Sunday, 28 August 2016

Giving the Gift of Van

Now's a great time to buy Van product.  Van's birthday is on in a few days' time (August 31) and his new album Keep Me Singing drops at the end of September.  Anytime is a good time to buy some Van product.  Check the official website for merchandise or concert tickets.

It's Too Late To Stop Now - Vol. II, III, IV + DVD (Released 10/6/16)

It's Too Late To Stop Now (Volumes II, III, IV & DVD) is a three CD and one DVD collection of previously unreleased live concert recordings from Van Morrison's mythic 1973 tour with the Caledonia Soul Orchestra.  Total run time is 313 minutes.

CD1: Recorded live at The Troubadour, Los Angeles, May 23, 1973
CD2: Recorded live at the Santa Monica Civic, California, June 29, 1973
CD3: Recorded live at The Rainbow, London, July 23 & 24, 1973
DVD: Recorded live at The Rainbow, London, July 24, 1973

Keep Me Singing (To be released September 30, 2016)

Keep Me Singing is Van Morrison's 36th studio album and consists of 13 tracks - 12 original songs written and performed by Morrison, as well as a cover of the blues standard 'Share Your Love With Me' - written by Alfred Baggs and Don Robey and previously recorded by artists such as Aretha Franklin and Kenny Rogers.

Moondance (2 CD version) (October 22, 2013)

The two CD version of the expanded Moondance album is a good choice. It contains a remastered version of Moondance and another CD of highlights from the multi-disc expanded version.

The Essential Van Morrison (Released August 28, 2015)

A great 37 song overview of the man’s career.  I’m assuming some of your other best of Van CDs are worn out.  Very similar to the various Still on Top albums but still great.

Astral Weeks Live At the Hollywood Bowl (Released February 24, 2009)

This live album is from Van’s Hollywood Bowl shows of November 7 and 8, 2008, where he revisited his classic Astral Weeks album 40 years after its release.  The original songs were subjected to improvisation which must be heard.  Listen to the Lion and Common One are additional tracks.   

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Sir Van Inspires Extremes of Love and Hate

Everyone has an opinion about Van.  Few performers inspire the extremes of love and hate that he does.  As a long term Van fan I have a balanced view of the man.  I love his music and my only opportunity to see him live (Berlin 2008) was a fantastic experience for me.  However, I can see that he has treated a lot of people fairly poorly.  It does remind me of the moment in the Bible where Jesus says "let him without sin cast the first stone."  One thing my Christian faith tells me is that we are all flawed as human beings.  The Bible says that everyone's "righteousness is as filthy rags".  Even the best of humans are incredibly flawed.  How do we even dare judge Sir Van when we have so many issues of our own?  (Again, quoting the Bible which reminds us to "take the log out of our own eye before we take the speck out of our neighbour's eye".)  It's ironic that Van is such a private individual yet his unusual behaviours at times causes even the most casual of observers to weigh in with an opinon.  

The Guardian is a great site for significant Van articles.  Here are some comments from readers.    
Anopheles   -   I never heard of a person who met him who entirely liked him.
rockinred   -   Why are people who are talented or just plain good at something also expected to be 'likeable'? I just think that Van doesn't suffer fools glady - and why should he have to?
Gogoh   -   Who cares? That's their opinion, that's all and, after all, this is someone who was badly burnt in the early days for being uniquely talented. Meanwhile there's the music...

throughaglassdarkly   -   Photographed him a few times and never let on once that we had met. To be fair I think that he is both shy and extremely distrustful of the music 'biz'. I love his music and really that's what is important in the end, not whether he is Mr Nice Guy.
curzonesq   -   Being an artiste doesn't exempt one from common standards of decency, however much of a genius one may be creatively.
tjhvaliants   -   Amusingly he once came into Bangor Multiplex cinema in Bangor, Northern Ireland where a friend worked. He asked Van for his autograph and was told to piss off! So yes, I'd say that's as difficult as it gets!
Celtic Foz   -   Exact same thing happened to an old girlfriend of mine. Asked him for an autograph for her mum who had been a fan all her life, had all his stuff, loved his music. Van told her to "not bother him". She didn't mind not getting the autograph but felt he was a touch impolite.

