Friday, October 24, 2014

Lit Up Inside; Selected Lyrics by Van Morrison

Faber & Faber have published many great Irish writers over the years such as James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon and many more and I am really pleased that Van Morrison is now added to the list of  writers with this great publishing house because I have  enjoyed reading the words of Van  since 1973 when I bought my first vinyl copy of Astral Weeks. On the back cover there was some of Van's poetry and I have been reading his words ever since. I am also pleased that in the USA Van's selected lyrics are being published by City Lights who have printed works by the likes of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso. Van must be delighted to be in such company.Van is renowned the world over as a great singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, band leader and producer and arranger but I have always thought that he should be regarded as a great Irish poet as well.  I have heard some Van fans say that they don't really care about the lyrics, it is the voice they like and Van could sing the phone book and it would sound great. That has never been the case with me. To me the words are essential. You can learn so much by reading them.
                           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, when I heard that Van's book was to be published I looked on Faber's website and saw that as well as the trade edition they were also bringing out a limited signed edition of 250 copies. I knew I had to have one of these so I phoned up and ordered one.Then I kicked my heels for several weeks until yesterday when there was a knock on the door and there was the courier with my book neatly packaged in a large box. I eagerly opened it and I must say it is a very attractive book indeed, specially bound, signed and numbered with it's own slipcase. The book is dedicated to Van's children Shana,Eabha and Fionn.There is a foreword by novelist Ian Rankin in which he relates how he got into Van's music in Scarborough in 1989 but I am sure I have read that story before somewhere.There is an introduction by Eamonn Hughes who also edited the book. Eamonn is a professor at Queens University Belfast and specialises in Irish literary and cultural studies.His current interests are  in autobiography and the sense of place in Irish writing which makes him the ideal person to write an introduction for Van.                                                                                                                              

 And so to the lyrics.This is a selection of about a third of Van's songs covering his whole career from his early days with Them up to his most recent work.The book begins and ends in Belfast with The Story Of Them right up to Mystic Of The East which is appropriate because Van has lived and worked all over the world, in the USA,Denmark,London, Bath and Dublin but he never left Belfast spiritually. What comes across very strongly in this book is how much Belfast has been the main source of his inspiration. Van's lyrics are at their most poetic I think when he is looking back to the past, especially his childhood in Belfast.He is the master of nostalgia.Just like William Blake saw angels in trees in Peckham Rye Van also had childlike visions seeing magic in the most ordinary things and his whole career can be seen as a spiritual journey to understand the mystery of it all. As to the choice of songs I would have preferred to have seen more of Astral Weeks selected because to me it is the most poetic of all his albums but who am I to quibble. I don't think I learned much new from reading this book but I really enjoyed it and it is impossible to read the words without Van's voice and the music dancing into your mind.There is nothing wrong with that though. A few little points, There is one song called Send Your Mind which I had completely forgotten about. I just had to look it up and found it was one of the Bang recordings.Why it got into this selection I don't know. I really liked reading The Back Room, The words are so conversational, you can almost feel that you are sitting there yourself wasting time and drinking wine. I was surprised in Madame George where I read 'And as you're about to leave he jumps up n' says,'Hey love, you forgot your glove'. I had always thought it was 'she jumps up' unless that is a typo error. It is good to see the missing verse from Tupelo Honey restored that Van didn't sing on his original recording. Also I had never noticed the words of the last verse of Cleaning Windows before, probably because on the recording the music is fading out at the end. It is quite funny with Van saying that he had found a tanner and a 3d piece on the windowsill (For non-British or Irish people,a tanner is slang for sixpence so that adds up to 9 pence in total, more than enough for 5 Woodbines in those days). Van has a reputation for being grumpy which is unfair because there is a lot of humour in some of his songs.
                                                                              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

Jackie And Van

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-
                                                          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.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Review: Robert Plant At Glastonbury Abbey 9/8/2014

It had rained heavily on Saturday but had stopped by 4.30 when I set off for Glastonbury with my friends Jacquie, Chrissie and Chris. It was Chris actually who got me back into listening to Robert Plant when he gave me a copy of the Raising Sand album with Alison Krauss. It only took 40 minutes to get to Glastonbury and parking was quite easy considering there was a sell-out crowd of 9,900 in the magnificent setting of Glastonbury Abbey. We met up with Redders who is an old punk rocker and had cycled there from Westbury and then Odele who I met on the recycling team at Glastonbury Festival and our little gang was complete.We had brought some chairs and Jacquie and Chrissie had brought some nice  food for a picnic which Odele added to so we were all set for a great night.
The first band on were the Wildflowers who I had never heard of until a couple of weeks ago when I looked them up on Youtube. They were quite good but after a while I lost interest and spent more time talking to my friends.

The next act though I thought was really good. His name is George Ezra. He is only young but his voice sounds a lot older than him and is almost impossible to define. He played a great set. I think my favourite songs were Cassie-O and his hit single Budapest.

Finally it was time for Robert Plant And The Sensational Space Shifters.

