Monday, 28 December 2015

“Time Out For Time In”



After Van Morrison left Them in 1966, it splintered into three groups.  Jim Armstrong kept the name Them and formed a new band which relocated to Los Angeles.  The Belfast Gypsies and Truth were two other groups soldiering on with past members of Them. Even Van performed with a band he called Them Again in the early months of the breakup of Them. The Jim Armstrong led Them completely revamped their image and sound behind Jim Armstrong’s accomplished guitar work and Ken McDowell’s vocals.  The only constant from the Van Morrison era was guitarist Alan Henderson and he played on the first two post-Van albums called Now And Them and Time Out! Time In. They easily represent the best of Them's post Van work.   



Them's second post-Van Morrison album which was released in November, 1968 was Time Out! Time In.  It's a fine album, heavily influenced by the West Coast psychedelic scene.  It's considered to be an acid rock classic by some. Just One Conception and We've All Agreed to Help are the only tracks written by the band. 

The title track opens the album and it's bluesy psychedelic rock with the use of sitarSome of the stronger tracks on the album include Waltz Of The Flies, Black Widow Spider, Market Place and Just On Conception, which features some excellent lead sitar. The Moth is another example of some fine guitar-sitar Raga-rock, with a dreamy vibe.  I Put A Spell On You is also included here but re-worked as I Put A Hex On YouThe album closes with the 1966 soul hit by J.J. Jackson, But It's Alright.  There are some bizarre lyrics throughout the album which some critics have naturally called pretentious. (Is it just me or are other listeners going to have problems with three insect-themed songs on the one album?)

Moving forward to The Bonus Tracks, Square Room, is a very strong track with Psych leads and production. A real standout is the original single 45 version of Dirty Old Man (At The Age Of 16), which was a single that did reach some success across the pond. I also found the track, Corinna, which was a track originally penned by Taj Mahal and Jesse Davis, which was actually released as a single in 1969, and featured session players Ry Cooder and Jack Nizsche, a single that should have enjoyed more success than it actually did. All In All, the strong songs, fine musicianship, and psychedelic slant should have enjoyed much more sales than this fine album did. 

In summary this album is a pretty good psychedelic record though not the masterpiece dealers and rock critics make it out to be.  This is the kind of album you get after you’ve heard a few hundred or so classics and are thirsting for more UK psychedelia.  The musicianship is way above average, particularly Jim Armstrong’s guitar work.  Mean lean fuzz leads are painted all over this album.  During this era, Them also had a good live reputation throughout the LA area and released some fine singles including the excellent garage punker Dirty Old Man.  Many fans also appreciate the fine psychedelic collage on the cover of the album. 

Tracks
1.  Time Out for Time In (Lane, Pulley)
2.  She Put a Hex on You (Lane, Pulley)
3.  Bent Over You (Henderson, Lane, Pulley) 
4.  Waltz of the Flies (Lane)
5.  Black Widow Spider (Lane, Pulley) 
6.  We've All Agreed to Help (Them)
7.  Market Place (Lane, Pulley) 
8.  Just on Conception (Henderson, McDowell, Harvey, Armstrong)
9.  Young Woman (Lane, Pulley)
10. Moth (Lane, Pulley) 
11. But It's Alright (Jackson, Tubbs) 

Bonus Tracks on the CD Release

12. Square Room (2nd Single Version) (Henderson, McDowell, Harvey, Armstrong) - 3:18
13. Dirty Old Man (2nd Single Version) (Lane) - 1:46
14. Corinna (Single Version) (Mahal, Davis) - 2:38
15. Dark Are the Shadows (Single Version) (Monda, Budnick) - 2:39
16. Dirty Old Man (Original Single Version) (Lane) - 1:57
17. Square Room (Original Single Version) (Henderson, McDowell, Harvey, Armstrong) - 3:37
18. But It's Alright (Original Single Version) (Jackson, Tubbs) - 2:43
19. Square Room (Single Edit Remix) (Henderson, McDowell, Harvey, Armstrong) - 3:20

Them
Kenny McDowell - Lead Vocals
Alan Henderson - Bass
Jim Armstrong - Guitar, Sitar
Dave Harvey - Drums
Johnny Guerin - Drums (Studio Sessions)

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Van Morrison in September


Here’s some of a magnificent piece written by Gavin Keeney in 2002.  Gavin Keeney is a landscape architect from New York and the full article can be found on a journalism site called Counter Punch. This extremely edited piece doesn't really do the original article much justice. 

