Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Funny Things People Say - Part 19

Arlene Goldbard   -   For me, Astral Weeks and Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose have that same quality of supersaturated yearning, perpetual desire/renewable fulfilment that rhymes with the kernel of truth at the centre of my heart: always coming home, never arriving. The music swoons its way into my memory, and I’m under the covers in one of those rooms—who can say what city, what year?—anchoring myself to this world with the imagined scent of citrus and rose, the imagination of cool water drunk from a silver cup.

Serving the Music   -   Van sings off key far more frequently and I find his scatting to be over done and annoying.

Dave   -   And Van Morrison – The Belfast Cowboy? When did you last see a herd of cattle in Belfast? Or Van on a palomino? You can see him, instead, in Holland Park, walking his dozen Pomeranians and poodles, with his pointy shoes with the big shiny buckles.

Sleepy Horse   -   I read an article in Rolling Stone once on Van Morrison where the writer said he was made to wait like 2 hrs while Van Morrison paced the floor, too nervous to sit for the interview because he didn't want people to say bad things about him.  I jus' know what I read , surely Rolling Stone would get their facts straight.

Reinvented Daddy   -   I often say “Van Morrison is proof God loves me”.  

defpublic   -   My first concert was The Stones at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium in 65/66. I was in 8th grade so 12/13. I wore a green voile dress, carried a handbag and clapped politely. Saw Van Morrison a year or so later at a roller rink (as Them with the hit G-L-O-R-I-A) but it was a dance, not a concert. I believe I did the jerk, the frug and the shing-a-ling.

Brakeman   -   I am thrilled to report that it looks like the great Van Morrison finally let somebody with some marketing savvy into the inner sanctum of Van-ism. It has always appeared that Van could care less about the commercial success of any of the albums that he put out. He has always been in it for the music (and some might say also occasionally in it for God) and although many people believe Van to be a guru, nobody has ever accused him of being a marketing guru.

Boyo Jim   -   I set up a Chris Isaak station on Pandora and started listening. Most of the songs playing now are already reruns from just a few hours. And 80% of the related tracks are Van Morrison and Dire Straits. Okay, I understand the Morrison connection, but the Dire Straits one is tenuous at best.

Seth Godin   -   Lou Reed was outsold by Van Morrison at least 40:1. But again, our image and memory of Lou compares to Van's, it's not a tiny fraction of his.

Howeeee   -   Morrison is and always was arrogant, self absorbed, extremely moody, very critical of others, nothing new, but still a great entertainer.

Mike Ness   -   Van has no need to 'shake the sugar down' in Sugar Town. He spills that stuff every night on stage. Just lap it up y'all. 

timoneil5000   -   There are few people whose voices annoy me as much as Van Morrison's. The best Van Morrison record is the sound of silence for forty minutes after you pull the 8-track of MOONDANCE out of the stereo and toss it out the window of a moving car.

Judy Licht   -   When Marlene, Jake and Adam were little, our car stereo didn't play kid songs. No Raffi, DinoRock or Barney wailing, "I love you, you love me." We were all rock, reggae, blues and folk — without apology.Our kids only protested when they came home from my mother-in-law's house, whining, "How come Gigi can play The Little Mermaid on her tape deck and we can't?" My husband and I would mumble something incomprehensible, duck our heads, turn up the volume on Van Morrison's Hard Nose the Highway and keep on driving.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

"Keepers" (2018) - Van's Best Ever Album?

Someone named Eustice said online "Pay the Devil is crap country boy. I like Keep Me Singing and Keep it Simple.  They're  "keepers". (Get it?)" 

That got me thinking about those two albums and whether they represent the best of his work for the new millennium.  One thing led to another and now I'm putting forward an album called Keepers (2018) consisting of tracks from only those two albums.  Don't call this a mix tape. The only thing you have to think about is:  is this better than OK Computer, Nevermind, Sgt Pepper's, Pet Sounds, Highway 61 Revisited, etc.?

