Wednesday, 31 August 2011

August 31 - Happy 66th Birthday Van!

Van Morrison was born at 125 Hyndford St, in East Belfast, Northern Ireland on August 31, 1945.  The small two bedroom terraced house at 125 was where his mother had grown up.  A plaque (which Van opposed) marks the birthplace of the man who would go on to create a unique musical legacy.  

Van was born into modest circumstances.  His father, George Morrison, was an electrician in the Harland and Wolff ship yards where the Titanic was built.  Van's song "Choppin' Wood" is a tribute to his father and his father's work.  An unusual hobby that his father had was collecting records.  Van has commented a number of times in interviews about the collection which included big band, blues and country records.      

A question that a lot of fans have asked is 'how could a Van Morrison emerge from that background'?  Often his father's record collection has been pointed to, but that explanation is surely only part of the answer.  Van's father's record collection, no matter how good or how seminal, can't possibly explain how Van could become such a music superstar. 

Happy birthday, Van!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Celtic Soul

Celtic Soul is a British Van Morrison tribute band (and how many of those are there in the world?!)  Their facebook page contains some great Van clips.  I'd love to see them, but I doubt if they'd tour Australia!  Tribute bands are an underrated genre.  If you can't see the real Van, a tribute band is the next best thing. 

Wouldn't it be great if Van went in there one night and watched them play?  Or better yet, joined them on stage! It would make a great bootleg album! "Van and Celtic Soul Live at the Red Lion"

Saturday, 20 August 2011

The Van Morrison News Blog

The Van Morrison News blog is probably the number 1 source of Van news on the net.  It wasn't always so. The Wavelength site, Michael Hayward's "The Man and His Music" site and, to a lesser extent, Van's own official site were all incredibly informative sites.  However, the first two closed down and Van's official site has never been the same since the Gigi Lee controversy.  

Since February 2006 The Van Morrison News site has kept Van Fans updated on album releases and concert dates.  It also includes concert and album reviews and other Van-related Van articles and video clips.  Van Morrison News also features links to the sites of Van's band members, past and present.  The websites of Candy Dulfer, Brian Kennedy, Georgie Fame, Geraint Watkins,  Kate St John and Pee Wee Ellis are all linked.  Of interest too, is the Shana Morrison link. 

A couple of interesting blogs are also linked there as well.  The Song Database, Pat's Blog and the Dutch Fan Site are three great blogs linked to the Van Morrison News blog.  I go to the Van Morrison News blog at least a couple of times a week to check for anything new or to peruse the archived material.

To get to the Van Morrison News blog just click on the link above.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

My First and Only Van Concert

Van Morrison in Concert
Berlin Tempodrom May 9, 2008

When we were leaving Japan to move back to Australia we decided to visit relatives in the United States.  (We also took our dog from Japan to live in retirement with my wife’s parents in Orange County, California.) We then talked about including Europe in the trip and going all the way around the world. Surprisingly, it didn’t cost very much more than a direct Japan – Australia flight. 

As we were planning the trip I thought “wouldn’t it be great if Van was playing somewhere close to where we wanted to go?” Eventually we decided that Van’s Berlin concert on May 9, 2008 was the one we’d aim for.  This was to be our first time seeing Van live since living in Australia and Japan meant being cut off from Van’s usual concert locations.  Seeing Van live was something I had thought about for years.  Van fans in Britain and Europe have it so good with plenty of chances to see the Belfast Cowboy live.  I guess that’s why I like reading Pat Corley’s blog so much.  He's seen Van so many times and his concert reviews/reports are always great to read.     

We eventually found our way in Berlin halfway through a Eurail Pass.  The night came and we made our way to the recommended meeting spot at a restaurant near the Tempodrom.  I saw a group of about 12 Van Fans there speaking German.  There didn’t seem to be other places at the table so I didn’t go up and introduce myself.  But it was great being there knowing in an hour of so we’d be seeing the Great Man. 

We made our way over thinking the support band was just about to end. Then before we could go in he started.  That beautiful wonderful voice that I’d heard thousands of times coming out of speakers or headphones was coming live through the concert hall doors.  It was pure joy.  (I sometimes wonder if he has any idea how much he means to so many of us?)

As we took our seats the first song was finishing. It was a jazzy number “This Love of Mine”.  I took the scene in.  The stage looked beautiful with the lighting, the instruments and the players crowded in close to Van.  The building, however, looked a little strange being a supposed representation of a circus tent and having seen better days. 

Van continued with a couple of slower numbers – “Magic time” and “Have I told you Lately”.  I was enthralled and let the music wash over me.  The band seemed excellent but it was my first time so maybe my opinion isn’t so informed!  I counted 12 people on stage including Van.  It was fascinating watching Van in total control of all these players yet gracious enough to acknowledge them on their solos.  He seemed to use hand signals a lot and then would stand and watch his players at work.  He played a lot of sax and then some ukulele, harp, guitar and piano.  I was surprised by the ukulele because I hadn’t heard the new album by this stage which features Van playing ukelele for the first time on an album.  I thought Sarah Jory was great  on steel guitar and so did everyone else.  She received a tremendous reception and you got the impression that she contributes a lot to the band. 