Van Morrison, In September

I first understood Morrison’s legendary status — as legendary prevaricator/idler — when I read Hunter S. Thompson’s paean to Astral Weeks in Rolling Stone sometime around 1972-73. I had just started college and Rolling Stone and The Village Voice were available in the library. Thompson’s article circled round Astral Weeks and swooped incoherently down on Slim Slow Slider — the most amazing song on this extraordinary 1968 recording.  

This song shatters the mirror of innocence, played out through the other songs of sexual awakening, e.g., the delirium of Just Like a Ballerina, and represents the emergence of something purely archaic — expressed in the ravaged, wordless conclusion. This undercurrent is present throughout but erupts mercilessly at the close of the last song.  The infamous, wayfaring journalist was apparently struck dumb by the savage incantation of the song — the young girl “slipping and sliding”, riding away into oblivion. “

Many years later in the Woody Creek Tavern, outside Aspen, Colorado, and sitting just below the Hunter S. Thompson memorabilia mounted on the wall, I remembered that first encounter … Too bad he didn’t saunter through the door. He could have tried to explain himself. I’ve been trying to track down this article for years, to no avail. Sometimes I think I may have hallucinated the whole thing.

I heard covers of Van Morrison songs from the Moondance period in bars by local folk musicians in those first years of college. I was 18 years old and the music — combined with rivers of draft beer — was a near-death experience. It mattered little that it was not Morrison singing the songs. The bands were superb folk-blues bands.  I eventually purchased Astral Weeks and it was the beginning of following Morrison’s ambling career over nearly thirty years. Before Van Morrison captured my imagination, I had listened principally to the folk minstrels Joni Mitchell, Tom Rush, Tom Paxton, Eric Andersen, Phil Ochs, Leonard Cohen, and Jesse Winchester. To this day I listen to Joni Mitchell’s Blue (1971).

I’ve never followed any band or artist through every up-and-down cycle. I collect the periodic releases that seem relevant, then dump them later when they seem irrelevant. With Van Morrison it was Astral Weeks (1968), Moondance (1970), St Dominic’s Preview (1972), Veedon Fleece (1974), Wavelength (1978), Common One (1980), Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (1983), Poetic Champions Compose (1987), Enlightenment (1990), Days Like This (1995), and, in 1999, Back on Top that impressed me.


Saturday, 19 December 2015

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


In the Days Before Rock 'n' Roll is one of my three favourite songs (along with Summertime in England and Into the Mystic.)  It is track 7 on the 1990 album Enlightenment and was also released as a single but didn't fare well, reaching number 94 in England and staying in the charts for just that one week in November, 1990.  The track was co-written by Paul Durcan who provides the spoken word parts of the song.           

The song is about the impact that the radio had on the development of music and the British young person's desire to access authentic rock 'n' roll. It remains a tribute to the European stations British young people were listening to until the UK scene caught up.  In the days before rock 'n' roll is a quirky song that captures the intensity of those radio moments searching the wavebands.

The mysterious figure of Justin is mentioned in the song. Van has been known to get upset when someone in concert calls out Who is Justin? The name could possibly one of Van's word plays standing for the common radio language about records being just in.  Van makes reference to various iconic European radio terms, including Telefunken, Luxemborg, Athlone and Hilversum.  

Van makes a number of other specific references in the lyrics.  He mentions famous British jockey Lester Piggott and then name checks early rock performers like Fats Domino, Elvis, Sonny Terry, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. 

In the last verse he returns to Justin and asks where is he now? and what is he doing now? In the last line he says Come aboard. Is this an oblique reference to L.Ron Hubbard had an obsession with boats and created a kind of navy themed group called Seaorg as part of his "church" of Scientology?  Much more could be said about this fascinating song but let's let the readers from all over the internet speak.
Reader Comments


Visions of Louise   -   the song refers to Lester Piggot as he was a huge feature in Irish culture at the time. betting on horses is a big Irish past time and something you do with your friends, for the craic! i think this song is a nostalgic look back on a friendship van once had. it was obviously a gentle and social relationship. the days before rock & roll when van would have tuned in radio Luxembourg etc to hear his blues heroes. Justin may have just been a friend, where is he now? letting the gold fish go could be just that, something that was done whilst socialising. it could also symbolise the freedom he associates with that time. the goldfish swimming down a stream, free from the captivity of the goldfish bowl.


Flagroosterosoon   -   I think it's Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues. Justin Hayward has a gentle voice, he's a contemporary of Van Morrison, and has a similar musical pedigree and abilities. Well, okay, no one has the abilities of Van.