Here's my list of songs for the new combination album:
01.   Let It Rhyme (KMS) - 3:53

02.   Every Time I See a River (KMS) - 4:43
03.   Keep Me Singing (KMS) - 3:39
04.   Out In the Cold Again (KMS) - 7:06
05.   Memory Lane (KMS) - 4:08
06.   Soul (KIS) - 3:37
07.   Holy Guardian Angel (KMS) - 6:18
08.   That's Entrainment (KIS) - 4:32
09.   In Tiburon (KMS) - 5:18
10.   Lover Come Back (KIS) - 5:15
11.   Look Beyond the Hill (KMS) - 2:28
12.   School of Hard Knocks (KIS) - 3:44
13.   Keep It Simple (KIS) - 3:34
14.   Too Late (KMS) - 2:48
15.    Behind the Ritual (KIS) - 6:59


Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Slí Cholmcille

Robert McMillen’s 2012 article about the launch of the Celtic trail known as Slí Cholmcille contains an interesting Van reference. 

Van Morrison and Slí Cholmcille

When I went to the launch of Slí Cholmcille at the Linenhall Library last night, the last person I expected to see was George Ivan Morrison, Van the Man to you and me.  Slí Cholmcille or the St Columba Trail is the first visitor trail between Scotland and Ireland and is named after St Colmcille or Columba, a native of Donegal. The trail stretches from Gleann Cholm Cille in south west Donegal to the Western Isles of Scotland. There are nine interlinked routes, including three in Donegal, one in the City of Derry, and another between Coleraine and Limavady.

But why would the legendary Irish singer be at such an event? The answer came from the always entertaining Dr Ian Adamson, the former Lord Mayor of Belfast who talked of his family connections to the Hebrides – his great granny came from Íle (Islay) – and the young Ian Adamson was taken by his grandfather to Íle and na Hearadh (Harris) and Leòdhas (Lewis) where he imagined the songs of the people to be related to the beautiful birdsong he heard on the islands.

“The love-song of the Wandering Greenshank, for example, is one of the most beautiful birdsongs in the world. It has a haunting quality that is replicated by the Gaelic Singers of the area and I think that is a very important factor in the development of that singing,” he says, before talking about the Ó Muirgheasáins, hereditary bards and brieves (lawmakers, from the Irish word breitheamh) who left Ulster in the 15th and 16th centuries and moved to Harris in the Outer Hebrides where they were bards to the MacLeans and MacClouds.”

The songs of the Macleans were never written down and haven’t survived but the Ó Muirgheasáins did, later became Morrisons. Another family, the MacGilleMhoire clan, also emigrated from Ulster to the Northern Hebrides and had their name Anglicised to Morrison. But, according to Adamson, the tradition of the hereditary bards lives on, that innate, intuitive sense that has lived on generation after generation.

“We have a modern bard, one who has written transcendental lyrics, the greatest of all lyrics ever written by a person of Hebridean extraction, George Ivan Morrison.”

So the Gaelic poets who left Ulster in the late Middle Ages brought their skills to the Scottish islands and centuries later brought their culture to America where it developed into early American music, call it what you will – folk, spiritual, gospel and arguably through to soul and R&B with some scholars claiming that American gospel music has its roots in the Gaelic psalm singing of Lewis.

Van the man is part of that ancient cultural give and take. An interesting photo from the night shows Van Morrison getting an autograph from Linenhall Librarian John Killen.  

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Van Morrison: The Early Albums

The following brief article comes from Bill Hart’s interesting vinyl record blog known as The Vinyl Press.  Lots of stuff about music and vinyl records is to be found on this attractive site.  

Van Morrison- The Early Albums

Van Morrison is a quixotic character, even by the standards usually applied to artists- a mercurial personality who has had some huge radio hit songs, but performs publicly with great reluctance; a man who created new paths for “soul” music and R & B who hails from Belfast and revels in his Celtic roots; an artist whose most critically acclaimed work was, for decades, far less commercially successful than the “pop” tunes for which he is most often recognised.

My introduction to Van Morrison’s work began with four albums released between 1970-72: Moondance, His Band and the Street Choir, Tupelo Honey and St. Dominic’s Preview. Although his first solo album, Blowin’ Your Mind (Bang Records, 1967) contained the radio staple, Brown Eyed Girl, I didn’t dig down into Van until later. Astral Weeks, his first album on Warners (1968), was too esoteric for me at the time; it took me many years to fully appreciate its jazzy poetry. Though a critical success, it was not a commercial one at the time. I’m not sure it is the best album as a point of entry to Van Morrison if you aren’t familiar with his early work. More about this album, below.

Moondance is, of course, the album that contains one of Van Morrison’s most well recognised tracks- the eponymous title track seems to be a romantic favourite for the ages. But, the album offers far more: mostly short, accessible tunes, soulful and somewhat unconventional love songs that take advantage of his voice. I have several copies of this album.

His Band and the Street Choir is also very accessible, a collection of short tuneful songs that work together as an album. I was always disturbed when Domino was played as a single track, without the next song, Crazy Face, which seemed to belong with it. And so it is with the rest of this album: I’ve Been Working, Call Me Up in Dreamland, I’ll Be Your Lover, Too and If I Ever Needed Someone all benefit from the singer’s almost unique way of interpreting these songs, but none sound “the same.” It is one of this artist’s “great” albums in my estimation. Elliot Scheiner is given a credit as a “production coordinator” and the record was mastered at Sterling Sound (an “RL” no less). My copy is a “standard issue” green label that I probably bought new at the time.

Tupelo Honey seems to continue where the Street Choir album leave off, and brings Ted Templeman into the fold as a producer. I don’t think it is as strong an album as Street Choir or St. Dominic’s Preview.

The first three tracks of side one of St. Dominic’s Preview are, in my estimation, as good as it gets: Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile) is a soul-belter; the transition to Gypsy is studied contrast, and I Will Be There is rendered with such conviction that I can think of few singers that could bring this one home the way Van Morrison does. 

I find some of the other tracks to be more spacey and ethereal: Listen to the Lion and Almost Independence Day are not cut from the same cloth as the first three tracks; I’ve come to appreciate how Van reaches down into his gut on Independence Day, but Lion still loses me. It’s OK, because it is such a great album. (And a good sounding one too, Templeman at the helm on this one too). I have several copies, including some ubiquitous reissue from a decade ago that sounds pretty sterile, an old green label or two, and a WLP that I bought a few years ago that looked like it had only been handled by an archivist with white gloves. That’s my go-to copy these days.

Now, to Astral Weeks. I’ve come to “get” it; I don’t think I could have appreciated this album as a youngster. But it has grown on me over the years. I don’t listen to it often, but when I do, I’m fully engaged. I tracked down an early W7 pressing, which is pretty desirable, but you could probably live with an early green label at far less cost.

I did buy a few more Van Morrison albums after this era, including Hard Nose the Highway, A Period of Transition, Avalon Sunset and perhaps a few others. But the early records described in more detail above capture, for me, what Van Morrison is all about. I think part of this is the listener’s “point of entry.” The above-described albums from the early 70’s were the ones I listened to repeatedly in my youth and I know them well. Someone who comes to Van Morrison’s work at a later stage of his career may take a different view.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Van Vs Bob

Let’s Talk Music is a music blog specialising in forum topics.  The following discussion was initiated by someone calling himself Rimbaud82

Van Morrison

So how many Van Morrison fans do we have here? What are your favourite lyrics of his? What about songs? Just generally what do you think about him, and his music? For me, although in a different way, he is tied with Bob Dylan for the greatest lyricist of all time (and by that I mean they are my favourites of course, I wouldn't suggest that they are the literal best). However, though I love both Bob and Van equally, Van is my favourite singer (as in vocalist) of all time, his voice is amazing. In my opinion it’s the richest, and most expressive voice in all of rock music, there is no one better. Someone described it as “aural poetry” and that’s incredibly accurate. Rolling Stone say this “He’s the most painterly of vocalists, a master of unexpected phrasing whose voice can transform lyrics into something abstract and mystical”.

I like this quote too: “I know of no music that is more lucid, feel able, hearable, seeable, touchable, no music you can experience more intensely than this. Not just moments, but extended … periods of experience which convey the feel of what films could be: a form or perception which no longer burls itself blindly on meanings and definitions, but allows the sensuous to take over and grow … where indeed something does become indescribable.”

Van holds a special place for me…he comes from the same place I do and so I can relate to him more. Dylan, and other great songwriters may be more ‘intellectual’(for lack of a better word) in their lyrics, but Van’s are exceptional in another way. His words come seem to come from a another time and place — they are pure poetry and his view on things is really like my own, his pastoral, romantic, wonder-filled lyrics really strike a chord with me.

Forgive this eulogy of a post, I am a huge fan and want to see who else loves his music as much as I do, or alternatively what others think. I’ll just leave you with these songs and await your thoughts: Summertime in England, Astral Weeks, Sweet Thing, Into the Mystic and Listen to the Lion.

Reader Comments

Jagedar   -   Astral Weeks is one of my favourite songs of all time, without question. It's such an adventure, a mystic invitation to this other place performed in such a natural way with guitars and flutes and Van's incredible vocals. Not to mention the cryptic lyrical poetry that is quite possibly some of the best songwriting ever: "If I ventured in the slipstream/ between the viaducts of your dreams/ where immobile steel rims crack/ and the ditch in the back road stops/ could you find me?".

veraciousful   -   It's like slowly falling asleep in during a long car ride at the end of a warm summer day spent on the beach.

Jagedar   -   I've always seen it as a sleepy, clear early summer night.

Rimbaud82   -   and that's whats so great about it! 

heady_hood   -   I always saw it as a marvellous night for a moon dance, in the cover of October skies.

weinerdog12345   -   Van Morrison is my all-time favourite musician, and I believe that Moondance is among the greatest albums of all time.
Admittedly, it's tough for me not to use hyperbole when speaking of Van's music. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on his collaboration with Dylan. Although those two are my favourites, I didn't care for the collaboration at all. In fact, I thought it was Dylan who took away from much of the richness of Van's music.

It occurs to me that I listen for different things when I listen to Dylan than when I listen to Van. I feel a much greater attachment to Dylan's lyrics and passion, but I am more moved by the whole package of Van. Not sure why - just a preference, I suppose.

Rimbaud82   -   I actually feel the exact same way about their collaboration, and as I say they are two favourites also. I love both, Dylan's lyrics have a very different sort of attachment for me. I have two framed posters of him on my wall for goodness sake, but he connects on a much more 'intellectual' (bad word probably, but for lack of a better one as I say) level for the most part (Not exclusively of course, Mr Tambourine, Lay Down Your Weary Tune, Chimes of Freedom for example all go to similar places as Van's lyrics albeit in a different style). 

Stuff like Visions of Johanna, Desolation Row though (Perhaps his finest lyrics, up there anyway) is much more rooted in Ginsberg-ian, Beat style poetry...something more like Rimbaud (Who of course, is one of my favourites). In comparison, Van just hits me right there, I don't know where that is but somewhere - he rocks my gypsy soul you could say. With him the words are wonderful in a different way, and really it's combined with his incredible voice as well, the pauses, grunts, repetitions and phrasings just make it all the more special. If Dylan is Ginsberg or Rimbaud, then Van is clearly Yeats, Kavanagh or romantics/mystic poets like Blake. If you'll forgive the cheesy comparisons...

dikbutjenkins   -   I think Van Morrison has almost made his own genre of music where he blurs the line between folk and soul music. Sweet Thing is my favourite song by him but I've recently been getting into his work he did with the chieftains in the late 80s.

Rimbaud82   -   Absolutely mate, "Celtic soul" it gets called. I like The Chieftains stuff too, though haven't got into as much as some of the earlier albums.

Caverndish   -   I'm not a fan of Van Morrison, though I've never really given his music a proper listen. Though I was working in a studio a few months ago and him and his band was recording in the studio next door. I didn't see anything but what I heard was pretty good. A good set of musicians.

spurios   -   Astral Weeks could be described as an album created by good musicians. It deserves a proper listen.

