Wednesday, December 27, 2017

On The Road In France 1979

Me in Epernay railway station 1979
In early summer 1979 Dave visited me in Bradford On Avon and when he returned to Nottingham I lent him a fiver to get home with. Weeks went by and he hadn't sent me the money. A fiver was a lot of money in 1979. Finally I phoned him up.  "Hey, you bastard, where’s my fiver?"."Sorry, I’m going to France tomorrow grape picking, why don’t you come?"
I hitched to Folkstone and met Dave and we got on the Calais ferry. We soon got in with a gang and caroused across the English Channel. In Calais Dave threw up on the war memorial, what a great ambassador for his country he is. We slept the night in a bus station and next morning caught the bus to Bouloigne which Dave assured me was the best place to start hitching south from. The whole day went by and we didn't get one sodding lift. In the late afternoon we were joined by a crazy lady from Watford. I can’t remember her name so I’ll call her Jane. She was also going on the Vendage but she was under the impression that it involved taking your shoes and socks off and standing in a big barrel squashing grapes. After another two hours of no lifts we gave up and went to a bar and got drunk and then the three of us slept in a ditch by the side of the road. The next day we decided to split up, I would try and get a lift with Crazy Jane and Dave would go on his own and we would meet up at the Railway station in Toulouse. Dave walked off into the distance, it was to be a week before I saw him again. Almost as soon as he disappeared myself and Jane got a lift from a businessman on his way to Paris. Jane took a shine to him and changed her mind about heading south and said she fancied smoking a joint on top of the Eiffel Tower instead. At Abbeville we parted company and I was on my own, It felt great, and I began to get lifts now that I was alone and I headed for Amiens and then on to Rouens where Jeanne D'arc was burned. I walked through Liseaux in the rain on a Sunday evening and I thought of the old hobo in Kerouac’s Dharma Bums who was devoted to St Teresa of the flowers and I felt really holy and beat, I realized this was the only way to live. I had thrown myself on top of the world and I was floating. One of the many things I like about France is that your basic essentials of life like wine and tobacco are really cheap. You could get a bottle of Vin Rouge plonk for 3.5francs and I’d stuff that in my rucksack and take a slug anytime I felt my spirits waning.
After Lisieux I ended up in Chartres with its beautiful cathedral and then on to Le Mans famous for the 24 hrs race. A family gave me a lift from Le Mans and I was so exhausted that I slept in the back seat of their car for hours. When I awoke I was in Poitiers and it was hot and sunny. I felt that I was in the south. That night I slept in a field near Perigaux and by Tuesday evening I was cruising into Toulouse, I had made it in about 60 hours, I was really pleased with myself. As I strolled up the main boulevard of Toulouse beautiful girls gazed at me from doorways and they weren't waiting for a bus either. I felt great. At the Railway Station there was no sign of Dave but I wasn't concerned. I got chatting to a bloke from Finland who had a T shirt on that read 'England’s No 1 Girl'. He was a real character who liked the English for some reason and we started knocking about together. He turned out to be the best thief I have ever met. We would go into a shop and wander about in there and on leaving the shop he would produce everything we needed. Then we would go and sit in the park with the rest of the itinerant fellaheen and eat and drink to our hearts content. This was the life. At night I would return to Le Gare and sleep on the platform. As the days went by though I got increasingly concerned about Dave. Six days had passed since he had walked off into the distance. Finally one night I felt somebody shaking me, "Pat, wake up”. It was Dave but I was shocked by his appearance. He had a bruised face and a huge black eye. He told me that after leaving me and Crazy Jane he had made good time to Bordeaux but then couldn't get a lift for 3 days. Just when he was on the verge of giving up and jumping the train a large truck slowed down as it passed him, he ran up to it thinking he finally had a lift and the person in the passenger seat threw a melon at him and he was hit in the face by a melon travelling at about 20mph. He made a good recovery though over the next couple of days. I introduced him to England’s No 1 Girl and we passed the time begging and dossing in the park. After a while though we got bored and decided to head for Carcassone and find some work.
We bunked it on the bus, it was easy because on the buses in Toulouse the passengers get on the bus at the front and pay the driver and exit at the middle of the bus. So we merely entered at the exit. When we arrived in Carcassone we were almost in Spain. We met an English man with a stutter, he said, "I’ve been in Ca Ca Ca Carcassone 3 days now, it’s really boring". After we left him we found the most incredible perfectly preserved medieval castle that I’d ever seen. We kipped on the battlements that night with a brother and sister who came from up north in the Franco-Belgium coalfield. They were really nice but more important they had money so we enjoyed their hospitality for a few days. We couldn't find a farmer though who would take us on and give us a job on the grape picking. We said cheerio to the nice couple and moved on. We went to Narbonne, Beziers, Sete, Montpelier, Nimes and Avignon. Finally we arrived in the town of Orange. We were disappointed to find that the Patti Smith Band had played in the Roman amphitheater there only the day before. Our luck had changed though and we got work with a farmer called Maurice in one of the outlying villages. The work didn't start for a week so we had to kick our heels and survive off our wits for a few days. We did this by begging.
"Pardon mademoiselle,je suis pas d'argent ,avez vous un franc pour mange sil vous plait,je cherche pour travail sur le vendage. Merci beaucoups"                                            
Every time we got 3 or 4 francs together we would go and get a baguette and some fromage or pate and some wine and sit around in the park. One afternoon I counted nine different nationalities sat in our gang of wastrels and winos. It was great fun. Then the day came to go and start work for Maurice. It was back breaking work at first until we got used to it but I really enjoyed it apart from when Dave would catch my fingers from the other side of the vine with his secateurs. There were two other English on the farm, students from Oxford University but we didn’t hold it against them and a German lad called Werner who we got on really well with. He was an anarchist.  We all slept in the barn on bales of hay and a happy month with Maurice passed really quickly.
When the work ended and we were paid off we said goodbye To Maurice and our new friends and headed north to Bourge En Bresse to visit a couple whom Dave had met a couple of years earlier, they lived with their baby in a tiny apartment but made room for us and we slept on their floor for a few nights. I had developed a nasty ear infection and Dave had some sort of galloping mouth rot. We both went to the doctor in Bourge En Bresse which was quite expensive. One day walking down the street Dave suddenly stopped dead in his tracks.
"What’s up mate, are you feeling rough?"
"No, cake shop”, he said, pointing at a shop window.
                                                                                  He could never walk past a cake shop in France without buying a gateaux. It was in a little flea pit cinema in this town that I first saw the film The Last Waltz where Van Morrison effortlessly stole the show with Caravan.
After we said cheerio to Dave’s friends we headed north to find more work on the vendage. We visited Reims with its magnificent cathedral which I called Le Grande Illusion and then Epernay in the heart of the champagne area. Hundreds of vendageurs were hanging about at the railway station where the farmers recruited their workers. In the waiting room of the station Dave started talking to this girl called Daisy from Belgium who was lying on the floor next to him. Then they joined their sleeping bags together and the next thing I knew he was shagging her, right there in front of everybody in the station waiting room. I was disgusted and also quite jealous. The next day Dave met this old English geezer who had lived there since after the war. He was a drunken old sod but he had some useful contacts.
"Oh my dear boy, don’t worry, I’ll phone my very good friend Madame Jumel, and she will give you a job".

