Thursday, 29 November 2012

Wolfgang's Vault

Wolfgang's Vault is a private music-focused company established in 2003.  It's dedicated to the restoration and archiving of live concert recordings in audio and video format and the sale of music memorabilia. The  concept began with the collection of the late promoter Bill Graham who died in a helicopter crash in 1991.  Other music and memorabilia archives have been added since.   It was called "the most important collection of rock memorabilia and recordings ever assembled in one business," by The Wall Street Journal on December 13, 2005.
In Wolfgang’s Vault, you’ll find a number of recordings of Van Morrison live in concert.  One of the recordings attracting most attention is his Cyprus Avenue from the September 23, 1970 concert at the Fillmore East.  It's a wonderfully unique eight-and-a-half-minute rendition.  Those who have seen Morrison perform live in any era tend to describe it as an experience highly distinct from hearing him sing on record, and ultimately a necessary one for those seeking to fully appreciate his work. These archived concert videos are must for any fan and can be watched for free.   

The name Wolfgang's Vault is drawn from the iconic concert promoter Bill Graham's real name.  He was born Wolodia Grajonca in Berlin in 1931.  He was known as 'Wolfgang'.  Eventually he escaped Nazi Germany to grow up in a foster home in the Bronx and changed his name at the age of 18.

He moved to San Francisco where he became one of the leading figures associated with the music of the 1960s.  He also began to collect footage of the artists he promoted.   

Beginning in the late ‘60s, Graham recorded thousands of performances, which he stored on tapes in the basement of the Bill Graham Presents headquarters. Bill Sagan acquired these archives in 2003, and had the tapes restored and digitised for presentation on the Concert Vault of audio recordings. In February 2006, Wolfgang’s Vault launched Vault Radio to allow fans of the music to hear some of these recordings. In an article about Vault Radio, the Washington Times noted “lovers of classic rock will not find a better historical source for their favourite music anywhere on the Internet.”Small wonder, then, that the internet archive which bears his name contains so much compelling vintage concert footage. Browse it by performer, and you’ll spot many of the names you’d expect to: Jefferson Airplane, The Band, The Grateful Dead. But dig even deeper and you’ll find real surprises, like Yoko Ono playing Giants Stadium in 1986 and a vast cache of songs, captured on thrillingly lo-fi video, performed by visually pioneering and media-satirising new wave band The Tubes. An afternoon spent in Wolfgang’s Vault makes a fine primer on the most enduring rock played in Graham’s heyday, but also yields some delightfully odd performances you’d never expect to see today.

Offering memorabilia at the site launched in 2003 and includes photography, vintage poster art, rock clothing, vintage audio concert recordings. The Video Vault was added in 2011.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Van's Bedroom Tape

Who says Van doesn't have a 'bedroom tape'?  All "celebs" do it seems these days.  Paris Hilton made it fashionable and so many others who inhabit that vacuous, empty-headed planet called 'Celebrity' have been caught out.  Van's bedroom tape is of a different variety.  It's a rather unusual bootleg called Van Morrison: The Bedroom Tape.   It's meant to suggest the Paris Hilton variety but really it more accurately suggests a young Van Morrison working up these tracks in his parents' house.  

01.  I Was Born To Sing The Blues   (4:45)

02.  All Night Long   (2:45)
03.  Wild Mountain Thyme   (3:29)
04.  Gloria   (6:44)
05.  Spanish Rose   (4:08)
06.  Walking In The Queen's Garden   (6:20)
07.  Harmonica Breakdown   (1:58)
08.  T.B. Sheets   (15:59)
These songs seem to have been, by the scant bit of fact & fiction surrounding them, recorded sometime between 1964 and 1967. The original source tape may have been sent (so rumoured) by Violet Morrison (Van's mother) to a fan club in Holland (called "His Mysterious Strength", at Van's suggestion) sometime during 1967 (along with notes referring to recording with The Sweet Inspirations in NYC). The overall sound quality of these recordings isn't great. But, their historical significance is priceless. The history of these recordings is unknown, as is pretty much everything else about them.
I Was Born To Sing The Blues (aka That's All I Know) is in the style of early John Lee Hooker.

