Tuesday, 29 November 2016

George Formby Vs Van Morrison


Holy Hughes’ blog The Song in my Head Today has lots of great stuff about music.  Here’s an edited sample of one of the Van Morrison posts.  

Cleaning Windows by Van Morrison

Still reading that book about 1960s British pop, and the author mentioned a song by George Formby called When I'm Cleaning Windows as a typical example of British songwriting before the Beatles. Now, I know hardly anything about George Formby except that he played the ukelele and sang corny music-hall-style comedy numbers in the 1930s and 1940s.  The only song of his I recognize is Leaning On the Lamppost, which later became a sort of novelty hit for Herman's Hermits in the US . But as soon as I read that song title When I'm Cleaning Windows, I thought of this copasetic track from Van Morrison. I'll bet anything Van knew that Formby song, but what he did with it is worlds away from a plinking ukelele and yuk-yuk comedy.

Infuriating as Van Morrison can be, I'm still willing to forgive him everything when he swings like this. This is from his 1982 album Beautiful Vision. It lands squarely in his "I'm just an ordinary guy" line of songs, which are completely contradicted by his Celtic mystic songs, but so be it. The recurring line that seems to be the heart of this song is in the chorus, a swiftly rapped-out bit of Formby-esque patter: "I'm a working man in my prime / Cleaning windows."

But the only thing Van's song shares with Formby's, really, is the subject and a certain sort of chirpy upbeat tempo. Van really did work as a window cleaner at some point in his life; whereas Formby was all about the window cleaner leering through the glass for naughty glimpses of people's lives, Van's has the ring of experience in the jaunty way he describes carrying ladders past wrought-iron railings, or cleaning a lady's fanlight. More than anything, though, it's a testament to a slacker lifestyle. Sure, he's got this menial job, but in his spare time he's having a damn good time. "I went home and listened to Jimmie Rodgers / In my lunch-break / Bought five Woodbines at the shop on the corner / And went straight back to work....We went for lemonade and Paris buns / At the shop and broke for tea ... I was blowing saxophone on the weekend / In that down joint." He doesn't even bother to make things rhyme; this is more like a diary than a crafted song. He cheerfully insists that he's happy cleaning windows. But it's not all that he's about.

In the second verse, Van lays out chapter two of his musical autobiography in a nutshell: "I heard Leadbelly and Blind Lemon / On the street where I was born / Sonny Terry, Brownie McGee, Muddy Waters singing 'I'm a rolling stone' / I went home and read my Christmas Humphrey's book on Zen / Curiosity Killed the Cat / Kerouac's Dharma Bums and On the Road." It's like he turned to his turntable and nightable and just transcribed what was sitting there. It's poignant to think of this kid in Belfast greedily sucking in American blues and beat lit, as if real life was gonna happen somewhere else. But there's no mistaking how deeply he absorbed that stuff; this song has such an irresistible R&B groove, with delirious flourishes from a tight horn section, and Van's voice is a rare and beautiful thing, the way it shades from growl to croon to bark to flutter to howl.

"What's my life?" he triumphantly announces; "I'm a-happy cleaning windows / Take my time / I'll see you when my love grows ." You can just hear the grown-up rock star yearning back to that innocent, uncomplicated time; hell, he's making me nostalgic for it, and I've never set foot in Belfast. This is wonderful stuff indeed. Who needs George Formby?

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Funny Things People Say - Number 15


Maui Surfer   -   Is-a-pre-emptive-strike-against-iran-inevitable? ... In a word, NO! I speculate you may like McQuack's Beach Boy song version, "Bomb Bomb Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran!" a lot more, despite the folly it represents. As to Vietnam, so, you think it was a good idea to prop up a repressive CATHOLIC regime the Church had inserted into Asia? Maybe you are a Van Morrison fan too, "Whoa-oh Domino!"


Elsbar   -   I give a thumb's up to Astral Weeks and Moondance, and bits and pieces of all the rest.

Steve Bradshaw   -   Anthropocene tells the story of the planet from its inception to a distant future when humans have long since vanished.  and the whole biosphere. And all this is happening quite suddenly.  Nobody knows how long the Anthropocene will last. In that case the Anthropocene would be – to borrow the title of a Van Morrison album – a period of transition and little else.  

Plaxico   -   Van Morrison is really weird, why is this man shouting at me about how much he loves me? Stop shouting at me!

Tom D.   -   wtf are you playing at Van? God bless the damn Queen, long may she reign over us?

Cat Grant   -   You’ve heard of Van Morrison, right? You probably know him as the guy who sang Brown-Eyed Girl. But when I hear his name, I think of his album Astral Weeks. Van’s reedy tenor and the folk-rock-with-a-touch-of-jazz arrangements sound deceptively simple, until you close your eyes and really listen. (A little weed helps too, but if you’re in a non-legal state, you didn’t hear this from me.) It’s Morrison’s masterpiece, but even back in the day, it didn’t sell.

