Friday, 27 June 2014

Van Concert - Calgary, Canada (March 3, 2007)

James Fry's  Guitar Repair Shack blog has one Van post. Not the best written piece but contains some guitar love.  

Van in Concert in Calgary 2007

This week Van Morrison was in town and I had tickets! It is the first, (and probably last) time that he has been or will be in Calgary in his entire career. Being that he apparently hates to tour and perform live and that he's now 61, I'm guessing that I will never see him live again. The same thing happened to me when James Brown came through town two years ago. I do wish good ole' Van a long and prosperous life!

The concert was in a domed arena, so the sound is never PREMIER, but it's the fact that you are experiencing something live- and that's exciting to me. Van and his band were incredible, and they even did Brown Eyed Girl, which I read later in the paper that he swore he would never perform again because he was so sick of it!

Van's voice is still magical. As the concert progressed, so did his voice. There were times when I heard something that he sang-something that he did with his voice, that I had never heard anyone do before. Sometimes it was a warble, other times something in the richness of his voice.

All of the musicians playing with him were amazing and they were hauling around some really nice gear! Van's organ player was indeed carting around a real B3 with huge Leslie cabinet and all. None of them were trying to prove anything or were super flashy, they just enjoyed playing! I'm so used to seeing a guitar player pull out 5-6 guitars, (or even U2's The Edge having a guitar for every song) but Van's guitarist only had one guitar that I saw.

Van's pedal steel/slide guitar player was the flashiest of them all, but she wasn't really showing off, it was just her personality to have fun. She pulled off some incredibly gorgeous solos on her pedal steel that put her up there with Daniel Lanois and Jerry Douglas. (Yes, Daniel Lanois does play the pedal steel, just not in a bluegrass or country band. Check out some of his albums if you don't believe me!)

All in all, other than wishing that I was in a club in Ireland listening to Van, it was a great experience and I will never forget it.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Van Morrison Quotes - Part 6

51. There were two branches of rock 'n' roll when I was brought up -- a straight commercial thing that included Presley, Ricky Nelson, Roy Orbison. The other branch was Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Fats Domino, people who were a little less commercial than Elvis. Jerry Lee seemed to have a lot more going on. He covered a lot of territory, so I used to listen to him.
52. To perform I almost have to assume another identity.  I have to almost play a part and psyched up to walk on stage ... 'cause I'm really very shy, you see. 

53.  I've never flipped out.  I'm too crazy to flip out.

54.  John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters. I was listening to that stuff since I was two or three. To me, blues seemed better than rock 'n' roll. I remember, I was in London playing in a show band, and I went to this club and a band came on, and all they played was Bo Diddley and Jimmy Reed. I said, "Well, if they're getting away with it, I can, too."

55.  If I was a gunslinger, there'd be a lot of dead copycats out there.   

56. So I went back to Belfast and started an R&B club at the Maritime Hotel, which had been a dance hall for sailors. But we turned it into an R&B club, and somebody showed up from Decca and we made a couple of singles. That was with the group Them. The song "Gloria" came from listening to those old blues records.
57. I got to the States by complete accident. This guy called Bert Berns came over. Phil Solomon was managing us at the time, and he brought Bert over to produce Them. He produced a few tracks, and then he had to go back, so we finished it on our own. But before Bert left he said, "I would really like to work with you guys again," and that's how we left it.

58. "There is one thing I don't understand about Astral Weeks... Nobody is going to tell me that it is a rock album. Why they keep calling it one I have no idea."
59.  I actually recorded some of the songs that eventually wound up on Astral Weeks for Bert. I did one album for Bert, and then for a second he said, "You know we have to get you back into the studio," that sort of thing. So I played him a tape, me on guitar, and he said, "Great, this is what we should do." Just like that. He said, "We'll fill out a little here, put that there." Well, I showed up for the session, and forty people are there -- four guitar players, four keyboard players, five singers, four entire rhythm sections. It was bizarre. 