All Night Long (so titled on the the source tapes) includes backup singers, possibly The Sweet Inspirations, and may be from the first Bang studio sessions (March 28-29, 1967). The standout chorus though sounds more like "Call my name". Whatever the correct title, it does have a "Twist and Shout" style to it, a song that was penned by Bert Berns, thus this is likely also a Berns composition recorded by Van at his suggestion.
Gloria (aka You're the One) may be an early take of that song (which would place it possibly as early as 1964?), but it is difficult to say, let alone to distinguish the lyrics. Lyrics include "you're the one", mentions of "Bo Diddley" (whom Van met in Los Angeles in the first week of August 1966), "do you remember?", "I'm the one", and what sounds like Van spelling out "G-A-M" (though, due to the muddy sound, it could be "G-I-M", as in George Ivan Morrison)..."I'm the one". On the promo interview for The Healing Game Van states that Gloria was conceived as "a Muddy Waters / Bo Diddley sort of thing".
Spanish Rose is likely a pre-Bang demo (before March 28, 1967), possibly as early as late-1966 when Van was trying to figure out what to do next while cagily stuck in Belfast performing with a hand-picked band dubbed THEM AGAIN.
Walking In The Queen's Garden is probably an early version of a song by the same name later recorded in late-1967 by Them (after Van left) on their Now And Them album (released January 1968). Jim Armstrong (guitarist with Them from late-1965 through their US tour with Van, and afterwards) explained, Walking In The Queen's Garden is one we used to do with Van. It's based on an old Howlin' Wolf lick." Armstrong has also mentioned that this was a song that Them were practising during their West Coast US tour during the summer of 1966.
Harmonica Breakdown (correct title, if there is a title, unknown) is probably an emulation of Little Walter's style, whom Van had met, and run errands for (to pick up Chinese food), while rooming at a hotel in London during Them's first visit in mid/late-1964. In return, Little Walter showed him some techniques with the harp.
T.B. Sheets is, again, likely a pre-Bang demo. 16 minutes of improvisational blues, extremely raw, but from which emerged a notable early studio recording, an early rock genre "death blues" which generated a point of conjecture as to its "inspiration". Some books & articles have zeroed in on this song as stemming from a real-life tragic relationship...there are stories of Van emerging from the BANG studio recordings for this spent & sobbing, all of which Van Morrison denies as fiction.
Van Morrison - The Bedroom Tape

Total time: 46:08
Number of CDs: 1
No. of Tracks: 8
Year: 2000
No label (2000)

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

An Iman Rates the Van Albums

I really enjoy comparing album ratings, particularly when they apply to Van.  In this post Iman Lababedi (surely not his religious title) throws his hat into the Van album ratings ring.  Here are some of his subjective ratings and comments from the rock nyc site:  

Astral Weeks (1968)   –   A mystic document about love, death, renewal (A+)

Moondance (1970)   –   Written for the radio, turn up these classic AOR songs. All the way. (A+)

Tupelo Honey (1971)   –   Domesticity with Janet Planet never sweeter. (A)

Saint Dominic's Preview (1972)   -   Jackie Wilson Said and Listen To The Lion" and that's just first side.  (A)
Hard Nose The Highway (1973)   –   C'mon, Being Green is here… and "Warm Love". (B+)

Veedon Fleece (1974)   -   Linden Arden Stole The Highlights does not an album make. (B)

A Period Of Transition (1977) – Slab dab in the middle of punk, after three years silence, Morrison releases a dog.  (B-)
Into The Music (1979) – Wow, an unimportant Van album.  (B)

Common One (1980) – Give him all fifteen minutes of Summertime In England and ignore the rest.  (B)
Beautiful Vision (1982) – New Age Van and lives up to its name. Don't miss Dweller On The Threshold.  (A)
Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart (1983)- More New Ageism, less strong songs.  (B)

