Monday, 29 September 2014

Keep it Simple (Not Just an Album Title)

David B. Bohl, lifestyle mentor, entrepreneur, etc., found Van’s Keep it Simple (2008) a rich vein of wisdom for all go-getters. 

Van Morrison's Keep it Simple happens to be in line with my own values, and with the Slow Down Fast coaching philosophy. I came across a review in Rolling Stone that summed it up powerfully: “At this point in his career, Van Morrison is less interested in surprises than in further exploring his long-standing obsessions: surviving the shocks of this life and rising gracefully toward the next one. 

Keep It Simple finds him looking back on his sixty-two years, filled with longing – for home, for deliverance from the world’s demands, for spiritual transcendence.” While Van Morrison may have his own reasons for wanting to uncomplicate the twilight years of his musical career and life … I think he does a good job of expressing what we all yearn for. A kind of deliverance – not so much in death, as the above quote implies… but a relief or respite that each of us can begin to know while still in the living years. A rescue, and a sort of homecoming from the constant pressure that society imposes.
I believe that generationally, we’ve come a long way… but it took many years of fumbling down the wrong path first – and the transition is far from complete. Many people are still trapped in the image and status mentality: having the most, doing the most, being the best. I myself am no stranger to that attitude – but it’s one that I try to release a little more with each passing day. This is what I’m constantly working on, together with my coaching clients. Living for the here and now. Appreciating the small things instead of going after the impossible. Each of us making a difference, in our own unique way. 
What’s funny is that the harder we work to prove ourselves and our worth… the farther away from happiness we get. And we know it, too. And yet I like to think, optimistically, that it’s not too late for society to do a complete 180 and get back to basics and what really matters. Maybe Van Morrison knows something that the rest of us are only now just waking up to. I believe the collectively wiser we become, the more we realise that all this stuff that we’ve been desperate to acquire, and all this complication that we invite in the name of “having a life…” doesn’t even come close to what we really need. And what we really need is peace, purpose, connection and communion with other human beings. When I think back to my childhood years and spending time with my grandparents, I find myself charmed by the wholesomeness of their stories. It’s a quality of life that feels so elusive in this day and age.
How many of us can recall being captivated by simple but magical tales of fishing trips and card games? Humble block parties and home cooked Sunday dinners and chaotic but happy summer outings in the country? Think about the best moments of your own life. What parts stand out as unforgettable… the greatest times? Maybe a simple night of camping around an open fire, just talking and laughing with good friends. Maybe a time when something like a power outage brought everyone together for some quiet enjoyment. This simple goodness is what we yearn for and want more of in our everyday lives. Van Morrison explains the title track of his Keep it Simple album as such: “It’s just a song about how everything’s gotten now so complex and how things have become so complicated and nothing’s easy to do anymore. “So the song’s a kind of prayer – or what have you – let’s hope we can get back to something simple, otherwise, we’re screwed.” I don’t think we’re screwed. But I do think each of us has a long way to go of re-learning the art of simple and meaningful living. 

Verdict?  Far too many "I messages". 

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Henry McCullough and Van Morrison

Van The Man has stepped in to help disabled guitar ace Henry McCullough.  Once again Van Morrison has proved that underneath his gruff exterior there beats a real heart of gold. When Van found out that musician pal Henry McCullough, who suffered a massive heart attack, was having trouble showering he had a special wet room built in McCullough's house.

Volunteer Steam Train Enthusiast
Henry, 70, is looked after by his wife Josie and now uses a wheelchair but cannot speak, although he can still see and hear. Van's generosity made life a lot easier for McCullough and his wife. 

Early last year a fund raising concert was held in Dublin’s Vicar Street for Henry.  Fellow musicians rallied around to raise cash for McCullough, who now requires constant care. When Henry had the heart attack he suffered from a lack of oxygen to the brain which has left him permanently impaired.

McCullough is most famous for his work with Wings. He originally came from Portstewart, County Antrim, but travelled the world playing his guitar with the likes of Sweeney’s Men, Eire Apparent, Spooky Tooth and Joe Cocker & The Grease Band.

