Caledonia Soul by Van Morrison

1975?

It was the last game of the season yesterday. Brighton came from behind to beat West Ham 3-1 and they finished the season as the 9th best team in England. It was a brilliant match and a great day. As always, there’s a “but” coming. I went to the game with my usual companion, Dave and he brought along his two brothers and a mate of his. Standing outside in the sun, drinking a pint of Harvey’s before the game, I had mixed emotions. I was with four other people, each of whom was friendly, intelligent and good company and they were all less than half my age. When their conversation turned to the differences between people of their generation and older people, I was unreasonably uncomfortable, feeling old and aware of my own mortality. Next month, I turn 68. Over the past few months, a number of well regarded musicians have died. Judy Henske (aged 86), Paul Siebel (85), Norma Waterson (83), Paddy Moloney (83), Graeme Edge (80), Gary Brooker (77), Ian McDonald (76), Meatloaf (75), Robbie Shakespeare (68). Their average age at the time of their death was 79. I’ve got 11 years to go.

Am I getting grumpier as I get older? Yes, certainly. But why? A quick search on the World Wide Web indicate that there appear to be a number of reasons. One is poor health as aches and pains make life just that bit harder. Also, did I mention that I had a hip operation earlier this year? Another reason is a constant changing society and a failure to keep up with new technology. How can I link these posts to Twitter to reach a wider audience? The failing health or death of family and friends is likely to become more prevalent as one gets older and that doesn’t exactly help with creating a sunny disposition. Apparently, a reduction in testosterone levels as one gets older, leads to physical discomfort and emotional outbursts.

Van Morrison is 76 and he released a new album on May 20th. It is called “What’s It Gonna Take” and I haven’t bought it. He always had a reputation of being an angry man in private, but his music normally conveys a sense of calm, beauty and a mystical search for fulfilment and inner peace. However, the lyrical content of his latest album indicates that an old man’s curmudgeonly bitterness is surfacing. Railing against lockdown and the government lies are the dominant thoughts of a twisted psyche. That’s nothing that I would ever feel, myself. Hang on….

A lot of his anger stems from lockdown when he was unable to perform. In 2020, he tweeted “Remember, those who are shutting down our economy haven’t missed a paycheck since lockdown began. We are not in this together.” It seems that a wealthy man was angry that he couldn’t earn more money by performing. This doesn’t seem to me to be particularly kind. It’s not clear how much money he donated to help people who were in dire financial difficulties because of the lockdown.

It wasn’t always like this. In 1973, Van Morrison recorded nine wonderful songs that form a perfect 45 minutes of music.

Side One

  1. Wonderful Remark 8:01
  2. Not Supposed To Break Down 5:24
  3. Laughing In The Wind 4:10
  4. Madame Joy 4:23

Side Two

  1. Contemplation Rose 5:15
  2. Don’t Worry About Tomorrow 5:20
  3. Try For Sleep 6:05
  4. Lover’s Prayer 3:57
  5. Drumshanbo Hustle 4:48

Recorded in 1973 at Caledonia Studios, Fairfax, California except “Wonderful Remark” recorded in 1973 at The Church, San Anselmo, California.

Personnel

Vocals: Van Morrison

Acoustic guitar: Van Morrison

Lead guitar: John Platania

Bass guitar: Bill Church, David Hayes

Piano: Jeff Labes, Mark Jordan

Drums: Lee Charlton, Dahaud Shar, Rick Schlosser, Gary Mallaber

Horns: Jack Schroer, Jules Broussard, Bill Atwood

Flute: Boots Houston

Backing Vocals: Ronnie Montrose, Jackie De Shannon

Written by Van Morrison except “Try For Sleep” written by Van Morrison and John Platania

Not Supposed To Break Down” is one of Van Morrison’s best songs. The singer feels that he is meant to remain strong, not worry about the problems of the world and remain super human, whatever problems life throws at him. “You’re not supposed to break down. Swallow the hurt, listen to the dirt and you’ll be safe and sound.” Musically, the song features one of Van Morrison’s most soulful performances set to a languid tempo in which Jeff Labes’ piano and Van Morrison’s acoustic guitar shine.

