Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Take a Van in a Band

Van Morrison returned to the joyous showband sound for His Band & The Street Choir album (1971). As a teenager he’d played saxophone with the Monachs Showband before going on to form THEM – Belfast’s best ever group.
Van’s change in direction might have had something to do with the fact that following the intensity of the sound scape of his ground breaking and critically acclaimed album Astral Weeks (1968) and the jazzy overtones of his third album Moondance (1970), it was time for something lighter, maybe even entertaining. It’s also worth remembering at this stage in his career he was, so to speak, still on the bread line, and trying to support his young family. Perhaps, as I say, he also felt it was time to have some fun because by the time he recorded his fourth solo album, His Band & The Street Choir, he had totally immersed himself in the rich, joyful, playful, infectious and (sometime just downright) funny sound of the Irish Showbands.
The change certainly worked big time because, led by the infectious US top 10 hit single, Domino, the album not only received glowing reviews but it was a major commercial success
Several of the tracks from His Band & The Street Choir – namely Domino; Blue Money; Virgo Clowns; Sweet Jannie and Call Me Up In Dreamland would all have been floor-fillers in the legendary Irish Ballrooms. In my new novel – THE LAST DANCE – I named one of the pivotal venues, the Dreamland Ballroom, located on the shore of Lough Neagh, in homage to Call Me Up In Dreamland. In Cleaning Windows from his Beautiful Vision (1982) album Van sings about, “blowing saxophone at the weekend” perhaps referencing his days in the aforementioned Monachs Showband. Mechanical Bliss, which only appears as the B-side of Van’s single Joyous Sound (1977), would have been an absolute perfect song to show off the zany qualities of The Dixies’ comedic and hyper Joe McCarthy.
The first time I ever saw Van perform life was at the Rainbow Theatre, London on Monday 23rd July and Tuesday 24th July 1973). I can remember thinking, “Feck, if he only hasn’t gone and formed his own bleedin’ showband.” Van was accompanied on stage for those two inspired, and yes, even transcendental, career-making performances by eleven musicians. He’d augmented the traditional showband line-up of: vocals; guitar; bass; drums; organ and brass section with a five piece string section. Recordings from these two concerts were (in part) used for Van’s live album, It’s Too Late To Stop Now (1974). Throughout the album we can hear Van using the showband lead-singer cliché (in a good way) of talking to, and encouraging, his fellow musicians during the song In my humble opinion It’s Too Late to Stop Now is still one of the best live albums ever released. Sadly the album seemed to signal that Mr Morrison, in his incessant need to push himself musically, had, for the time being at least, drawn a line under allowing his showband influences to shine through.

Van Morrison’s Top 10 Showband Influenced Songs.

1. Domino - His Band & The Street Choir
2. Jackie Wilson Said - St Dominic’s Preview
3. Call Me Up In Dreamland - His Band & The Street Choir
4. Red Wood Tree - St Dominic’s Preview
5. Cleaning Windows - Beautiful Vision
6. Wild Night - Tupelo Honey
7. Bright Side of The Road - Into The Music
8. These Dreams of You - Moondance
9. Full Force Gale - Into The Music
10. I Will Be There - St Dominic’s Preview.

Then of course he also wrote the song, which if he’d penned half a century earlier would most definitely have been on every showband’s set list as the last dance. I’m talking about Have I Told You Lately That I Love You from Van’s Avalon Sunset CD (2007). Talking of last dances, did I tell you lately that my new novel is called THE LAST DANCE and is set in Ireland in the late 1950s and early 1960s against a backdrop of the world of Irish showbands and in particular The Playboys Showband from Castlemartin?

This time

I’ve seen:
Detroit 187 – another excellent series which, for some reason or other, didn’t make the second round.

And heard:
The Waterboys at the Sage Gateshead – a force of power and beauty and soul.
Henry McCullough & Band at the Bridge Bar in Ramelton and man is he in fine fettle.
The Commitments at the 02 London – a soul revue, on St Patrick’s Night that worked big time.
Alan Bennett at Cecil Sharp House - the national treasure generously shares his treasures.

And read:
The Big Miss by Hank Haney – an insightful and rewarding read.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce - a book which proves that a lot of the times the journey is more rewarding than the destination.

Until the next time…