Sunday, 30 August 2015

Funny Things People Say - Part 8

Happy Birthday Van  -  You're the Greatest

imoneil5000   -   There are few people whose voices annoy me as much as Van Morrison’s. The best Van Morrison record is the sound of silence for forty minutes after you pull the 8-track of Moondance out of the stereo and toss it out the window of a moving car.

Erik Albany   -  I know there are many Van Morrisons to consider...but later in life (my 30s), I've really come to love songs like Hard Nose the Highway and Into the Mystic, as well as (obviously) all of Astral Weeks.
Mr Fab   -   That's the stuff I really like - I've got a Best of Them album. And his immediate post-Them stuff has some greatness like TB Sheets. But honestly I don't know if I can get into the later stuff without growing a beard, wearing denim and listening to James Taylor. Oh, I Cover The Waterfront, a song he did with John Lee Hooker, is really good - real low-down and bluesy. Don't know if that was his doing or Hooker's, tho.

M. Johnson   -   Even if Into The Mystic was "just a few short steps away from Enya" [which it's not,] so what? Enya is just a few short steps away from BEFORE AND AFTER SCIENCE. As I've said elsewhere Van's Common One is the missing link between James Brown and MUSIC FOR AIRPORTS.  But listen to songs like Rave on, John Donne or When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God? and you can only conclude that, sure Van can be plenty pretentious, but he's not really watering anything down, or merely trying to make a buck.

Rondo   -   A few weeks ago I was at a pub sitting at a table with 5 or 6 people aged under 35. Some of the people commented on the great music playing in the background - it was a collection Van Morrison's biggest hits.  However, not one of these people had ever heard of Van Morrison! I couldn't believe it.

Christine Biss   -    Loved Van the man till I went to see him at the Royal Albert Hall and he was so rude did not speak to the audience once and he didn't actually look at the audience. just put his head down sung songs that could not be understood and the only one of his older songs was Brown Eyed Girl. I still love all his songs. But will never go and see him live again.

MMM   -   Van used to be one of the "old school" like Peter O'Toole and Richard Harris...I knew someone many years ago who had been one of his tour manager.  She thought he could put anybody under the table.

Ernie Lo   -   I've heard of the name but never seen him or heard his music or took any notice. I think my brain automatically replaces Van Morrison with Van Halen.

Epis Odes   -   Strangely, Van Morrison, who has been a great singer several times over, is at his very worst when he goes into wordless sound-making, as on his odd album Common One.

Aaron Shay   -   Imagine that Van Morrison is singing in a band with Lou Reed and that they're playing songs that Neil Sedaka wrote while drunk and manic depressive. Now imagine that this event was recorded in 2008. Also, imagine Morrison with a heavy Bronx accent. That's what Vic Ruggiero's solo album Something in My Blind Spot sounds like.

Paul  Connolly   -   One of my own favourite albums is Astral Weeks by Van Morrison, which features the song Ballerina. It’s a haunting evocation of a love unrequited, or perhaps broken in some way. Listening to it, I get a sense of fragility, of a man who is yearning for this perfect vision of a woman to be his. The fact that I was once married to a ballet dancer means that those feelings have the ring of truth.

M. Johnson   -   Van has been my favourite artist since I was 17 (I'm 34 now) and I think he certainly could take a seat next to Lou Reed, Neil Young, Richard Thompson and Ray Davies, as one of the Titans who spawned the 'Alternative' gods.  Van Morrison is one weird dude after all. He is a true misfit, and remains so to this day.

As to the sexuality- well, it's most evident in Madam George, of course ["the hallway lights are slowly getting dim/ you're in the front room touching him"] but already the THEM and Bang! material, as well as Astral Weeks, Van makes reference to old homo paedophiles and well as his troubling desires for 14 year old girls. Van never made perversions his primary subject/affectation like Lou Reed, but it's there just the same.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Unhappy With Van Morrison

A refreshing change in a week where Van is universally lauded we have P.R.Mullen's slight rant against the great man. Read his full complaint at the Classic Album Review  -  Life Changing Records blog. 

