Friday, 30 September 2016

It's Here !!!!

Let's All Buy 100 Copies and Give Him a No. 1 Album

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Is Astral Weeks a "10"?

Adrian Denning’s Album Review site mentions a few Van Morrison albums among its huge archive of material.  Click on the site name if you want to read his reviews in full or check out around the site for albums by other artists.  I’ve 'lifted' a few things from there – a list of his Van album ratings, an edited brief review of Astral Weeks and some reader comments about the world's greatest album. 

Part A   -   Adrian's Ratings List of Van’s Albums

Astral Weeks (1969) - 9.5
Moondance (1970) - 9.0
His Band and Street Choir (1970) - 6.5
Tupelo Honey (1971) - 8.0
Saint Dominic’s Preview (1972) - 8.5
Hard Nose the Highway (1973) - 8.0
Veedon Fleece (1974) - 9.0
A Period of Transition (1977) - 7.5
Wavelength (1978) - 6.5
Into the Music (1979) - 8.5
Common One (1980) - 8.0
Beautiful Vision (1982) - 7.0

Part B   -   Astral Weeks Review

In another world and in another time, coming home high. In another place, sits Astral Weeks. No way to follow-up Brown Eyed Girl of course, and no way to follow-up his early band Them.  Almost too much is here. A voice rises through the blues, a heart seeping through - "beside you, beside you" - like a mantra. It stays with you, rain falls right on time. There's such devotion, emptiness, yet utter beauty expertly expressed. Little details, "a scrapbook stuck with glue" - distinctive, exotic guitar, yet delicate, then rising to meet Van's extraordinary vocal performance. Flute, superb jazzy bass lines - so very much going on, quietly, perfectly complimenting the vocal performance. My, my, my - tears of sadness, loss - mixed with memories of joyous happy times deepening the loss. Beauty and soul, that's Beside You

Cyprus Avenue seems like an impossibly magical place to be . You can be in the song and everything is real - yet glorious daydream. Romance. Imagine writing a song about a street from your hometown, describing it so evocatively and beautifully. Sweet Thing makes me cry, Sweet Thing makes me smile, Sweet Thing is my post to lean upon when nothing is ever going right, everything is black - impenetrable fog - yet this sheer happiness comes through and again, evocative images and glorious vocals. These vocals.... and these vocals. Van Morrison sings so much from the heart here, that it's sometimes too much. Devotion to music, devotion to feeling and soul. A glorious place to be, and I love the strings, oh I love the strings! "Misty wet with rain"? I'm crying again. Oh, the title song has nice string sections too. The album sold poorly at the time, but it's still here, all these years later.

My tongue gets tied every time I try to speak and my inside shakes just like a leaf on a tree. The way young lovers do. The jazzy lines return, the exotic sunshine and magic is all here and the sound is fuller, with brass instruments, and the song just over three minutes long. Variety, lengthier excursions with the title song, Cyprus Avenue and the sheer glory of Madame George sat between shorter songs perfectly complimenting them. Madame George? It's a folk song, yet extended with subtle, very subtle Jazz bass lines - flute and another extraordinary from the heart and soul vocal and lyric. I fall into a trance..... Madame George captivates so much, poetry, love and joy - sadness - more tears. A masterpiece for each and every single one of its five hundred and eighty five seconds. 

Lewis Merenstein - dead at 81
The blues is expressed, yet the bass and delicate exotic nature - this strange of its own nature - of Astral Weeks is still right there all through Slim Slow Slider. Ballerina invites you to step right up, invites someone to step right up, but the imagery isn't quite as evocative, or beautiful lyrically, as elsewhere. The sound is here, the vocal is more than here, but the heart isn't so much here - Ballerina is just a beautiful painting in song. Astral Weeks is one of those albums, timeless of course - disappointing if you walk straight into it as if blindly walking drunkenly into a wall, but that's only natural. Astral Weeks is something to be unravelled.