Marsman72   -   Van Morrison's music has been a huge part of my life and his passion comes through here. Grumpy? I really don't know and who cares. The music speaks for itself.
bobnoxious   -   Yes, but picking a fight - on stage - with one of the Chieftans? That happened when I saw him in Helsinki (with the Chieftans) a few years ago.  When he was a journalist, Neil Tennant came up with the theory that people who find fame when they are young stay locked in a state of arrested development determined by the age at which they made the breakthrough. Hence Michael Jackson living in a state of childhood. As for Van, he found fame when he was fifteen and hasn't really grown out of the state of a petulant teenager.
harrowperson   -   In 1976 I walked into a record shop at the top end of Watford High Street. The shop's speakers were playing 'Fair Play to you' from the Veedon Fleece album. And it 'stoned' me. So I bought the album and every album he had made up to that point and I would then buy every single album he made and loved them all. But after Poetic Champions Compose (1989) we lost vintage Van Morrison and, though I continued to buy every album he's made, the magic had gone though we did get an occasional track on an album which took me back. I forgive him, though - even for his repetition of 'gardens wet with rain' - because those earlier albums are without equal. But I do like the 'Neil Young' side to him - I'm going to play what I like whether or not you like it. 
Mark McAinsh   -   I've met Van when working in a hotel in Bath, I can categorically say from experience, he is difficult to deal with!
fightinglabour   -   For my sins I drove a taxi in Bath for a while and can confirm what you say.  He had an account and every driver assigned to pick up was told dont talk to him dont even ask where he's going.
Golightly   -   Some reasonable tunes from a bad tempered narcissist
Tehillim   -   In my view Van's probably the greatest popular music artist of the 20th Century. He maintained a rich creative streak over three decades, writing deep, powerful and beautiful music throughout that time. His voice has gone now, but he was still recording amazing material well into the 90s.

hoddle1   -   Astral Weeks is never off my mind. I love it so much, and think it is one of the greatest albums of the last 50 years.
Tenbobnote   -   Love his music but don't like him live, comes on, does just enough then goes off when his alloted 90 minutes is done. He's the antithesis of Neil Young.
Gandalf66   -   Chuck Berry was notorious for doing that. After years of being ripped off he would demand payment in advance, in cash. He'd play for an allotted time, no more; even if it meant finishing mid-song.
Philbertoo   -   I like some of his stuff but I've never been able to forgive him for murdering Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb at the 1990 Berlin concert.
MattheCat   -   That was hilarious though. He shuffled onto the stage like he was a granddad in pyjamas groping his way to the toilet for a mid-night slash.
terrace   -   Saw him years ago in Birmingham,he performed 90 per cent of the gig with his back to the audience.  Still love his early stuff though.
Gilbert Keith   -   He did that at a gig in Belfast in the 1980s. Somebody threw an empty beer can and hit him gently on the back of the neck. That made him turn around... It was, to be fair though, a great gig.

eagleone   -   What was it Mark Ellen said? : "There are two types of people - those who like Van Morrison, and those who've met him."
darkwhy   -   I went to a Van Morrison Open air concert full of middle-aged people,and the crowd talked non-stop through the whole performance. He really had to compete with the murmuring and talking.
Bailey287   -   Yeah, love his music, seen him live quite a few times. Never again. Just why does he have to be so nasty?