With Cocker and his band, Henry was the only Irish man to perform at the legendary Woodstock festival in upstate New York and can be seen in the movie of the event.  He then went on to join McCartney’s Wings as lead guitarist, after The Beatles split up. Always his own man, Henry left the band before Wings recorded one of their biggest commercial hits, Band On The Run.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

San Anselmo 1971

Van Morrison has been constantly bootlegged since the beginning of his career.  I suppose the term 'bootleg' probably has less relevance in the era of downloading.  For the bootleg purist the modern term 'bootleg' refers to the albums made from live recordings or unreleased studio recordings.  To collectors and fans some of these albums become much sought after collectibles.  The frenzied downloader simply wants it all and wants it all for free.  I can't understand how people can claim to be "big Van fans" and yet have illegally downloaded all his music.  They "luv Van so much" yet fail to contribute one cent of appreciation to the Man himself.  

The bootlegs of live concerts are a different story.  There have only been 5 or 6 official live albums released, yet there are several thousand shows available on the internet. Van, could you please release 2000 live albums soon?  It would be the biggest album release in music history and would satisfy the huge base of fans who don't get to see you.

But it's not going to happen is it?  In the meantime there are lots of bit and pieces of live Van concerts to listen to on the internet.  Van surely doesn't mind if thousands of fans access concerts online?  (BTW In a perfect music world the lads from One Direction would be roadies setting up Van's equipment, not out-selling him by 100 times.)  Here's a piece about one live bootleg:

Van and Vince McConaghy? 

 My New World Crystal Ball [Rattlesnake RS 255/56, 2CD]

Live at The Lion’s Share, San Anselmo, CA; August 8, 1971. Excellent soundboard. Speed/Pitch Corrected.

Straight from the reels recorded at the Lion’s Share, the tiny musicians’ club in San Anselmo, CA, favoured by local residents and the scene of Janis Joplin’s funeral wake where the Grateful Dead were asked to play, comes this stunning tape featuring both the early and late shows from Van Morrison. The two shows were very possibly the result of either an early promotional drive for the Tupelo Honey LP – Van’s “Country And Western” album - or were organised for a warm up night for Van to show up and rehearse.
The recording here has Van’s voice pushed towards the left channel with the instruments pushed towards the right, the ambiance is correct for a small club recording when songs are played acoustically or with a full band. The closest I can think of is the Borderline recording with Ry Cooder/Neil Young or Patti Smith at CBGBs though there may be more that may spring to your mind.  Van’s set is almost identical for both the early and late shows with just a couple of changes in the evening for a bawdier nighttime crowd… It seems the second audience may get the better end of the bargain though as Van opens up and varies his set list just a little more…

Honestly, this may be the best Van recording I’ve heard, not withstanding it's slightly wonky mix of vocals, its beauty is in the fun that Morrison and his band are having. A fantastic recording, a great night. Another must-have release from the ’Snake'.
Disc 1 (Early show)

Track 101. Sweet Thing (acoustic) 7:51 (13.2MB)

Track 102. I Wanna Roo You (acoustic) 3:26 (5.8MB)
Track 103. Tupelo Honey (acoustic) 8:12 (13.8MB)

Track 104. Que Sera Sera 0:54 (1.5MB)

Track 105. Hound Dog 2:42 (4.5MB)

Track 106. These Dreams Of You 4:08 (7.0MB)

Track 107. Let It Be Me 4:53 (8.2MB)

Track 108. Tennessee Waltz 3:52 (6.5MB)

Track 109. Moonshine Whiskey 8:40 (14.6MB)

Track 110. Just Like A Woman 8:50 (14.8MB)

Track 111. I’ve Been Working 5:58 (10.0MB)

Track 112. Domino 7:12 (12.1MB)

Track 113. Buena Sera Senorita 3:31 (5.9MB)

71 mins

Disc 2 (Late show)

Track 201. Sweet Thing (acoustic) 8:40 (14.6MB)

Track 202. Street Choir (acoustic) 6:56 (11.6MB)
Track 203. Tupelo Honey (acoustic) 6:08 (10.3MB)

Track 204. Que Sera Sera 0:19 (543k)

Track 205. Hound Dog 2:37 (4.4MB)

Track 206. These Dreams Of You 3:59 (6.7MB)

Track 207. When That Evening Sun Goes Down 3:03 (5.1MB)

Track 208. Let It Be Me 5:01 (8.4MB)

Track 209. Moonshine Whiskey 7:13 (12.1MB)

Track 210. Just Like A Woman 8:21 (14.0MB)

Track 211. I’ve Been Working 5:22 (9.0MB)

Track 212. Gloria 3:51 (6.5MB)

Track 213. Domino 7:45 (13.0MB)

Track 214. Buena Sera Senorita 3:46 (6.3MB)

 73 mins

Reader Comments: 

Ernie Clark   -      Killer VM shows.  