 It was great at Madame Jumel’s, we had a great big dormitory to sleep in. The first night there when I got in bed I realised this was the first bed I’d slept in for two months. In the morning we just had coffee and biscuits, then all piled into the camion. We did about two hours work and then had breakfast out in the fields. Lunch was also outdoors. We used to work our way along the vine singing Old Macdonald had a farm in French, Coupe ici coupe la etc. When you got to the end of the vine there was always a crate of wine there so you would have a good slug of it and start off down the next vine. The evening meal was great, it started about 7.00 and ended about midnight with everyone as drunk as a bishop. We had some great laughs. We were in a village called Cramant. Some evenings we would walk to the next village called Avize and visit Daisy and her friends. We used to get drunk on champagne every night and also champagne brandy which was like rocket fuel. We got really friendly with this couple called Cati & Claude.
Me with Cati & Claude
I met this really nice girl from Morlaix in Brittany. The Bretons are different to the rest of the French, they are a Celtic people, maybe that’s why she liked me, I don’t know. Sadly the happy days at Madame Jumel’s came to an end. Dave headed for Alsace Lorraine to do more grape-picking with Daisy but I decided to head for home. I said farewell to the little Breton and caught the train for Paris. In the bar at the Gare Du Nord I got chatting to this American bloke who said he was a performance artist. He was really into Lenny Bruce and hundred per cent truth and all that sort of thing. We chatted about books and music all the way to Calais. On the ferry it was a beautiful hot sunny day although it was now October. Britain was enjoying an Indian summer and looked really beautiful as we sailed towards the white cliffs of Dover. I had left three months earlier with nothing and had emerged from France with £200 and clutching two bottles of champagne. What a great year it was.


Sunday, December 03, 2017

Review: Versatile By Van Morrison.

On Friday, for the third time in fourteen months I caught the bus to my local record store, Raves From The Grave in Warminster to buy a new Van Morrison album. When I heard it was to be an album of mainly Jazz standards I was a bit dubious. Whenever Van makes an album concentrating on just one genre of music it always divides the fans. I knew some would love it and some would hate it. That won’t worry Van though, he puts it on the table and you can eat it or leave it. I had heard some long-time fans say that they would pass on this one, even before they had heard it. As for myself, I was a bit doubtful because Van has ventured into this territory before. In the 90’s Van made two Jazzy albums, Tell Me Something and How Long Has This Been Going On?. Sadly, I think those two albums are my least favourite of all his work. Also, when I was a teenager in the 60’s this was the music I rebelled against. I wouldn’t be seen dead with a Tony Bennett album under my arm. That was the stuff our parents used to like. Another thing that bugged me recently is hearing Van referred to as a veteran Irish crooner, I hate that expression, there is a lot more to him than that. However, I was determined to listen to Versatile with an open mind.

Let’s have a look at the songs.
I have heard Broken Record played live twice recently, in Bristol and Plymouth and I can’t say I like it all that much. Other fans have pointed out to me that it is a remake of Heathrow Shuffle which appeared on the aforementioned How Long Has This Been Going On? Album of 95. Van has written lyrics for it. I think he repeats the phrase ‘Broken Record’ about 40 times during the song. I find that a bit irritating. It has had a lot of airplay recently, but I think there are songs on this album much more deserving of radio time than this one.
A Foggy Day is a song by George & Ira Gershwin that has been recorded by dozens of people since it was written in 1937. At the end of the song Van repeats, ’A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square’, which is another song entirely. I must say it is nice to see that Alistair White & Chris White feature on several tracks on this album on trombone & sax. That suggests to me that a lot of this album was recorded over three years ago, especially with Jeff Lardner being on drums as well. Let those fog horns blow!
Let’s Get Lost is a song that first featured in the 1943 film Happy Go Lucky. One of the most famous versions was by Chet Baker who Van admired a lot. It is the title of a 1988 documentary film about Chet. I bet you Van included this song because of the Chet Baker connection.

