the songs was Brown Eyed Girl which reached the top ten of the American charts in the middle of 1967. Increasingly in dispute with Berns – who made it difficult for Morrison to get gigs in New York; and who failed to provide anything approaching assistance when Morrison faced visa problems, eventually solved when he married his American girlfriend – Morrison relocated to Cambridge, Massachusetts. He began performing some songs around Cambridge and Boston which he’d written and kept to himself over the past several years. Motivated by Brown Eyed Girl, some producers from Warner Bros. attended one of these performances; the group included Lewis Merenstein, part of Inherit Productions with whom Warner Bros. had a working relationship; and Merenstein, moved in particular by a performance of Astral Weeks, determined to sign Morrison and set to work on an album.

Astral Weeks was recorded over three sessions, with its eight songs ultimately drawn from two of the three: the first, taking place on the evening of September 25 and the last, on the evening of October 15. The middle session, on October 1, apparently took place in the morning which didn’t provide the right sort of feel for the music they were engaging with. There is a palpable sense of the evening through Astral Weeks. The musicians that the recordings brought together were talented and experienced.  The two most prominent were double-bassist Richard Davis and guitarist Jay Berliner.

Madame George was one of four songs recorded during the first session, alongside Cyprus Avenue, ‘Beside You’, and the title composition. Despite the pedigree of the musicians, it remains one of the miracles of art that a collection of people who had not worked with each other before, and who played without lead sheets – which provided the musicians significant freedom of expression – came together and made these four pieces in one sitting. John Cale was working in an adjacent studio, and years later reported that, ‘Morrison couldn’t work with anybody, so finally they just shut him in the studio by himself. He did all the songs with just an acoustic guitar, and later they overdubbed the rest of it around his tapes’. This account doesn’t appear quite true: Morrison recorded concurrently with the rest of the musicians, but apparently somewhat isolated, in a separate vocal booth. Yet the resultant music transcends music, inseparable from the heart and the soul of Van Morrison developed and revealed in his singing.

Madame George was originally called Madame Joy, and first recorded while Van Morrison was still with Bang Records. A version of the song, titled Madame George but with Morrison singing Madame Joy throughout, was released on the 1973 album put out by Bang against Morrison’s wishes, T.B. Sheets (Columbia later compiled the same recordings on a 1991 release, Bang Masters). Whereas the titular song indicates – in its surging rhythmic claustrophobia, its emotion, its closeness to suffering – what was to come on Astral Weeks, the version of Madame George on T.B. Sheets is much looser, drawing more from R&B and funk than jazz, coming in at half the length, and with an atmosphere of the pub or the club, emphasised by the audible background chatter and drinking. 

As it appears on Astral Weeks, the song is a ten-minute recollection, a monologue in which the speaker recalls tenderly a scene from his youth, a character, and their physical passing but emotional and metaphysical remains. The speaker pulls the scene apart and places it together piece by piece, talking himself explicitly through his recollection, recounting to himself ‘That’s when you fall’, and the moment ‘You know you gotta go / On a train from Dublin up to Sandy Row, / Throwing pennies at the bridges down below, / In the rain, hail, sleet and snow’. The music critic Lester Bangs, in a beautiful piece of writing published in 1979, refers to the title character of the song as a ‘lovelorn drag queen’, and this seems indisputable from the song’s lyrics and gestures, though some have read ‘George’ as a reference to heroin.

What follows are the song’s opening lines:
Down on Cyprus Avenue
With a childlike vision slipping into view
The click and clacking of the high-heeled shoe
Ford and Fitzroy Madame George
Marching with the soldier boy behind
He’s much older now with hat on drinking wine
And that smell of sweet perfume comes drifting through
The cool night air like Shalimar

The House of Guerlain was founded in 1828 in Paris by Pierre-François Pascal Guerlain, a chemist who moved into cosmetics, began to focus on perfumery, and had increasing success in a fledgling market. Pierre-François was able to open a store on the prestigious rue de la Paix in 1840. When Pierre-François died in 1864, with Guerlain well established in Paris and receiving commissions from royalty across Europe, the perfumery passed to his sons, Aimé and Gabriel. They took respectively the responsibilities of master perfumer and commercial manager: the one worked on the fragrances whilst the other took care of finances, production and marketing. 