Part C   -   Reader Comments

Ruth McNerlan   -   This is a excellent poetic review of a beautiful, emotional and highly underrated album. Van Morrison is someone who has never been given the credit he deserves and its good to see someone do him justice for once. I'd give it a 10, but being someone who spent her childhood just a few streets away from Cyprus Avenue and many of the other locations Van Morrison maps out in his songs, I think I have his music ingrained under my skin.

Kevin Baker   -   Your review totally captures the essence of the album. Astral Weeks, while I don't listen to it often, is a beautiful, poetic masterpiece of introspective, emotional songwriting. I give the album a perfect 10!

Agnes Frechette   -   This is a 10. This album can take a listener through life, through friends' deaths, breakups, withdrawal of all sorts. It can be listened to lightly, or very heavily. This is the best album to listen to on a hot summer day when it begins to rain and thunder, much like the sound of Van Morrison's utterly poetic and magnetic muse. 

Michael   -   There's just something about this record, something beyond the individual songs, something about the atmosphere that runs through the whole thing that totally enchants me. After four or five listens I couldn't recall most of the melodies to save my life, but while they were playing they were achingly beautiful. The arrangements are wonderful too; the songs never get boring. The way he uses his voice is amazing. This record is so incredibly emotional, and perfectly beautiful. This album is its own place, somewhere in the first days of spring where young love is blossoming just as innocence is dying. It's like Van captured a certain kind of melancholy joy, the feeling that goes with the excitement and uncertainly when your life changes and everything is apprehensive but also hopeful. I really don’t know how to explain Astral Weeks. Astral Weeks completely validates my obsession with popular music. This is what art is supposed to do.

Bill Oberg   -   "And I will raise my hand up into the nighttime sky..." sings Van's soul in Sweet Thing. And when I'm driving nights that's exactly what I do. Usually after I roll the window down first. Always after I check and make sure I'm alone. It's Catcher in the Rye set to music. It's indescribable. So much spirit bared. Thanks, Adrian, for hitting the review spot on (almost anyway –– it's a 10) and pointing this one out to me.

R.L.Hynes   -  Every time I walk into a record shop I wish I could buy this again. I never need to hear any other music for the rest of my life. The greatest album ever recorded. By a mile.

John Doyle   -   I heard this baby on CD, wailing in tune with the funky rhythms of Mother Earth and all the fluffy clouds that hung overhead in competition for the sun, as Anne Marie and me drove through the Wicklow mountains, last Sunday in her brand new jeep. We had to stop on three occasions, as I was feeling rather queasy from her excesssssssssssive use of speed, hell it is a NEW jeep.... As I puked my guts up in a field near Punchestown (Kildare, NOT Dublin!), She compared me to Richard E.Grant, and her herself to Paul McGann, driving up to Penrith to engage in God only knows what kind of tomfoolery. Yeah man, those sure were groovy days, all those hours ago. Thank you, George Ivan Morrison. 10/10.

Brennan   -   Five years ago while I was a senior in college, my older brother introduced me to this album. My brother and I are what many would consider "music snobs" or maybe just jerks, that is if you don't appreciate "good" music. Due to the fact Classic Rock radio stations Brown Eyed Girl'd me to death, I pretty much wrote Van Morrison off as "accessible music that the whole family could agree on". After the first listen, I was blown away. I honestly started to realise that my generalizations where causing me to miss out on so much in life. While owning and listening to this album countless times and always loving it, I had no idea what the songs meant. 

That summer my family and I took a trip to Ireland to visit the county of our heritage. Driving through the countryside of Ireland listening to this album was the most surreal experience of my life. I thought I had finally figured out what Van Morrison's poetic lyrics meant. Just recently, my brother who had introduced me to this album unexpectedly died. While going through his things, I came across this CD. Having not listening to it in years, I decided to play it in my car after the worst experience of my life. My interpretation of this album changed dramatically, and I realise this is the most beautiful, romantic, meaningful music I've ever heard. Perfect.