60.  What am I going to do - move to Ireland and open a grocery store?  I'm in the music business.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Albums That Never Were

Naturally Van is not fan of the bootleg craze that has grown up around his music.  However, unrealistically I think he might like this one.  A guy from Minneapolis calling himself Soniclovenoize (first name Jesse) has created the incredible Albums That Never Were site.  The intro to the site says he "has too much time on my hands and wastes it by reconstructing famous unreleased albums”.   Of interest to Van fans is his reconstruction of what he calls the ‘real second Van album’ using the notorious songs handed to Bang Records back in 1967.  The bootleg he created is downloadable from his blog.   


Van Morrison - Contractual Obligations

Side A:

1. Savoy Hollywood

2. Hang On Groovy

3. Twist, Shake and Roll

4. Stomp, Scream and Holler

5. Jump, Thump and Jive

6. Walk, Wobble and Roll

7. Freaky If You Got This Far

Side B:

8. The Big Royalty Check

9. Blowin Your Nose

10. Want A Danish?

11. Shake It Mable

12. Ring Worm

13. The Story of Dumb George

This is one of my more bizarre album assemblages, originally began as a joke by a friend of mine that morphed into a dare.  He jested that it couldn’t be done; challenge accepted!  Thus, this is my ”reimagination” of what could have been Van Morrison’s second album, recorded solo for the sole purpose of fulfilling his contract with Bang Records in 1968.  Aptly titled Contractual Obligations, I have taken the 31 “revenge songs” that Van Morrison recorded, organised them by musical key and lyrical theme, and edited the fragments together to create thirteen more-or-less complete songs and sequenced them into a semblance of a an album.   

Let Van Morrison be an example of the plight of young artists by the hands of corporate greed and exploitation.  Hastily signing to himself to Bang Records in 1967 in order to avoid literal starvation, Morrison recorded an album’s worth of material he didn’t feel amounted to an actual album.  He left the March 1967 recording sessions thinking that those eight songs—one of them his immensely popular hit “Brown Eyed Girl”—would be released as four separate singles.  Instead, Bang Records collected the songs and released them as Van Morrison’s debut album, Blowin Your Mind.  Not only was this done completely without his consent, but Bang promoted the album in full psychedelic fashion, an image Morrison himself detested.  To make matters worse, label head Burt Berns’ passing in December allowed for his widow Ilene to impose ridiculous performance restrictions on Morrison, all which were allowed by the contract that he himself signed.

Van Morrison’s salvation lied within a simple loophole in his contract: deliver 36 original songs to Bang Records.  And so sometime in early 1968, Van Morrison entered a recording studio and performed 31 intentionally half-assed bullshit songs in order to escape the clutches of Ilene Berns.  The songs were all musically simple--often I-IV-V progressions in E or G—and the lyrics presumably improvised, meaningless, random, inane.  Some were even gibberish.  Morrison had farted out over thirty nonsense songs that were all completely unusable in an act of musical revenge, which fulfilled his contract.  Bang Records refused to release them at the time but the collection eventually appeared as rare bonus material on legally-questionable international anthology releases throughout the years.

For my reimagination, we will postulate how Bang could have assembled these throwaway fragments into some sort of cohesive album.  A listen through the material will tell you that Morrison did not put much thought into the “compositions” musically and they follow similar chord sequences, all standard open chords within the same harmonic family.  We are thus able to easily group most of the songs together by key.  Even luckier, many of those musically-similar compositions share similar lyrical qualities, further identifying possible associations.  Although this was undoubtedly unintentional by Van, we can exploit this tendency and edit these similar fragments together, creating full songs from the fragments.  Using the 31 fragments I was able to create eleven complete songs, leaving two fragments to remain their own stand-alone songs. 

