Tuesday, 28 July 2015

The Van Morrison Effect

Here's a great post by Michael Logan at his One Monkey With a Typewriter blog.  Click on the link for the full story. 

Van Morrison changed my life by Michael Logan

Nats was telling me last night how lucky she was to have met me and have her life transformed from a dull grind full of greyness and gloom into a Technicolour cartoon full of shiny happy bunnies dancing the fandango with cute little monkeys in waistcoats while petals rain down from the sky. Hurray!

Actually, what she really said that she was glad she started fencing and met me because I had helped in the creation of Charlotte. I guess it is just common courtesy to thank the sperm donor, but I’ll take any kind of compliment I can get.

Anyway, this led to a discussion of life-changing moments.

It is 1992. I am 21 and sitting upstairs in the Horseshoe Bar in Glasgow with my relatively new work colleagues from Linn Products. I have taken a job stuffing components into circuit boards after dropping out of university due to a combination of factors, including laziness, poverty and a lack of self-esteem. The job is boring, but the people are great.

I am a terrible singer, but have glugged down just the right number of beers to be cajoled into singing on the karaoke machine. I elect to sing Gloria by Van Morrison, partly because I love Van the Man, but also because it is a shouty song and therefore suits my singing voice. My performance is what you would expect. Even above my amplified screams I can hear giggles and abuse. I content myself by spraying the ungrateful buggers with spittle every time I shout ‘G-L-O-R-I-A’.

Finally it is over, and I return to the table. Callum, who runs the test department comes over and demands to buy me a drink. He is a huge Van Morrison fan, and wants to congratulate me on my performance (he is very, very drunk). We get even more drunk and talk about Van Morrison for an hour, then move onto other things.  Within three weeks he asks if I would want to go back to university to study electronics, with the fees paid by Linn. Of course I say yes. I go to Glasgow University, get my degree and promptly show my gratitude to Linn and Callum by going off to work for OKI in Cumbernauld.

So, here’s the chain of events leading to now:

I sing a Van Morrison song in a bar, and as a result get friendly with Callum. Consequently, I go back to University and get a degree. My degree gets me a job at OKI, where I meet Andy McVeigh. I rent a room in his flat. In a casual discussion one day, I tell Andy I used to fence. He gets all keen and says he wants to start it (Andy is a major womaniser, despite being bald since 19 and looking kind of like a turtle, and is sure he can get some action at fencing). I am not so keen, remembering how angry/upset I used to get when I lost at competitions, but he persuades me to come along with him. We join Glasgow West End Fencing Club, where I drink a lot, make some great friends and kind of fence. This goes on for six years, until I am just about to quit fencing because it has lost its appeal. 

Then Nats joins Glasgow West. After some ups and downs, we get together. She is going to Bosnia for a year, and after a few months decide we are in love, are going to get married and that I am coming to Banja Luka, the capital of Bosnia's Serb Republic. I sell my house and car and go to Bosnia, where I trade in my soldering iron for a notebook and pen. We move to Hungary after a year, and I start to work for the German Press Agency. Four years later, I apply to get transferred to Nairobi, and we move. Nats gets pregnant, and along comes Charlotte.

So, there you go. If it weren’t for a drunken decision to sing a certain song in a certain bar, I would not have gone back to fencing and met the only perfect match for me out there, I would not have the gorgeous little Charlotte, I would not be a journalist, and would not be living in Kenya. All pretty big consequences for one little song, which I am now very glad I sang.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Fanpop Musings on Van's "Social Class"

Another post referencing Fanpop.  Does that site deserve it?  It does have a pretty active Van Morrison section with trivia questions, poll questions and a lot of forum threads.  Today's 'promotion' of Fanpop is a quirky thread that discusses the great man's working class background.  It seems amazing that a genius like Van could emerge from the modest home at 125 Hyndford Street, East Belfast.  I wonder if Van ponders this point in his quiet moments? 

Darango Mustafa starts the thread off.  

Darango Mustafa   -   Do you think Van is hampered by his background? Or does it provide a rich vein for his lyrics? I think it's definitely helped him.

PaulPaul1975   -   Van has grown rich on his talent. But his working class background probably means he likes things like suede wallpaper, Australian soap operas, line dancing, pizzas, beauty pageants and other tacky things.

nasty girl   -   Does anyone know if the great man likes monster trucks? I find working class people like that kind of thing.

Micah Gidro   -   I am working class and I like collecting beer cans, motor sport and unhealthy food. I hope Van does too.

Michael Kelton   -   Sounds like some people here are trying to get Van in their collecting hobby group. The only thing Van collects are fans.

Kent Uzziah87   -   Van is nouveaux riche. You can buy class. Basically you hire someone to make sure your mansion conforms to whatever notions of style are current. I would like to talk to his cook. I'm sure he hasn't left Northern Ireland's terribly unhealthy food culture behind.

playful otter   -   Well...you can buy material things but you really can't "buy class"...LOL

playful otter   -   but in his own way I think Van has a lot of class...he does what he wants because he can....