Ross Upchurch   -   Now here is a masterpiece! It gets better and better and better and better and giving it a piddly 9 when your handing out 9's and 10's to all and sundry. Appreciate your site but Astral Weeks is a classic albums that you have overlooked with a 9. It retains its majesty 30 years later. There are a few albums that manage that, but bands like Pulp, The Stone Roses, Squeeze and Killing Joke (with equal or better ratings) aren't even close to the classic category. If pet Pet Sounds and Revolver are 10's (The White Album missed out?) along with others through the decades,(Closer,The Boatman's Call, OK Computer) hey Astral Weeks is easily a 10

Gary Hess   -   Astral Weeks, eh? Firstly, Van's previous band THEM were one of THE greatest r'n'b bands ever, rivalled only by the Yardbirds and The Animals. After being screwed again by another music biz mogul Van got free and made this. I confess I still find it hard to listen to, there's a lot of pain here and Van's voice is strained and abrasive in places. Also the playing is rather one dimensional although the strings are nice. Good things are here too Van singing "we are going to heaven" on the title track while the strings cushion him like a big fat cloud , sweet things euphoric existential joy. I don't like "lovers do" much, its supper club arrangement does it no favours either. What is great about this record is how it tries to articulate the impossible , like trying to describe a dream. Madame George finds a lonely transvestites story caught up with a dream of a childhood train journey to Dublin - the incredible climax sounds just like van sobbing as the train vanishes into the distance, the arrangement again outstanding. Cypress Avenue is another great track Van's schoolgirl love from the other side of the tracks watched helplessly from a car seat. Ballerina goes nowhere in particular rather prettily. Van's never returned to this sound and rarely plays anything from it live possibly because the record was so spontaneous and so personal to him. Ah well, it was a start to a great career but I'm that rarity - a Van fan who doesn't have astral weeks as one of his favourites !

Stewart   -   A friend lent me this record in 1970 and I was knocked out by it. The album is not from this world and it remains, 37 years later, my favourite album and in my opinion deserves 10 (and a bit more).

Captain Chaos   -   When I first heard this album as a impressionable teenager in the very early seventies I thought Wow! what an amazing album. I am now in my early fifties and when I hear this album I think Wow! What an amazing album. This still remains my most favourite album of all times. Fantastic stuff in every track. Must be a 10!

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The Ultimate Music Guide: Van Morrison

Finally, Uncut has produced a Van Morrison version of their "ultimate music guides".  Lesser artists somehow jumped the queue ahead of Van but at least he made it.  It's a great 122 page coverage of The Man's career.  Any Van fan and collector would love to have a copy.  How's this for the first paragraph:   

The legend of Van Morrison is one of the richest and most complicated in musical history, but most often it boils down to a certain familiar portrait. According to one observer, he “sometimes throws his advisers into a frenzy of hair-tearing despair: moody, unpredictable, perverse, often downright wilful — but always creative.”

For this post I've compiled three lists based on information in the guide - the best songs in the Them Years, the best songs post-Them and the best Van albums from the 2000s.  

The Top Ten Them Songs

 1. Gloria
 2. Hey Girl
 3. My Lonely Sad Eyes
 4. Baby Please Don't Go
 5. Here Comes the Night
 6. Don't Look Back
 7. Turn on Your Love Light
 8. If You and I Could Be as One
 9. It's All Over Now Baby Blue 
10. Bring 'Em On In

The Top 10 Van Songs

 1. Moondance
 2. Into the Mystic
 3. Madame George
 4. It's All in The Game etc. 
 5. Summertime in England
 6. St Dominic's Preview
 7. Domino
 8. Rave On John Donne
 9. In The Garden
10. Listen to the Lion