Drummer piper   -   I'm fairly certain this song is about how Europeans found American roots to rock and roll on the dials of European radios. But who is Justin referred to in this song?
Chris Hunter   -   Hey, I backed a Lester Piggott mount once and it got up at 6/1. The horse was called Kuantan and it won in Singapore 1970 after I returned from my tour in Vietnam. Van’s the man!

Bill   -   In a lot of Van's music his fans wait for that transcendent moment in a song where Van the singer and his song just leave the stage setting and go into a place with no time or space. I think this song was written in this plane.


Mr Bubba 1800   -   My olde Telefunkin picked it all up from around the entire world.
Cluster Vision Mach2   -   The “pirate” radio-rock’n roll-subculture-swinging-London 60s etc. was all staged to divide society, to split it up into fatherless children with mothers alone in low income depressed Europe. Well, I like Van the man, too, but evidence for my suggestion is delivered in extended social engineering literature of Eustace Mullins, Dr. John Coleman, Edward Bernays etc. about mind control and distracting humans from truth. 


MrAzman345   -    It was because of the pirate late night FM stations that I became interested in R&R. I got a job at one of those stations as my introduction to broadcasting. Since it was late night programming and FM stations weren’t like they are today, we could play our own music. I played a lot of “Van the Man” and got to like his music intensely. It was great fun and I have been a fan of this musical genius ever since. I have noticed that most of the best music comes from the Celts
John Hooton   -   This song takes me back to when I was a 12 year old boarding school boy back in 1958 with my friend Simon Betts.  We both hunched over the old valve radio every night in the library at about 8:00pm, trying to get a few tunes from radio Luxembourg by twiddling the tuner knob while songs faded in and out as the waves skipped off the ionosphere.  A few songs before bed at 9:00pm.  We wrote to Beryl Reid and requested ‘All in the Game’ by Tommy Edwards.  She didn't have it but played us Basin Street Blues instead. One of my happier school memories in the days before rock ’n’ roll.

Kim Petersen   -   So I also got this knowledge that he is about talking like gold fish was a night club.  
pirate259   -   Many people ask “who is/was Justin”? This is a reference to the pioneer Irish businessman Ronan O’rahilly who brought Pirate Radio to UK/Europe via Radio Caroline.The words “climb aboard” refer to him getting the station underway back in the 1960’s when,in the UK there was no rock and roll played on the radio.

Chris Wanjek   -   But In the Days Before Rock 'n Roll is seriously flawed. This song should have been the album's centrepiece; Morrison turned it into a "gag" song. Instead of singing, Morrison gets Paul Durcan to speak through most of the song in a mimicking and thoroughly annoying voice.


kkilm5zk   -   The last verse I think sums up the point about singing about the impact of radio. He reminds us that Justin was a boy, but “where is he now? What is he doing now?” I think this songs speaks to the generation of “children” who grew up listening to pop music by the radio, almost asking them ‘what are you doing now, in this world of new technologies, what happened to the days of tuning into some fun pop songs?’ 

Rogerrrubin   -   Americans don’t get how this tune is rooted in the emergence of American Rock and Roll, blues, and Soul, on the European music scene via the “pirate” radio stations who reached the genius of Van the Man, John Lennon, Mick Jagger–to name a few.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Allan Jones' Encounters with Van 1986











Here's a nice little piece by Allan Jones, who was the editor of Uncut magazine for 17 years up until 2014, about the time he tried to interview Van.  Go to the Uncut site for lots of great music stuff. We love the wonderful Uncut music magazine, but when are they going to do one of their special issue magazines on Van?  I mean Nick Cave and Depeche Mode already got theirs ahead of Van.  
The first time I try to interview Van, in his trailer backstage at Knebworth in 1974, it ends badly after he mistakes me for someone who’s written unflatteringly about him and works himself up into a complete and unnecessary strop. Van’s almost pathologically rude, won’t listen to a word of explanation and the upshot is, we end up shouting at each other, loudly enough for people waiting outside to see how things go between us to start looking first worried, then aghast. I eventually storm out of his caravan, slamming a door behind me so hard its hinges nearly pop and the whole thing shakes like a small earthquake’s just hit the area, Van shouting something I don’t quite catch at my retreating back.
A few years later, I review Morrison at the Self-Aid concert in Dublin, which is headlined by Elvis Costello and U2. Van’s brilliant at the show, at which he previews material from his forthcoming new album, No Teacher, No Guru, No Method. Just before the album comes out, I get a call from an old friend named Kellogs, who I’d first met when he was tour managing the Be Stiff tour (the one on the train). This is June, 1986, by the way.
Kellogs now manages Van, I’m surprised to learn. I’m even more surprised when Kellogs tells me Van is doing a day of press – mostly European – to promote the No Teacher album.  After Kellogs shows Van the Self-Aid review I’d written for what used to be Melody Maker, Van’s agreed to do it with me. This is both exciting and fairly terrifying news.