Tom M   -   Van Morrison has got a long way on only being able to sing 4 notes. In the key of C these would be C up to G, then back down to c via E and D, with occasional excursions up one octave to the next higher C.  He once came over to my place in Belfast with one of our mates, asking to listen to my Coltrane and Shepp LPs. I went to the pub. He was gone when I got back.
ID8378794   -   He's talented but, a miserable sod. Everytime , I've seen him in the pub. One shouldn't take oneself too seriously...
tellyheads   -   Roisin Dubh in Galway, legendary music pub, circa 1995.  Morrison finishes a gig nearby and pops in for a drink with his band.  Says to the barman "turn the jukebox off, I want to sing a song".  Barman asks the pub "Van wants to sing so I'll be turning off the jukebox".  Entire pub turns around and shouts "NO!".  Jukebox stays on. Van drinks up and fecks off.

simonsaint   -   Jeez. A juke box versus a live late night session from Van the Man? Doesn't say much for the Roisin Dubh or its punters.
winterof79   -   a friend of my sisters knew him vaguely well enough to have lunch with him - long before the time of Mobiles, she told the office where she would be.  Lunch date duly happened where Van insisted on being at the back of the restaurant, after some time the waiter approached and asked if he could interrupt.  Van throws a fit and asked who knew he was here and he asked not to be disturbed, the waiter replied "its not for you sir its the young lady I need".  It was the office on the line asking her how long she would be.

william   -   I quite like Van's music, but I went to see him live once, at one point someone shouted out a request to which he replied "Fuck off, we're trying to work up here". I haven't really been a fan since.
Missbabs   -   We've seen him a few times, expected him to be grumpy nd were never disappointed. One time he didn't go on stage until gone midnight, but could be seen in the background (it was upstairs in a pub in Newport) arguing with someone, while Georgie Fame heroically carried on for what seemed like hours on his own. Georgie was fabulous btw. When Van eventually turned up he broke off in the middle of a song to give a four letter tirade against Thatcher, everyone cheered, including me.
tediousbore   -   Musicians aren't your friends, they're musicians.  Van Morrison is mind blowingly talented.  It's irrelevant if he's grumpy or jolly, he can't be all things to everyone.
Eddyec   -   I've seen Van a few times now. The first time in the Pavilion, Glasgow , having turned down £40 per ticket for £6 tickets from several punters.  The band, led by Georgie Fame - worth it for him - played a few numbers before himself came on. He played six songs without saying a word, counting in the next one as the applause faded for the previous one.  Then: "Well hello Glasgow. How are you tonight?" Eh? Isn't this Mr Grumpy? He took requests, sat on the edge of the stage to talk to us, came down into the audience and sang directly to various young women.
Pemulis   -   What's strange about the much-corroborated tales of his arseholery is that, at its best, his music conveys more awe and wonder at the human experience than anything else in the popular canon. It's like everything good he has ever had to say about people has been channeled into his songs.
Winston Scott   -   Saw him in concert back in 2000. Never cracked a smile once or gave any impression of enjoying the experience. Can't believe he's still putting himself or his audiences through it.

Serge Berard   -   A voice that can cut through steel.
Liberty Knox   -   I don't care if he's a rude, grumpy asshole. I don't care if he likes to unwind by stamping on kittens. Van Morrison's best work is almost unbearably soulful, graceful and timeless. Astral Weeks, Veedon Fleece, St Dominic's Preview and Moondance...they're the closest thing to a religious experience this atheist will ever have. He sounds at once utterly himself, like no-one else, and like something or someone ancient, pure and unfathomable is singing through him. That's genius, isn't it?
simonsaint   -   Why do people need all that 'Hello London' (Big Cheer) showbiz shit anyway? The man is a genius. Sure he's been coasting for years but the work he did up to 1980 was phenomenal and his voice is still magic. I'm always being reminded of the time in Dublin (shock, horror) when he stood with his back to the audience (gasp).... such a sin, especially if you're a Northerner.

ID2137745   -   Van Morrison is the rudest man I've ever met in my life. Perhaps next time you interview him you could ask him as to why he's been banned by a couple of Hotel Groups around the UK due to his complete lack of basic human decency
Justin Geoffreys   -   Why - who's interested? I suggested they save that interview for the Hotelier's Gazette.
Shane57   -    Worked on a rare video with him many years ago, for the album 'Inarticulate Speech of the Heart'.  Over two days, with a small crew, six people incl., he never said a word, not even, good morning, to anyone but the director.