Cal Avery   -   Van has some issues. He needs more social skills. He has been a truculent person since childhood. Does he get therapy?

Veedon Stairway   -   We are all inventing new rules for the new middle class in the new millennium. It's all new. I'm loving having extra money to spend on useless crap. Little decorative bits of crap. I've got a decorator which helps me get rid of some of my huge salary. It's all new with new rules. I'm loving it and macaroons. Brightly coloured girl food. Love it.

shockjock88   -   Van asks "what happened to the working class white?" That is on his 2012 album Born to Sing.

Jodie Caddy101   -   Class isn't something you talk about - either you have it or you haven't.

Capt Diddle   -   Class is a group of students or definite biological grouping. Fish need to be schooled about all this.

blind orange   -   Does Van have class? His sense of humour onstage is very much working-class Brit.

Jon Jon 2000   -   Class or no class it doesn't matter! What's the point of going on if there is no God? No rules, no objective morality, no sense of purpose. All gone. Every thought or idea just an accident. Just a bag of molecules in motion says Richard Dawkins. There is no point in a world without God.

shockjock88   -   I agree with every post on this forum. I'm an agreeable sort of chap. I make friends with the world and, guess what, the world smiles back, my friend. Birds sing to me. Automatic doors open up to me. I could go "double diamond" in less than three months.

Johnny-Reb1861   -   I thought the Mexicans streaming over the border were the new working class. Now every college kid wants to be a vet or a CSI investigator or a youtube sensation or handbag designer or app creator. No one wants to get their paws dirty. Funny world.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Van Morrison Sampled by Other Artists

Ghostface Killah  -  surprisingly not on the Duets album

It's sampling not stealing. Artists include bits of other songs in their music to create an interesting effect.  Van does something similar live and calls them medleys. Sampling is seen by older music fans like myself as evidence that most of the good music was done years. Young fans of the genre see it as another form of creative expression.  

Sample-based music has been around for decades. Apparently, copyright regulators are getting tougher with this music phenomenon. Basically, artists have to negotiate a separate sample clearance fee with two different rights-holders: whoever owns the sound recording (the actual sound that's been fixed to magnetic tape, CD, etc.) and the song publisher (who owns rights to the underlying melody and lyrics).  For well-known songs, licensing fees can be very expensive and sometimes rights-holders won't agree to a sample clearance for any price.

But it gets way more complicated when you start sampling songs that contain samples, which is increasingly the case today. If you wanted to sample, say, Fight the Power by Public Enemy well, that song contains 20 samples. You'd have to get permission from Def Jam, which owns the sound recording rights, and then Public Enemy's song publisher. Then you'd have to go to the other 20 song publishers and get permission to use their portion of the song. 

That's why the more creative sampled music today just isn't cleared at all, in the hopes that rights holders won't sue. But that means that the "legal" sampled songs just aren't nearly as creative. There were some really creative albums early on, back before right holders started demanding huge fees to use a a sample, but those days are long gone. 

Here are some samples of Van's music by other artists: 

T.B. Sheets (1967)   -   sampled in Greedy Bitches by Ghostface Killah feat. Redman and Shawn Wigs (2006)

Moondance (1970)   -   sampled in August's Rhapsody in C Major by Mark Mancina, Freddie Highmore and Jamia Simone Nash (2007) and Ritsy Boss by Lil B (2011)

Brown Eyed Girl (1967)   -   sampled in Girls, Girls, Girls by Richard Cheese (2004)

Into the Mystic (1970)   -   sampled in Say Hello, Wave Goodbye by David Gray (1998)

Madame George (1968)   -   sampled in Say Hello, Wave Goodbye by David Gray (1998)

Redwood Tree (1972)   -   sampled in Struggle by Curse (2006)

Did Ye Get Healed? (1987)   -   sampled in Featherfunk by Pogo (2012) and Gitch by Pogo (2008)

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Van Morrison Drummer Bobby Irwin Dead at 62

Van’s long-serving drummer, Bobby Irwin, died after a long battle with cancer on May 8, 2015 at Twickenham, Middlesex.  He was a long-time studio and touring drummer with both Nick Lowe and Van and played with numerous other artists like Bryan Ferry, Carlene Carter, and Lene Lovich. He also recorded a number of his own albums. 

Robert William Irwin was born in 1953 in Middlesex to his father, Kenneth Irwin, an air traffic controller, and his mother, Rosemary Trehern. He went to Lady Bankes infant school in Ruislip and Vyners grammar school in nearby Ickenham. After a spell at Uxbridge Technical College he taught himself drums and worked with Lowe from their early days in the 1970s at the breakthrough indie label Stiff Records in Ladbroke Grove, London.