Side A begins with Savoy Hollywood which is a combination of the songs “Do It”,"Go For Yourself” and “Savoy Hollywood”.  The beginning tape wow opens the album up mid-song and prepares us for Van’s bumpy ride with strumming and vocal stutters.  Follows is Hang On Groovy which is a combination of La Mambo, Just Ball and Hang On Groovy, less a mockery of the classic songs La Bamba+ and Hang On Sloopy but more a mockery of Bang for expecting something more than pop-song contrivance for this album.  The next four songs gather together Morrison’s inane send-ups of movement-centric 1950s rock n’roll classics: “Twist, Shake and Roll” (a combination of “Twist and Shake” and ”Shake and Roll”), “Stomp, Scream and Holler” (a combination of “Stomp and Scream” and “Scream and Holler”), “Jump, Thump and Jive” (a combination of “Jump and Thump” and “Drivin Wheel”) and “Walk, Wobble and Roll” (a combination of “Walk and Talk”, ”The Wobble” and “Wobble and Roll”).  The fact that these song are all in a row should drive home how ridiculous this album is, and without the proper mindset is a very painful listen.  Van Morrison himself agrees, as the closing song on side A is the stand-alone Freaky If You Got This Far, which it truly is.

Side B starts with an explanation of the album itself: The Big Royalty Check, which is a combination of Big Royalty Check, Thirty Two and All The Bits.  Following is Blowin Your Nose, a combination of Blow In Your Nose and Nose In You Blow, a mockery of the first album that Morrison never approved of.  Want A Danish? (a combination of Want A Danish and Chickie Coo) is followed by more silliness in Shake It Mable (a combination of “Shake It Mable”, You Say France and I Whistle and Up In Your Mind).  The most noteworthy of the “revenge songs” follows, the stand-alone Ring Worm.  To end Contractual Obligations, I united all four songs about the character Dumb George and sequenced them in a logical and presumably chronological order, called The Story of Dumb George (a combination of Here Comes Dumb George, “Dum Dum George”, Hold On George and Goodbye George).  The icing on this distasteful cake is the original artwork by EAB, in which Bang Records’ contrived psychdelicism is literally consuming Van Morrison.

Is this a good album?  Oh, God no, this album is awful!  But intentionally awful, for good reason, and thus worth a listen.  It is an absurd album, especially knowing who this is—this is Van Morrison, a genius who combined folk, jazz, soul and pop on his legendary Astral Weeks album, recorded under a year later from Contractual Obligations’ horrific nonsense.  With this in mind, it is a fascinating look at the effects of big business on artists, relevant even today.  Sometimes, cause is more relevant than effect and the context of the music is more interesting than the music itself.  Contractual Obligations shows us this as it lies somewhere between pain and pleasure but as an album that never was. 

Reader Comments:

DD   -   Another excellent idea, Yours & Van's.

Pete   -   Thanks for this — I'd never heard the fragments, and this is probably the only way I'd want to. Do the Wobble, baby!

AEC   -   Well, you definitely put in more effort in this than Van did. When you had earlier mentioned you intended to put together a Van Morrison album, I assumed it would be Mechanical Bliss so this was a surprise.

TooBusyThinking   -   Wow. I wasn't aware of this "warm up" for Astral Weeks, or the history behind it. I haven't heard the 31 individual tracks, but I'd say you did an excellent job stitching them together, because this is fucking great! Why the hell wouldn't Ilene Berns release this? Definitely one of those late night, clear-out-the-room (but I'll stay here and listen) type albums. One of the best, I'd say. Thanks!

Edgar Fitzgerald   -   Excellent mix! What a charmingly insane album. 

Kwork    -   This is very cool. Thanks for the assemblage work on these fragments. Whether I'm a big fan of the original material or not, I always grab your reconstructions to hear what's behind the always interesting liner notes and history. Truly appreciated.

Dharma Bummer   -   Now you just need to overdub 3 or 4 guitars and Herb Lavelle on drums.  I just discovered this blog recently and became an instant convert - the Pink Floyd albums that never were are especially mind-blowing - amazing what some prudent contextualising and cross fades can do.

DFW Underground   -   Yr Blowin My Mind right now cause Astral Weeks is my favourite album and I've never heard of this crap.