Maggie WTS   -   I just don't understand why people obsess over this man's personality. I wasn't alive during his 70's heyday, so maybe I'm missing elements of the story. But, I don't care if he smiles, grunts, or grimaces for his fans. I care about his music, and it's incomparable. As cliched as it sounds, discovering his music a few years back was for me a turning point; a maturation really. He's the only musician who stops me in my tracks. His smile count-per-hour is of no consequence in my life, but his music most certainly is.
vigoman   -   Here is the nub of the problem. He allows his tours and concerts to be promoted in the same way as any other performer, usually with reference to his back catalogue. Then he gives the impression that he doesn't want to be there. We all know the nub of the problem. All his best work, amongst the best ever recorded, was long, long ago. He doesn't want to be a parody of a tribute act, I get that. But no one should leave any performance feeling disrespected by the person they paid to see.
Bobtoo   -   There's too much tabloid obsession about the personalities and sex lives of performers. 
Reedsmith   -   Lots to be said about Van's talent as a singer and writer versus his unpleasantness, fair enough. Good grief, though, live and on record, please keep away from the alto sax!
slimpanatella   -   Former colleague of mine, working in a pub when young: Huge Van fan.  Behind the bar one day, in walks Van Morrison.  Colleague, awestruck: "Mr Morrison, I'm a huge fan of your music".  Van: "Shut up and pull the pints".

delyon1   -   Van is something special indeed. His music is pockmarked with his bouts of Tourette's and he has turned this to his advantage.  His star will never darken. Contrary to some of the comments here, he is a very generous man.  His life has been blighted with broken promises in every dept, much like us all - only difference is his special gift.  

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Top Ten Van Morrison Albums?

On the Van Morrison Radio Facebook site the question was “What is your favourite Van Morrison album?”  Below are the responses which show 25 albums nominated as Van's best.  

Chaz Atkins   -   Veedon Fleece, No Guru
Sandy Crowell   -   Veedon too!
LeeAnne Sawyer Ghilain   -   Moondance
Anthony Dumville   -   A Night in San Francisco
Kevin Mitchell   -   It’s Too Late to Stop Now, early Them, Astral Weeks, Veedon Fleece .... All depends on mood and time of day. Van the Man for all reasons.
Jaap van der Galiën   -   The Angry Young Them!
June Duncan   -   Enlightenment and A Night in San Francisco
Andrew Robertson   -   Astral Weeks
Terry Walsh   -   St Dominic's Preview
Jackie Youngman   -   Common One
Manuel F. Gómez Márquez   -   Days Like This
Nanina Nannini   -   Moondance, No Guru, No Method, No Teacher, It's Too Late to Stop Now and so many more...
Steve Waddington   -   Astral Weeks (just too mindblowingly different)
Johan Kindt   -   Poetic Champions Compose, No Guru and a lot more depending of the season!
Geert D'Hulster ..-   Poetic Champions Compose
Gelo Andelko   -   Astral Weeks!
Ewa Gustavsson   -   All of them.
Bente Stevn   -   Beautiful Vision
Kari Ross Suppnick   -   Moondance
Mark Egan. .-   Never Mind the Bollocks (?)
Ad Berlijn   -   Astral Weeks and Veedon Fleece.
Michelle Boisse   -   Astral Weeks
Martin Bo Petersen   -   Back On Top
Gottfried Messner   -   No Guru, No Method, No Teacher
Jennifer Morgan Morris   -   Tupelo Honey
Gary Jones   -   I listen to Veedon Fleece the most
Takashi Ito   -   Tupelo Honey
Jodi Wire   -  Poetic Champions Compose!
Robin Dickie   -   Poetic Champions and Wavelength
Kara Gray Sailing   -   A toss between Days Like This and Avalon Sunset
Richard Barnett Too Late To Stop Now
Andrea Martin MacEachern   -   Into the music
Randi Worthington   -   Astral Weeks!
Damian Nocher   -   Astral Weeks, every time
Karen Doyle Farrell   -   Poetic Champions Compose
Lost Chord   -   Inarticulate Speech of the Heart
Heather Birchall   -   Astral Weeks Live
Dan the Man   -   How about His Band and the Street Choir?
Becky Stanley   -   Astral Weeks
Ryan Walsh   -   All of his albums during the early 70's were so great, but I gotta say Astral Weeks or Irish Heartbeat with the Chieftains. but the more albums by Van I discover the more my list grows!
Lisa Dillon ..-   MOON!!!!!!!!!!!!1
Jon Crew   -   Enlightenment
Jill Smith   -   Into the Music!
Henry Selin   -   Hard Nose the Highway
Iris DuCharme   -   Astral Weeks. Life changer!