Whatever, a few days later I’m scuffling nervously outside the door of the Phillipe Suite at the Chesterfield Hotel in central London, waiting to be ushered into the great man’s presence, Kellogs shortly introducing us. I offer my hand in nervous greeting. Van promptly ignores it.
“You’ve got 30 minutes,” he says brusquely. “What’s your first question?”
My mind of course goes immediately blank and all the finely-honed questions I’d prepared are suddenly vapour. I mumble something about the new album that isn’t on reflection even a question, but which anyway gets Van talking for which I am grateful.

“It’s a struggle,” he says of the writing and recording process that even after 20 years he clearly finds difficult. “Always has been. I think when you get past your second album it all becomes something of a routine. So you have to struggle against that, find a way of making what you do sound fresh and new each time.
“It’s more difficult now than ever,” he goes on. “I find it difficult to know what to say nowadays, or who I’m saying it to. When I started singing, you know, my audience, they were usually the same age as me and they had at least half the same problems I had. . .but now, I dunno. The 80s are such an extreme period for everybody. As far as what space I’m in, I can’t really find it. I deliberately try not to cater for the commercial market, so I can’t see myself in competition, you know, with second or third generation rock stars. I find myself at this point out on a limb, basically. A lot of people who were writing when I came through originally as a singer-songwriter have disappeared. A lot of them have ended up as MOR entertainers. So it’s kind of left people like myself without an obvious slot, you know. It’s like people don’t quite know what to make of me anymore, he says, shrugging his shoulders, moving uneasily in his chair.”

At Self-Aid, he was introduced as a living legend, which made him sound like a relic.
“I think that’s absolute rubbish,” he seethes. “I don’t feel that way about myself at all. It’s just something these silly little boys in the rock press come up with, this stupid thing about age. I think that’s just part of the mass stupidity that seems to have gripped people at the moment. It’s like, if you’re over 28, you should be singing ballads or you should be dead. It’s ridiculous.”
How had he got involved with Self-Aid?

“They asked me to do it and I said yeah,” he answers curtly. “See, I kept being asked why I didn’t do Live Aid, right? And the only reason I didn’t do Live Aid was because I wasn’t asked. I figured the next time someone asks me to do something like that, I’ll do it so I don’t have to answer a lot of stupid questions about why I didn’t do it”.
At Self-Aid, he’d prefaced one new song, Town Called Paradise, with this aside: “If Van Morrison was a gunslinger, there’d be a terrible lot of dead copycats out there. . .”
“What provoked that?” Morrison snorts when I bring it up. “The constant frustration of people constantly asking me what I think about every Tom, Dick and Harry that’s sorta copied me - and what I think about that is that I’ve had enough of it. I mean, it’s OK if it happens, like, once. After that, after two, three, four albums, when after four albums people are still just ripping me off, it starts to get like a monkey on my back
“And you know, I’m carrying these Paul Brady monkeys and these Bruce Springsteen monkeys and these Bob Seger monkeys, and I’m just fed up with it. I just wish they’d find someone else to copy. In the old days, they’d have called it a form of flattery. But I don’t find it flattering at all. I mean, find someone else to copy, or else send me the royalties, you know.”
And what did he think of Springsteen?

“Not my scene, you know,” he says dismissively. “I’d rather listen to the source than the imitation. That’s where I’m at.”
Was he merely miffed at Springsteen’s huge commercial success?
“No,” he says firmly, “not at all. I’m perfectly happy with what I’ve got. At the same time, I don’t see why something I’ve invented, I’ve developed and worked hard to come by should be ripped off, year in and year out, by these people.”

We go on to talk at some length about specific tracks on the new album, Van getting himself completely worked up when I ask if Ivory Tower is a reply to his critics. He rants almost incomprehensibly about window cleaners and brickies for I don’t know how long and mid-tirade suddenly stops in his tracks, as if he’s got so wound up he’s given himself a stroke.

I ask him what the matter is, and why the inexplicable silence, mid-sentence.

“Your 30 minutes,” Van says then. “It’s up.”
He’s not wearing a watch and there isn’t a clock in the room, but on cue, incredibly, the door opens and Kellogs appears.