Bye Bye Blackbird is an old song first recorded in 1926. John Coltrane once won a Grammy for an eighteen-minute version of it. Van breathes new life into it with a few skiddly bops. There is some nice keyboards by Paul Moran, trombone by Alistair and flute by Chris.
Skye Boat Song. I really like this track. In some reviews I have read, critics have wondered what ever possessed Van to record an instrumental version of this Scottish song. I think I know why. With his Ulster/Scots background Van would have been well aware of this song. I bet he used to hear it on the Tonight TV programme with Cliff Michelmore. I think the lyrics, with Bonnie boats, Skye, and sailors cry, seeped into his sub-conscious and emerged in the lyrics of Into The Mystic. If he ever performs this live I’d like to hear it segued with Into The Mystic. That would be great. Anyway, I can see this great instrumental by Van being snapped up by the Scottish Tourist Board for use in documentaries.

Take It Easy Baby. What do we have here? An original song written by Van. I don’t think it is one of Van’s greatest songs by any means, but it fits in quite nicely with the vibe of this album. Fans like me who like poring over the lyrics for deep meanings will be a bit disappointed though.
Makin Whoopee. This is another jazz standard that has been recorded by nearly everyone in the jazz world including Van’s friend Doctor John who recorded it with Rickie Lee Jones. Apparently, the title is a euphemism for sexual intimacy and a dire warning about the dangers of marriage, so be careful.
I Get A Kick Out Of You. This is a classic song written by Cole Porter. When it was first used in a film in the 30’s the lyrics had to be changed to remove the reference to cocaine. I first heard it as a hit single by Gary Shearston in the 70’s. Van’s version is great.
I Forgot That Love Existed is a Van song from his great Poetic Champions Compose album that he has re-visited to give it the jazz treatment. It doesn’t improve on the original but that wasn’t the intention. I think Van just wanted to look at it from a new angle. There is some delightful sax playing on this track.
Unchained Melody. This song has been recorded by hundreds of acts over the years, but I think the Rightious Brothers version is the one that most people think of. I don’t think anyone has sung it quite like Van though. His very emotional vocals on this version are great.

Start All Over Again. I have always thought that this is one of the lesser songs from Van’s great Enlightenment album. Maybe I wasn’t listening properly or maybe it was on the wrong album because it seems to fit into this jazz album quite nicely.
Only A Dream. This song was originally on Van’s Down The Road album. I know what some fans will say, “It’s not better than the original, so why bother?”. I think they are missing the point. It’s not supposed to be better, it’s supposed to be different. There is some terrific sax playing by Van & Chris on this track.
Affirmation. On first listen, this track was the one that grabbed me the most. It features Sir James Galway on flute. It reminds me of the great instrumentals Van used to play on such albums as Poetic Champions Compose. On Wikipedia it says this is written by Jose Feliciano. I don’t know where they got that idea from. Another track that film makers might love for soundtracks. Dig, a dig, love it.
The Party’s Over. I don’t think Van is telling us anything with the title of this song. The party isn’t over just yet. Concerts for next summer have already been announced. This song was written by Julius Styne and among those who have recorded it is Van’s old friend Lonnie Donegan.

I Left My Heart In San Francisco. I know Some people think that this song is sacrosanct, it is so associated with Tony Bennett that nobody else should record it. Well I disagree. Van has had a long love affair with San Francisco himself, even recording a live album there. His great recent song In Tiburon was inspired by San Francisco. You can sense that love for the city in Van’s chilled out version of this song which is terrific.
They Can’t Take That Away From Me. The album ends with another song by the Gershwin brothers. Among the delights in this song is some acoustic Spanish guitar played by Jay Berliner who played on Astral Weeks all those years ago.
That brings me to the end of my review. I am relieved that I like it. I know some fans will be disappointed that it isn’t a more mainstream Van album, but they will have to be patient. Van is indulging himself here and sharing his love of jazz. If some people don’t like it I don’t think he will worry too much. Don’t forget, in the slipstream of Van’s two jazz albums of the 90’s came The Healing Game so I am sure that there is a lot more great music to look forward to from Van Morrison in the very near future.
Me being Versatile !

The End.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Ancient Of Days: Van Morrison And William Blake

My  job before I gave up on work was working in a book warehouse. The money was no good but one of the benefits was that I got to read lots of nice books, also I could buy the damaged ones. A few years ago for only £1.00 I got a copy of 'Songs Of Innocence and Of Experience' by William Blake. Its a beautiful little book. The pages are an exact facsimile of Blake's original engravings of 1794. It inspired me to write a little piece on Blake's influence on Van Morrison because as you know Van's albums are strewn with references to Blake.
Let's look at some similarities between the two. Firstly, they were both visionaries. At the age of eight Blake saw a tree filled with angels on Peckham Rye,their bright wings bespangling every bough like stars. Van experienced similar visions as a child in Belfast. Ordinary streets would become diamond studded highways. As Van's music developed into a spiritual journey, he was trying to find out the reason for the childlike visions that he experienced. He wasn't the only musician to have these visions.Bob Dylan and Patti Smith both reported similar things during their early life. Beat poet Allen Ginsberg claimed that Blake used to speak to him as a child. It was maybe reading the Beat writers like Jack Kerouac and Ginsberg that led Van to Blake. When Van discovered the work of Blake he had found a kindred spirit. Both knew there was only a thin veil between the 'real' world to across the bridge to where angels dwell. Both Blake and Van were voracious readers and both were influenced by the Christian mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg although Van may have discovered Swedenborg via Blake. The pair of them are also nature lovers with their lyrics celebrating the pastoral English scene with shepherds and sheep on the hillsides in abundance. Both Van and Blake were obsessed with mysticism and were both mavericks in their field. As hard as it is to fit Blake into any school of art history it is equally hard to fit Van into any genre of music. Van first mentions Blake on the Veedon Fleece album on the track You Don't Pull No Punches But You Don't Push The River.

