2014 has turned out to be a vintage Van Morrison year for me. I usually only get to see him two or three times a year but this was the seventh time this year that I got on the train to go and see Van. I didn't have any nice company like Jacquie on this occasion so as the train sped towards London I gazed out of the window alone with my thoughts. What did the night have in store?. I knew that this concert would be different, I didn't really know what to expect. Little did I realise that it would turn out to be one of the most enjoyable and memorable concerts I have ever attended.
The train arrived on time at Paddington for a change and then a quick little journey on the Bakerloo line and I was at Piccadilly Circus in the West End. I was pleased to find that the theatre, the hotel and the pub where we were to meet later were all within 200 yards of each other. At the hotel I tried to have a nap before the evening but I couldn't sleep,I was too excited so I gave up and went for a walk, had a drink and got some food from McDonald's which wasn't very nice. Finally I made my way to the Queen's Head pub to meet the other Van fans.
Finally it was time to make our way round the corner to the theatre. On the doors they had put up posters of the show announcing that it was sold out. Those posters disappeared within minutes and I managed to get one of them which will soon be framed and put on my wall. I had a ticket for the balcony but a few days ago a good friend of mine who couldn't attend asked me if I would like their ticket which was right near the front which was really kind of them. I collected that ticket from the ticket desk and went outside to sell my original ticket. The person who I sold it to turned out to be none other than Andre Menard who organises the Montreal Jazz Festival. We had a little chat and he told me that he had flown all the way from Canada hoping to see the show so I was really pleased that my ticket went to a deserving person. Before the show I thought I better go to the men's room and coming out of there I held the door for a distinguished looking bearded chap who I thought I recognised. Later I realised that it was the famous Irish poet Michael Longley. When I finally took my seat I got talking to this nice American couple and they took my photo and I took their's. Then it was showtime.
The evening was introduced by Eamonn Hughes which was appropriate because the whole evening was to celebrate the publication of Van's book of lyrics 'Lit Up Inside' which Eamonn had edited. Also on the stage was novelist Ian Rankin. Firstly they showed a short film of Van and Bob Dylan singing on a hill above Athens. Then Eamonn introduced Van and on he came to sit down and have a discussion with Ian. I feared that Van might be out of his comfort zone doing this sort of thing but I was pleasantly surprised to find that he was very relaxed, witty,open and chatty. Ian asked him what it was like making that film with Bob and Van wittily replied, "Well, it was a long walk up there".Van mentioned William Blake quite a few times during the discussion which I was pleased about because in my review of the book a few weeks ago I described Van as a visionary in the same way as Blake. Van also talked about listening to AFN and a show called Stars Of Jazz and hearing Ray Charles, Sidney Bechet and Mahalia Jackson and being pleased that Lenny Bruce also listened to Stars Of Jazz. He also mentioned that one of the first poems he ever wrote was about the Belfast shipyards. Van also listened to Radio Luxembourg and he recalled watching the Tonight programme introduced by Cliff Michelmore which I also used to watch which featured Robin Hall & Jimmy McGregor and Van particularly mentioned Rory McEwan who was one of the first people to bring the music of Leadbelly to Britain and must have been a big influence on the young Van. When asked about how he wrote songs Van explained that Moondance started as an instrumental and Mick Fleetwood played on the original sessions for it and it was only years later that he added words. Asked about Coney Island Van said that he used to deliver bread for Stewart's Bakery and Coney Island was on the route. He also spoke about a teacher at his school called David Hammond who described Belfast's river Lagan as their River Jordan and Van obviously took him at his word, seeing the spiritual in the most ordinary things. Ian asked him about Samuel Beckett and Van said he liked Beckett's quote,"I can't go on, so I'll go on". The audience had been asked to submit questions for Van and I was pleased that Ian chose a question from our friend Brendan. I can't remember the wording of the question now but I think it was about Van's influences and he replied at length about all manner of people from Lightning Hopkins to Steve Benbow. There was also a question from Rob McKenzie asking who Justin was and Van said he had no idea because Paul Durkin wrote those words but he had heard that Justin was Seamus Heaney's middle name. Van talked about Mystic Eyes and how it was influenced by Sonny Terry and the words about the graveyard were inspired by Dicken's Great Expectations. Somebody in the audience shouted out asking who was the brown eyed girl and Van patiently explained that his songs were mainly what you could call 'Faction' and were not about any specific person but were made up of various elements. That brought the discussion with Van to a close and he left the stage.