In unusual fashion I'm going to begin by slagging Van Morrison off. Big Time. He is one selfish mother. Let me take you back to 1999. I was sixteen years old, and heavily into music. There was an advert in my local paper claiming that Van Morrison was coming to town - the genius songwriter who had penned the likes of Brown Eyed Girl, Moondance, and Gloria. I called my friend Sarah, we agreed to go, and I booked the tickets. He came on stage for forty minutes, played none of the above - in fact, played only one recognisable song in the whole gig (Have I Told You Lately That I Love You) - and strutted off without returning for an encore.

At the time, of course, I had no idea that this was unusual practice. Only later did I realise how arrogant and selfish this had been. The highlight of the gig had, in fact, been the support act, Lonnie Donnegan. He was brilliant, and I got to meet him afterwards where he signed an album for me. I had no idea at the time how important in the whole scheme of things this man was. He put a smile on my face that night though - that's how I remember him.

So, wind the clock forward a few years. 2002 to be precise. I decided to give Van Morrison another chance - the venue: Sheffield City Hall. Yet again a horrendously selfish set of obscure, inconsiderate crap. He had his own audience looking round in bemusement. For the first half an hour he hung in the shadows playing saxophone instrumentals. Nobody was there to see that. And, yet again, he kept his hits under lock and key. The man plays what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants with no consideration for his fans. 

It was essential that I got that off my chest. Nevertheless, the bigger picture is this: the man is an awesome talent. That is demonstrated in no better form than his third solo album, and subsequent Grammy Hall Of Fame inductee, Moondance. Astral Weeks, the prequel to Moondance, is often cited as Morrison's masterpiece. I have bought and returned that album three times in an attempt to see what the fuss is all about. In my opinion it doesn't touch Moondance, an absolute triumph from beginning to end. And It Stoned Me - the singer's true recollection of an afternoon in his childhood - is a heartfelt, rural epic. The title track, Moondance, is one of those timeless, undying classics, with inspired lyrics: "Well it's a marvellous night for a moondance/With the stars up above in your eyes."

Crazy Love, the album highlight, is a sensual, intimate love song that bleeds warmth. Some sort of divine inspiration is surely needed to write a song like this. Caravan is the beginning of Morrison's fascination with Gypsies - a theme that still runs through his work today. The ethereal Into The Mystic is Morrison's songwriting working within new dimensions, musically and lyrically. The same beauty filters into the happiness of Come Running, These Dreams Of You is a Dylan-esque wander through random thoughts and feelings, Brand New Day a lovely, optimistic song, and Everyone a message of hope in a time of unrest (1969 had seen civil war break out in Belfast). Throughout the record Van Morrison's vocal is impeccable, and projected from the soul. A wonder to behold. The album closes with the horn-soaked Glad Tidings, another tune infused with love and optimism.

This is a wonderful, wonderful record. The sort of record you can put on when the sun is beaming down and the world will seem such a good place to be. 

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Belfast References in Van's Songs

Recently, Van has been embracing his Belfast roots.  In the last few years he has been doing numerous concerts in and around Belfast, most regularly at the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa and the Europa Hotel.  Last year in 2014 Van was also presented with the key to the city of Belfast.  It seems after years of decrying nostalgia Van is ready to receive the accolades that deservedly come his way and part of that is celebrating his humble beginnings in East Belfast.  

One of the most touching celebrations of his Belfast childhood came in August, 2014 when Van performed at his old Orangefield High school for three concerts marking the closing of the school.  Two of the concerts were for past students and staff.  The concerts were loaded with Belfast references that were lapped up by the parochial crowd. The second song on the first night was Got to Go Back which has the opening lines "when I was a young man in Orangefield, I used to look outside my classroom window and dream". Needless to say, any references to Belfast or Orangefield received rousing cheers.  

