Van Morrison – Moondance (1970)
In unusual fashion for a largely positive review, I’m going to begin by bashing the artist involved.
Van Morrison is one selfish mother-fucker.
There you go. Now I’ve got you wondering, haven’t I? Well, let me take you back to 1999. I was sixteen years old, heavily into music, and about to venture into booking my first ever gig. There was an advert in my local paper claiming that Van Morrison was coming to town – the genius Irish songwriter who had penned the likes of Brown Eyed Girl, Moondance, and Gloria. I called my friend Sarah, we agreed to go, and I booked the tickets. He came on stage for forty minutes, played none of the above – in fact, played only one recognisable song in the whole gig (Have I Told You Lately That I Love You) – and strutted off without returning for an encore.
At the time, of course, I had no idea that this was unusual practice. Only later did I realise how arrogant, selfish and impersonal this had been. The highlight of the gig had, in fact, been the support act, Lonnie Donnegan, who, with hindsight, blew Van off the stage. He was brilliant, and I got to meet him afterwards – he even signed an album for me. I had no idea at the time how important in the whole scheme of things this man was. A night of no ideas (LOL)! An inspiration for The Beatles, even. He put a smile on my face did Lonnie that night though – that’s how I remember him.
So, wind the clock forward a few years. 2002 to be precise. I decided to give Van Morrison another chance – the venue: Sheffield City Hall. Yet again a horrendously selfish set of obscure stuff that very few in the audience knew or wanted to know. They were looking round in bemusement, like mere-cats. For the first half an hour he hung in the shadows playing saxophone instrumentals. Nobody was there to see that. And, yet again, he kept his hits under lock and key.
The man plays what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants with no consideration for his fans. The man is very self-centered, and has little if no consideration for the audience. You wouldn’t pay for a ticket to watch a dog and feel thrilled when the cat walks on. “Will you shut the fuck up and listen?” Van Morrison famously asked a crowd of over-excited teenyboppers gathered at L.A’s Whisky A Go Go in February 1969. They didn’t respond – just kept on talking. Maybe he’s never recovered from that.
It was essential I got that off my chest. The anecdotes are done for now. Onto the album. There’s better news coming.
Van Morrison is an awesome talent, there’s no questioning that. That’s demonstrated in no better form than his third solo album, and subsequent Grammy Hall Of Fame inductee, Moondance. Astral Weeks, the prequel to Moondance, is often cited as Morrison’s masterpiece. I’ve bought and returned that album three times in an attempt to see what the fuss is all about. In my opinion it doesn’t touch Moondance – an absolute triumph from beginning to end.
And It Stoned Me – the singer’s true recollection of an afternoon in his childhood – is a heartfelt, rural epic. The beginning of Van’s new direction, where his songs were informed by dreams and visions. The title track, Moondance, is one of those timeless jazz intros that never ever gets even a millimetre less thrilling, even on listen ten-thousand. With inspired lyrics, it has become one of the most recognisable brain-worms ever written: “Well it’s a marvellous night for a moondance / With the stars up above in your eyes / A fantabulous night to make romance / ‘Neath the cover of October skies.” Majestic.
Crazy Love, the album highlight, is a sensual, intimate love song that bleeds soul and warmth. Some sort of divine inspiration is surely needed to write a song like this – and it simply can’t be imitated. It’s a command of one’s craft that I don’t think Van has ever topped. Caravan marks the beginning of Morrison’s fascination with Gypsies – a theme that still runs through his work today. The caravan may be “painted red & white“, but the song is painted with the authenticity of Morrison’s spirit.
The ethereal Into The Mystic is the sort of songwriting that operates within new dimensions – musically and lyrically. This is not Brown Eyed Girl territory. It’s far superior, deeper, vast, beautiful. The same beauty filters into the eternal happiness of Come Running, and These Dreams Of You is a Dylan-esque wander through the random thoughts and feelings of a slightly troubled, often melancholy, brilliant mind.
Brand New Day is a gallant, optimistic song, and Everyone a message of hope in a time of unrest (1969 had seen civil war break out in Belfast). Van is absolutely magnetic on this record, and I simply couldn’t imagine life without it on my shelf. Throughout the record his vocal is impeccable, and the horn-soaked Glad Tidings, another tune infused with love and optimism, wraps up one of the most unlikely and strangely uplifting albums you may ever hear. For such a miserable bastard to write such stuff is remarkable. A very soothing record in times of trouble or pain
I’ll never forget Andy Fairweather-Low, during his own magnificent gig in Southport a few years back, running through tunes from the list of artist that he had worked with down the years. I’m talking the likes of Clapton, George Harrison, Roger Waters – when he got to Van, he said:” the less said about him the better.” It tickled me because I just knew. Regardless of the man, Moondance is outstanding, and merits all the plaudits it has accrued over the last 50+ years, and I’m happy to say that we’ve buried the hatchet. I saw him live for a third time a couple of years ago at a jazz festival in Ghent, Belgium, where he finally got the hits out. Any you know what? He seemed happy…so I left happy too.
Thanks for the music, Van.
Top track trio:
Into The Mystic