Sunday, 27 March 2016

Van Morrison at Red Rocks - June 11, 2005

Kevin Lang wrote an interesting an interesting review some 10 years ago about a Van concert in Colorado.  I love fan opinion because it's always so original showing how differently we think about the Man.  

I went to see the legendary Van Morrison tonight. Having long been a fan of Van, I thought I'd never get to see him. See, Van is known for not touring. The reason is (or was) that he had horrible stage fright, and would only get onstage if he was drunk. Now, that seems like an awful generalisation... Van is also very well known for his rock star temperament. It was well described in a thorough piece by Mark Brown of the Rocky Mountain News. He said that Van was in his top 5 concerts ever, and this is a guy who goes to rock concerts for a living. He also said that Van was in his worst 5 concert experiences.

That being said, I plunked down my $100 (for the cheap seats, in fact I had to stand in the aisle all night) and got ready to see the man. He gave the radio stations fair warning and told all that Van will play promptly at 7:30 pm with no opening band and will be offstage at 8:45 pm.

So the band enters at 7:35 and does some jazz. I should emphasise the jazz point. His band was a jazz band, and a terrific one at that. He had about a 6 piece band, horn section and all. Everyone was in suits, and played their asses off. After the intro jam piece, Van saunters out looking like he does in those pictures you see, suit, sunglasses, and pork pie hat. It was off to a classic Van start when he berated the drummer to play harder. 

Trust me, this was not a 'let's kick it up a notch', but a firm scolding. I think Van forgot he had the mike in his hand. The first few songs were terribly bland. Keep in mind that Van's voice was in amazing top form... flawless... but there was little passion felt. As I told my buddy, I wanted more Van and less band. He did a couple of epic classics in this early part, which to me totally fell flat. There was Have I Told You Lately' which he reconfigured to be a crummy mid tempo lounge song.

Then, the band kicks into Moondance. Let's be honest, this is the moment we were all waiting for. It was a craptacular phoned in formula piece. I was getting really disappointed at this point, fearing just an hour of Van going through the motions and picking up a paycheck. I think somehow Van felt our complacency, because he turned to the band and said 'Brown eyed girl'. I know this wasn't the set list because the dudes all dropped their instruments and scrambled to compensate. With Brown Eyed Girl Van tore the sold out house apart. It was a powerful and (most importantly) rendered just the way we remember it from the radio. After that, everything got better. His song choices seemed more interesting, and his passion was fully there. Here are some highlights of the set list as I remember them: back on top, days like this, Moondance, Have I Told You Lately, Gloria, Jackie Wilson Said, and certainly a few from his terrific new disc Magic Time.

The show ended after about 90 minutes of music when Van wandered off stage at the end of a song... but still playing harmonica the whole time. I should note that Van is an amazing musician. Through the show he played sax, guitar, and harmonica fluidly. It was clear there would be an encore because the band stayed put. The band kicked in the distorted guitar chords of Gloria, and the crowd went crazy. Van cruised out and just nailed it.

Overall it was an amazing show, with a terribly boring beginning. By the end of the night, all was forgotten about the first half hour. 

In summation, the show was everything I expected. I mean, I got to see the stand-offish rock star who never once acknowledged the crowd with even a 'hello'. I got to see him berate his drummer in front of 10,000 people on a cold Colorado night. I got to see the best singer alive, and I got to hear the hits I came for. It might also be noted that Van sold the show out in three minutes. According to the promoter, that was 'faster than even U2'. Miraculously these tickets somehow went to actual fans. I didn't see a single scalper. 

Friday, 18 March 2016

Van's Memories: Bread and Chips

The Belfast of Van's childhood is remote from the trendy middle class European city that Belfast is today.  Back then it was a working class town where the joys of childhood are best remembered in the comfort foods of the day that no longer seem popular with the new sophisticated Belfastians.  To a young Van Belfast seemed to be a city of bakeries and chip shops.  It seemed practically every meal, including the famous Ulster Fry, combines bread in some shape or form. And, of course a visit to a chipper was an ever-present excursion. 

One of Belfast's most famous baking products is the world famous crusty Belfast Bap. Perfect filled with anything, mainly fried goods, this humble bread roll has an illustrious past. Invented by master baker, cross community pioneer and philanthropist Barney Hughes in the 1840s, it is credited with feeding the city during the Famine and ensuring it wasn’t as badly affected as many other parts of Ireland, paving the way for it to become one of the great industrial centres of the Empire, famed especially for shipbuilding, including the Titanic. Maybe its influence is a little exaggerated here, but it still had it's place in Belfast social history. 

The Belfast bap is still baked daily back in Northern Ireland, forming the basis of many a meal. There’s few things that don’t taste better stuffed into a buttery Belfast bap. In fact, a crisp sandwich isn’t a crisp sandwich unless it’s Tayto Cheese & Onion on a proper burnt brown topped bap. But the ultimate Belfast meal is that stalwart of every chippie, the Pastie Bap.