From the list we may do a crude count and come up with something of another Top Ten List as follows: 

 1. Astral Weeks (1968)
 2. Veedon Fleece (1974)
 3. Poetic Champions Compose (1987)
 4. No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986)
 5. Moondance (1970)
 6. It's Too Late to Stop Now (1974)
 7. Enlightenment (1990)
 8. Tupelo Honey (1971)
 9. A Night in San Francisco (1994)
10. Into The Music (1979)

Monday, 1 August 2016

Van's Album Covers - Part 1

Here's the first of a series I'm doing on Van's album cover art and photography.  Comments are invited.

Astral Weeks (1968) - The best album of all time should have the best cover but sadly it doesn't.  Most people consider the cover art work to be rather second-rate.  It's sort of hippie-ish but not fully realised.  However, it will continue to perpetuate the myth that Van Morrison functions as some sort of hippie troubadour and that the music of Astral Weeks is the ideal soundtrack to druggy experimentalism and cliched attempts at transcendence. It's a myth that's existed since the album's release 45 years ago. 

Ryan Foley in his Throwing Pennies blog described the cover as "the hallucinatory and gauzy—yet at the same time, hackneyed—vibe it emits. The photo, as well as the absurd poem printed on the insert, was intended to compliment the album's themes of other worldliness, nostalgia, youthful passion, devotion to place, etc.

He also said that the art "feels embarrassingly unimaginative, slightly anachronistic, even off-putting (all that green and black; ick)—essentially everything that is the antithesis of Astral Weeks. When Morrison's lifted-from-an-adolescent-diary poetry isn't eliciting a giggle ("When I got back it was like a dream come true"), it has you scouring the Internet for lewd jokes ("Loved you there and then, and now like a sheep"). In the photo, a disoriented-looking Morrison stares downward, possibly at his hands or his shoes or his acoustic guitar (or a sheep). And have I mentioned the green-and-black colour scheme?"

Warner Bros. did have good intentions when it was developing the album's artwork. The photographer was Joel Brodsky wo was a notable New York photographer credited with shooting over 400 album covers. Interestingly, Brodsky photographed a number of moderately successful bluesmen—Buddy Guy, Otis Spann, John Lee Hooker, and Junior Wells, to name a few—a fact that would have certainly thrilled the blues-obsessed Morrison. His more well-known clientele included Joan Baez, Kiss, the Stooges, and the MC5. 

There is certainly worse album art in the Morrison discography. And when one considers the packaging of other iconic albums from the late '60s, Astral Weeks' faults don't appear so egregious. The release's eight tracks transcend its packaging. As avid listeners can attest, spend a bit of quality time with Astral Weeks and you eventually recognise that the hippie troubadour/experimentalist/drug motifs cited above are misguided at best, disingenuous at worst.