What a great band they are. Robert Plant has moved on from Led Zeppelin and is trying to be more experimental in the music infusing it with African tribal rhythms and using instruments I had never seen before.The band are  Justin Adams on guitar, John Baggot on keyboards, Juldeh Camara on ritti which is a one stringed African violin,Kologo on African banjo and drum, Billy Fuller on bass, Dave Smith on drums and Skin Tyson on guitars. He still does some Led Zeppelin songs but they are transformed with trance psychedelic rhythms  His voice sounds as great as ever but more restrained and better for it in my opinion. I usually write a set-list but I didn't bother on this occasion because I wasn't sure of the names of the songs. I really enjoyed a song called Rainbow though and Little Maggie. Whole Lotta Love/Who Do You Love was magnificent and Rock And Roll. I went down to front to take a couple of pictures . I really liked Skin Tyson on guitars and banjo.Some of his acoustic playing was wonderful. The whole band were great.The evening ended with a spectacular firework display and we were back home by midnight, tired but happy after a great night.

                                                                             Thank you very much Michael Eavis, Glastonbury Abbey and Robert Plant for a wonderful evening.

 The End.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Monday, August 04, 2014

Review: Cambridge Folk Festival 2014, Part 2 Van Morrison.

As ladysmith Black Mambazo ended Brendan and I made our move to get to the front. Hundreds of people poured out and we poured in.We tried on the left first and then on the right but it was so crowded it was impossible to rejoin Dail and Evonne right at the front so we had to settle for a spot about fifteen yards from the front of the stage. While we were waiting for Van to come on we got chatting to a couple from Belfast and the ladies name was Anne McMurray who is a friend of a friend of ours Maurice Kinkead who does a lot of great work in East Belfast. She asked us if we were going to see Van in Orangefield soon. I'm not, but Brendan is. Anyway, what a small world it is.I hope Maurice will say hello to her from me next time he sees Anne. Van was due on stage at 8.25 for a seventy five minute set. The band shuffled on before that to tune up. Shana always looks beautiful but tonight she looked even more lovely than usual in a pink dress.It was the usual band of Alistair White, Chris White, Bobby Ruggerio, Dave Keary, Paul Moore and Paul Moran.
 I didn't recognise the first few notes and said to Brendan, "What's this?". Then Van came on and started blowing his saxophone and I immediately recognised Celtic Swing. The audience loved it, they were in party mood, out to enjoy themselves on the last night of the festival. The next song was Little Village which was great with Chris White excelling himself on the euphonium. Then it was one of Van's hits Whenever God Shines His Light On Me with Shana singing the parts that Sir Cliff used to do. The crowd loved this. A highlight for me followed, Someone Like You probably the second best known of Van's love songs but in all my history of going to Van concerts of 35 years I can't ever remember him singing this before. It was splendid with Shana joining in on vocals. At festivals you expect a bit of crowd involvement and most songs you accept it but during a beautiful ballad like this you would think people would listen. During this song a group in front of us were not even listening to the music but just prattled away to each other. Brendan couldn't stand it and tapped the ringleader on the shoulder and asked them in no uncertain terms to quieten down and have some consideration.Another Van classic followed Queen Of The Slipstream, I thought this was great and so did the audience.Van played some great harmonica on this song. If the audience liked that they absolutely loved the next one which was Baby Please Don't Go/ Parchman Farm.I didn't know anything about Parchman Farm so I looked it up on Wikipedia. It is an autobiographical song written by Bukka White about his experience on an infamous prison farm in Alabama. It was later recorded by Mose Allison with a different arrangement which i guess is where Van became aware of the song.
                    Then Van said, " As this is a folk festival, I'll sing a folk song". It was Dead Or Alive which is a Woody Guthrie song that Van recorded for The Skiffle Sessions album with Lonnie Doneghan. I bet Lonnie played at the Cambridge Festival a few times.Then it was the great Enlightenment which is a song I never get tired of hearing.Another great song followed Rough God Goes Riding. The next song though I could have done without which was Tear Your Playhouse Down which to me is one of the lesser of Van's lesser songs and in a time slot of only 75 minutes something like Here Comes The Night would have been a much better crowd pleaser.
The next song though was absolutely brilliant, Days Like This which delighted the hard core Van fans and festival goers alike. It was perfect with Van scatting along at the end and really enjoying himself. Next up was Moondance. The audience loved this when they recognised it. My only complaint is that when the time slot is so short there is no need to give all the band a solo. I know it gives Van's voice a rest but four minutes would have been long enough and they could have squeezed in another song without the solo's.A song which I heard ad-nauseam about ten years ago was next, Precious Time but I hadn't heard it for quite a while so I didn't mind and the Cambridge audience loved it so who am I to object.The whole audience sang along to one of Van's rare chart hits.They also loved Real Real Gone / You Send Me and Van seemed to be enjoying the party atmosphere because at the end he said, "One more time", and sang the last bit again. The Ray Charles Classic I Can't Stop Loving You followed with Shana trying to repeat the part that the Crawford Bell Singers used to do so well a few years ago. The audience went wild when they recognised the opening bars of Brown Eyed Girl which Van was almost obliged to do for this audience. He seemed to enjoy the audience participation and stopped singing at one point and let the crowd sing all the Sha La La's. I knew it was coming to an end now when Help Me began and during Gloria I was heading for the exit to avoid the crush but I did listen from the back. The crowd loved it and I think Van made quite a few new fans. There was no transcendental songs like In The Garden etc but I knew that wouldn't happen. It it was a most enjoyable evening in beautiful weather in a nice atmosphere and when I met up with Dail and Evonne we all agreed it had been a great day at Cambridge Folk Festival and the highlight had been seeing Van the Man.