Live At The Grand Old Opera House (1984) – What does it mean when the best moment is a cover of It's All in The Game?  (B)

A Sense Of Wonder (1985) – Sure it has Tore Down A La Rimbaud… and then?  (C+)

No Guru,  No Method, No Teacher (1986) – Sure it has In The Garden… and then?  (B-)

Poetic Champions Compose (1987) – More of the same but better.  (A-)
Irish Heartbeat (1988) – Traditional with the Chieftains.  (B+)

Avalon Sunset (1989) – His born again album? I remember listening to this over and over again on my Walkman.  (A)

Enlightenment (1990) – A coupla second tier tracks.  (B+)

Hymns To The Silence (1991) – A double CD, and not a dog in the lot… though the only masterpiece, Quality Street, Van didn't write. (B+)

Too Long In Exile (1993) – And back to the blues.  (B+)

A Night In San Francisco (1994) – I saw him on this tour and was blown away, so maybe I have a soft spot for this liver.  (A)
Days Like This (1995) – Coupla blues jams, coupla pop tunes, coupla covers. That and genre exercise is all he has performed for the past 12 years. The keeper is Raincheck.  (B+)
How Long Has this Been Going On (1996) – Jazz songs with the eternal Georgie Fame on keyboards. The tour was even better.  (B+)

Tell Me Something: The Songs Of Moses Allison (1996) – Sister album to How Long and excellent for those (like me) who were not in the alright.  (A-)
The Healing Game (1997) – Van likes it, he often plays tracks on stage like the way Dylan gravitates to "Down in The Groove".  (B)
The Philosopher's Stone (1998) – Astounding bootleg tapes a la Van.  A

Back on Top (1999) – Actually, exactly where he always is.  (B+)

The Skiffle Sessions Live In Belfast (2000) – Yes, Sir: that IS LONNIE DONEGAN.  (B+)

You Win Again (2000) – Another genre exercise, this time the genre is rock and roll with Jerry Lee Lewis' kid sister. Gail rubbished Van's reputation after the recording and he appears to have deserved it. the ornery cuss.  (B+)
Down the Road (2002) – Nostalgia for the corner record store and Van's most ordinary album ever.  (B)

What's Wrong With This Picture (2003) – On Blue Note! Check out the St. James Infirmary cover.  (B+)
Magic Time (2005) – Around about now it feels like he can produce an album at will.  (B+)
Pay the Devil (2006) – His country exercise. Who needs another cover of Half As Much? On the other hand, who doesn't?  (B)

Keep it Simple (2008) – More of the same, except Behind The Ritual, a great work about song form and what it really all means.  (A-)

Astral Weeks Live At The Hollywood Bowl (2009) – I caught Van twice on this tour, and the second night at the Beacon was the one he should've released.  (B+)

Not a bad report card that - all As and Bs with only one C+.  No one's surely going to write "could do better" are they? 

Friday, 16 November 2012

"The Rocker" and "the Bombshell"

Could this be true?  Van and Pamela Anderson as friends?  Will Kid Rock be Van's next duet partner?  But what’s more interesting is nothing in the article seems to back up the headline’s claim of “Van's diva-like behaviour”. Probably most bizarre is the report that Van spent an hour a day in a gym.  Van in sweats?  Say it ain't so.  

When Pamela Anderson's and Van Morrison’s diva-like demands drove hotel staff crazy.

 Sunday, 16 January 2011 5:07:14 PM by ANI  
Rocker Van Morrison and Hollywood bombshell Pamela Anderson struck up an unlikely friendship when they met during the festive season at the Bath Spa Hotel. The two were spotted enjoying walks together and drove the hotel staff crazy with their bizarre demands.  Sources say that the notoriously grumpy 65-year-old rocker Van - who is married and has an apartment in the Georgian city - checked into the hotel when the former Baywatch star was staying there.  “They walked together a couple of times and seemed to get along rather well but they were checked into different rooms,” the Daily Mail quoted a source as saying.