Enthusiast on the Van Heritage Trail
The city of Belfast in Northern Ireland has taken on mythic proportions in the minds of Van Fans around the world.  In many ways Van has been a one man tourist promotion juggernaut for Belfast with many fans visiting various sites on the "Van pilgrimage trail".  Indeed, an official 
Van Morrison Heritage Trail has been created which has served to help increase the number of visitors to the city.  Consider the plight of the poor people who live in Van's birth house at 125 Hyndford Street in East Belfast.  They surely must be bothered daily by well-meaning tourists expecting Van to emerge from this modest dwelling with crumbs and Marmite stains on his sweater. 

Near to his birthplace of Hyndford Street is the leafy Cyprus Avenue where Van supposedly had an epiphany that lead to a spiritual or mystical strain running through his work.  On his 70th birthday (August 31) this year, Van is performing two concerts on Cyprus Avenue. These should be fantastic events not to be missed by any Van Fans. The BBC is gearing up with a week-long promotion of all things Van.      

In his poem/song On Hyndford Street Morrison travels to Fuscos in Holywood for Ice Cream, name checks Beechie River, Abetta Parade, Orangefield, St. Donard's Church comes down from the Castlereagh Hills through Cregagh Glens, “to Hyndford Street, feeling wondrous and lit up inside/With a sense of everlasting life..." This is what Van has been doing since that iconic first solo record Astral Weeks - finding transcendence in the everyday familiar. 

Van's nostalgic Astral Weeks is one of the greatest albums ever made (just ask Pat Corley and Ryan Foley). It is an incredible piece of poetry and sound that may provide probably the first references to Belfast in popular song.  

Down through the years Morrison has added many other places to his catalogue of Belfast memories. Cherry Valley is mentioned on Hyndford Street, the Orangefield of his school days appears on Got To Go Back and then gets an entire song called Orangefield on Avalon Sunset. In the title track of Sense of Wonder, a song in which Van sees himself as a bringer of a fiery vision he is finding wonder in Gransha, Ballystockart Road, the Castle Picturehouse on the Castlereagh Road and the man who played the saw outside the City Hall. There are also mentions for pastie suppers down at Davy's Chipper, gravy rings, barnbracks, wagon wheels and snowballs, all vivid and vital memories for Morrison himself and the many Belfast residents who love Van's music.  
The song Coney Island mentions a lot of Northern Ireland geography. The Lecale district is a flat peninsula lying between Strangford Lough and Dundrum Bay. A journey through Lecale takes one to some of the most varied and interesting scenery in Ireland, encompassing as it does the historic cathedral town of Downpatrick, where St. Patrick is reputed to be buried. Coney Island, is not an island as most people think, but is actually a group of cottages which are just off the winding road between Ardglass and Killough 

Ardglass is a lively fishing village and Killyleagh is a small town on Strangford Lough to the north of the Lecale district. Shrigley is a village about a mile and a half outside Killyleagh on the Saintfield Road on the way to Belfast.

Some people have pointed out the confusion in the accuracy of the details in the song.  In the song Van sings Coming back from Downpatrick which gives the impression that he is heading back home to Belfast which is to the north of Downpatrick. However when he sings "stopping off at St. John's Point" things become confused as St John's Point is to the south of Downpatrick. If he had sung the original word "Coming down from Downpatrick" all would have made sense. We need to allow him a bit of artistic licence.

Madame George also contains a number of references to places and events in Belfast like Cyprus Avenue, Sandy Row and the reference to "throwing pennies at the bridges down below" which was a practice of Northern Irish Unionists as they travelled on the train from Dublin to Belfast where the train crossed the River Boyne. Fitzroy may be a reference to Fitzroy Avenue, a narrow residential street in Belfast between the Ormeau Road and Rugby Road.

It's a great time to be a Van Fan.  Van has been recognised in a number of award presentations in the last few years culminating in his knighthood on the Queen's birthday.  He has also been keeping up a steady concert schedule with the highlight being the two Cyprus Avenue concerts on his August 31st birthday. 

