Van Morrison – the secret stories behind 10 of his best albums

Morrison and his collaborators lift the lid on his extraordinary art

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Burned out from the 1973 tour and newly divorced, Morrison takes a three-week break in Ireland and writes some of his most soulful, searching songs, infused with Celtic mysticism and deep longing. Back home, in under a week he makes one of his most potent, if under-appreciated records.

DAVID HAYES (BASS): Van had gone over to Ireland on holiday and he came back with a bucket of great songs. He had a little eight-track studio in his garage, and he called a few of us up there and he unveiled them as we went. The whole album was done in about three evenings. It was all cut at night. His house was his private place. I think we hung out there once after a session, but normally we’d just show up and get our heads down. There was no direction, he just left it to everybody to get orientated. I felt the writing process was similar to Astral Weeks. He was channelling, and we picked up on that. He had all his lyrics written on envelopes and napkins. He’d play half the song, until we understood how the different parts and sections tied together, and then usually it would be done in one take. [Drummer] Dahaud Shaar was engineering at Van’s studio at that time, and his wife would be in the control room to push the ‘record’ button. It was really low-tech, we were all huddled facing each other in his garage.


I don’t know if it was the timing, or because he was rested and anxious to get on with it, but it was like he could do no wrong on that whole project. It never let up, all the time we were doing it. It was an amazing experience. We recorded “Bulbs” and “Cul De Sac” in those sessions, in the same vein as the rest of the album. I think Van knew Warner Brothers wouldn’t know what the hell to do with it, so he put together a session in New York to give them something more commercial to play with.

JOHN TROPEA (GUITAR): We did “Bulbs” and “Cul De Sac” at Mercury Studios in New York. It was a double-date, from 10 until 5. Van would run down the music, we’d do one or two takes, then I stayed to do the solo on “Bulbs”. He was very reserved, a little aloof. He wasn’t rude or anything, but not over-friendly. Tell the truth, I was a little bit intimidated by him.

JEF LABES (ORGAN, ARRANGER): He definitely came back from Ireland with some new inspiration. He had already recorded most of the tracks out west, then we did “Bulbs” and “Cul De Sac” after everything else was done. In New York he handed me a 12-minute version of “You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push The River”, and I found a way to edit it down to nine minutes. That was the first victory! Then I wrote strings and woodwind for it, and it really came together. I did the same for “Streets Of Arklow”. It was exceptionally powerful stuff. For me, the whole album was harking back to Astral Weeks. It had that loose, jazz feel. At that time he didn’t need to prove himself to anyone. The music could be whatever he wanted it to be.

HAYES: He hasn’t ever played those songs live. They were really hard to perform after the fact, because they’re basically unrepeatable. It took so much focus and concentration to make those things lift up, it’s very difficult to recreate them. So Veedon Fleece really captures a moment in time.


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