Cult Classics Album Breakdown 28

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.

★★★★★★★★★☆

9/10

Top track trio:

Moondance

Crazy Love

Into The Mystic


Cult Classics Album Breakdown 23

Black Sabbath – Paranoid (1970)

Let us all, for just ten minutes, try to forget what our old friend Ozzy Osborne has become. Let us try to forget that this Hard-Rock music pioneer and cult legend has reduced himself to a reality-TV cartoon character complaining about poodle-poo. Yeah, it’s funny – but it’s not Rock’n’Roll. I couldn’t see the cameras in Robert Plant’s house divulging all his day-today secrets.

Let us forget that Ozzy has shit all over his own career so badly that records such as the one in question, Paranoid, is barely even associated with his past. The kids know Ozzy, for sure – but not for the great music he contributed to back in the late 60’s/early 70’s. What a terrible shame. I want to hark back to a time when Ozzy’s band Black Sabbath were right out on the edge, writing and recording serious and revolutionary Rock music with depth and meaning. In order to do that you have to get your Living With The Osbornes DVD’s series and find the bin, and re-ignite the record player. Paranoid, after all, became the only Black Sabbath album to top the British charts for the next four decades – that’s where Ozzy’s legend lies.

1970 was the year Black Sabbath released Paranoid, their second studio album, during a year of great political and social unrest. It is, to this day, Black Sabbath’s classic album. As I have explained before, I’m not adverse to any genre of music as long as it connects with me in some way. Early Sabbath stuff such as this record is deemed to be heavy – whether that be Metal or Rock, although I would dispute that somewhat. To me this record is an exercise in great guitar playing and great songwriting, not just a thrashing blur of sound. The fact that they recorded the song Paranoid in a 20 minutes – the fulfilment of a legal obligation – is astonishing.

The record opens with the politically fuelled War Pigs – a fantastic, doom-laden rant about those in positions of power. Ok, so we know that Ozzy isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, so we’ll forgive him for his opening rhyming couplet: “Generals gather in their masses/Just like witches at black masses.” The record was initially to be called War Pigs until the record company stepped in; would the themes have been understood more had it been that way? Maybe. The critics initially panned Sabbath, with one notable magazine in the US calling them the “worst band in the world.” Not sure what prompted that – they weren’t listening to the same record as me.

Planet Caravan, the album’s highlight, is a dreamy experimental jam with Ozzy’s voice routed through a whirling Leslie speaker. It delivers images of romantic escapism and some sort of apocalyptic foreboding. It could be off a Doves record – it’s still that fresh. My favourite Black Sabbath moment ever, it must be said. Iron Man, the second single off the album, is thumping Sabbath and surely the birth of Metal. Intense, unstoppable, ageless and devastatingly dark.

Electric Funeral is built around a searing, distorted guitar riff as Ozzy gets crushingly sinister; it’s wonderfully, weirdly dark. Hand Of Doom is another bluesy, bass-led groove from Geezer Butler that builds up into a thrilling crescendo. Inspired by the drug-ravaged horror stories of US soldiers returning from the Vietnam war, it’s nightmarish and compelling in equal measure. Rat Salad is a Led Zep-ish, lead guitar masterpiece. It’s songs like this that push guitarist Tony Iommi into the upper leagues of legendary guitar virtuosos. Fiery, spiralling riffage by a largely unsung guitar hero. As for the title – had Ozzy not been involved you’d dismiss it as fiction.

The record closes with the intense Fairies Wear Boots – another anthemic exercise in excellence from a taught-tight 3-piece musical backbone. It’s got something seriously sea-monster about this track, and the production pulverises the ears. “Smokin’ and trippin’ is all that you do!” Ozzy boasts; his finest vocal performance on the record, and one that leaves you smirking whilst melting with the whole metal of it all. The fact that Ozzy is alive to tell the tale is beyond miraculous. He’d have been in a surefire group of rock’n’rollers almost certain NOT to get into their 70’s.

My roots are in the acoustic scene, and always have been. However, I’m so pleased that I got my hands on this record as a teen. It changed my entire perspective, and opened me up to an entire new world of music.

An absolute classic album, Paranoid has its heavy moments, but also wanders through melancholy Blues, Soft Rock, and in some parts even Jazz. But remember: it needs to be played LOUD.

★★★★★★★★★☆

9/10

Top track trio:

Paranoid

Planet Caravan

Rat Salad


Being early doesn’t always pay…

The year was 2010.

And, sorry, I’m going to ruin the story straight away by assuring you that everything ended well.

However, it began terribly.

Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood announced a really unexpected joint tour – and by joint, I don’t mean two separate sets – they were promising a full show on stage together. I got straight on the phone to my bandmate Adrian and spilled a million reasons why we had to be there. He listened patiently then informed me that his arm didn’t need to be twisted up his back. And so, that was that.

The closest gig was at Birmingham LG Arena, so we booked tickets months in advance and excited ourselves stupid with every mention of it. After all, both these legends were getting on. Right?

The date of the gig was the 18th May, 2010. It was clearly written on the ticket. They had arrived at my house, and been filed away safely, away from reckless lurking hands ‘cleaning up’ or the overly-vexatious boxer dog. In fact, I’d slipped them inside my vinyl copy of The Beatles’ Blue Album. That was the Holy Grail in my house that no-one else dare touch.

I’ve always loved the feel of a concert ticket in my hand. They feel like freedom and possibility and exhilaration. I love the writing on them, big and bold…a famous name that promises to become a face, right in front of you. The curious hologram. The date – a moment of your personal history captured in print. That thrilling line of punched holes, ready to be ripped by a bored concierge with spots and sincere disinterest. The type that have no idea who the legends are you’re going to see.

Adrian, the great guitar player and co-singer in our regularly gigging duo, Little Wing, had nothing to do with the admin. I handled it, paid for it, and he simply reimbursed the cash. I was just about as experienced a gig-goer as anyone you could possibly meet from my generation. I’d watched hundreds, all over the world. I could reel a few off to impress you if you like? The Eagles in Melbourne, Australia. Chuck Berry in Luxembourg City. The Rolling Stones and Deep Purple in Paris. Paul Weller in Benacassim, Spain. Leonard Cohen in Montruex, Switzerland. I could go on, but I’m sensing you hating me already.

The point being, I’d been on trains, planes, ferries, trams, buses, cars…basically everything but horseback to get to gigs. Logistically, for a daydreaming technophobe, I was pretty slick. So what could possibly go wrong?

Well, how about this.

“Hey, Adrian, you ready for the gig this week?”

“Yes, great.”

“You fancy driving? We’ll split the petrol?” (Tactical – he’s not really a drinker).

“No problem. Let’s set off early and get there in good time.”

So, off we went on our two-plus hour jaunt down the M6 to Birmingham playing Clapton and Winwood CD’s, riling ourselves up for the gig of a lifetime.

Upon arrival in Birmingham we were surprised by the lack of traffic.

“I knew setting off early was a good idea,” Adrian said.

I’d spotted a McDonalds, so my attention was otherwise occupied.

“Yep,” I said.

When we landed at Birmingham LG Arena a short while later, we were even more astonished to see no cars in the car park. In fact, the whole place was a ghost town. The barrier was down, and when we approached the gate a baffled looking security guy stepped out of a small hut and approached the van.

“Can I help, lads?”

“Hi mate, yeah, we’re here for the Clapton / Winwwod gig,” Adrian said since he lingered at the driver’s side.

“The what?”

I leant over. “Eric Clapton,” I reiterated. “And Steve Winwood. Here. Tonight.”

What?”

I wanted to shout THE FUCKING GIG! but the genuine concern spreading across the bloke’s face stopped me in my tracks. Adrian turned to face me and that sinking feeling melted me into my seat.

“No gig on here tonight, Lads,” the Brummy chap said, hands aloft in apology.

“Fucking hell,” I whispered, pulling the tickets out of the envelope. The guy stuck around for the climax. “But it says here, the Birmingham LG Arena, tonight.”

The guy leant into the car to see the tickets in my hand. Then he slowly withdrew.

“That ticket says 18th May, mate. It’s the 11th today.”

Well, my ass fell clean through the van flooring. Adrian laughed. I sank back into my seat, horrified by my own stupidity. Other people might have punched me. Adrian said:

“Let’s go get something to eat.”

The only compensation for such a mistake was that we arrived a week early and not a week late, but it wasn’t round the corner. We made the best of the situation, and had a rather nice curry before making the trip home.

The following week we made the gig, on the correct day. We even got there for the correct time and sat in the right seats. We did really well. Clapton and Winwood were superb – a raucous mix of tunes from both solo careers, Cream, Traffic, Derek & The Dominoes, The Spencer Davis Group and some covers too. A career spanning retrospective by two of England’s finest. Clapton’s slowhand was on fire, and Winwood’s voice better than ever. Well worth the two trips!

© Southport Reporter

Anyway, we’re still friends. We still play music.

I don’t book the tickets anymore.