Money Magnet Magnate   -    That's nothing new - Van Morrison has been known to be speechless many times...usually when he is so hammered he can only slur and make rude hand gestures.

Emma Hartley   -   Van Morrison came on. What a dude, with his gold microphone stand bearing his initials and his collection of unanswerable bluesy hits. As the late afternoon sunshine suffused the crowd with a sense of well-being and a swallow swooped overhead, the two very tall men to my left decided it might be fun to sit on each other's shoulders, which gave them a combined height of around 11 feet and a strong risk of imminent collapse. The temporary distraction of a copy of Private Eye sticking out of the back pocket of the one underneath abated when Moondance started up and Christopher Ecclestone arrived in the crowd nearby during a storm of unrelated applause. He'll always be Dr Woo-Hoo! to me now.

Dave Q.   -   Van Morrison equals Meat Loaf with a Celtic burden of significance instead of cheesy American humour.

Dr C   -   Since THEM, Van equals a Turdburger.

June Grant   -   That man Van Morrison has no personality, no etiquette, nothing. He simply doesn't know how to treat an audience. I actually preferred the band to him. He's grumpy and he left the stage without saying goodbye or good night. He didn't even bother saying 'thank you for coming'. 

Anonymous   -   Those Bang demos have been released on various semi-legit comps - Garbage Van is my fave!

Nolan Dalla   -   Van Morrison’s concert on the night of January 15th, 2016 at the famed Shrine Auditorium on the University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles was terrible.  And, I loved every single note of it.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Van-Inspired Writings



There's a whole world of Van-Inspired writings out there.  There are sentimental poems, fake anecdotes where the author imagines meeting Van, short stories with Van as a character and even manga with a character named Van Morrison.  Guy Bartlett Williamson wrote the following piece as at least, some kind of tribute.  (If you could call a story where the millionaire artist Van Morrison steals food from a farmer a tribute.) 

Adventures With Van Morrison

From 1975-1987, my great friend Van Morrison and myself would take the month of September and hit the open road – in the guise of two old-fashioned travelling gentlemen (‘tramps’, in the English vernacular; hobos if you are American). Van wore a floppy hat sporting a partridge feather, while I preferred a battered old derby.  Our money would be left at home: all we has was a greasy coat, a rope belt and the freedom of the open road.  So, with just a couple of scones in a handkerchief, we would set off on an adventure, walking the back-roads of the English countryside, sleeping in barns, hedgerows or, if nothing else offered itself, a humble ditch.


On our very first outing in 1975, hunger hit in very quickly.  We had walked just ten country miles, when our conversation was interrupted by two rumbling bellies.  Something had to be done.  Van spotted a farmhouse up ahead.  And we were in luck: as we approached, the window rattled up and a pair of hands lay a fine, fat bramble pie on the windowsill to cool.  A fine, fat pie for the taking, I thought.  The enigma that is Morrison wiped his nose on his sleeve and whispered Fantabulous!  I looked at Van.  Was he thinking what I was thinking?  I’m sure he was, because we soon found ourselves sneaking up to the cottage window. 


Seconds later found us pelting down a country lane heading for an open field, sweat on the brow, pie in the coat, a dog on our tail.  As we climbed the fence, Van got his trousers caught in barbed wire, but he managed to hold on to the pie.  Mid-way across the field, Van froze.  “Holy Roman potatoes!” he cried out.  And I understood why.  There, heading our way, was the largest bull I ever had the misfortune to set my eyes on.  But, again, luck was on our side: the bull had his eye not on the two tramps tearing towards it, but the angry dog in hot pursuit.

Extremely relieved, we settled in a secluded shady grove in the woods and made camp.  It is well known in the rock ‘n’ roll world that Van Morrison makes an incredible cup of tea.  I have often watched him, and let me tell you, it’s like watching an artist at work, mixing the pigments, preparing the oil, the turps, etc.  But Morrison’s alchemical ingredients are the leaves, the hot water, the cups, the milk, and most crucially, the teapot.  Tea and bramble pie never taste as good as when made in a small clearing in the woods on a late-summer’s afternoon, with wood cracking in the fire and smoke scenting your clothes.


After our simple but sumptuous feast, Van took out his long-stemmed brier pipe and the stories would begin: tales of troubadours of old, of mythical journeys, of poets. And there, sadly, I will have to leave the scene: the sun shining down on two men with nothing but the clothes they were wearing and the dreams in their hearts.  But maybe some day I’ll tell you more of those crazy, carefree days.


‘Til then, stay on the bright side of the road.