Then a short film was shown of Van talking to poet Michael Longley which was part of a TV documentary made about twenty years called 'A Coney Island Of The Mind'. Then Michael was introduced on stage and he spoke warmly about Solly Lipsitz who had promoted Jazz and Blues in Belfast and had sold the young Van some of his first records in his record shop called Atlantic Records. Michael then read the words of two of Vans songs, Coney Island and Into The Mystic which proved to me what I have been trying to explain to people till I am blue in the face which is that the best of Van's lyrics given the right reader can be enjoyed on their own as poetry. Then it was time for the wonderful Edna O'Brien to take the stage. In my view Edna is the greatest female Irish writer of the last hundred years. She is an Irish national treasure and I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be seated just a few feet away from her listening to her beautiful voice. She admitted to having a crush on Van for a long time and she wasn't at all surprised that he was influenced by Rimbaud. She then read Tore Down A La Rimbaud and her own unique reading of Madame George which was magical. It was a privilege to see and listen to her. I hope her presence at the concert might encourage a few Van fans who aren't familiar with her work to read some of her books. That brought the first half of the evening to a close. Little did I realise that the best was yet to come.
Fifteen minutes later we were back in our seats for the second half. Van sat on a stool for the entire performance apart from a couple of times when he stood up to blow his saxophone. Because the focus this evening was on the words it was a stripped back band with no brass section and no backing singer just Bobby Ruggerio, drums, Paul Moore,bass, Paul Moran keyboards, Dave Keary guitar and Van guitars and sax. There were only nine songs but it was the best set of nine songs I have ever heard. Van chatted between every song as well which was most unusual, explaining how the songs came about. The first song he said was influenced by a book called 'Cloud Hidden,Whereabouts Unknown' and was about Zen Buddhism and called Alan Watts Blues. It is a fabulous song which you don't get to hear very often. The next song was Foreign Window which Van informed us was influenced by Jean Cocteau and Lord Byron. Tore Down A La Rimbaud was also performed brilliantly. Van said that he had shown the words of the next song to Allen Ginsberg who replied, "Message, purpose, writing". Van said that it was recorded at the same time as the Moondance album but not released until it featured in the film 'The King Of Comedy' and it showed that not all was well during the Moondance era.It was Wonderful Remark,another great song. Coney Island was next with Van telling us that jam-jar was cockney rhyming slang for car and also humorously changing the lyrics at the end which the audience found hilarious. I have never seen Van in such a jokey mood before. Van then played electric guitar on Why Must I Always Explain which was very ironic because I'd never heard Van do so much explaining. Van then played his sax as the introduction to a fabulous extended version of Into The Mystic with Van scatting and improvising about church bells chiming in the space and distance and feeling the presence of the holy ghost and at the end exclaiming, "Peace". It was quite wonderful as was the next song. Van informed us that it was set in Belfast, London and Dublin. It was of course Madame George. I have seen Van perform this song before but tonight's performance was magnificent. The evening came to a close with the pure poetry of On Hyndford Street. Van referenced Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre in this one and he left the stage repeating, " I won't stop till we get the healing done, do you understand?". The audience all stood up at the end in a standing ovation for a performance that will live long in the memory of those lucky enough to be there.
When we got outside I was absolutely buzzing with elation after the show. I met Harald the radio reporter from Germany and he pointed a microphone at me and asked what I thought of the show. I blurted out some excitable gibberish into the mike. I can't remember what I said but I bet it was nonsense. Then the whole gang returned to the pub. Harald had given me an idea so I got out my camera and asked a few of the fans what they thought. (You can see the film below). Carol had made some buttons saying Van 2014 which she gave to everyone which was nice of her. Finally it was midnight and the pub people asked us to drink up. I'm pleased they did because I had far too much Guinness and wine by then. I was at the stage of hugging people and telling them I loved them which is always embarrassing looking back on it. Never mind.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Sunday, November 02, 2014
The first person we saw was my nephew Dominic who lives in London. Dominic hadn't seen Van since 2005 at Glastonbury so I was interested to see what he thought of Van these days. There was a good gang of Van fans inside the pub.It is always nice to see Stuart & Michelle from San Diego who were there with a friend of their's called Ivan from Belfast , Marion from The Netherlands, Julia from France, Othmar & Daria from Switzerland, Mike (aka Nosey), Peter & Katherine from Wiltshire who made me into a Duke Special fan, Alan Lloyd from London via Australia, John C, Brendan from Dublin, Peter from Australia and it was really nice to meet Jane from Oxford for the first time. There was a lad from Cork as well but I can't remember his name now. Sorry if I have forgotten to mention anybody. Our friends Mary and Don in Tennessee were very much on everybody's mind.