'Blake and the Eternals, oh standin' with the Sisters of Mercy
Looking for the Veedon Fleece, yeah
William Blake and the Eternals oh standin' with the Sisters of Mercy
Looking for the Veedon Fleece, yeah'.
During this period Van was embarking on a period of heavy reading and self education which is another similarity with Blake in that they were both largely self taught although Blake had been apprenticed to an engraver. Both displayed amazing maturity at a young age as well. Blake first exhibited his paintings at the Royal Acadamy at the age of 23, a similar age to Morrison when he released Astral Weeks in 1968. So who were the Eternals who Van refers to in the lyrics? They can be found in Blakes work Urizen

'Of the primeval priests assum'd power,
When Eternals spurn'd back his religion;
And gave him a place in the north,
Obscure, shadowy, void, solitary.
Eternals I hear your call gladly,
Dictate swift winged words, & fear not
To unfold your dark visions of torment.

The Eternals, also called the Immortals, are the four-fold men who inhabit Eternity and make up the body of Christ, the Eternal Great Humanity. After Veedon Fleece Van disappeared off the scene for about 3 years but he wasn't idle, he was studying all sorts of subjects and in subsequent albums there are dozens of name dropping literary references. Blake makes his return on 1980's Common One album in the epic song Summertime In England.
Did you ever hear about . . .
William Blake,TS Eliot
In the summer
In the countryside
They were smokin'
Summertime in England.
In the same song Van mentions Jesus walking down by Avalon and again this is very Blakean and is probably inspired by Blake's 'Jerusalem', and did those feet in ancient times etc. If any album could be described as Van's Blake album I suppose it might be Sense Of Wonder. One of the tracks takes its title from a Blake painting Ancient Of Days. The song Let The Slave incorporates The Price Of Experience by Blake and where Van sings, 'Everything that lives is holy' is a direct quote of Blake. The song A New Kind Of Man also I believe is the title of a book about Blake but I haven't read it. Blake is name checked again on the Avalon Sunset album on the track When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God.

The sun was setting over Avalon
The last time we stood in the west
Suffering long time angels enraptured by Blake
Burn out the dross innocence captured again
This is a wonderful song and a particular favourite of mine as it reminds me of my own experiences of Glastonbury and the surrounding area. The whole album is very Blakean with its romantic pastoral setting. Blake reappears on Golden Autumn Day on Van's Back On Top album.
Who would think this could happen in a city like this
Among Blakes green and pleasant hills,
And we must remember as we go through September
Among these dark satanic mills.

This time though its a much darker scene as Van relates being the victim of an attempted mugging probably in the city of Bath. You don't need name-checks though to see the influence of William on Van. On the track Checkin' It Out on Wavelength Van tells us that there are spirits and guides along the way who will help us. A lot of people would raise an eyebrow to this but William Blake wouldn't that's for sure. The sad thing for me is that around the mid 90's Van seemed to lose the angel of imagination that was his muse and his interest in mysticism and spirituality generally and his work had suffered as a result. Recently though he has started referring to guardian angels again in his live performances so maybe his interest in spiritual matters has returned. I hope so.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Van Morrison In Plymouth 2017

This is the life. For the second time in four days I set off to see Van Morrison in concert. My friend Jacquie called for me at 10.30 on Friday and we headed off down the ancient highway for the 126-mile drive to Plymouth. I think this is the fourth time we have been to see Van together in the last few years. It only took about four hours to get to her Auntie Joyce’s house in Plymouth, including a stop for lunch. We had a quiet night in on Friday watching the telly.
Our plan for Saturday was to go and see The Lost Gardens Of Heligan at Mevagissey but when we saw the weather forecast on Saturday morning we realised that was out of the question because it was quite showery and it’s probably the wrong time of the year for walking around gardens. Instead, we had a look around the area of Plymouth called The Barbican. I had a mooch in a few charity shops looking for books and I found a nice hardback copy of a Van biography. We went for lunch in an excellent seafood restaurant and had a walk about the harbour. Jacquie took a photo of me by the Mayflower Steps. It’s not a great photo but some of my American friends might find it interesting because this is the very spot where the pilgrims boarded The Mayflower to sail to America on September 6th, 1620. Then we went back to Joyce’s and I had a snooze for the afternoon.
Mayflower Steps

A taxi called for us at 6.45 and took us to the Plymouth Pavilions. I had never been to this venue before and I’m not sure I like it all that much. It seems quite cold and makes the Colston Hall in Bristol seem quite intimate in comparison. Anyway, we had a drink and a chat. Joyce seemed quite thrilled because she hadn’t been to a concert since seeing Joe Loss & His Orchestra about 50 years ago. I miss the old days when Simon used to organise pre-show gatherings of the Van fans. That doesn’t seem to happen so much these days. It was nice to see Peter & Kathryn though, and Bent, Tom & Brendan who I saw a few days ago in Bristol.
We had great seats in Row B with a brilliant view of the band who came on stage promptly at 8.00. As soon as the show started I could sense that there was an ‘end of term’ atmosphere with the band because this was the last night of quite a gruelling schedule of concerts in England, Scotland, Wales & France so they all seemed in a great mood, especially Teena Lyle who didn’t stop smiling throughout. As in Bristol, the first song was Wait A Minute Baby followed by Moondance which had short solos for most of the band. Then it was the fabulous Warm Love. I think that Van returning this song to the setlist shows that he is in a good place at the moment. Who could accuse him of grumpiness when he sings a beautiful song like this? I had never seen him perform the next song before which was How Far From God? It was brilliant, I loved it. Magic Time followed with the hard-working Paul Moran excelling on the trumpet. In Bristol I thought the Baby Please Don’t Go/ Parchman Farm medley sounded a little flat and played a bit perfunctorily but in Plymouth it was enlivened by Got My Mojo Working which I really enjoyed. Ride On Josephine was great as well, powered along by Mez Clough on Drums, Paul Moore on Bass & Dave Keary on guitar.