The Top Ten Albums from the 2000s

 1. Keep It Simple (2008)
 2. Magic Time (2005)
 3. Down the Road (2002)
 4. Born To Sing: No Plan B (2012)
 5. Astral Weeks Live At The Hollywood Bowl (2009)
 6. Duets:Re-Working the Catalogue (2015)
 7. Still on Top - the Greatest Hits (2007)
 8. What's Wrong With This Picture? (2003)
 9. Best of Volume III (20007)
10. Pay the Devil (2006)

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Funny Things People Say - Part 14

The Man - With a New Album in the Can

Sad - Tom Thinks He's a Little Japanese Girl

Lucy Siegle   -   A big part of me is going Sir Van Morrison? Really? A little bit of my love for the relentlessly grumpy former hellraiser has just been extinguished. Besides, if we ever do meet I will not be able to call him “Sir”. It’s not rudeness on my part, or because I determinedly campaign against honours as a Ruritanian colonial relic. My mouth just won’t form the words.

Carl Abernathy   -   I’ll be honest, Van Morrison’s lyrics on his new album, Keep It Simple don’t speak to me. I don’t mind the love songs, but the lyrics are predictable, even trite. I do mind the title track and Don’t Go to Nightclubs Anymore. The lyrics are downright annoying. Morrison comes across as a bitter, paranoid old man lashing out at anyone who’s ever criticised his music.

Jack Shalom   -   There it was. In my supermarket, over the sound system, Into the Mystic by Van Morrison. What have we come to? 

Sean Elder   -   Morrison has placed unwelcome mats before his house. He has been contemptuous of journalists, difficult with his collaborators and, at times, barely tolerant of his fans. Like some musical Andy Kaufman, he does not seem to care what people think of what he’s doing. And woe unto his imitators.

Jawahrel   -   Coney Island is a short syrupy ramble about Coney Island. It doesn't even feel like a song. Van is just talking through the whole thing. One Irish Rover has a xylophone that carries the song along, and it sounds like something you would find on a children's lullaby CD.

Simon Sweetman   -   I played with an Irish band fulltime for many years - it meant that for most of a decade I could not approach The Pogues, Van Morrison, The Chieftains or The Waterboys. A great shame of course. But a fact nonetheless.

Call Me Ishmael   -   Sammy Mahood never made it big but the pushier, rowdier Van Morrison did and as with so many whose audience only listens to pop music, Morrison's output is significantly over-valued, much of his stuff is shouty, sub-Ray Charles  R'n'B that was shit even when Ray Charles did it  but there are gems, especially on Astral Weeks and this, from much later, is almost enough to make one forgive his churlish, shouty abominations.

Mr Evans   -   Remember that business back in the 1990s when The New England Journal of Medicine documented the case of a 45 year-old woman who had seizures whenever she heard Mary Hart’s voice? Tom Waits is my Mary Hart. A Tom Waits duet with Van Morrison would probably do me in for good.

Michael   -   Roberta and I had a platonic relationship where, according to her, we were ‘best friends and could explore each other’s minds, but that’s as far as it goes.’ This meant that we spent most weekends together; shopping, going to the cinema, hanging out with friends and invariably ending up in her bedroom, listening to records by The Grateful Dead, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Eagles, Van Morrison and John Martyn.

Meg Whitman   -   Hearing Van Morrison's voice come out of Van Morrison's body is disturbing.

Formicah   -   Van needs to get Dolly Parton's old tour bus and just "do America" like in the old days. Take the band and get all the senior lunch specials along the way. Can't wait for the documentary.

Therealman   -   Van grew up to be a real dick. I knew him way back during his Cape Cod/Boston days. You could catch three sets of him and the band for about a dollar. He wanted me to introduce him to Jack, Burroughs, Allen, and the rest of the gang. I hooked him up. When he came to town in July 2009 the tickets were $350 each. I wanted three. I tried to reach him to see if he would comp me, just for old times sake. Unavailable. The man is unavailable, not at home, on vacation, out of the country, but unavailable. Well tell him I called and here is my number. No reply from the sob. He makes it clear who makes his suits for him now. Back when, holes in his shirt and jeans. Big effing deal.