Celtic Swing opened the proceedings as it has done for quite a while. Then Long Lost John which I can't recall hearing live before followed by Talk Is Cheap. The Mose Allison song If You Only Knew was pretty good I thought then Van brought on Georgie Fame to duet on The New Symphony Sid. It was great to see Georgie again and I thought it might lead to something special but off he went straight away. It was hardly worth him bothering to turn up. The John Lee Hooker song Think Twice kept the blues vibe going and then Sometimes We Cry with Dana singing the bits that Shana used to sing. Baby Please Don't Go/Parchman Farm/ Don't Start Crying Now was really good. Georgie could have hung around for that because he used to do a great Parchman Farm almost identical to Mose Allison's version. Rough God Goes Riding featured Dana singing a verse and ended with Van doing his impressions of Robert De Niro, Joe Pecci, Cary Grant, Al Pacino and Clint Eastward. He is trying really hard to get rid of his Mr Grumpy image. Back On Top didn't do a lot for me but Queen Of The Slipstream is always a joy to hear as is Enlightenment which I never tire of hearing. Whenever God Shines His Light was well received by this audience and gave Dana another opportunity to show what she could do. The Ray Charles Classic I Can't Stop Loving You was wonderful as was Real Real Gone/ You Send Me. The highlight of the night for me followed, All In The Game/ You Know What They're Writing About/Burning Ground. It was quite magnificent with Van displaying all of the vocal pyro-technics that we know he is capable of. ( I filmed 12 minutes of it.see below). I dropped my pen on the floor at this point but I think Sonny Boy Williamson's Till The Break Of Day was next and Help Me. I thought that was the end and started putting my jacket on but Van came back to do a fantabulous Ballerina which ended the night on a great high. Overall I thought it was a really good show. Personally I could have done with less R & B covers and more of Van's own songs but it was part of the London Blues Fest so I can't really complain.
Back at the pub everyone seemed to have enjoyed it. Dominic thought it was a really good concert which pleased me. He said he thought all the Blues stuff was great so there you go. Most of the band turned up at the pub and I had a little chat with Chris White. He remembered me from Cambridge Folk Festival in the summer and I reminded him that it was four years almost to the night that we first met in this very pub after only his second gig with Van when he and Alistair raced to the pub carrying their instruments to get a drink before closing time. Stuart took a photo of Jacquie and myself with Chris (See below). Eventually it was getting late and Jacquie was getting hungry, Stuart kindly escorted us to an Indian restaurant that he had scouted out earlier and then went back to Michelle at the pub. What a nice couple they are. Jacquie enjoyed the food but I ate next to nothing. I was beginning to feel quite ill. Little did I realise this was the beginning of the long dark night of the soul.
That night I woke up with the worst pain in my stomach that I have ever had and didn't get another wink of sleep all night. Next morning I joined Jacquie for breakfast but I couldn't face anything. When we checked out of the hotel I bought some paracetamol at the newsagent next door which brought me some temporary relief. We had ages before the train so we went for a stroll through Hyde Park back to Paddington. It was drizzling rain but I found the rain quite refreshing. Jacquie enjoyed seeing Kensington Palace. Leaving the park we rested outside a pub on the very seats where Kim and I had sat after seeing Van four years before. I can't believe how quickly the time has gone by since then. Finally,I was relieved when it was time for the train. I breathed a sigh of relief when Westbury White Horse came into view because I just wanted to get home and get to bed.
I had a quick look on facebook and saw the sad news that Mary had passed away the night before. She was a legend amongst the Van fans. I went to bed and stayed there for three days. I had a pre-arranged appointment with the doctor for Monday and thought I could hang on till then but I got worse and worse. I knew this wasn't just some tummy-bug, this was deadly and serious. Finally my friend Dave brought me some provisions on Friday evening and he insisted that I phone the National Emergency Hotline 111. (Remember that number UK friends, you may need it one day) That was a life-saver. After I spoke to the lady on the phone and described the symptoms she said that I had to see my GP within two hours. I phoned the surgery which was almost closed but Dr Edwards phoned me back and he said it sounded like I had diverticulitis and sent a prescription to the pharmacy for pain killers and medicine. Jacquie was working but Keith was kind enough to pick up my prescription. I don't think I would have got through the weekend otherwise. I had a good nights sleep and next morning I knew I was feeling a bit better.
I'm still not 100% but a lot better and it was still worth it to go to London with Jacquie and see Jacky & Bill, Dominic,the poppies, Van The Man and all my Van fan friends. Hopefully I will be back on top form for the Lyric Theatre in Shaftsbury Avenue in two weeks time. I'm looking forward to it already.