Tupelo Honey (1971)   -   The photos on the album were taken by Michael Maggid, a friend of Morrison's then wife Janet Planet, in the town of Fairfax. The cover photograph showed Planet, riding bareback on a horse, with Morrison walking alongside. Other photographs showed Morrison perched upon the fence of the horse's paddock, with his wife standing to his right and a black-and-white kitten on the fence to his left. This rural setting depicting a bygone era was in vogue on album covers at the time as rock artists moved from cities to rural communities. The Band, CSNY and Grateful Dead had similar themes on album covers in 1969 and 1970. Morrison later complained of the cover, "The picture was taken at a stable and I didn't live there. We just went there and took the picture and split. A lot of people seem to think that album covers are your life or something."

Saint Dominic's Preview (1972) -  The blue cover was shot in San Francisco at the Montgomery Chapel at the San Francisco Theological Seminary.  The cover shows a noticeable split on Van's inseam.

It's Too Late to Stop Now (1974)   -   It's a double live album with photos showing Van on stage on the front cover and back.  Front is blueish and figure a Van is a little small.  Back cover has Van in closeup in reddish stage lights.  Art direction is by Ed Caraeff and David Larkham.  Photography is by Ed Caraeff and the design was by David Larkham. Inside there are various live photos of Van and the band. 

Veedon Fleece (1974)   -   The album cover photograph shows Morrison sitting in the grass between two Irish Wolfhounds. The photographer, Tom Collins, took the original photograph that placed Van and the dogs adjacent to the Sutton House Hotel, a converted mansion overlooking Dublin Bay, where Morrison first stayed upon arriving in Ireland for his vacation.

This album cover’s message is simple: Van Morrison is awesome, and he doesn’t care if you disagree. What Van Morrison perfected here has been replicated many times recently in whiskey and deodorant commercials, to varying degrees of success.

He has a slightly fearful look on his face, some questioning whether the rather large Irish wolfhounds caused his discomfort. One writer has even commented that his resemblance to Nick Drake in this picture might be portentous and some cause for concern.  42 years "down the road", I think not.    

Into the Music (1979)   -   Photographer Norman Seeff's session for Van Morrison’s 1979 album, Into the Music, nearly never happened. “I met with him at his home in Northern California,” recalls Seeff, “and he took me on a crazy drive in his Porsche as we listened to the album.” But by the end of the day the quixotic artist expressed doubts about using his image on the album cover. Seeff turned to a mutual friend, who had played violin on one of Morrison’s previous records, for help. She assembled a makeshift band in a studio near Morrison’s home. “‘This is going to be fun,’ I told him,” says Seeff. “I explained he didn’t have to do anything special—just play music.” Morrison wound up performing for three hours, leading the band through much of his monumental catalogue. “It was an amazing jam session,” recalls Seeff, who brought along a small film crew. “He was in the zone. I believe it’s one of the great pieces of music captured on film.”

Live at the Grand Opera House Belfast (1984)   -   The front cover is a photo of the Grand Opera House on the cover set on a wide border of green marble.  The green marble extends to the back cover.  The front photo is by Bill Porter and the small back photo is taken from the Celtic Swing video.   

Too Long in Exile (1993)   -    Van Morrison fans can go for some backyard chicken at the site where the cover of Too Long In Exile was shot outside 246 Pearl Street between Fulton Street and John Street in NYC.  
Back on Top  (1999)  -  The song Golden Autumn Day influences the cover here.  Van's picture (taken from the back) surrounded by autumnal leaves in the background.  The photograph of Morrison on the inside of the album cover, was originally used for the front cover of Peter Handke's book My Year in the No-Man's-Bay, first published in 1994.

Down the Road (2002)  -   the cover depicts the front of a record store with a window full of LP covers by blues, R&B, jazz, and old rock & roll artists, a deliberate blueprint of the album's influences. The shop pictured was actually a real record store, Nashers Music Store in Walcot Street, Bath, UK, specially dressed for the photo-shoot. Like so many "record stores" Nasher's is closed down now.   

What's Wrong With This Picture? (2004)   -   Van's album on Blue Note.  Cover is vaguely fiftiesish in its design.  But the squares and circles on the front point to the phrase "square peg in a round hole".  Well that may be a good description of Van.