While staying at the hotel, the diva-like demands of the pair caused staff headaches.  “All Pamela wanted to eat was asparagus and mushroom Cup-a-Soups,” said one worker.  
“We didn’t have any in the hotel so my colleagues had to go to the shops for her. She’d eat them in her room.
“Van was different. He’d ring down from his room and tell us what he wanted and where from. It was always Italian food and it always had to be from one of the local restaurants. We had to go out in our cars and pick his food up, then take it up to his room,” the worker said.
Pamela also indulged in a bizarre beauty routine - taking ice baths. Staff had to carry ice up to her room twice a day.
“Pamela drove us mad with her constant demands for ice baths. She told us it stopped her aching and kept her feeling young,” said the staff member.

Van, on the other hand, spent an hour a day in the gym. He didn’t use the personal trainer, he worked out alone,” the source added.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

"Born to Sing" According to J.A. Bartlett

The Hits Just Keep on Comin' blog is a friend to all music fans. The enigmatic J.A. Bartlett is a colourful writer who says of himself, "in my head it's always 1976". His blog is wide-ranging and well worth exploring. Here's part of his review of Van's Born to Sing album. 
No Plan B

 By J.A. Bartlett on Monday, November 5, 2012

I am, as you might know, a certifiable Van Morrison fanatic. Back on Top is one of the dozen-or-so albums in my collection I couldn’t live without. I’ve got the live Van albums that blur together. I’ve got the stuff from the 80s that just isn’t very good. I’ve got the country album, Pay the Devil, although I’ve only played it twice. But I’ve also got Astral Weeks and Tupelo Honey and Wavelength and Too Long in Exile and Moondance, as any intelligent person should, the stuff for which Van will be remembered years from now.

The last couple of weeks I have been living with Van’s new album, Born to Sing: No Plan B. I’ve had it in the car and I’ve kept repeating it, which is the way to insinuate an album into your life, a little at a time, over and over. It’s got that trademark Morrison feel, the familiar sound he’s had for the last decade or so, with more jazz touches than we’ve heard from him recently. 
I recommend, however, that if you listen to the lyrics, you listen for the sound of them rather than what they say. Van’s tendency to plough the same ground has become tedious. How many songs on the average late-period Morrison record find him bitching about being sold out, ripped off, or otherwise taken advantage of, with the corresponding need to get away from all the scammers to find peace? 

Educating Archie, a diatribe against people lulled by the media (another favourite Morrison target) into giving up their rights, begins with the words, You’re a slave to the capitalist system / Which is ruled by the global elite. On the scale of poetry, that is no Sweet Thing (We shall walk and talk in gardens misty wet with rain / And I will never never never grow so old again).

The most problematical song on the album is If in Money We Trust. If you listen only to the band and the sound of Van’s voice, it’s a hypnotising groove that runs eight minutes and could run eight more. But the content of the words—short, mantra-like phrases telling how we’ve replaced God with filthy lucre—eventually becomes strident. And ironic, too. Van Morrison’s a guy who spent several years making war on the Internet, going after anybody who dared post anything he considered to be his intellectual property.

Don’t misunderstand my point. Born to Sing: No Plan B is the most enjoyable Van Morrison album in years—as music. As a manifesto of what’s important to its creator, it’s not especially pleasant at all.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Your Favourite 3 Van Al###s

At the Naim radio music forums “Sloop John B” asked readers for their three favourite Van albums.  As usual all kinds of suggestions were offered.  A Period of Transition and You Win Again got nominations!  Naim has a lot to offer the Van fan with plenty of bizarre Van opinion available about a variety of Van topics. 

Sloop John B   -   About a month ago I got A Sense of Wonder on CD second hand in Freebird Records in Dublin. It was one of the half of his catalogue to be remastered 2008. I never had it before and it was just excellent (as well as great sounding - as Vans' productions usually are).