Shalimar was created in 1921. The apocryphal tale of its development goes that Jacques, by way of experiment, simply poured whole a sample of vanillin into a bottle of Jicky perfume – and Shalimar was the result. Shalimar was re-released in 1925 in a bottle designed by Raymond Guerlain, and made by the crystal house Baccarat, and has been in continual production since. It was important in establishing Guerlain outside of France. It stands considered the classic oriental fragrance, the flagship perfume of the House of Guerlain.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Believe it or Not - Part 2

An exotic pet names site suggested Van Morrison was a good name for a pet bird. 

According to a fan blog of Christian rocker Larry Norman, Van has counted himself a fan of Norman.

It took 33 years for Astral Weeks to go gold. 

On the Stark Raving Sober blog Van’s Don't Go to Nightclubs Anymore made the Top 10 of Recovery Songs coming in at number 7. 

At The, Astral Weeks comes in 7th in their list of the 100 crappiest songs of all time.
Gloria was banned by Chicago radio station WLS for objectionable lyrics.

The song was covered by Chicago's The Shadows Of Knight, who took the song into the national Top Ten after changing the words slightly, from she comes to my room to she comes around here.

Brown Eyed Girl makes several lists of surefire "panty removal songs" on the net.

Van is credited with coining the word fantabulous. He does have a long way to go to match Shakespeare's contribution to the English language, though. 

On the Real Clear Religion site, Astral Weeks is referred to by Mark Judge as Van's Very Catholic Album.

It's funny how Songfacts counts 1967's Brown Eyed Girl as one of the 10 best debut singles of all time, considering how Van had been a professional music artist for seven years by that stage. declared 2011 to be the Year of Van Morrison "in East Portland, on the internet, and across the world".

Rob O'Connor claims the song Linden Arden Stole the Highlights from the Veedon Fleece album is about a man who steals children's magazines from dentist offices. 
In June 2012 it was reported with much fanfare that British Twilight actor Robert Pattinson was recording an album! Nothing wrong with that but then someone had the audacity to suggest that it sounded like stripped-down Ray LaMontagne meets Van Morrison.
In Wavelength 22 (December, 1999) Phil Abel describes the new science of 'Vanology'. "We take things he says and does on stage and interpret them from his moods and thoughts".  He notes somewhat redundantly that this isn't "an exact science".

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Van and Jackie DeShannon

Despite being known as a solo artist and something of a misanthrope ("Hell is other people"), Van has always been willing to share the stage with other performers.  Some have been some of his heroes like Ray Charles (on the Genius Loves Company CD), John Lee Hooker, Bob Dylan, Lonnie Donegan, Bobby Bland, etc., while others have lesser music significance.  Linda Gail Lewis, Chris Farlowe, Jackie DeShannon, Candy Dulfer, Brian Kennedy, etc. are all talented musicians in their own right but definitely concede centre stage when working with Van.  When you think about who Van has worked with over the years it's pretty obvious that he enjoys the experience of working with other performers and is fairly democratic in his approach.  What other performer of note would allow Richard Gere anywhere near a microphone?  Or let the Red Hot Pokers try to extemporise on some of his classic songs? For some concert goers it adds a new dimension to the Van experience.  For others, it's a distraction from the main show - the Man himself. 

Jackie DeShannon is one such Van acolyte.  Jackie was born Sharon Lee Myers in Hazel, Kentucky, on  August 21, 1941 and is an American singer-songwriter with a string of hit song credits from the 1960s onwards. She was one of the first female singer-songwriters of the rock 'n' roll period. DeShannon was born into musically inclined farming family.  By the age of six she was singing country tunes on a local radio show and by the age of 11, DeShannon was hosting her own radio program. When life on the farm became too difficult they moved to Illinois, eventually settling in Batavia, Illinois, where Jackie attended high school. 