We moved up a notch then from great to sublime with Vanlose Stairway which I enjoyed even more than Bristol and I didn’t even object to the yodels. The keyboard sounds and the backing singers and Van repeating, ‘Kilroy was here’ was tremendous. This was followed by another treat which was The Way Young Lovers Do, a song I have heard Van rarely sing. The last time was with Clare Teal at Glastonbury Abbey. In Plymouth this was even better, the song is ideal for the jazzy sounds of Teena Lyle & Paul Moran. This was followed by Van paying a tribute to his friend Jon Hendricks who died this week. The song was Sack O’ Woe which was good but not one of my favourite songs. After Bristol I said that I didn’t care much for Symphony Sid but in Plymouth I enjoyed it a lot more. This was probably due to Van allowing Dana to take the lead vocals on part of the song and she made a great job of it.
Another highlight for me followed, which was Tore Down A La Rimbaud, a truly classic top drawer Van song. Then it was the Las Vegas version of Have I Told You Lately. Again, this was enlivened by Dana’s contribution. Dana also excelled herself in the duet with Van of Carrying A Torch. Then Van put on his electric guitar and he and Dave showed what they could do with Automobile Blues. This was followed by a new song of Van’s which he seems to really enjoy playing at the moment called Broken Record. Van repeats the phrase ‘Broken record’ over and over whilst imitating the sound of a needle stuck in a groove. People who buy his new album on vinyl are going to love him for this.

Brown Eyed Girl was next, and I have heard this so often that it doesn’t usually do anything for me but tonight I enjoyed it. The reason was that for the first time I realised what a comedian Teena Lyle is. As she was playing the congas she was doing all these humorous jerky movements with her head and pulling funny facial expressions. Teena was really enjoying herself. This was followed by Days Like This which I always enjoy and then Jackie Wilson Says which I hadn’t heard for a while so that was great as well. Help Me used to always be in Van’s repertoire but I hadn’t heard that for a couple of years either, so it was nice to hear that one again. Van then left the stage but soon returned for the usual Gloria which brought the audience to their feet. When Van left the stage again, the band played on. I knew he wouldn’t return so I left my seat because I don’t like this bit. I hoped Jacquie & Joyce would follow me, but they were enjoying it. I had to stay and endure Mez Clough’s drum solo. I know he is young, talented and enthusiastic, but I gave up on drum solos about 40 years ago. I would much prefer to hear Dana Masters sing a Van song to end the evening. Still, who am I to complain after such an enjoyable evening?

After the show, Jacquie, Joyce, Brendan & I found a nice bar for a last drink. I compared notes with Brendan and he agreed that it had been a really good show. He said it had been a lot better than Torquay the night before. When I went outside for a ciggie I got talking to this couple who had never seen Van before and they were blown away by the whole concert. They thought it was amazing. Finally, we said cheerio to Brendan and hailed a taxi home. I was still buzzing from the concert and I said that we should have gone clubbing. Joyce said, “I hope you don’t mean one of those lap-top clubs!” That was the funniest thing I heard all night. Anyway, a big hand for the band and especially Sir Van Morrison.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Van Morrison In Bristol 2017.

Standing Pat.
It had been four long months since I last saw Van at the Eden Sessions down in Cornwall but finally the big day had arrived. Having heard glowing reports of recent shows, especially Liverpool I was looking forward to a great night. I caught the 12.52 train from Westbury and arrived in Bristol by 2.00. I was way too early as usual, so I walked to the Colston Hall. Strolling through Queens Square it seemed very Van-like with the autumn leaves a tumblin’ down which put me in a good mood for the day ahead. When I arrived, it was good to spot Bent from Denmark and we had a bit of a chat. Then my friend Cav from Bristol turned up and we went for a wander around the harbour and ended up in Wetherspoons for an hour or so. Eventually, I made my way back to the Colston to see if any more Van fans had turned up. There was no-one around, so I amused myself by getting a passer-by to take my photo standing by a Van poster. They are celebrating 150 years of the Colston Hall at the moment and there is a memory board where people are encouraged to fill out a card with their favourite memories of concerts and stick it on the board. I got a card and wrote, ‘My first ever Van Morrison gig, here in 1979. Now back in 2017. Rave On, Van The Man!’.
Is this the place called Memory Lane?

Finally, I spotted Hugh and Janet in the bar area and before long other fans started arriving. It is always good to see Yves-Michel, the Frenchman from Denmark, and John from Bristol, Jane & Charlie from Oxford. I hadn’t met Mark from Northern Ireland before, so it was great to say hello to him. Brendan from Dublin was there as well and later I saw Miquel from Spain and his friend Thomas and his wife. After the show I bumped into Tom who I hadn’t seen since Brighton about four years ago. There were a couple of other people as well, but I can’t remember their names now. Precious time was slipping away and before long it was time to take our seats for the show.
Mark, Charlie, Jane, John, Me.

There is one change to the band since the last time I saw Van. Teena Lyle has returned after a long absence. I don’t think I have seen Teena since Salisbury City Hall about eleven years ago. Teena plays vibraphone and various other percussion instruments. She gives the sound a more jazzy feel. It’s great to see her but It’s a bit of a shame that Sumudu has departed because I like her as well. The first song was Wait A minute Baby which I hadn’t heard before and Teena made her presence felt straight away. The ubiquitous Moondance was next which I have heard far too many times although it did go into Look Beyond The Hill. I wish that Van would perform more songs from his Keep Me Singing album. This audience loved Moondance, so who am I to complain. The first highlight of the evening for me was Warm Love. I can’t remember the last time I saw this great song performed live. The return of Teena seems to have shaken up the setlist a bit because Back On Top has returned. This was followed by Magic Time which Van always seems to enjoy singing. Then it was the medley of Baby Please Don’t Go/Parchman Farm/Don’t Start Crying Now/ Custard Pie, this has been in his repertoire for a few years now. Maybe it’s time for a change. The audience seemed to love Ride On Josephine from Van’s most recent album. It gives Dave Keary a chance to show what a good guitarist he is. Van sat at the keyboards for Vanlose Stairway which has made a welcome return. It was really good, and Teena & Dana excelled themselves on backing vocals. My only complaint is that I’m not too keen on the yodelling bits that Van has added to it. Another classic song followed which was Someone Like You which is tailor made for Dana to sing a duet with Van.
An Irishman, a Dane & a Frenchman.