The End.

Review: Cambridge Folk Festival 2014. Part 1

It had rained heavily on Saturday at Cambridge Folk Festival but on Sunday morning when Dail, her friend Evonne and I set off from Dail's house in the pretty town of Stamford it was a beautiful day without a cloud in the sky so I was relieved I didn't have to pack my emergency poncho. It only took about an hour to get to the festival site in Cherry Hinton on the outskirts of Cambridge. This was the 50th annual festival and I had never been before but this year I thought I would make the effort especially as Van Morrison was on. When we entered the arena where all the stages were I noticed  how crowded it was compared to the Village Pump Festival the week before. The arena was hardly any bigger than at the Village Pump but there was about ten times the amount of people which meant that it was packed. What made it worse was that everybody seemed to have brought fold up chairs.It said in the programme not to bring chairs unless you were elderly,disabled or injured but people had ignored that and placed chairs to claim their spot. It was just a sea of chairs. At the Village Pump there was room to breathe but not here.

                                                                  Anyway, that was the only thing I didn't like about this festival. Everything else was great. We took a walk up to the front and  watched a bit of Sarah Jarosz who is a young American singer-songwriter who was accompanied by a fiddle player and a cellist. She was quite good I thought. Then we went to the Club Tent where they showcase new young musicians and there was a really good young English singer-guitarist on. I think his name was Luke Jackson . Dail wanted to secure her position right at the front so we went back to the main stage and got a place right on the barrier and Dail and Evonne took turns keeping this place for the next eight hours. Evonne and I went for a stroll and got a drink and we listened to The High King's.
They are a traditional Irish folk band and their set was mainly well known Irish songs but performed brilliantly. This is just the sort of lively music festival audiences love on a sunny day and they went down a storm. After that we got some food and rejoined Dail. Jason Isbell was on next. I hadn't heard him before but I had heard great reports of him and I must say I thought he was great. Some of the songs were really sad and touched a nerve but it was a great performance. He was accompanied on vocals and violin by his wife Amanda Shires who I think you will agree is gorgeous (See photo).The Oysterband were on after Jason and Dail and Evonne were blown away by them and afterwards couldn't stop talking about them but I didn't see them. I had gone for a walk.
   Strolling past Stage 2 I heard a fair maiden singing a plaintive ballad. "I know that voice", I thought to myself and had a look. Just as I thought it was the one and only Kate Rusby making a surprise appearance. I think Kate is wonderful and I'm going to see her in Bath in December so I stopped and listened to the rest of her set. She brought on Sarah Jarosz as her guest and it was really nice.

 After Kate's surprise appearance I walked on and I met Someone I recognised. It was none other than Chris White who is one of Van Morrison's horn players. I shook hands with him and told him that we had met before. It was in the pub after a Van concert at the Albert Hall. He said that he remembered me but he might have just been polite. I said I was looking forward to seeing Van later. He was friendly. I think all of Van's band are really nice people. I should have asked for a photo but I didn't think. Never-mind. Then strolling through the market area I found a tattoo parlour doing Henna tattoo's which last about 14 days. "I know, I'll get a Van tattoo", I thought. " Can I have a tattoo saying Van The Man in Celtic lettering please?", I said to the girl. "We don't do Celtic lettering", she replied, "This is your choices". "Ok, do what you think is best".I felt obliged to have one once I had sat down. Anyway, it turned out rubbish and a waste of money. I took a photo of it but I'm not showing you it. It will be gone in two weeks and good riddence.
                                                               After that waste of time I saw The Rails on stage 2. I had seen them in Bath less than two weeks ago. In Bath they were a two piece acoustic act but at Cambridge they were a five piece electric outfit and were great. I must get The Rails album because I really like them. Kami looked really cool in her shades and I filmed Bonnie Portmore which is my favourite of their songs (See video below) . Back at the main stage I tried to rejoin Dail and Evonne but it had become impossible so I listened to Julie Fowlis from a distance. Julie is a traditional singer from the Outer Hebrides. An internet friend Jez has often mentioned her so I had a good listen.She has an exquisite voice singing in the Gaelic. Very nice indeed.

 I needed another drink and a cigarette and sat at a table outside the main bar. Who should I meet but Brendan from Dublin who I last met up with in Brighton back in February. It was great to see another die-hard Van fan. We watched Ladysmith Black Mambazo from a distance. I don't think Brendan liked them much and I wasn't all that bothered. I got a passer by to take our photo and we passed the time chatting about Van. Eventually Ladysmith ended and as thousands of people moved out we knew it was time to make our move. It was time for the legend they call Van The Man.

To be continued in Part 2, Van Morrison At Cambridge 2014.