He also toured extensively with Nick Lowe and Van Morrison. During one tour of the US in the early 1980s he met a local girl, got married and settled down in San Antonio, Texas, playing the occasional gig.
His last album as a drummer was for his old pal Lowe on the 2013 Christmas album Quality Street. But he continued to play gigs up into 2015 usually with his friend Geraint Watkins in the Wheatsheaf pub in Tooting Bec, south London, until his cancer worsened over recent months.

“Bob’s greatness as a drummer was that he was economical,” Lowe told The Independent. “He had a tremendous natural swing, getting into the rhythm and mood of a song. He was a songwriter’s drummer, a great interpreter of a song, which no doubt is why Van chose him.

Irwin often used the surname Trehern – his Cornish mother’s maiden name but usually misspelt on record sleeves as Treherne – after “a minor understanding” with US immigration. Irwin first recorded with Van on the 1999 album Back on Top.  He continued to play with him on albums up until 2007’s The Best of Van Morrison Volume 3. “Of all Van’s drummers over the years, I’ve lasted the longest. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” he liked to say.

At Bobby’s funeral was at St Stephen’s Church, Twickenham, on 19 May. Nick Lowe took the lectern to deliver the eulogy and fellow Van player Geraint Watkins performed a comforting ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ seated at the piano.

His escape from music was to sail his 40ft motor cruiser Lady Lorne from its berth at the Hammerton’s Ferry jetty in Twickenham to France. Otherwise, he liked a quiet pint by the river in the White Swan, Twickenham, with his long-time love and partner, Stephanie de Salvo Hall.

Due to undisclosed immigration troubles, Irwin took the name Robert Trehern for a short time period after his return to England.  Lowe would later joke about this when introducing Irwin on stage after Bob reclaimed his original name.

As a young boy, Irwin held a job as an office boy at the legendary London offices of The Beatles’ Apple Records and had the fortune of being atop the building for their famous rooftop final performance. On June 15, 1992, after returning to England, Bobby (along with Martin Belmont) got to back George Harrison and Carl Perkins at London’s Hard Rock CafĂ©. Bob said that George “thought he looked familiar.” Bobby Irwin will be missed by music fans from all over. 

Bob’s Recorded Work with Van

2007    The Best of Van Morrison, Vol. 3      
2006    Pay the Devil   
2005    Magic Time     
2003    What's Wrong with This Picture?     
2002    Down the Road          
1999    Back on Top   

Reader Comments

Willbirch   -   Bob was the greatest drummer (for the kind of music I prefer) and a really funny man. Shall miss him.

Martin Chambers   -   Bobby was a great player and a great guy. We always had a good time whenever we would meet up and that was never often enough.

Robbie Wilson   -   God bless Bobby Irwin.  Remembered fondly from 1980 Nomis studios and The Royal Oak evenings. 

Ivylander   -   Not showy, but one of the best.

Carl   -   This is bad news. I was acquainted with Bobby through his sister marrying a close friend. We got in to a few Nick Lowe gigs through having our names on the guest list. Sally had asked if the band would play a set at the wedding reception and they all agreed except for Bobby who apparently said “I’m not working at my sister’s wedding. I want to get pissed”.

Mavis Diles   -   A fine drummer, and as befits a member of Lowe’s circle, not afraid of bad jokes. Even without his exemplary, unshowy drumming, he goes into the list of good guys just for that. But, what a great drummer.

Tim   -   I’m so glad I drove from Nashville to Atlanta to see him play with Nick on their last tour.

Mbodayle   -   I made the drive to Atlanta from Nashville as well and that was the last time I saw Bob.

Molly McKay   -  Bob was my Dad.  I was born in 1988 in San Antonio. I wonder if you ever met my mother, Tracie. I have unfortunately only spent time with my dad a handful of times. He will be missed!

Joe Trevino   -   I met Bobby when he was producing some Bonnie Barnard songs in San Antonio. He asked me to engineer the recording. Although I’d been doing it a while I learnt an incredible amount about the art of record making from him for which I’ll be forever indebted. He was a great drummer with a heart as big as Texas. Hilarious to be around. Thanks for teaching us that the record is all about the groove. I shall miss you dearly my friend. Godspeed my brother.

Davina Lund   -   I knew Bobby as Bob Trehern from my French connection and his mad keen love of boats rather than music, he was a frequent guest at my house there. the greatest nice guy I have ever met, RIP Bob.

Victor Scott   -   Remember supporting The Sinceros at The Marquee in 1978. Bobbi played great.

Hank Wangford   -   Bob always went his own way. He was my drummer with the Hank Wangford Band for a couple of years in the UK. In Orkney on a Scottish tour Bob decided he’d had enough and went back to London leaving us to finish the tour without a drummer. Bobby was a hard act to follow (Van Morrison kept him in his band longer than any other sideman despite a Van moment sacking him then reinstating him). So I went on for a long time without a drummer.