Van said to the band, “Let’s change the pace”, and Symphony Sid followed which isn’t a favourite of mine and the Las Vegas arrangement of Have I Told You Lately isn’t either. Then Days Like This began. I thought I would film this song so I could show it to my friends on Facebook. I know they ask you not to film and you shouldn’t do it, but I can’t resist. I have been filming songs at gigs for years and never had a complaint before, well, not from the audience anyway. No sooner had I started filming then I got poked quite hard in the back by a man sitting behind me. That put a stop to my filming for the evening! I can’t complain because he was absolutely in the right. I hope I didn’t ruin his evening. Maybe I was holding the camera in his eye-line. Anyway, I tried not to dwell on the incident because In The Afternoon/ Joe Turner/Ancient Highway/Raincheck was a highlight with Van stretching it out and sitting pretty. Automobile Blues was another chance for Dave Keary to shine. Then Van reached for his electric guitar as well for Why Must I Always Explain which is always enjoyable. Broken Record is a song I hadn’t heard before and I can’t say I’m all that impressed with it. I am impressed with Did Ye Get Healed? though. It is another song that seems to have returned with the re-emergence of Teena Lyle. There was even a little bit of Yeah Yeah at the end of the song. St James Infirmary followed, and I know a lot of the fans love it, so it would be churlish of me to say I don’t like it, especially when he says, ‘Standing Pat’ twice. The evening was brought to a conclusion with the usual Brown Eyed Girl & Gloria.
France meets Spain.

Back on the street again I said to the others that I thought the show was good without being brilliant. They all disagreed and said it was great. Maybe the incident with the finger in my back had affected my mood. I’m glad I went, it was a good night and wonderful to see all the other Van fans. I hailed a taxi to the station and we got in a traffic jam and I missed my train. I had to wait an hour for the last train so I went in the bar of the Holiday Inn. I fell asleep on the train home but luckily, I woke up just before Westbury or I might have ended up in Portsmouth Harbour or somewhere. There were no taxis at Westbury so I had a 20 minute walk home and that was the end of my adventure seeing Van in Bristol. I’m seeing him again on Saturday in Plymouth so I’ll tell you all about that on Sunday. Don’t be expecting any exclusive filmed footage though!

PS, Thank you very much to Yves-Michel Balin for the great black and white photo.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Review: Roll With The Punches by Van Morrison.

When I first heard a few months ago that Van Morrison’s next release would be a Blues album I was a bit wary because I have sometimes been disappointed in the past when Van has made albums in only one genre of music. What drew me to Van’s music in the first place was that it was a melting pot of jazz, blues, soul, gospel, folk, country, rock, with a large helping of Celtic mysticism and spirituality stirred in to make something that was uniquely Van Morrison. However, when I saw Van at the Eden Sessions in Cornwall in July and he played four of the songs live I thought, “Hey, this isn’t bad”. I was particularly taken with one song called Transformation and I thought if there were a few more songs as good as that on the album then it would be fine. Last Friday I picked up the album Roll With The Punches at my local record store and the first thing to say is that I don’t like the cover design all that much. It is a bit brutal and not the sort of image I conjure up when listen to Van’s music. It is a photo by Richard Wade and depicts a boxing match between Phil Townley and Willie Mitchell that took place on 29th April 2016. If you are interested, Mitchell won after six rounds. I expect I’ll get used to the cover and it is the music that is important after all. It’s Wednesday now and I haven’t written a review until today because sometimes in the past I have written glowing reviews of albums and then got quickly bored with them. With this album the reverse is true. I like the album more with every play. Let’s have a look at the songs.
Roll With The Punches.
I really like the opening track, ever since I first heard it down in Cornwall. The name that immediately came into my head on hearing it was Muddy Waters. I think Muddy would have enjoyed singing this song. Van wrote it in collaboration with Don Black which is quite amazing because Don Black is usually associated with James Bond themes and that sort of thing. There is some wonderful guitar on this track by Jeff Beck who plays on several tracks on this album.
I love this song and it has lots of airplay in Britain. When I first heard it I thought, “That’s not blues”. Some fans have said that it is very derivative of earlier Van songs such as Why Must I Always Explain but I don’t think that matters. Lots of his songs remind you of earlier work. Tupelo Honey sounds a bit like this song to me as well. The lyrics are very spiritual which made me think that the song might have been inspired by Krishnamurti who was quite an influence on Van in the mid-80’s. Van also visited the Krishnamurti headquarters in California on a recent trip ( See picture) Krishnamurti was always going on about Transformation. However, Van even more recently has been visiting a centre called Agape so that might have inspired the song as well. Anyway, I think it’s one of the best Van songs of recent years. Great guitar play by Jeff Beck. Does it fit in with the rest of the album though?. Maybe it could have been saved for a more typical Van album.