Andrew Wild   -   Truly amazing show from a man at the height of his performing powers.

Sluggo   -   One time when I saw Van Morrison he was basically performing the setlist that became his Too late to stop now live LP. He had a crack band and the arrangements were tight, Van sang, hollered danced and also played sax and then as soon as the last note of each song faded he stood alone, head down and silent.He seems to have a huge case of stage fright but when that music starts up again.

Andrew Wild   -   Yeah, saw Van in Manchester in ‘83 (my first gig, unbelievably), and again at the same venue with The Chieftains, probably in ‘88, and at Glastonbury in ‘89. But not since.

Sluggo   -   would have been very cool to see him with the Chieftains.

Andrew Wild   -   The Chieftains did a set, perhaps 30-40 minutes, then a break, then Van with his band for an hour, mostly stuff from Poetic Champions Compose as I recall, then the whole of Irish Heartbeat, with the Oirish boys and Van *smiling* from time to time.  Also saw The Chieftains in Stoke-on-Trent (any Brits here will be laughing at that) in the early 90s. Quite a different audience at that one, to be sure.

Eric   -   For years, I’ve enjoyed the demo/outtake collections Gypsy Soul, Naked in the Jungle, & Laughing in the Wind, and I didn’t think I’d ever hear anything as intimate and illuminating. These shows are terrific, and the sound quality is, too. I have never seen Van Morrison live -something I regret, but there it is- and this is as close as I’m likely to get. I hope my neighbours like it-they can definitely hear it right now.  Aside from Que Sera, Sera (one of the worst songs ever written, right up there with “The Little Drummer Boy*” and “Pour Some Sugar on Me”)there are some real gems here, especially the Bob Dylan cover and the acoustic versions of songs that usually have a full arrangement. If Van released this, it would be one of his best live albums. “it’s Too Late to Stop Now” and “Belfast Opera House” are fine, but not as distinctive as this set.

Sluggo   -   Eric..while i`m not a huge fan of que sera sera either,I did see Dave Alvin and the guilty women close a show with it one night and it was magic!

JB   -   Great recording….does anyone know who is in the band?

Dwight   -   there are “possible band Members ” listed on the back sleeve, but a totally different band than that was playing with him a month later at Pacific High studios.
Van Morrison - guitar, harmonica, vocal 
Ronnie Montrose - electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin 
Mark Jordan - piano, organ
Bill Church - bass
Bill Atwood - trumpet, trombone 
Jack Schroer - soprano, alto, and baritone saxophones, piano 
Rick Shlosser - drums, percussion
Ellen Schroer - vocals 
Janet Morrison - vocals

Andrew Wild   -   I did indeed … he was remarkably relaxed and smiley that night … it was a blast :)

Dan C.   -   Bill Church? The Electric Church of Montrose and later Sammy Hagar fame??!! Nice!!!

Andrew Wild   -   Hi Mike,  It sounds to me that the mixes are different for each show … the vocal is far left on the second show, and the stereo spread for all instruments is much wider for the first show with vocal just left of centre.
Jaap   -   On Dime and Electric Ladyland quite some alternate versions are available: speed corrected, mono, pitch & speed corrected also. So far, I discovered about 6 different versions….Oh, and all versions are lossless, no mp3!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Believe it or Not - Part 7


1.  Van claims to have played rugby in school.  I guess he would have made a feisty little halfback. I guess this also explains why he never bought a soccer team like Sir Reginald Dwight III.

  2.  In an interview published in The Japan Times of May 21, 2010, Solomon Burke said,  "Van has been one of my angels  We've done several things with him. We're getting ready to do The Lord's Will, a live album later this year. I'm keeping my fingers crossed on that." 

3.  Apparently “actress” Kristen Stewart was “scarfing down Hot Pockets and listening to Van Morrison” in order to deal with her breakup with “actor” Robert Pattinson.  Both have continued to be fans of The Man.

4.  A Seattle area family took a stray cat who immediately went into labour.  The black-and-white colouring of the mother and her kittens reminded the husband of dominoes, which immediately made the family think of Van Morrison (his song Domino), which became their litter theme. The babies, Domino, Moondance, Angela, and Gloria, have all found homes.

