Tuesday, 29 August 2017

The Bert Berns Story (2017) Documentary

Bang! The Bert Berns Story (2017) 

Directed by: Brett Berns and Bob Sarles. 
Written by: Christina Keating, Joel Selvin.  
Starring: Ilene Berns, Cissy Houston, Solomon Burke, Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Van Morrison, Ben E. King, Steven Van Zandt.

Bert Berns deserved more recognition than he received. The new Bang! The Bert Berns Story documentary will, no  doubt, help redress this oversight. He had an amazing influence on music, maybe even more than Slipknot, the Captain and Teneille and Tiny Tim. He's credited with a hand in 51 pop hits in a seven year span from 1961. His 51 hits included Hang on Sloopy performed by The McCoys, Van Morrison’s Brown-Eyed Girl, Twist and Shout (originally performed by the Isley Brothers but made incredibly popular by The Beatles), Piece of my Heart as performed by Erma Franklin and shortly after covered by a young Janis Joplin, and Strangelove’s I Want Candy just to name a very select few. It’s fascinating to know that one man is largely responsible for all of these iconic songs, and Bang! The Bert Berns Story does a good job at telling the story of the man responsible. 

In some ways the film is the typical rock/pop documentary that you find so numerously on YouTube.  There are the interviews, narrations of his history and influence, all set to a soundtrack of amazing songs.  IMdb refers to the documentary as "music meets the Mob in this biography of '60s hitmaker and 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Bert Berns".

Some critics have commented about the narration by Steven Van Zandt saying his voice "just isn’t the right choice". One critic commented "the narrator’s voice took me out of the experience and put me in a coma". 

The film (co-directed by Berns’ own son, Brett Berns) introduces the audience to Bert Berns as the son of Russian Jewish immigrants living in the Bronx, New York City. Berns suffered from rheumatic fever at a young age which damaged his heart and lead ultimately to his early death.  As a teenager he studied and practised music eventually discovering Latin and African rhythms which he incorporated into several of hits.  

A feature of the documentary is the number of people who comment on Berns and his legacy. Some are the musicians he wrote for and some are artists he directly influenced.  There are also contributions from family, especially wife Ilene Berns who died in February this year aged 73.  

Van Morrison was also part of the Bang Records story and he benefited from Berns' production and song writing skills.  Bert Berns wrote Them's 1965 hit Here Comes the Night and produced Brown Eyed Girl. However, the partnership would quickly descend into one of the bitterest fights between label and artist around.  In 1967, just as the relationship was completely disintegrating Berns died of a heart attack, aged just 38. Eventually Van turned over 31 hurriedly produced tracks to Bert's widow some of which poked fun at Bert and the types of music he was making.  In recent decades the unfinished tracks have found their way onto poorly produced rip-off albums.  Ringworm is a particular favourite.  

The documentary is Brett Berns’ first film.  He says it “was a 10-year effort. The biggest challenge was just getting started,” he said. He gradually conducted interviews with his father’s friends, collaborators and well-known soul singers, enabling him to land major stars. Berns said of his father that he "never gave up on his dreams, and he lived life like there was no tomorrow. I think there’s a lesson from that for everybody. He inspired me, and I hope he’ll inspire generations to come.”


gosh717   -   I had the extreme pleasure and privilege of attending a preview of this film in Hartford, Connecticut December 17th, 2016. All I can say is "Wow!!" It held me mesmerised from beginning to end. Bert Berns was a hip genius, a perfectionist, a man who dreamed big--whose body of work as writer and producer gave us some of the greatest musical moments from that time. Incredibly, he shot to the top of the charts and the industry in a short span of seven years, before passing away at 38.

Esesean   -   Sounds good, I had never heard of him.

Marmil   -   Joel Selvin's Bert Berns: Here Comes The Night - The Dark Soul of Bert Berns And The Dirty Business of Rhythm & Blues is the best book on the early days of the R&B/R&R record biz and a great biography of an absolutely fascinating character.

Koabac   -   Jeff Barry sang background vocals and played many instruments on a ton of his stuff, as well as being a member of The Raindrops. He even sings multiple tracks of "Sha la la's" at the end of Brown Eyed Girl when Bert Berns (his close friend) decided he a needed bigger sounding ending chorus on the track and Van Morrison had already left. Knowing my father's voice I can clearly hear layers of him doing his best Van impression. He's actually great singer and a natural performer. 

Moj   -   You absolutely have to own TB Sheets (the song), Who Drove The Red Sports Car?, and the early Madame George. All three appear on TB Sheets (the 1973 Bang compilation), and The 1967 New York Sessions, and the new Authorized Bang Collection.  

Coniferouspine   -   I have a promo copy of the Bert Berns - "Heart and Soul of" - compilation collection on CD from 2002, was very disappointed to pull it out not too long ago and find out that it was actually a bad needle drop of many of the songs. So avoid that one, if you haven't already.

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.