I decided to do an Amazon trawl of this series and get some of the albums I don't already have. While not adhering to the Greil Marcus view of a 15 year dearth of good albums I had really thought Avalon Sunset was probably his last top notch one.  Then I put on the Healing Game from 1997 and was immediately entranced and wondered how on earth I had managed to miss such a superb album.  We had a mini Naim night in Dublin last Tuesday and David from this parish was talking about Hymns to the Silence as one of his favourites and this is another I have not really heard.  One often sees the odd Van album showing up in the "What are you...." thread and it would be interesting to see what the forum's favourite Van Morrison albums are. 
So here's my (current) 3 (no order) Actually 5:  Common One, A Period of TransitionThe Healing Game, Moondance and Into the MusicI could go to ten no trouble. For all the adulation he gets he is "criminally overlooked" compared to some artists who seem to make the cover of Mojo every 3rd month.

Lloydy   -   My top 3 would be (based on most played) Down the Road, You Win Again and Days Like This.

Stone Rose   -   Astral Weeks (one of my all-time favourite albums), Back on Top and Moondance.
Whizzkid   -   Veedon Fleece, Moondance and Wavelength.

Northpole   -   St Dominic's Preview,  Into the Music and Moondance.

graham55   -    Astral Weeks and Moondance. I wouldn't suggest a third, as I don't think that anything else comes close.  If forced, I'd go for St Dominic's Preview. Of course, Astral Weeks would be in contention for one of the best albums by anyone, ever.

Hot Rats    -    Moondance, Wavelength and It's Too Late To Stop Now.

Guido Fawkes    -    Astral Weeks is a great album.

Chris Kelly   -   For me it has to be Moondance. Special album with special memories for me.

Tonym   -    Enlightenment, Moondance and Into The Music.

Gianluigi Mazzorana   -   No Guru, No Method No Teacher

Sloop John B   -    Isn't it amazing variation in people's favourites?

I really believe Van is under-recognised as the unique soul artist he is. I can't think of any other artist ( including Dylan and HMHB) with a stronger cannon. I remember the way Solomon Burke spoke of Van at a gig of his, it was the way you'd expect him to talk of Ray Charles or Otis. Made me think of familiarity - contempt / artist never recognised at home etc. There are some Van albums here I didn't expect as the reviews weren't great I'll have to rethink that decision.

TN  -  Poetic Champions Compose, Moondance and No Guru No Method No Teacher

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Dr Brian Hinton MBE

Poet and musicologist, Dr. Brian Hinton MBE is best known to Van fans for his Van biography Celtic Crossroads –The Art of Van Morrison in 1996.  He was born on  21 September 1950 in Southampton, England. Hinton studied English at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he served as President of the Oxford University Poetry Society, and went on to receive a Ph.D. in Twentieth Century English poetry at Birmingham University. He has also completed a postgraduate diploma in information science.

Hinton is the author of more than thirty books on various topics. His primary interests include music and literary researches into Alfred Tennyson on the Isle of Wight in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, especially in regard to the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. Hinton is Chairman of the Julia Margaret Cameron Trust and curator at Dimbola Lodge, Freshwater. He also serves as President of the Farringford Tennyson Society. Hinton is an Associate Editor of the international literary magazine, Tears in the Fence and co-hosted the Tears in the Fence London readings from 2001-2004 at John Calder’s Bookshop, The Cut, Waterloo, London, with David Caddy.
He has organised photographic exhibitions by David Bailey, Charlton Heston, Koo Stark and many others at Dimbola Lodge. In June 2009, he organised a photographic exhibition by American singer and songwriter Patti Smith that took place at Dimbola Lodge.