She got increasingly into her music career and eventally left school to start a recording.  She began to record under various names such as Sherry Lee, Jackie Dee, and Jackie Shannon, with mixed success.  Her early recordings caught the attention of Eddie Cochran, who arranged for her to travel to California to meet his girlfriend, singer-songwriter Sharon Sheeley, who formed a writing partnership with DeShannon in 1960. The partnership produced hits such as "Dum Dum" for Brenda Lee. In 1960, DeShannon signed with Liberty Records, adopting the name Jackie DeShannon, believed to be the name of an Irish ancestor, after executives at Liberty thought the name Sharon Myers would not help sell records.

Armed with her new name, she made the WLS Chicago radio survey with the single Lonely Girl in late 1960. A string of mostly flop singles followed, although The Prince bubbled under at No. 108 in the United States in early 1962, and Faded Love became her first US Billboard Top 100 entry, squeaking in at No. 97 in February 1963.  She fared better with the Sonny Bono-Jack Nitzsche song Needles and Pins and the self-penned When You Walk in the Room later in 1963. Both reached the lower rungs of the US pop charts, but were Top 40 hits in Canada, where "Needles and Pins" made it all the way to No. 1. Needles and Pins and When You Walk in the Room later became US and UK hits for The Searchers.

DeShannon recorded many other singles that encompassed teen pop, country ballads, rockabilly, gospel, and Ray Charles-style soul that didn't fare as well on the charts. During these years it was her songwriting and public profile rather than her recording career that kept her contracted to Liberty. DeShannon dated Elvis Presley and Jimmy Page and formed friendships with The Everly Brothers and Ricky Nelson. She also co-starred and sang with Bobby Vinton in the teen surf movie Surf Party.  DeShannon's biggest break came in February 1964 when she supported The Beatles on their first US tour, and formed a touring band with guitarist Ry Cooder. DeShannon also wrote Don't Doubt Yourself Babe for the debut album of The Byrds. Her music at this stage was heavily influenced by the American West Coast sounds and folk music. Staying briefly in England in 1965, DeShannon formed a songwriting partnership with Jimmy Page, which resulted in the hit singles Dream Boy and Don't Turn Your Back on Me. Page and DeShannon also wrote material for singer Marianne Faithfull, including her Top Ten UK and US hit Come and Stay With Me

DeShannon continued writing and recording, but it was not until 1969 that she scored her next smash single and album, both entitled Put a Little Love in Your Heart. The self-penned single sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. The single Love Will Find A Way from the same album was also a moderate hit. In 1973, she was invited by Van Morrison to sing on his Hard Nose the Highway album. While DeShannon has not produced any further Top Ten singles of her own, her songs have been covered by other artists who have converted them into hits. On June 17, 2010, Jackie was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

 Van and Jackie DeShannon

Jackie's relationship to Van is patchy.  Most well-known is the songwriting collaboration on Santa Fe from the 1978 album Wavelength, although it was written earlier.  Another official collaboration is Jackie's back-up vocals credit on 1973's Hard Nose the Highway.  But there were numerous other connections and collaborations along the way.  In 1972 Jackie released her Jackie album which contained a version of Van's I Wanna Roo You that Van recorded for his Tupelo Honey album. Both artists worked together at The Lion's Share venue in San Anselmo.  There is also a claim that Van provided background vocals on Jackie's single Sweet Sixteen.   There are also a few Van bootlegs which feature both artists on microphone.     

For the Van fan wanting to check out Jackie DeShannon you should try Jackie...Plus.  It's a disc lovingly assembled by Rhino Handmade. The opening twelve tracks are from Jackie, her 1972 album and tracks 13-24 consist of two b-sides from singles plus ten previously unreleased outtakes from 1972-1973 sessions. Some of these are some interesting collaborations with Van Morrison and include I Wanna Roo YouSweet SixteenFlamingos FlySanta Fe and Drift Away.