Daysicle   -   I asked Van on a whim because I had Montreal on my mind “how many Leonard Cohen songs have you performed?” The answer-an emphatic “none!”

John Meagher   -   Let's get one thing straight about Van Morrison: he's been treading water for a very long time. Every other year he releases a new album to widespread indifference and faintly enthusiastic reviews.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Steve Stockman's Soul Surmise

Here’s a fantastic 2012 post from Presbyterian minister Steve Stockman on his Soul Surmise blog.  Below is the whole stolen thing but click on the link above for more posts about Van Morrison and even U2. 


As a music fan I have imagine romantically about the places referred to in the work of Springsteen, Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon among a plethora of others, though a cancelled flight at Newark airport took me onto Simon’s New Jersey turnpike and the reality wasn’t too exciting! Belfast is blessed with our own contemporary music name place dropper Van Morrison. No matter where you go in the world someone has heard of Cypress Avenue. As a Presbyterian minister I used to think I would be called to the Church with the Cypress Avenue street sign outside. It never happened! Then a day or two before I was installed as the minister of Fitzroy I was listening to Madame George and there it was, “Ford and Fitzroy”. Confirmed!

In his poem/song 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..." It is what Morrison has been doing since that iconic first solo record Astral Weeks, finding transcendence in the everyday familiar. In what he does and how he does it he is heading back past Irish poets like Kavanagh and Yeats to the Celtic Christianity centuries before; revealing the extraordinary in the everyday ordinary.

Morrison’s Astral Weeks is mentioned in the same breath as Sgt Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band as maybe the best record of all time and where The Beatles in 1967 were singing about places in their native Liverpool, Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields, Morrison created Astral Weeks’ incredible piece of poetry and sound, vast and magical, from a tiny house in a gray and claustrophobic little street in East Belfast. Though it would take him a few decades to name Hyndford Street specifically, Astral Weeks gives us Cypress Avenue, Fitzroy and Sandy Row.

Through the years Morrison has added many other spaces and icons to his catalogue of Belfast memories. Cherry Valley in the aforementioned Hyndford Street, the Orangefield of his school days appears on Got To Go Back from No Method No Guru No Teacher and then gets an entire songs 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 firey 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 many of us who have called this city home.

I had one of these magical moments at a concert in Vancouver where a Canadian singer encored with Morrison’s Into The Mystic. There are no specific place names in this song but when he sang about hearing of the fog horn blow and knowing that it meant he would be coming home I was on Belfast’s Lough and tears started to seep. Thank you Van Morrison for giving our city streets a wonder that resonates in our own souls and across the world.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

More Fan Stories

Fans After a Susan Boyle Concert

Brett   -   In 1965 I had been playing drums for about four years already. I was ten and was in my first band with my older brother and other older boys. I felt elevated to a higher status being in that band ("The Kings," later renamed "Page Five"), as all of the other members were 14 or 15. We played the "hits" of the day and, of course, one of the big ones was Gloria. My brother had a copy, it's flip side was, I believe, Baby Please Don't Go

We played many of the other standards for young Rock bands, and my focus as a drummer was on a kind of Mersey Beat. This had a strong back beat (a strong emphasis on 2 and 4 of a 4/4 beat pattern, or even all four beats given supreme emphasis, at times with a double back beat on 2 accented by two eighth note taps), Ringo would be the drumming example most people can relate that to, although there were many more. The rhythm of Gloria had just a flavor of that Mersey Beat emphasis but with more Rhythm and Blues thrown in; and, along with a lot of the Animals' tunes, it gave me a starting point for influences that combined American Roots music with British Mod sounds.

I didn't know anything about Van Morrison at the time, but that soon changed as he was soon to present and represent something no other musician would or could. His music was and is at once a sound so strongly influenced by African-American roots music/Spirituals, Romantic poetry and Irish Laments, yet those influences were and are internalised the way great artists do and not merely homages or impersonations that can be discerned directly.