5.  In 2009 Van appeared on CBC's radio program called Q.   He was interviewed by Jian Ghomeshi in his Toronto hotel ahead of his Massey Hall shows that year. Van revealed that his participation in The Last Waltz concert film was a mistake and a rip-off. He also blasted the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame and how the whole system was a rip-off. 

6.  In 2011 one of Van's backing band members created controversy when he went on the Britain’s Got Talent TV show.  Herbie Armstrong attracted some negative publicity after it was revealed he has previously been on Top of the Pops and had chart success.  He had been on Top of the Pops with his bands Yellow Dog and Fox.

7.  Van Morrison was supposedly responsible for James Hunter and the Jokers changing their name from Howlin' Wilf Band back in 1992.  "Too easily confused with Howlin' Wolf", he is alleged to have pronounced.

8.  Swedish Furniture Designer Bla Station used Van's Common One (1980) album as inspiration for his lower, more austere chair design which he called The Common.

9.  Van has been known to write letters of complaint to various newspaper editors.  Topics have included complaining about the proposed location of something called the Interpretive Centre because of ecological reasons and complaints about the plaque that adorns his birthplace, 125 Hyndford Street in Belfast. 

10.  On July 25, 1994 Van played a concert in Denmark for a percentage of the profits on all food and drink sold.

11.  According to Q Magazine (October 2003) a psychic named Sharon Neill "helped" Van with a reading over the phone.  Despite being blind since birth she was able to accurately describe the female Van staff member who was passing information to the press.  And who says Van's paranoia is without foundation?  

12.  In September, 2014 Van Morrison was awarded the GQ Magazine Legend of the Year Award at the magazine's Men of the Year Awards.  He made a short speech saying that "I don't get out much and right after this I'm going back into my shell".  

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Greatness of Gloria (1964)

Here's most of Dave Barry's piece about the greatness of Gloria:

I think one of the greatest works of music ever written—and I include Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in this category—is Van Morrison's Gloria. The brilliance of this song is evident from the opening lyrics:

"Like to tell you 'bout my baby, you know she comes around;
Just about 5 feet 4, from her head to the ground."

Right away, you know exactly what this song is about. Also, she comes around. She is not playing hard to get. We later learn that she comes around "just about midnight," and "she knock upon my door." In other words, she is the perfect woman if you're a teenage male, which is what Van Morrison was in 1963 when he wrote Gloria.

It's not just the lyrics that make Gloria a masterpiece. It has a superb musical structure, by which I mean: only three chords. This is where the Beatles went wrong. Don't misunderstand me: The Beatles were a very good musical group. But, as I discovered when I was in high school learning electric guitar in an effort to become a rock legend, the Beatles put way too many chords in their songs, including mutant chords such as "F sharp minor." In my opinion, this is why they broke up. A band can play only so many chords.

Whereas Gloria has just the three chords, and they are basic, simple, hardworking blue-collar chords, namely, E, D and A. They are always played in that order. This makes it an easy song to learn. If you ask a group of mediocre garage-band musicians to play, for example, Help! they will sound like building demolition. Whereas if you ask them to play Gloria, they will, given a few minutes of practice, sound pretty darned close to Them.

This is why for half a century Gloria has been part of the repertoire of thousands of bands sharing a passion for gritty rock 'n' roll music that does not require a ton of musicianship. I have been in several of those bands. In the late '60s, at Haverford College, I belonged to a band called the Federal Duck (don't ask). We played dances, mixers and frat parties at colleges all over the greater Philadelphia area, and we always played Gloria, sometimes more than once, because (a) we might have, on occasion, been a tad impaired, and (b) the song always got a strong reaction from the crowd. As soon as the frat brothers heard the opening chords—E, D and of course A—they would lurch out onto the dance floor with their dates and commence gyrating. Sometimes they would also throw up on their dates, but that only added to the grit quotient.

All these decades later, I'm still in a band, this one called the Rock Bottom Remainders. Its members are mostly authors, including Mitch Albom, Sam Barry, Roy Blount Jr. , Matt Groening, Greg Iles, Stephen King, James McBride, Ridley Pearson, Amy Tan and Scott Turow. We are not technically skilled. A dominant theme of our music stylings is the sound of panicked voices yelling, "What chord is this?" So naturally we do Gloria, and it still energises the crowd. Granted, this is probably because it's our finale, so the crowd is excited that we're about to stop. But hey, energy is energy.