Nothing like its pastry-cased Cornish cousin, the Belfast pastie is a patty of sausage meat and potato dipped in batter, deep fried til golden and then either slipped between side of a buttered bap and anointed with your choice of sauce, or  served as a pastie supper with chips. Designed to use up the leftover chips from the day before, they have become a delicacy in their own right. They are the perfect food to fortify you on a cold, damp Belfast day. 

Pasties are packed with flavour and not at all bland. They were probably the most spiced thing available in Northern Ireland for years and you want them tasty. Put about a teaspoon of black pepper and freshly ground nutmeg in. Then a half teaspoon of ground cloves, allspice, cinnamon, cayenne, ground coriander seed, ground ginger and white pepper are added and everything gets well mixed. You don’t need to bind the mixture with anything. The fat in the sausage meat holds it all together. Then with your hands, form into patties and flatten out. Put them on a plate and pop it in the freezer for 15 minutes or so to make them easier to dip in the batter.

Your batter is simple. Use self raising flour and sparkling water to make a batter with a light dropping texture. Don’t rest it as you want the bubbles to keep it airy. Then dip your pasty into the batter, covering it completely and shaking off any excess. Carefully slip into a pan of hot oil and deep fry for about 2 minutes or until the batter is golden, puffed up and lovely and crispy. Drain onto kitchen towel and slip between an opened buttered bap. Sauce is optional.  The result is steaming hot, crispy, chewy, savoury and the right side of stodgy.  It's easy to see why Van Morrison mentioned them in song.  

A Sense of Wonder by Van Morrison

Wee Alfie at the Castle Picture house on the Castlereagh Road.
Whistling on the corner next door where
He kept Johnny McBride’s horse.
O Solo Mio by McGimpsey
And the man who played the saw
Outside the city hall.
Pastie suppers down at Davey’s chipper

Gravy rings, wagon wheels, barmbracks, snowballs.

In Van's neighbourhood of East Belfast the McIlwain brothers ran a series of chip shops selling pastie suppers and the like on the Beersbridge Road, first on the corner of Greenville Road, and then at the corner of Clara Avenue. 

David McIlwain   -   Davey's chipper was my Dad's, it was actually on the Beersbridge Road, the second shop from the corner of Greenville Road. My Dad also owned the other shop around the corner from Clara Avenue, both were on the Beersbridge Road, this one was run by his sister "Wee Annie".

My Dad's shop was a favourite meeting place for many who later became famous such as Billy Bingham and Danny Blanchflower (international soccer players), Rev. Ian Paisley often arguing theology with my dad & his brother who were both lay evangelists & gospel musicians, and, of course, Van Morrison. My Dad is now dead, he immigrated to Australia in 1961, my Mum is still alive & knew Van Morrison's Mum quite well.

My dad, David, and his brother James were gospel evangelists, known as The McIlwain brothers. David was "Davey". My Dad started the shop near Clara Avenue, then it was taken over by his brother James, they all lived in rooms above the shop until I was born in 1943. My Dad then bought the shop down the road (the one which Van went to) - it hadn't been a chip shop before my dad got it, he had the chip fryers imported from England, they were apparently very impressive for the time. He had his name Davey's embedded in the front door step in terrazzo, it was still there when I went back to Belfast in 1975, but the shop was a Chinese takeaway (named Always Welcome) then.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Mick Vs Van

Pistol Packin' Kelly Bundy asked on Yahoo Answers Van Morrison or Mick Jagger? Who has the better voice?  Here are some of the answers with the verdict overwhelmingly in favour of Van. 

Cowboy Neal   -   Van Morrison can moan the blues waaaayyy better than Mick.

Ice Cold   -   Mick could sell it to the nose bleed seats. It may not have been pretty, but it was 100% Mick.  Mick may not have had the better voice, but baby, it's all about STYLE, and Mick had that in spades.   So Mick gets my vote, and he's earned it, by STILL being here, and still selling it to the nose bleed seats.

pǝʞɔıʍ ɥɔʇıʍ of the West   -   Van Morrison has the best voice, but, Mick Jagger is, well, Mick Jagger. Morrison's songs are kind of boring, there is not one iota of Mick that is boring!  I have loved Mick Jagger since I was very young. All my friends had David Cassidy and Bobby Sherman posters on their walls, I had Mick Jagger all over mine.
Zee-ster   -   Van Morrison. Never been a huge fan of the Stones tho I get why they were so big. I do think it's time for them to hang their hat professionally & rest on their laurels. Jagger's just too old to move like the sexy god he isn't anymore.

REZ   -   I'd like to compare and contrast Van Morrison & Tom Waits at this point.  Mick, back in the day, in the late 60's/early 70's, had an untouchable power and energy to his voice.

Mick   -   The man with the most money should tell you who's better. I know who that is.
guakachips78 - Nobody stays young forever. Have you seen Van Morrison lately?