Saturday, November 01, 2014
Friday, October 24, 2014
I am not going to try and explain Van's lyrics here. That would be silly. The words mean different things to different people and everyone is entitled to their point of view. The only person with the right to explain the lyrics is Van and even then I sometimes think Van doesn't understand them himself. It is stream of consciousness channelled from above.I am very grateful for Van's lyrics though because I think I have learned more from him than any other teacher. That is because he is so generous in acknowledging and name checking the people who have inspired him. Through reading his lyrics and following them up I have discovered a wealth of people in music,literature,philosophy and spirituality etc who I would not have known about otherwise. It is the subject matter of his songs which raise him above other great singers and songwriters. I also believe that Van himself believes that he is firstly a poet. In an Irish music magazine called New Spotlight in 1973 Van said that he hoped to publish a book of poetry soon and he found it hard to draw the line between poems and songs and gave Madame George as an example. Finally forty years later this dream has come true.About twenty years ago Van took part in a TV documentary called A Coney Island Of The Mind in which he met with a group of Irish poets and read and discussed his work. If I remember correctly one of the poems he read was I'm Tired Joey Boy.There is no doubt as well that Van has a great speaking voice. When I listen to something like On Hyndford Street to me it it is pure poetry with musical accompaniment.
Anyway, I'm beginning to ramble on so I'll finish off by saying that I really enjoyed reading this book and recommend it to anyone. I must get myself a reading copy so I keep this one in pristine condition. Also in that 1973 interview that I mentioned earlier Van said that he was always writing poems and prose so I hope this will lead to Faber issuing more work by Van. As Eamonn Hughes quoted in the introduction, 'Rave on words on printed page'.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
One of my fellow Van Morrison fan friends Petra recently embarked on a project to compile a catalogue of the musicians who have played and recorded with Van over the course of his long career. She has done a great job including biographies, pictures and video's of the musicians and has had a lot of positive feedback from a lot of the musicians themselves. You can see Petra's Van's Musicians page here-https://www.facebook.com/groups/649843438433690/
I have made a couple of suggestions to Petra of people she might like to add to the list and one of them was Jackie DeShannon. This is because I knew that Jackie had sung backing vocals on a couple of Van's albums and had co-written the song Santa Fe which appeared on Van's Wavelength album. One of my favourite Van songs is Warm Love on the album Hard Nose The Highway on which Jackie Sings backing vocals. In the song Van sings,' You can bring your guitar along, we'll sing some songs and have some fun'. Surely it would be Van who would bring his guitar along. Who is this guitar playing singer he is referring to?. Could it be Jackie herself?. This got me wondering about Jackie so I investigated further. I knew a bit about her already.
She had a top ten hit with What The World Needs Now Is Love and had written hits for The Searchers and Bette Davis Eyes which Kim Carnes had a huge hit with. She had appeared with The Beatles on their first USA tour (See photo of George Harrison and Jackie playing Monopoly) and in England she had a brief relationship with a young guitarist called Jimmy Page (See Picture) and wrote and recorded with Jimmy.
Looking through her discography I noticed that she had made an album in 1972 simply called 'Jackie' and I was interested to see that one of the songs was I Wanna Roo You which was written by Van. What amazed me though was that this album was reissued in 2003 with twelve bonus tracks and four of them were written by Van of which I had never heard of two of them before. I knew I had to buy this album and today it dropped through my letterbox. I must say it is a really nice album. As well as some of Jackie's own compositions there are covers of songs by John Prine, Neil Young, Steve Goodman and Drift Away which was a big hit for Dobie Gray and five Van Morrison songs.
It is the Van songs that I want to talk about. The cover of I Wanna Roo You is quite pleasant and better than the Goldie Hawn version that I have on an album. The other four Van songs were produced by Van for his Caledonia Productions and recorded in Los Angeles on April 11 and 12 1973. They are Sweet Sixteen which was actually released as a single,Flamingos Fly which Van later released himself on A Period Of Transition and The Philosophers Stone album. I think Jackie's version is really good, Santa Fe which they co-wrote and The Wonder Of You which is excellent and I have put the youtube video below.Listening carefully to these tracks I am quite certain that it is Van on backing vocals. Have a listen and see what you think.
You can also read what Jackie said about Van if you click on the words from the sleeve notes. Anyway I am really pleased that this CD is now in my collection and thank you Petra for inspiring me to discover something about Van that I didn't know before.