Morrison could have gone the way of so many promising musicians and sold out after his Brown Eyed Girl, but he kept moving away from that limelight in favour of seeking a path guided by something else. I would compare him to Dylan in that way, a true artist, less inclined to compromise a vision and more inclined to follow his own muse. I still play Crazy Love and Into the Mystic in my repertoire when I perform my acoustic act (I play guitar now, all of these 45 years later).

Picmandan   -   Went to a concert of his, got to sit real close, maybe 10-15 rows back from the stage. He was in the middle of singing Send in the Clowns, when my girl and I decided he should sing one of his own hits instead. We tried screaming randomly a few times, till I got the bright idea that if we worked together, and shot for a silent or quiet moment in the song, we might be able to get something out over the din. So the music goes bump bah, dah, dah.... and we screamed DOMINOOOOO!!!!! It went out clear as a bell. He heard it. He definitely heard. It apparently pissed him off to no end. He incorporated Domino in the lyrics to what he was singing. "Mother F-n Domino! F Domino this! F Domino that. Mother F-n Domino!". He never sang Domino that night.

Drunk For Days   -   In 2007 I went and saw Van the Man in Vancouver, BC Canada. I was so incredibly pumped. In 2006 he was supposed to open for The Rolling Stones, but had to cancel. So this was a while coming. My friends and I snapped up tickets and were ecstatic as my friend's birthday fell on the night of the show, February 26th. The tickets weren't cheap, and we were just out of high school and very broke. But it'd be worth it. We thought. Van couldn't  give a shit. He ignored the crowd by turning away, checked his watch constantly, sang a verse of a tune, and his band would finish it. Also, every player in his band would play a solo, every song it seemed. We were not happy. And a lot of the crowd around us wasn't either.

Which is too bad, because I still love his music. It's just annoying whenever he gets played, if any of the four of us are together, we more than likely have another discussion on that faithful night.

Andrew Fargo   -   I worked with a guy who was the retired tour manager for The Band in Upstate New York for a year right out of college. The guy had tons of stories about The Band, but also had some good ones about Van. Even back in the day he went through a phase where he was "only playing the saxophone, wouldn't really sing, and played the entire show with his back to the audience." I think that was in the 80's or early 90's before he was as old as he currently is.

Brendan McCusker   -   I first saw Van Morrison at Birmingham’s Rainbow Suite Club in 1965. I was a precocious underage youngster. Van Morrison had already had two huge pop hits with Baby Please Don’t Go and Here Comes the Night with his Belfast band Them

Even then, Van Morrison was a maverick. During the set he wandered offstage, leaving the audience perplexed. A few minutes later he strolled back on, astonishing the young crowd by swigging from a bottle of Guinness and smoking a cigarette. Unprofessional? Perhaps. A bad example? Maybe. Cool and unforgettable? Definitely.  

Papa Was a Trollinstone   -   I was able to see Van perform the full Astral Weeks album at the Albert Hall a few years ago. The only downside was how much he rushed Sweet Thing, a favourite of ours (wife and I). An incredible show though, even if he insisted on wearing leather trousers. An interesting aside: a vinyl copy of Astral Weeks sits among my collection. Yet neither my wife nor I remember how it got there - we both insist we didn't buy it. Angels planted a copy of AW in our record collection.

RyanWalsh   -   One night, Wassel visited Morrison at the King Edward Hotel, where Morrison and Janet were staying. They were already anxious: Morrison’s papers were not wholly in order, and he was worried he’d be deported. Also, Morrison was severely intoxicated. Wassel asked about a radio he had given Morrison, which now appeared to be broken. Morrison’s temper flared up, worsened by the booze, and Wassel put an end to his incomprehensible Gaelic swearing by smashing Morrison’s Martin acoustic guitar over his head. All of this may have had something to do with why, in early 1968, Morrison and Janet hastily married and moved to Cambridge.