Forsaken   -   Wow, not even a contest. VAN MORRISON is one of the most soulful singers on the planet. Mick, has been selling it for 40 years, and homey still cannot sing a bit!
Tara   -   Their voices are so different. Mick's voice is good, but Van Morrison's voice is unique and amazing.  So, I'll go with Van on this one.

Mama   -   Seriously? Van Morrison.
Fred D.   -   Van Morrison

vtd288   -   Van Morrison
googleplex   -   Van Morrison. Mick is just so over rated.

Sugaree   -   I think Van Morrison.
Butterfly   -   The Van Man of course!

Skip I   -   Van
guakachips78   -   Mick needs a face lift.  I like both, depends on my mood.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Not Another Veedon Fleece Review?

Can a blog have too many Veedon Flece reviews? Judge that rhetorical question for yourselves by reading this post ripped and pruned from the Moon Under Water blog.  


Does Van Morrison really matter anymore? It’s a valid question, and one which some people were asking even as far back as the 1970’s. Certainly the man has remained one of the most enigmatic and, dare I say, mystical figures of popular music, whose lyrics can be as compelling and impenetrable as any metaphysical poet from the 16th century. 

Morrison began his career proper in the mid 1960’s with the hit singles Gloria and Brown Eyed Girl, establishing himself as a solid R&B/rock and roll performer. So far so good; but then something unexpected happened, 1968’s Astral Weeks, an album so universally celebrated by critics that any denouncement of its merits would immediately be deemed an act of blasphemy. But more brilliance was to follow. 

"Veedon"  -  The Original Veedon Fleece?
1970’s Moondance for instance, was and remains his most popular album. Each subsequent LP, while not always consistent, still had their fair share of transcendental moments, notably 1971’s Tupelo Honey and St. Dominic’s Preview released the year after. However when Van underwent a bitter divorce in late 1973, losing custody of his daughter in the process, he decided to return to his beloved Ireland, following a six year absence, no doubt to contemplate and mend his mind and soul. 1974 saw the release of Veedon Fleece, a record which was largely dismissed or overlooked at the time (Rolling Stone was especially scornful), though is generally regarded as something of a ‘misunderstood masterpiece’ today.

The album opens with the plaintive and restful Fair Play, a piano dominated ballad with lyrical references to Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allan Poe and Henry Thoreau. Van sings “Let your midnight and your daytime turn into love of life/It’s a very fine line”, and later “A paperback book/As we walk down the street/Fill my mind with tales of mystery, mystery/And imagination.”

Linden Arden Stole the Highlights is not so much a song but more of a vehicle for Morrison’s lyrical sense of narrative, concerned with a dysfunctional Irishman living in America. Who Was That Masked Man is all semi-falsetto vocals by the man himself, where Morrison questions his role as an artist under constant scrutiny by the critics and public. Van takes the album to a more haunting height, with Streets of Arklow, where he sings “And as we walked/Through the streets of Arklow/And the colour of the day wore on/And our heads were filled with poetry.” Clearly this was Morrison revisiting his true heartland, reconnecting with his roots.

You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push the River is a strange title, with an even stranger arrangement. It’s an emotive, stream of consciousness piece, with lots of jazzy flute and piano, and Van’s unmistakable turn of phrase, where all he’s doing is “looking for the Veedon Fleece”. If one is into Astral Weeks, then this is your number.

Side two starts off with Bulbs, a Celtic-country rocker, and which is about as lively and jolly as this album gets. Things slow down with Cul de Sac, another semi country tune, where Van is, you guessed it, in reflective mood. Just think Madame George with Nashville guitar instead of piano.

On Comfort You Van gets all soft and tender, and could be a paean to his daughter or new found fiancé, or maybe both. It’s a lovely song all the same, with a strong meditative quality. Come Here My Love is an acoustic plea for deliverance through love, while album closer Country Fair sees Van in more traditional Irish mode, searching for the true meaning by reaching back to far more simpler times; something which we all do when experiencing periods of self doubt and anxiety.

After Veedon Fleece, Morrison would embark on a three year sabbatical from touring and recording (with the exception of his appearance at The Band’s The Last Waltz in 1976), not surprising considering that he had released some seven albums in the space of only five years. 

And what of the album title itself? For years Van insisted that the name “didn’t mean anything”, having just made it up. So whatever it may or may not have represented, what is true is that Veedon Fleece is nothing less than a spiritual quest, a search for meaning, as well as purpose. And just as the mythical Golden Fleece symbolised wealth and majesty, Morrison’s own pursuit is far more elegiac and religious in nature. Above all else, this is an extremely personal and poetic album. 

I should also say that the remastered edition is the one to own, and has two bonus tracks, the languid, after midnight Twilight Zone (which first appeared on The Philosopher’s Stone compilation), and an alternative version of Cul de Sac.