The best album ever is, of course, “Astral Weeks” by Van Morrison and the joint best song on the album is “Madame George”. Van Morrison has said “‘Madame George’ was recorded live. The title of the song confuses one, I must say that. The original title was ‘Madame Joy’ but the way I wrote it down was ‘Madame George’. Don’t ask me why I do this because I just don’t know.” When listening to the song, it appears more likely that Van Morrison is singing “Joy” rather than “George”, which happens to be George Ivan Morrison’s first name. Maybe he decided at the last moment to sing “Joy” rather than “George” or maybe, he always intended to sing “Joy”. Five years after recording the “Madame George”, Van Morrison recorded a song called “Madame Joy“. This is a joyous celebration of a University lecturer who walked around Belfast, dressed in blue, her hair tied with a yellow ribbon, catching the eye of every man that she passed. One of Van Morrison’s trademark vocals is the quick repetition of key phrases and towards the end of this lovely song, he almost becomes a caricature of himself with his repetition of “When that woman“. It’s a stunningly brilliant and happy song.

And all the men would
And all the men would turn their heads around
When that woman walked down the street
When that woman walked down the street
When that, when that woman walked
When that woman walked, when that woman walked
When that woman walked, when that woman walked
When that woman walked, what she wore
When that woman, when that woman, when that woman
When that woman, when that woman, when that woman
When that woman, when that woman, when that woman
When that woman, when that woman walked
She just walked
Just kept on walking down the street
When she walked, when she walked down
When she walked on down

Wonderful Remark” has been released in two different versions. A shorter version appeared on the soundtrack to “The King Of Comedy” in 1983 but the version which lasts for over eight minutes is one of his most remarkable achievements. The song has the same melody as “Joe Harper Saturday Morning” from “The Best Of Van Morrison“, recorded in 1967, but released in 1970. “Wonderful Remark” includes a remarkable flute accompaniment from Stuart “Boots” Houston, who also played on Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey“. The improvised vocal coda at the end bears comparison with any of Van Morrison’s astonishingly soulful vocal performances. The lyrics describe the singer in a dark emotional state and doubting himself. “I had my eyes closed in the dark. I sighed a million sighs. I told a million lies….to myself….to myself.” Songs that direct anger at government conspiracies are not quite as appealing as a song that conveys an honest reappraisal of one person’s own emotional trauma.

John McCarthy was held hostage in Lebanon for over five years. His girlfriend, Jill Morrell tirelessly worked for his release and John McCarthy later stated that “Wonderful Remark” was especially important to them both. “Van Morrison’s words seemed to capture the emotional heart of our experience over the hostage years: ‘How can you stand the silence, that pervades when we all cry? How can you watch the violence that erupts before your eyes?‘” He later met Van Morrison and asked him how he was able to touch so many lives with his music. Van Morrison’s reply was “I think it comes from God, whatever that concept is. A lot of people are given gifts and they don’t develop them. I thought because I was given this gift, I had to develop it.” That comment from Van Morrison makes me ineffably sad. His gift that enables him to illustrate a sense of wonder has been superseded by a tireless litany of complaint.

Van Morrison released ten albums in the 70’s.

AlbumRecordedReleased
MoondanceAug- Sept 1969Jan 1970
His Band & The Street ChoirMar – July 1970Nov 1970
Tupelo HoneyMar – July 1971Oct 1971
Saint Dominic’s PreviewSept 1971 – May 1972July 1972
Hard Nose The HighwayAug – Sept 1972Aug 1973
It’s Too Late To Stop Now (live)May – July 1973Feb 1974
Veedon FleeceNov 1973 – May 1974Oct 1974
A Period Of TransitionOct 1976 – Jan 1977Apr 1977
WavelengthMar – May 1978Sept 1978
Into The MusicJan – Mar 1979Aug 1979
Van Morrison 1970 albums – no albums released in 1975 or 1976

Arguably, this was Van Morrison’s best decade, in terms of the quality of music that he released. To my mind, there’s no doubt that “Caledonia Soul” would have been an excellent addition to his body of work if it had been released in 1975. Instead, all nine of these songs remained unreleased until the emergence of “The Philosopher’s Stone” in 1998. This is a double CD, containing 30 previously unreleased songs.

Van Morrison’s search for the moments of rebirth, of transcendence, of temporary elevation to a higher plane, is what makes some of his records and many of his live performances so enthralling. It’s as if we are witnessing an artistic genius communing with a higher power. “Caledonia Soul”, the great unreleased album of 1975, would have given us more insight into his search.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

2 thoughts on “Caledonia Soul by Van Morrison

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