He is the leading authority on the literary history of the Isle of Wight including the Island of Wight Festival.  He has written a history of the Wright Festival entitled Message to Love. Brian is also a noted musicologist, with recent books on alt. country music and the authorised biography of folk rock pioneer Ashley Hutchings, as well as a strictly unauthorised study of Van Morrison, which provoked Van to write the song 'New Biography' for Back on Top

In June 2006 Brian was honoured in the Queen's 80th Birthday Honours List for services to the arts, and is now Dr Brian Hinton MBE.

Some Brian Hinton Interview Questions

Q. What’s your favourite album?
A. That’s difficult. I’ve got 10,000 vinyl albums and 5,000 on CD but if pushed I’ll say Mighty Baby by Mighty Baby. They’re a very obscure psychedelic group who played the 1970 festival. I saw them reform and play the Borderline Club in London just a few weeks ago and the lead guitarist is a friend of mine.
Q. If there was one thing you could change in your life what would it be?
A. These panic attacks I get. I can’t fly. I can’t get in a plane and I would love to travel. I have had all kinds of therapy but nothing’s worked so far.
Q. How do you think other people see you?
A. Well I was known as the Screaming Lord Sutch of the poetry circuit. I nearly knocked one poet out at a reading in Exeter when I got rather over exuberant. I think people know me as an amiable eccentric.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Let's talk about Van Morrison

At Harmony Central Forums there are a lot of music forums but you have to sign up to view or participate.  I have to admit to having a bias toward the opinion of the non-music expert.  They are always interesting and sometimes surprising.  The following opinions come from a "Let's Talk about Van Morrison" forum. 

Xanaducomplex   -   Like him a lot. Though I really never want to hear Brown Eyed Girl ever again.  Yes, I know this a parody thread. Still, Van the man should get some love on this board.

MattSkibaIsGOD   -   He does a stellar rendition of the Mountains of Mourne.

tiger roach   -   One of the greats.  It's Too Late to Stop Now is an insanely good live album.
Groovmongrel   -   He's a fantastic songwriter and very good live. I read that Into The Mystic is the most played by doctors when performing surgery.

Goodusername   -   Briefly, Van acts like a prick supreme at soundcheck, more so than usual. Once he's barked into the mic and pissed off the rest of the band & crew amuse themselves by wiping his harmonicas up and down their sweaty bum cracks prior to the gig.
Kkyle   -   Without Van Morrison ten million garage bands would have never formed....G.L.O.R.I.A.!

Chicken Monkey   -   Most of his 8,000 albums since the 70s make for great adult-contemporary radio filler, but he had a fantastic run there in the 70s, what with Tupelo Honey, His Band & Street Choir, etc.
Devil is Dill   -   He falls into the "should like them but don't" category for me.

dmn23   -   Opinions required: Every now and then we'll do Domino in rehearsal just because we like the song, it sounds good, and it's fun to play. Obviously we don't have Van's horn section so that leaves me wondering whether it would be silly to try to pull it off live. What say you?
Chicken Monkey   -   Opinions required: Every now and then we'll do Domino in rehearsal just because we like the song, it sounds good, and it's fun to play. Obviously we don't have Van's horn section so that leaves me wondering whether it would be silly to try to pull it off live. What say you?  I can't hear it without horns. I'd need a clip to be certain that this sounds like a bad idea.
Tralfaz   -   I like some of his early stuff, but in general I dislike the sound of his voice.
hi.flyer   -   Nice voice, cool influences; jazzy folk type of things. Honestly I've never really heard much more than Brown Eyed Girl and that album with Moondance on it but yea, good stuff. Horns and whatnot. Also, the harpsichord jam is Everyone=full of win.

dmn23   -   For me the gotta-haves are Astral Weeks, Moondance, St. Dominic's Preview, Veedon Fleece, and His Band & Street Choir. Those are all amazing, particularly Astral Weeks. Someone talked about getting laid to Moondance; Astral Weeks was the one that worked for me. I never really cared for Tupelo Honey though (the album, not the song itself). He was too damned happy. The rest of his catalogue is of a uniformly high quality but it all starts to run together for me.