Friday, 7 August 2015

Live on Air (2012)

The Van Morrison Live on Air album is a confusing selection of tracks.   The set list seems like it's from Van's 1973 show at the Rainbow Theater with the Caledonia Soul Orchestra. While there are a number of tracks from that show included on this disc, other tracks come from different live shows that span Van's career. Recorded at several concert and club dates in 1973, Live on Air offers a wide swath of mostly strong performances but generally weak or flawed fidelity. 

Sounding very much like a worn-out cassette of an old radio broadcast, there's a certain charm to some of these recordings that adds to the already loose and cavalier air of Morrison's shows. The band and Morrison's voice alike are in top form, sounding relaxed to the point of laziness at times, but always in the groove. To the collection's detriment, however, crowd noise, distorting peaks, and washy compression all add to the sometimes annoying "live sound" traits that generally put some listeners off live albums. 

Some of it sounds like it was sourced from low bit-rate MP3's and there are no notes or credits at all included in the package. I have copies of copies of bootlegs that sound better and have been assembled with more care and effort. 
Like most Live on Air releases, the disc was recorded "track at once" (gaps between the tracks) which makes it sound like a live greatest hits compilation rather than a 'concert recording'. Here is how the track list breaks down:
1 - Warm Love from Musikladden, Bremen, West Germany July 10, 1974
2- Take Your Hands Out of My Pocket - from Rainbow Theatre, London 1973
3 - Here Comes the Night (this is really Here Comes the Knight) - ??
4- I Just Want to Make Love to You - from Rainbow Theatre, London 1973
5 - Brown Eyed Girl - from Austin City Limits, November 18, 2006
6 - Moonshine Whiskey - from Rainbow Theatre, London 1973
7 - Moondance - from Rainbow Theatre, London 1973
8 - Help Me - from Rainbow Theatre, London 1973
9 - Domino - from Rainbow Theatre, London 1973
10 - Caravan - from Rainbow Theatre, London 1973
11 - Cyprus Avenue - from Ireland 1979
12 - Wild Night - from Pacific High Studios 1971

Live on Air 2012

Release Date   -   January 10, 2012
Label   -   Blueline / IMV / IMV Blueline / XXL Media
Format   -   audio CD
Duration   -   01:02:21

Listener Comments
Bill   -   The quality of this CD is unacceptable. There are other live Van CDs available, and I strongly recommend you pass on this one. I should've known better!
Lance B. Judd   -    Wow, this disc is terrible. I completely concur with the previous reviewer. Amateurishly put together and it might be an exaggeration to call it low-fi. It sounds like a real bad audience bootleg. On top of this, the performance(s) is mostly uninspired and sloppy, although the SQ of the disc may have something to do with my impression.
Wayne Randall Morrison   -   Let me tell you, there are tons of Van Morrison bootlegs out there, many of them are EXCEPTIONAL, so do not waste your money or your time listening to this one. The packaging tells you it's gonna be cheap and lousy, yet you hope for the best. NO credits, NO info on where or when it was recorded, and if you have any interest in this era of Van, 1973 just purchase the superb It's Too Late To Stop Now from the same is the official Warner Bros. release, and it is AWESOME!!
I was hoping for some lost gems here, but the performances are just nothing special. If you have seen Van a few times or listened to any of his official live releases, or even a few of the exceptional bootlegs, you have heard Van SO MUCH better than this.
And the recording quality is AWFUL!!! I mean TRULY awful.
Sounds like all the flutter of a very bad cassette tape that has been left on your dashboard about 39 years!! There are breaks between the songs, no FLOW to the concert. Some of them start a few notes into the song, and WOW are they LOUSY! Seriously, no matter how big a fan you are of Van The Man, and I have seen him at least 20 times, and own at least 20 bootleg CDs (my favourite being the one with his version of Send In The Clowns - "send 'em on...send 'em onnnn...send 'em on IN! Send 'em on INNNNN!") you will NOT enjoy the seriously awful quality of this is nothing special as far as performance, and certainly not worthy of listening to as the volume flutters in and out like you are listening to a CHEAP cassette.
There are SO MANY other bootlegs out there that are EXCELLENT!
This is about the WORST! I have not heard anything this bad by Van in concert before, but it's not so much the performances, it's the 1 on a scale of 1 to 1,000 sound quality that makes it suck!!!
Mark McCabe   -   Do not purchase this product. It is a wretched bootleg with very inferior sound. I have heard better bootlegs from the underground Van Morrison collectors. This was a complete RIP OFF. Buyer beware. I'd love my 16 dollars back.
John Wright   -   A very disappointing CD. Yes it clearly highlights Van at his peak, but the quality of this disc leaves a lot to be desired. It is poor bootleg quality at best. I wish I had seen the other reviews prior to ordering this CD. Only of value as a missing CD in a collection.
The Cappuccino Kid   -   This doesn't even seem like a legit Van-approved release...wonder what the deal is...probably worth ordering immediately in case he puts a stop to it...