“Your man there,” Van says, not really looking at me, “will show you out.”

 And he does.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Piper at the Gates of Dawn Considered

 Jason Michel's Pulp Metal Magazine site is rather strange but does contain this interesting Van post about some of the imagery in the song from The Healing Game called Piper at the Gates of Dawn.  Here's some of that post: 
Back when Syd Barrett led Pink Floyd, the band recorded its first album at Abbey Road Studios at the same time as The Beatles recorded Sergeant Pepper’s and The Pretty Things were recording S F Sorrow. They called it, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
Flash forward to this century and a habit I picked up in Amsterdam and can’t seem to shake. The habit is listening to the World Service on the radio all night. At the moment, though, I am indulging this habit and the other night I must have dozed off and awoke to a female voice with an English accent declaring that the seventh chapter of Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows proved his hidden but genuine pantheism.
Kenneth Grahame was born in Scotland and spent all of his working life in a bank in London. According to Wikipedia he died in 1932 and The Wind in the Willows was published in 1908.
As I rolled around in the dark, it occurred to me that Van Morrison had included a song on The Healing Game called The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. The chorus is “The wind in the willows and the piper at the gates of dawn”.
It’s probably the combination of poetry and music in Van Morrison’s song that appeals to me so much. When I actually read chapter seven which is called The Piper at the Gates of Dawn in Grahame’s book, I discovered poetic language there too. In fact, Van used several phrases verbatim from the book or almost verbatim. When Grahame uses “the daybreak not so very far off”, Morrison uses “the daybreak not so very far away” and when Grahame writes “the light grew steadily stronger”, Morrison sings “grew steadily strong”.
So I asked Fred Armstrong and here’s what he said, “Wind in the Willows is a deep little book about a rather Taoist bunch of beasties sitting around writing poems and banqueting between adventures….”
“Opinion seems to be split on the Pan chapter of Wind in the Willows. People love it or hate it.  I think Wind in the Willows is a comfortably sentimental look at nature as deity.
I think anyone who has been scared at sea or lost in the woods and come home can handle the balance between a nature that creates us and takes us away or maybe doesn’t. There’s also something appealing about a deity that performs a Men in Black mind wipe after you trip over him. Ratty and Mole don’t remember him when it’s all over. They take the little otter off to breakfast rather than sitting down and writing the Book of Revelation.”
The words in Van’s writing which are taken straight out of chapter seven are:” heavenly music” and “song-dream” though one doesn’t have a dash connecting them and the other does. Graham writes “when the vision had vanished” and Morrison writes “vision vanished” a difference in tense only.
Here is the description of Pan in Wikipedia:
Pan: in Greek religion and mythology, is the god of shepherds and flocks, of mountain wilds, hunting and rustic music. His name originates from the word paein, meaning to pasture. He has the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat, in the same manner as a faun or satyr. He is recognised as the god of fields, groves, and wooded glens; because of this, Pan is connected to fertility and the season of Spring.’
The wikipedia article goes on to say that “accounts of Pan’s genealogy are so varied that it must lie buried deep in mythic time.” and that “panic” is derived from his name.
The story recounted in Chapter seven of Wind in the Willows is a simple one: Mole and Ratty search for the lost Portly, son of Otter, and find him safe and saved by Pan after they are led there in their rowboat by his magical piping.
Van Morrison uses words like “awe”, “wonder”, enchanted” and “spellbound” to describe the characters’ state as they follow Pan’s music to find little Portly.
Grahame emphasises Pan’s insistence that the wild creatures’ experience with him will be forgotten when it’s over. Like hypnotism, “You will awake and remember nothing”
Pan is not named in the book, just described, but in the song Morrison calls him “the great god, Pan” when he echoes Grahame’s insistence that the animals were not afraid of him despite his reputation.
It is the only song on The Healing Game (1997) which has no percussion in it. Just Van’s vocals as he plays acoustic guitar with a dobro (which I can’t hear probably because of the quality of my sound system), and a piano with Brian Kennedy’s vocal backings and Paddy Maloney on Uilleann pipes and whistle.
The Uilleann Pipes, a type of Irish bagpipe, aren’t apparently related to the Pan Pipes but their effect in the song is an ethereal, delicate one.
When you see the innocent willow leaves on the cover and the cartoon characters with which it’s illustrated, the same impression is left by the book as when you see Van Morrison’s black and white picture on the cover of the CD with a black fedora and shades, a black over coat and white shirt buttoned up to the neck. Neither give any hint of Pan’s magic. They bring to mind an old Willie Dixon song, You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover.