Saturday, 28 January 2017

Haunts of Ancient Peace (1980)

Haunts of Ancient Peace is the first track from Van's 1980 album Common One which was recorded at the Super Bear studios in France.  It remains one of the lower selling of his studio albums with fans and many critics slamming it viciously.  However, for many hardcore fans the album is often listed among their favourites.  For the casual fan the six "deeply moving extended jazz meditations that hawked back to Morrison’s classic Astral Weeks album in sound and texture" are a bit hard to take.  The literary and jazz foundations of the album meant that some fans found it "ponderous and boring".  The album does reward those who will dig a little deeper and give it repeated listens. Haunts of Ancient Peace is an atmospheric piece that has depth to it not obvious on one listen.  

The title of Haunts of Ancient Peace was taken from a 1902 book by Alfred Austin. Players included Mark Isham on trumpet, John Allair on organ and synthesiser, Pee Wee Ellis on saxophones and Peter Van Hooke on drums. The rest of the band is filled out with Morrison’s Caledonia Soul Orchestra members Jeff Labes on piano, John Platania on guitar, David Hayes on bass and Dahaud Shaar on percussion.

According to Mick Cox the early stages of the album were rehearsed during November and December 1979. The songs Summertime in England and Haunts of Ancient Peace were rehearsed by Morrison and the band during small gigs in January 1980. Cox thought that "some of these performances at the rehearsals were far better than the final recordings." Speaking of the recording sessions at Super Bear, Cox said: "We were all ensconced in a very, very intense, highly charged situation for those eleven days, but it did bring out that album."

According to the incredible Van Morrison database the first known performance of Haunts was on January 23, 1980 and the last known performance was on November 14, 2016.  It has been played 186 times in concert with a further 27 times in concert as part of a medley.  The longest solo performance length was 11 minutes and 32 seconds, while the shortest performance came in at just over 2 minutes.  


Beside the garden walls
We walk in haunts of ancient peace
At night we rest and go to sleep
In haunts of ancient peace
The love and light we seek
The words we do not need to speak
Here in this wondrous way we keep
These haunts of ancient peace
Let us go there again
When we need some relief
Oh, when I can't find my feet
When I need rest and sleep
The Sunday bells they chime
Around the countryside and towns
A song of harmony and rhyme
In haunts of ancient peace
The holy grail we seek
On down by haunts of ancient peace
We see the new Jerusalem
In haunts of ancient peace
Oh, when I can't find my feet
Oh, when I need some relief
One more time again
You know I want to go there one more time again
Be still in haunts of ancient peace

(Be still)


Rich Kamerman   -   Van began the 80s with Common One (1980), opening with the hymn-like Haunts Of Ancient Peace, featuring some nice muted trumpet. It’s jazzy, but not exactly “jazz.”

K. Hannay   -   There is the controlled passion of the best Gospel singing in Haunts of Ancient Peace

The Flood Shark   -   Van Morrison sets the tone early in Haunts of Ancient Peace, opening with smooth jazz and lush soundscapes. Off the bat, Miles Davis’s masterwork In a Silent Way (especially the back half) seems to have its imprints all over this work, harnessing soft, borderline ambient instrumentation and soundscapes

Tom Carson   -   Common One is, in a way, Morrison's version of Al Green's amazing The Belle Album.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

What's Up With Van Morrison?

Every Van fan must know the Steve Hoffman Music Forums?  There's an incredible amount of discussion on Van (and, of course, a wide variety of other bands, albums and musicians).  Here's a sample of what one can expect.  In this thread Bubb-ho-tep starts off by asking What’s up with Van Morrison? (Only a few of the 250 or so replies are included.)

Bubba-ho-tep   -   First, he shuts down all "unofficial" Van info websites, proclaims his official site the only true source of info on our man, and promptly shuts down his official site. Then, he starts a new reissue campaign only to cancel midway through due to, I suppose, disagreements with the distributor thus leaving a big chunk of his back catalogue out of print. Even his recent Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl has seemingly fallen out of print (on CD at least) and no word at all on the To Be Born Again documentary that was going to be released.

I know that he's had his issues with the business in the past, but this is the first time (at least since the mid-70s) that he's cut himself off so abruptly. Any thoughts on what gives?

Davmar77   -   Moody isn't even the word for him. I gave up trying to figure him out a long time ago. I'm amazed he still has a fan base the way he does things these days.

Sid Hartha   -   I once had a blog entry removed due to a complaint from his (then) record company. All I did was write a paragraph about a record of his, and posted a picture of the cover (which was also deleted from the hosting site, due to a complaint of copyright infringement).

Bubba-ho-tep   -   I find it amazing that Van (or his record company) would go out of his way to squash any online discussion of his recent work while at the same time bemoaning the fact that nobody pays attention to his recent work.  There's a really telling scene in the preview for To Be Born Again where there's a Van fan standing on the street holding a copy of one of his classic albums (can't remember which one) as Van drives by. Van makes a comment to the effect of "why don't you f***ing listen to my new stuff?" as he drives away. Maybe if he would be a little more willing to promote his new stuff, more people would listen to it. I for one think he's been on a hot streak for over a decade.

Jpmosu   -   Ahh, that makes me want to give the big ol' sociopath a bearhug.  Seriously, I suspect Van has some pretty serious issues--which is too bad--I'm a huge fan, and I hate to see someone so tortured.

Chickendinna   -   He certainly seems willing to alienate his fans, doesn't he? I've been hearing about his cantankerous demeanour for years, so it's not surprising. I'm in agreement about his recent output too. His releases have been very uneven. It's as if he turned off the quality control button.

Petrofsk   -   It's so difficult to discuss him. Like everyone else posting on the thread, I'm a hug Van Morrison fan. And, just like everyone else, I have a hard time figuring out what is with him. On the one hand, I find him without question to be a brilliant artist. I respect the fact that he still makes music, and, even thought I haven't enjoyed all his recent efforts, I still respect him for taking some chances & trying stuff out. And then you read stuff like this. And you wonder if there's a self-destructive side to him. 

Joelee   -   The guy has alcohol banned from shows for the reason he doesn't like people getting in and out of their seats. He then gives performances that has the audience getting up and leaving before the shows over.

Mark   -   Apparently, the behaviour reaches backstage as well. A few years ago, he played at the Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford. The local promoter, Jimmy Koplik, has been around a very long time and is known for making backstage a very pleasant experience for performers. Likewise, he never has a bad word to say about the artists. After the Van show, Koplik was interviewed on local radio and said, in no uncertain terms, that he would never promote another Van Morrison show.

Gordon Johnson   -    Never been to a bad Van performance ever. That said not been to see him for a decade. That's due to his more recent releases being not all to my liking. Still that should not alter the fact that he has always been on top of his game when I have attended any of his concerts here in Liverpool.

Jpmosu   -   Van's response to his fans reveals his utter self-absorption. Which strikes me as the ultimate artistic double-edged sword. Van's ability to be so "interior" (for lack of a better word)--that quality that makes him such a spellbinding performer at times--is the very thing that seems to make him unable to relate to people. Because he is so solipsistic, it's perfectly reasonable that he can't step outside of himself enough to understand why his songs touch other people, and then why people feel compelled to share this with the man who wrote those songs.  Sad, but reasonable.

jeffrey walsh   -   Aren't most musical artists a little crazy?

jupiter8   -   He also alienates casual fans as well. My brother saw him in Houston recently (and his knowledge of Van basically begins and ends with Brown Eyed Girl) and was not impressed with Van's attitude, the shortness of performance , and the aforementioned absence of beer, (especially since it was an outdoor sit-on-the-grass type of event).

davmar77   -    I've only seen him several times but the shows could be night and day. my first was in the summer of 1970 supporting Moondance as opening act for The Byrds during their untitled era. What an amazing concert top to bottom. I didn't see him again until 1978 for Wavelength. Rockpile opened and he couldn't follow them. I think he ended up cutting that tour short. I saw him in 92 and it was as good as the first time. A couple other times he just stared down at the stage or sped through every song just seemingly wanting to get things over with as fast as possible. 

Oatsdad   -   I warned my friend that I'd heard iffy/bad things about Van's shows, but she really wanted to go. She didn't care about the beer thing - she never mentioned it, so I didn't realise that was the case - but she thought the show was too short and too "by the numbers". She felt it was a show by some guy who didn't want to be there.

ManFromCouv   -   For someone who has demonstrated profound spiritual and religious assertions in both his music and personal life, Van seems to have a certain dislike for mankind. Those conflicting fundamentals lead me to suspect what a few others have mentioned; there are mental/emotional problems at play.

bRETT   -   He certainly seems unduly miserable for someone with an apparently pretty good life.  Saw him three years ago (behind Keep It Simple) and the show was truly perfunctory-- Some songs were rushed, no great vocal moments, everything ran like clockwork. He was onstage precisely at 7:30 and the show was over at precisely 9pm. Top ticket price was $350. He played a much better show at the NO Jazz & Heritage Fest this May-- better singing, more interesting setlist. But he spent 40 minutes beforehand having people monitor the audience for cameras-- at an outdoor festival! He does have a professional obligation to deliver professional performances and I know he's fallen short on that front... he deserves whatever criticism he gets for that.

Larry Mc   -   I think he's uncomfortable with his celebrity and would be happy just releasing recorded music and skip the live shows. Unfortunately it doesn't work that way anymore, hasn't for quite some time.  I'm very grateful that I have all his old music to enjoy and I hope he can look back and enjoy his work. Lots of amazing music has come out of this guy.

Gordon Johnson   -   If you don't put the man on a pedestal you won't be disappointed. 

Clarkophile   -   I think Van vacillates between loving the road and despising it. He's a mass of conflicting impulses, part of the reason he, like Lennon, is such a fascinating guy. I forget which bio it was, maybe Heylin's, but there's one quote from an ex-manager or somebody who said Van, on occasion, called him up and vowed to quit touring, only to have Van call him up in a few months' time eagerly asking him to book some shows. That's our Van.

Alylemoss   -   I don't expect to get a lot of support for what I'm about to say, but I personally find his open contempt for the audience kind of hilarious. And I say this as someone who paid $150-plus to see him in D.C. last year. I never wonder what Van thinks about his fans behind the scenes - I know he hates me, and it's a testament to his talent and artistry that so many people stick with him in spite of this. I also try not to take it personally. It doesn't seem like he treats his bandmates very well either. My theory is that the only people he respects as human beings are dead blues artists. While odd, that doesn't make his music any less great.

bubba-ho-tep   -   He's scaled back quite a bit on singing about being wronged by the business/friends. It still crops up from time to time, but NOTHING like it did in the mid-90's (Too Long in Exile, Days Like This, The Healing Game). For a few years, it got pretty bad. Couple that with those obnoxious Brian Kennedy echo vocals on Days Like This and The Healing Game and you have a pretty rough patch during that period.

(A buddy and I always used to joke about how Brian Kennedy would never be able to do a solo album because he wouldn't have anybody to echo....)

slstokes2216    -   When did you guys first begin to suspect he was a For me it was A Town Called Paradise off the No Guru record. All that 'copycats ripped off my lyrics, copycats ripped off my songs' stuff made me wonder if he was losing it.

Too much time on Echo Beach?
frank3si   -   I know someone who lives just a couple of doors down from Van. His pleasant personality graces Van's dealing with his neighbours as well as his fans.

prof. stoned   -   I would rather say he was 'troubled'.  He was like that at age 18 already, back when he was still a nobody and performed with Them in the Maritime HotelSome eyewitness told a story of how 'incredibly rude' he was and how he thew a burning cigarette butt away at somebody without looking where it went. He also had 'the nerve' to throw a huge tantrum at Dick Rowe & the session musicians who showed up at Them's first recording sessions (the one where they did Gloria). Still, you gotta love this guy for being such a great artist.

Rstamberg   -   All this stuff's S.O.P. for Van Morrison, if you ask me. He's an artist. He always delivers the goods in the end.

Jim N.   -   To me it's sad that someone who has accomplished so much seems to be so bitter and angry. He's managed to work in the business pretty steadily for 45 years, has control of a large part of his catalogue, has written and performed an incredible number of artistically transcendent songs but seems to derive little or no joy from all of it. Such a sad waste! I really wish he could have enjoyed his success more.  I long ago gave up on Van the person and Van the performer. I will always love many of his albums and that is enough for me. I lost interest in his new material many years ago when he seemed to be cranking out albums according to a schedule, not when he had enough material to warrant one. 

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Van's Best 21st Century Album

Smoke   -   I've heard a few of his albums from this era, the only one I loved enough to buy was Magic Time - a purchase I've never regretted as it's a knock-out from pretty much top to bottom. Each of the other albums I've heard have at least a few good songs.

TS582   -   Magic Time is a fantastic album. I wish that album would be remastered on two LPs. I also like Keep it Simple.

Gckcrispy   -   I agree, Magic Time was his best record in many, many years. When it came out, I couldn't believe how good it was.  I also like What's Wrong With This Picture? a lot.

fmfxray373   -   Born To Sing No Plan B.

Durango Mustafa   -   Keep Me Singing (2016) is the best followed by Keep it Simple (2008) and then Magic Time (2005) which is too polished to be number 1. 

Maggie   -   Down the Road and especially Born to Sing: No Plan B (which is easily in my top 10 Van albums) are both up there with his classic work, IMO.

BD70   -   Down The Road and Magic Time for me, are on par as equally great. Just Like Greta Garbo I crank up and play over. Stunning song with some of Van's best later-day singing.

Jumpinjulian   -   I can't believe nobody has mentioned Pay The Devil - one of my all time favourite Van LPs! He really brings his own touch to the country standards.

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

Syscrusher   -   Keep It Simple is great album, all the way through. And 'Behind The Ritual' really is one of his greatest songs.