The country styled “Playhouse” was next.  Then four songs from the new album.  I hadn’t heard them before but thought they were great.  There was “Keep it Simple”, “That’s Entrainment”, “Lover Come Back” and “End of the Land”.  I thought they particularly sounded great in concert and I really wanted to get the new album when I was finished travelling. 

A couple of ‘standards' followed – “Bright side of the Road” and “Moondance”.  They were great and particularly well received.  It’s funny how the standards tend to get the cheers more than newer but equally excellent songs.  “Moondance” was excellent with the big band sound.  “Stranded” and then “Precious Time” followed.  Both were great.  I can remember just enjoying everything as this dream of seeing Van live came true.  My clapping seemed to annoy the German couple sitting next to me but I didn’t care. 

“In the Afternoon” was next.  It was an incredible version of this song.  Van fans love what the man does with songs.  'Expect the unexpected' is the guiding principle for a Van concert and “In the Afternoon” proved the principle true.  “In the Afternoon” was transformed into trancelike incantations of a few other Morrison songs like “Ancient Highway” and “Raincheck”.  The newspaper review found on the “Van Morrison News Blog” says that “So Quiet in Here” and lyrics from a few other songs were also included.  The song gradually got quieter and quieter near the end with just the sound of a muffled trumpet accompanying Van.  And then it just stopped.  There was a wonderful period of silence and then the audience went crazy. 

The next song was an upbeat “Star of the County Down”.  This was followed by “Behind the Ritual” from “Keep it Simple”.  It definitely is a new classic and deserves to sit alongside Van’s best songs.  Van walked off the stage singing it which was kind of interesting.  The  audience cheered and Van surprised us all by returning to the stage for a great version of “The Healing Has Begun”.

I could say it was the best Van concert I’ve ever been to but that would be a cheap joke since it’s the only one I’ve ever been to.  But what an experience.  I’m so glad to have finally made it to a Van concert.  I hope guys like Pat, Nosey, Simon etc. appreciate what they have by being able to see Van numerous times over the years.  On the other hand, at least Australia has a great climate, great beaches and plenty of room.  After living in Northern Japan for five years from 2003 to 2008 I really appreciate living on the Sunshine Coast where you aren't forced to huddle inside during winter.  Winter days here usually hit highs of 20 degrees celsius or more. 

Monday, 15 August 2011

Van Morrison Fanzines

There have been two Van Morrison fanzines that I know of.  Sadly, both are now defunct. The first was called The Van Morrison Newsletter and the second was called Wavelength magazine.  The Van Morrison Newsletter was edited by S. McGinn from Clydebank in Scotland. When it finished up in the early 90s one of its contributors, Simon Gee, established Wavelength and continued to write about Van. 

Wavelength developed into a really substantial publication for the Van fan.  I was never a subscriber but have bought my copies latterly on ebay. A copy of Wavelength sells for something like $10 to $20 with the postage. The Van Morrison Newsletter is much rarer on ebay. 

A number of Van fans from all over the world contributed to Wavelength.  A standard edition had about 60 pages. Wavelength finished up some time in 2008.  Information from Guenter Becker's Van Song Database site says that the Wavelength website that was "shut down due to activities by John Giacobbi on behalf of Mr Van Morrison".  Simon Gee appears to have gone onto some other jobs in music.

I think all Van fans are hoping for a Van Morrison fanzine to be resurrected soon.  Or maybe Simon Gee will publish some books or booklets based on the unpublished items and files he must have accumulated in his time at producing Wavelength.    

Van Morrison Radio

I love Van Morrison Radio that I first encountered in one of the forums on the Fanpop Van Morrison site.  It is continuous Van Morrison music and interviews 24/7.  It contains all the official releases and a ton of "unofficial" material too.  It's great to listen to so many alternative versions and the bootleg material from concerts and other sources.  

To access it go to the Van Morrison fan site on Fanpop.  Then go to the Forum section and find "Van Morrison Radio" there and click on it. WBHendrix has provided a link to Van Morrison Radio on that forum.  Or click on the link highlighted above. 

Van Morrison Radio even has "Boozoo Hully Gully" in its collection.  This song is Van's first appearance on a recording and was made with the Monarchs show band during one of their residencies in Germany in the early 1960s.  It pre-dates Them by several years.  Forget about the quality of the music.  It's a real rarity and should be appreciated for that.       

Van Morrison Fan Club at Fanpop

Have you accessed the Van Morrison fan club on the Fanpop site?  It's called "Van the Man, Ireland's Gift to All".  It's a wonderful site with trivia questions, fan survey questions about anything and everything and a crazy forum section.  Strangely the Van Morrison forum section is probably one of the biggest on Fanpop.  It has more than a hundred different forum threads.  More than the Beatles, First Blood, Britney Spears, etc.  Now that is strange.  Do Van fans like to talk more or something? 

The forum section is hilarious in parts.  There are topics like "How Gay is Van Morrison", "Van and  Adolf Hitler" and "Van and Mass Starvation".  It's a great place to talk about Van and see what others have written.   You realise that when you have a Van Morrison obsession it puts you into a very weird group.  Just google something like "Van Morrison Fanpop" and you'll get there.  Or click on the link highlighted above.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

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.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

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. 

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

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 through the Mystic Avenue blog.  Look for the 'Song Database' link on the left hand side.  Or simply click on the link highlighted above.  The site is probably for the obsessives only. 

Monday, 1 August 2011

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.)