Anonymous   -   Live on Air has some tracks starting midsong or in a jarring blast of audience cheers. These audio drawbacks are most noticeable on Morrison's biggest hits. Brown Eyed Girl proves hard to re-create as magically as the studio version and Moondance is an utter failure, with Van sounding like every cliché of a drunk schmaltzy Vegas lounge singer as he mutters, slurs, and sloppily stumbles his way through a hissily recorded shamble. Even for archivists, Live on Air is a bit of a chore to listen to at times, and casual fans should avoid it at all costs.

Clarkophile   -   This looks dubious.

Craig   -   Live at the Rainbow Theatre 1973. One of the concerts used for the live album It's Too Late To Stop NowThis is probably taken from the 1974 BBC video broadcast. Audio and video booted multiple times.

mfp   -   Actually there are images on youtube of Van that seem to be from the It's Too Late To Stop Now era. It's Too Late To Stop Now has always been one of my favourite live albums ever! I'd been dreaming of seeing images of these shows. 

rstamberg   -   Sure, it's a pirated recording (technically, it's not a bootleg), but some of these LIVE ON AIR CDs are really, really excellent i.e., RY COODER LIVE ON AIR, which is indispensable. Some, however, are crap-ola, a la YES LIVE ON AIR, which is unlistenable.  Always avoid any IMV Blueline/XXL DVDs (which Amazon also sells, BTW). They're unwatchable.

ljuddpro   -   Just a heads up, I've heard the disc and it is unlistenable. Save your money.

Marjo Mustafa   -   I own it but I'm a completist. I don't mistakes. 

factory44   -   Unlistenable?! I'm not sure what you're talking about. My CD arrived on Tuesday and I've been playing it ever since. It doesn't sound like a top notch live album (like It's Too Late To Stop Now) but these tracks were most definitely professionally recorded. Sounds very much like an early 70's radio recording. Van's outstanding vocals are clear and prominent in the mix. If you're a fan pick this up immediately!

ljuddpro   -   I do agree that Van's vocals are clear and prominent in the mix. However, the compromised rendering of instruments and tonal quality of the tracks are unacceptable to me. In addition, the editing of the disc is laughable as songs are clipped and run into each other with no attempt to get a smooth transition.  It may sound like an early 70's radio recording but to me it sounds like a bad mp3 download. It is the worst sounding CD that I own and I find it hard to believe it was professionally recorded.

factory44    -    If the music on this CD was not recorded professionally, such as an audience recorded bootleg, you would not hear the vocals (lead and backing) so clearly or any separation between the instruments. Is this release a bootleg? You bet. Is it an unlistenable audience recording? No way. If this disc is the worst sounding CD you own then I guess you aren't a big fan of "grey area" recordings. And there's nothing wrong with that. But for you to say this CD is unlistenable is misleading to say the very least.