Dee   -   Keep It Simple. Simply solid. The thing about it is Van is in really good voice throughout, in his tone and in how he sings, so even the songs that might be downers or even bitter have a dose of charm and just realism in them, and he just sounds to me like he is in a good mood. What I am trying to say is I hear a lot of love in that album. And when there's not love, I hear resignation but not defeat. I hear acceptance and understanding emotionally even if it might not be so literally. I hear a sense of mellowness and wisdom but not weakness or mindless surrender. 

BD70   -   Agreed. Another good one. I don't think there's a Van album I actively dislike. Maybe 'A Period Of Transition' and couple that were excessively 'jazzy', but that's about it. Love pretty much all his stuff. He's up with the likes of Dylan and Orbison as my most favourite of artists.

Bandinion   -   Best Van album in 25 years. Themes of passing of time, suffering & redemption throughout the album. Memory Lane and Every Time I See A River are the stand out tracks - both will become Van classics. And at 71 years of age, Van's voice is strong as ever. Timeless.

Sandinista   -   If I had to pick one, I'd go with Down the Road on the basis of the title song, Meet me in the Indian Summer, Steal my Heart Away (classic), all work and no play (a trifle for him but sounds like he's having some fun with it and Van having fun is worth listening to) and Whatever Happened to PJ Proby? (one of the more cool and interesting recent Van songs imo).

rstamberg   -   I can't pick. I really love Magic Time and Down the Road a lot. Steal My Heart Away is stunning.

Graham Reid   -   Although Van Morrison made many indifferent albums (like the travesty What's Wrong With This Picture? : Answer? Everything), since the thoroughly enjoyable Keep It Simple (2008) he's been back on form.  But you suspect even longtime fans have given up listening after many disappointments and recognising that Van now is not the Van of then (or Them).

Albert M.   -   I don't care for Pay the DevilAh yes, Magic Time. What an excellent album. Celtic New Year is my favourite on the album followed by Just Like Greta, The Lion This Time and They Sold Me OutKeep It Simple is absolutely fantastic! Favourites on that one are That's Entrainment, Keep It Simple, Soul and the mind-blowing "blah blah blah" of Behind The Ritual. Pure genius in my opinion.

Jard Svenson   -   Keep Me Singing (2016) is the new best Van album of the 21st century. Absolutely brilliant response to the turmoil of his life of the past few years. It's a keeper. 

Van Fanatic   -   Ah yes, Magic Time. What an excellent album. Celtic New Year is my favourite on the album followed by Just Like Greta, The Lion This Time and They Sold Me OutWhat's Wrong With This Picture? is not one of favourite Van albums except for the song Little Village which is one of my favourite Van songs... ever.  Keep It Simple is absolutely fantastic! Favourites on that one are That's Entrainment, Keep It Simple, Soul and the mind-blowing "blah blah blah" of Behind The Ritual. Pure genius in my opinion.  Born To Sing: No Plan B doesn't really have anything that grabs you by your hair and twirls you around the room, but there are some very solid songs on it. I always find Goin' Down To Monte Carlo and Mystic Of The East nice songs to listen to especially when I'm in a reflective mood. Open The Door To Your Heart is pleasant... kind of jazzy. 

Duets is a fun listen just because you can tell all the fellow singers are probably looking at Van while they're singing and thinking, "I can't believe I'm singing with Van Morrison". Carrying A Torch (with Clare Teal) is the standout and, IMO, even better than the original. Rough God Goes Riding (one of my all-time Van favorites) struck me as a little odd the first time I heard it sung along with his daughter Shana Morrison, but now I can't get enough of it. It's on my Van playlist all the time. Astral Weeks Live At The Hollywood Bowl is fine and something Van felt he needed to do. I appreciate that. It's a good listen, but, I prefer the original. 

Down The Road is sometimes overlooked, but is a very cohesive album with a few very good songs and one particular diamond. Steal My Heart Away is absolutely beautiful and is classic Van. What Makes The Irish Heart Beat is a jaunty number that you can't help but tap your foot to. The Beauty Of The Days Gone By would have felt perfectly at home on No Guru, No Method, No Teacher. For me, however, the diamond on this album is Fast Train. Just perfect Van. Solomon Burke covered Fast Train and did a wonderful job of it.

Spaulding   -   Celtic New Year from Magic Time is one of all time favourite Van songs. Couldn't believe it when he released an album that good at that point in his career. It belongs with some of his late 70's stuff.

klaatuhf   -   I find most of his post 2000 albums extremely boring with no heart or soul and seemingly by-the-numbers Van. But you could compile one very good strong album from Down The Road, Whats Wrong With This Picture? and Magic Time. The latter is by far his best studio album of this century but still below anything that came before. Surprisingly I found myself enjoying Astral Weeks Live which is odd seeing as I dislike the studio album and think its the most over rated of his albums. Pay The Devil is possibly the worst album of his career IMHO.