I Can Tell.
This is a Bo Diddley song that I first heard at Nell’s club in London back in February. Chris Farlowe features on backing vocals. I don’t know why though, the two times I have seen the song performed live Van seems to have managed quite adequately on his own. Dana & Sumudu are all the backing singers I need. The song drives along at a frenetic pace with great guitar, harmonica and piano.
Stormy Monday / Lonely Avenue.
A medley of two songs that Van has visited before in his career. Chris Farlowe guests on this track as well and has a major share of the vocals. He actually recorded this song himself in the mid-60’s under the name Little Joe Cook. I think that Jeff Beck’s guitar playing is the salvation of the track. In my opinion this album has the best guitar sound since the days when Mick Green used to grace Van’s albums.
Goin’ To Chicago.
This Count Basie number begins with some tasteful bass playing by Chris Hill and Van’s harmonica before Georgie Fame’s vocals. The song has a very rich warm sound, ideal for late night listening with a nice glass of wine.
This song was previously on Van’s What’s Wrong With This Picture album and has never been a favourite with the fans. Van must have decided we weren’t listening properly and has re-visited it as a duet with Paul Jones. I must say I prefer this version to the original and I like the harmonica playing. Also, I see the song in a new light now after Van discussed the meaning of the song with Paul on the Paul Jones radio show on BBC Radio 2 on Monday night. Van elaborated on the dangers of fame and how it can destroy people and gave Amy Winehouse as an example. I see James Powell is credited on drums. He is Georgie Fame’s son. Georgie’s real name is Clive Powell. Also I see that this is the only track featuring Van’s regular bass player Paul Moore. I wonder why that was. I wonder if Van is aware that David Bowie and John Lennon also recorded a duet called Fame on Bowie’s Young Americans album. I expect he is.

Too Much Trouble.
Van told Paul Jones on his show that he found the lyrics to this song in his car one day and thought he ought to finish the song. There is some nice piano playing by Jason Rebello. He was a regular in Jeff Beck’s band for a number of years so maybe Van discovered him through the connection with Jeff. I’m glad Van did finish the song because I really like it.
Bring It On Home To Me.
One of the stand out tracks on the album. Van recorded a stunning version of this Sam Cooke classic on his Too Late To Stop Now album which I rate as the greatest live album of all time. This new version doesn’t improve on that but is still very enjoyable. It has a very live feel to it with Van clearly enjoying himself, ad-libbing and encouraging Jeff to extend his guitar solo. I love the sound of Dana & Sumudu on backing vocals as well, they are like a heavenly choir. I hope this song becomes a staple of Van’s live setlists in the future.
Ordinary People.
This song was originally recorded by Van way back in 1971 but not released until 1998 on the Philosopher’s Stone album. I don’t know why Van has revisited it now. The subject matter is similar to Fame so I wonder if he is trying to tell us something. I see Stuart McIlroy plays some great piano on this track. I first saw him play with the band at the Eden Sessions. Chris Farlowe also features on this song but I don’t think he adds much to it. Jeff’s guitar figures large as well. Laurence Cottle plays electric bass on this and most of the tracks. Maybe Van preferred him to Paul Moore because he also plays trombone, a talent Van put to good use on some other tracks.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe

How Far From God.
A song by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, The 'godmother' of rock n roll. I must admit that It is only recently I have become aware of how great she was after seeing some videos on youtube. Stuart McIlroy makes his presence felt again with his piano playing. A very lively enjoyable song.
Teardrops From My Eyes.
This is a great song written by Rudolph ‘Rudy’ Toombs. It was also a big hit record for Ruth Brown. I see Pete Hurley plays bass on this track. He is a member of The Red Hot Pokers who used to play with Van back in the early 2000's. There are also other members of the Pokers on this album. At first I found it hard to think that Van had got back together with them after all these years which made me think that some of the basic tracks of some songs had been in the can for a long while and Van had taken them off the shelf, dusted them off and reworked them for this album. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I have changed my mind though. It seems that Van really has gone back in the studio with his old Poker friends. I think Start McIlroy and Elizabeth Jane Williams who sings on one track might come from the Cardiff area as well.
Automobile Blues.
A song originally by Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins. This is very much a Red Hot Pokers song with Ned Edwards playing some neat harmonica. Ned & Pete Hurley are still Pokers to this very day. Colin Griffin on drums isn’t though, which made me think that this track apart from Van’s vocals was recorded a long time ago. I don't think that any more. It's a brand new song.

We all know how much Van admires Mose Allison even to the point of recording a whole album Tell Me Something of Mose’s songs. This is a song that Van has returned to his repertoire in recent years. I love Van’s sax playing and the humorous lyrics ‘Thank god for self-love’.
Mean Old World.
This song was written by somebody else who Van really admires as well, namely Little Walter. He actually befriended Van when they were both in London in the early 60’s and showed Van a few tricks on the harmonica. Another song that I thought had come down off the shelf but I have changed my mind about that.
Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Bo Diddley.

Ride On Josephine.
Originally recorded on the album Bo Diddley Is A Gunslinger in 1960. A great song to end the album on. I see Ned plays guitar on this song and to his credit does a really great job. Dave Keary plays this really well in the present day when Van performs it live. If Van had released this song with Them back in the 60’s I’m sure it would have been a top ten hit.
Well, that is the end of my review. I think it is a very enjoyable satisfying album indeed. It shows that Van is still in good voice and fine form even at the age of 72. There aren’t many other singers of his age who can say that. It also shows Van having some fun which he told Paul Jones was the idea of the album and he has certainly achieved that. A big hand for Sir Van Morrison !
Me Rolling With The Punches !


Friday, September 15, 2017

Seeing Christy Moore At The Royal Festival Hall 13. 9. 2017

What a wonderful summer of concerts and festivals it has been. It started for me about four months ago when I saw the Unthanks in Bradford On Avon, then Madeleine Peyroux in Bath, just about everyone you can think of at Glastonbury Festival, Van Morrison at the Eden Project down in Cornwall and Brian Wilson at the Abbey and many others but Christy Moore’s concert at the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday night was as good as or better than any of them. This is what happened.
Me And Bill down by the river.