MrsJohnJacobAstor   -   This thread has inspired me to check out more Van Morrison!

Rimbaud82   -   I love Van. Love his phrasing, his vocal range, his explosive presence. I also love the vulnerability behind all of his performances. A lot of people are not aware Van suffered from excruciating stage fright; I've always thought that it somehow compelled his music to this state of perfection.
Lately I've been addicted to the Tupelo Honey record, particularly Moonshine Whiskey. I also want Caravan played at my funeral with everyone drinking whiskey.

SicMus   -   The entire Astral Weeks album is simply transcendental. The album has taken me to places no other album has. Also, I can't stand it when people hear the name Van Morrison, and their mind just automatically jumps to Brown Eyed Girl. No where close to his best song, and he deserves a better appreciation than that.

MCanavan14   -   I love Van, one of my favourite artists of all time. My Top three by him are probably: Snow in San Anselmo, Moondance then Tore down A La Rimbaud but he has so many good songs it's tough to pick. Moondance is by far my favourite album of his. One of the best things for me about Van is he's made so many songs I'm always stumbling on new ones.

jord0hh   -   Into The Mystic is one of my favourite albums. I don't think their will ever be another voice like his. His music takes me to a different place.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Believe It or Not - Part 10

On the day Van was knighted by Prince Charles (Feb, 2016) he was asked what his favourite album was from his back catalogue.  Surprisingly he named Common One from 1980.  

Singer Jamie Cullum was only 16 when he was credited as an assistant engineer on Van's Days Like This album.  

On June 6, 2016 Van sang three songs at St Donnard’s Church in East Belfast at the funeral of his 94 year old mother Violet.  He sang On Hyndford Street which was a fitting tribute to his mum. Fifty years or so ago Violet ran Van’s short-lived fan club.  

Van used to go buy Chinese food for Little Walter and he then taught Van some harmonica skills.  

Tupelo Honey was listed as number 26 on Paste Magazine's "50 Sexiest Songs of All Time".  Winner was Marvin Gaye's Let's Get it On.

Brown Eyed Girl is listed in Joshua Calixto’s article 6 Bands Who Hate the Songs That Made Them Famous.  Other songs include Radiohead’s Creep, Baauer’s Harlem Shake and Beastie Boys’ (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party).

Van made number 6 on the list of 17 Notoriously Prickly Interview Subjects compiled by Sam Adams, et.al. 

Owen Barder was serious when he posted this list of the top five list of great singers who can’t actually sing: Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Paul Simon, Van Morrison and Mark Knopfler.

In an interview in 1981 Van said "I wanna forget about reggae because I don't like it."

According to musicologists Dr Alisun Pawley and Dr Daniel Müllensiefen, Brown Eyed Girl was  the 8th “catchiest” song of all time.  The top spots went to Queen’s We Are The Champions and the Village People’s YMCA

Van Morrison has stated that the song Brown Eyed Girl was "vaguely inspired", by the novel Sylvie and Bruno, by Lewis Carroll.

In the SFist website St Dominic’s Preview was listed at number 10 in their list of the 20 Best Songs About Places In San Francisco.

The Tropicana Motel on Santa Monica Boulevard has its place in rock history.  People like Andy Warhol, Jim Morrison, Tom Waits, Alice Cooper, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Bob Marley and the Wailers all supposedly stayed there at key moments. Van Morrison wrote T.B. Sheets and several other songs while staying at there. 

Van Morrison was the first musical guest on Jimmy Fallon's first show. 

Monday, 3 July 2017

Even More Fan Stories

Gmoke   -   Ran into Van Morrison in Harvard Square years ago.  I recognised him and thanked him for his work.  He grunted in response and I started walking off.  Then he asked me where Cardell’s was, a cheap cafeteria from back in the day, and I said, “Oh, dude, that was yuppified a long time ago.”  Legendarily bad tempered person but a fine musician, singer,  and songwriter.

