Thursday, 1 October 2015

In the Days Before Rock 'n' Roll (1990)


Tom Holland's The Immortal Jukebox has plenty of great Van stuff.  Here's some of the recent post about the brilliant In the Days Before Rock 'n Roll.  Click above for the full article and other Van treats.  

 ‘ I like Morrison because I know that his work comes from the same level as my own poetry – the level of daydreaming; that he’s out to annihilate ego; that he’s after the same,’nothingness’ as Kavanagh was after .’ (Paul Durcan)

As a boy growing up in East Belfast, Van Morrison was close to the sea and the countryside. From his house, beyond his bedroom, he could hear voices echoing over the Beechie River and imagine the mist swathed shipyard towers looming out of the night as the foghorns guided ships safely home.  He found sustenance for his creative imagination in the sights and sounds of his home city, its hinterland, and in sounds closer to home emanating from the radio and the HMV record player. The radio and the record player would become almost sacred objects.

The sounds they produced would enter deep into his consciousness, his soul; sounds he could never forget, sounds he would store as treasure and draw on for decades – fusing them through the mysterious alchemy of art into extraordinarily beautiful and affecting visions of his own.  And these visions have their genesis in the days before rock ‘n’ roll. The days of post war austerity. Days which could seem monochrome, mundane and stultifyingly metronomic.

Together with fellow Irishman and fellow dreamer, poet Paul Durcan, he would dramatise those dreaming days in a song, In The Days Before Rock ‘n’ Roll – a song which would catalogue some of the signposts of those dreams in a performance which has something of the hyper real, time slipping, giddy character of a waking dream. The sleeve notes tell me the song last 8 minutes and 13 seconds but that only records how long it lasts the first time you hear it – for once you’ve heard it it will be playing in your imagination and in your dreams for the rest of your life. Come aboard!

A Listeners guide to Certain Lyrics:


‘Justin'   -   Who is Justin? Just a name plucked out of the air for its sound, its comparative rarity in a world awash with Jims and Georges and Pauls? Probably we will never know who this, ‘gentler than a man’ man was. Just a thought but it strikes me as not insignificant that an Irish poet from the latter half of the twentieth century would use a name which happens to be the little know second name of the greatest Irish poet of that era: Seamus Justin Heaney!

The Wireless Knobs/Telefunken   -   Vintage radios such as those made by the Telefunken Company in Berlin were gorgeously tactile objects. Radios, humming with valve power and gleaming with polished wood, Bakelite and glass, softly lit, took pride of place in our homes in the days before Televisions took up their imperial dominance in our living rooms. No point and shoot remotes then! Radios were switched on and off and tuned to stations using knobs that clunked satisfyingly into position and dials that you set spinning to call up and capture sounds from distant lands beamed in from the ionosphere.

Radios conjured up dreams, created communities of interest and painted pictures that seared into our memories. Radio, despite all the technological developments of the last few decades remains the dreamers ideal companion. Tune in!

‘Luxembourg, Athlone, Budapest, AFN, Hilversum, Helvetia   -   One of the great pleasures of vintage radio was discovering what programmes were made by exotically named radio stations broadcasting from places which often had to be looked up on an atlas to see where they were! Not knowing what you might find and be introduced to was exciting and expanded our cultural horizons.

Luxembourg   -   Radio Luxembourg had a very powerful signal (on 208 metres Medium Wave) which washed tidally over the British Isles bringing many young people their first regular exposure to those new fangled musics their parents just knew were no good for them. Luxembourg, in contrast to the BBC, was a commercial station which meant it was happy to devote whole programmes to showcasing the new releases from record labels such as Capitol and Phillips.

AFN (American Forces Network)   -   One of the spin-offs from the presence of GIs in Europe as a result of WW2 and the ensuing cold war was AFN whose broadcasts of American music could be listened to by Europeans hungry for the jazz and blues based music which was so hard to find anywhere else. Being near an American military base was a boon both for the likely strength of the signal and the possibility that personnel from the base might have records never seen in domestic stores.

Lester Piggott   -   Lester Piggott (‘The long fellow’) was, as my Dad would have told you, the greatest horse racing jockey who ever lived. He won England’s premier race, The Epsom Derby, an almost unbelievable 9 times from 1954 as a teenager with, Never Say Die through to 1983 when he won with, Teenoso. Lester Piggott became an almost mythical figure not just in the world of the turf but in the folklore of the nation.

Fats, Elvis, Sonny, Lightning, Muddy, John Lee, Ray Charles:The High Priest! The Killer: Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard   -   Van Morrison was extraordinarily fortunate to be the son of a father who had lived in Detroit and who had a fabled collection of blues and rhythm and blues records young Van could immerse his thirsty soul in. As he says he heard Muddy Waters and Blind Lemon on the street where he was born. Leadbelly became his guiding spirit. A spirit he has remained true to over five decades and more of music making.

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