It was a damp and dirty morning when I set off on the train from Westbury to Waterloo but by the time I got to London Storm Arleen had calmed down a bit and I had a nice stroll along the river and found my hotel just behind the Tate Modern. It was the LSE Bankside (£71.00 for a nice room and all you can eat for breakfast) As soon as I dumped my stuff off I headed back along the embankment and met my friends Jacky & Bill at the London Eye. It was great to see them again and we repaired to the Slug & Lettuce for a couple of drinks and a good chat. Then we wandered on to a restaurant called The Giraffe for a bite to eat. The service was quick and friendly, I opted for Moroccan tagine, I can’t remember what Jacky & Bill had but mine was nice with an amusing bottle of chardonnay as well. Time was getting on and we made our way to the Festival Hall. I looked in the bar for some internet buddies but couldn’t spot them but when we took our seats I did see Hilary from Kerry and had time for a quick hello before the show began.

Christy was accompanied as usual by Declan Sinnott on guitars and Jimmy Higgins on percussion and also someone who I hadn’t seen before who is Cathal Hayden from Pomoroy, County Tyrone on violin & banjo. I must say that he played some sweet music during the evening and is a great addition to Christy’s little band of companeros. The first song of the evening was Deportees. I don’t think I have heard Christy play this song live before but I enjoyed it. I first heard the song on a Joan Baez album many years ago. I wonder why Christy chose it as the opening song?. Maybe as a statement about the refugee and migrant crisis around the world at the moment. This was followed by the powerful North & South Of The River which I never tire of hearing. Then a song that I always have trouble spelling the name of which is Gortatagort. It is a great song written by John Spillane. Christy said that after the previous two nights playing in Watford & Worthing he was a bit freaked out by playing the Royal Festival Hall. I think he likes it here though, the acoustics are good in my opinion, compared to the Royal Albert. Then he sang the very moving Missing You which must have struck a chord with the many Irish members of the audience. This was followed by Ewan MacColl’s Go Move Shift which is another song very relevant to what is going on in the world today.  Then we were treated to two beautiful songs from Christy’s recent album Lily. Firstly, Lightning, Bird, Wind, River Man followed by Mandolin Mountain. Lily is an album that I highly recommend. The next song was Viva La Quinte Brigada, Christy’s song about the Spanish Civil War. Bogman written by his brother Luka Bloom also drew warm applause from the audience as did Ride On with the audience joining in and singing quite sweetly towards the end.

The next song I loved because I had never heard Christy sing it live before but I think it was the very first song I ever heard him sing solo. Sometime in the late 1970’s I bought a double folk compilation vinyl album called All The Folk That Fits. There was some great music on it, Planxty, De Dannan, The Bothy Band, The Bards, Dubliners, Fureys and many others. At the time I didn’t even know that Christy was in Planxty. It had one song though called Johnny Jump Up by Christy. I used to play it to my dad and it made him laugh. I still have that album, I can’t play it any more because I haven’t got a turntable now. It was nice to hear the song again at the RFH and Cathal joined in on banjo. Brilliant !

Then it was City Of Chicago followed by The Well Below The Valley with Christy playing the bodran. Another song that seems to take on more meaning these days when you look at the news and missiles being fired over Japan is Hiroshima/ Nagasaki/ Russian Roulette. Barney Rush’s Nancy Spain was next. Christy must have sung it thousands of times and it still sounds as beautiful as ever. It was also a delight to hear Reel In The Flickering Light again which is a brilliant and funny song. Little Musgrave was also wonderful and reminds me of Matty Groves by Fairport Convention. Christy said he first heard Ordinary Man in Cleethorpes in 1986 and learned it from a cassette. Fairy Tale Of New York is a classic song and I’m glad Christy played it because J.P. Donleavy who wrote the book from which Shane MacGowan got the title died just a few days ago aged 91 R.I.P. Somebody in the audience shouted something out at this point and Christy said, “I don’t know what you are saying,.... but I agree with you” which the crowd found very amusing. Then he sang Don’t Forget Your Shovel  which the audience clapped and sang along with. It is a very funny song but the underlying sentiment isn’t that far from Missing You when you think about it. The powerful and tragic story of On Morecambe Bay was next followed by the beautiful Christy interpretation of Richard Thompson’s Beeswing. Christy then said, “Now some poetry from County Antrim” and sang McIllhatton written by the late Bobby Sands. I think he must feel obliged to sing the next song when in London. It is of course Sweet Thames Flow Softly and it was marvellous. We knew we were getting to the end when he announced No Time For Love which is a very powerful song written by Jack Warshaw. At the end Declan and Christy were really rocking out on the guitars.

They all took a bow and left the stage but we knew there would be an encore which was The Time Has Come and finally Lisdoonvarna/ I’ll Tell Me Ma which brought a great concert to an end. What a night.
Next morning when I left my hotel I was still buzzing from the events of the night before. I walked down to the river. It was only 10.30 in the morning but I thought a quiet pint wouldn’t do me no harm. The Founders Arms was open so I went in and ordered a pint of cider and sat outside and watched the sweet Thames flow softly by. I noticed that the windy weather was causing the leaves to start tumblin’ down and realised my summer of music was coming to an end. What a way to end it though. Thank you very much Declan, Jimmy, Cathal and especially Christy for a splendid concert in London.


PS, If I have made any mistakes I hope Hilary or young Colm will let me know !
PPS, I found most of the photos on Google Images. I hope nobody minds me using them.

Seeing Van Morrison At Liverpool Feis 2018

Teena Lyle, Tony Fitzgibbon, Dana Masters, Paul Moran, Mez Clough, Van, Paul Moore, Jay Berliner, Dave Keary. It was Saturday morning ...