Westyny   -   He also made a lot of his great music in the Bay Area.  I remember seeing him at the Lion’s Share with the Moondance band in San Anselmo when I was 17.  My girlfriend was 16.  So lucky.  I grew up in the foggy side of of San Francisco and Brown Eyed Girl, then Astral Weeks were essential parts of my young adolescent soundtrack.  I remember Greil Marcus once called Astral Weeks the greatest album ever made.  Hard to argue, really. 

Antonio Balson   -   Even if you do not realise it, if you have ever listened to the radio, you have heard Van Morrison. This was my case until one winter afternoon in the early nineties, relaxing on the patio of a slope-side coffee shop in Sugarloaf Maine I realised I was listening to Van Morrison, Moondance, of course. I bought that CD and listened to it endlessly. One summer I was alone in the country house at La Navata it was all I listened to.

Fast forward to the mid-nineties. Right after breaking up with my first wife, I was on a business trip to a convention in Las Vegas. Bored at the thought of spending a whole weekend alone in the city of sin, I called a friend in San Francisco and I was on a plane. The weekend was fantastic as I had not seen my friend in years and had not been to San Francisco in even more years. She had Van’s Wavelength CD in her little BMW, and that was all we listened to all week-end long as we tooled around the city.  As soon as I got back to Madrid I bought that CD and listened to it over and over again. Then I bought another and another until I had the whole Van Morrison discography – over 40 CDs. In fact I listened exclusively to Van Morrison for eight full months straight. I did not realise it at the time, but it was therapeutic for me. One summer morning when I woke up and played a Rolling Stones CD, I knew I was on the mend!

Richard Selinkoff   -   at the Troubadour in West Hollywood in the late 60s and early 70s a number of pop and underground legends dropped in at the bar.  Probably the least convivial was Van Morrison, whom I idolised. Between his stunningly magnificent sets he sat at the bar over what looked like straight whisky, his stay-the-f***-away-from-me body language and facial expression so powerful that it was tangible as well as visual, to the extent that nobody in the crowded room of socialising musicians and music-biz people dared to penetrate that palpable barrier and sit within two barstools of him.

Brian Rouff   -   A few months ago, I read an interview in Time magazine with the Irish rock legend, Van MorrisonToward the end of the interview, the reporter asked, “Do any musicians or groups today excite you?” “No,” Morrison said “Absolutely not. It’s all been done, you know?”

Weeks later, a Time reader wrote to express her disappointment in Morrison, commenting on how jaded he seems. In essence, she said she could never listen to his music in quite the same way again. A couple of problems with that. First, Morrison has always been a bitter man. He’s just gotten worse in his old age. Second, who cares what he thinks? The music is brilliant, his songs have stood the test of time, his voice is as distinctive as they come. He’s also grown as an artist over the years, managing to stay relevant while being true to himself. No sellout, here. For me, he’s an artist who consistently forges an emotional bond.

Paul Pearson   -   Mechanical Bliss was supposed to be Morrison's 1975 follow-up to Veedon Fleece. Reading from a transcript of an interview Van did with San Francisco radio legend Tom Donahue around that time, Mechanical Bliss was mere inches away from being mastered and pressed. To Donahue's disbelief, Morrison gave a release date of February 1975, which was only about five months after the release of Veedon Fleece. The gaps between artists' releases weren't quite as long in the '70s as they are now, but even considering that, five months was a speedy turnaround time. But it got far enough down the pipeline that an album cover was commissioned. Parts of Mechanical Bliss were released on The Philosopher's Stone, but a bunch of it never obtained an official release. The proposed artwork for Mechanical Bliss was recycled and used for Steely Dan's album The Royal Scam.

Since it never existed, we don't really have any insight as to what the lineup for Mechanical Bliss was going to be. But we do have excerpts from the Mechanical Bliss sessions, parts of which are some of the wildest stuff Morrison had recorded as a solo artist. One song was called I'm Not Waiting for You and bears a stunning resemblance to Bachman-Turner Overdrive.  Mechanical Bliss the song, packs in a bunch of oddities, apparently extemporaneous lyrics and vocal decisions, let's call them. It almost sounds like the careless, vengeful songs Van recorded to get out of his Bang Records contract in 1967, but perhaps even more decapitated from reality. It's fascinating.