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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On the first album to feature key collaborators Mark Isham, Peter Van Hooke and James Brown veteran Pee Wee Ellis, Morrison creates an upbeat and very fluid kind of funky folk-rock. Bookended by the breezy “Bright Side Of The Road” and a sky-scraping re-imagination of The Ink Spots’ standard, “It’s All In The Game”.

DAVID HAYES (BASS): Van had been over in England, spending time in the country with [guitarist] Herbie Armstrong, and a lot of the writing was done there. The album has an English folk feel, but also a sunny side, because we recorded it at the Record Plant in Sausalito. He had new people involved. The violin is very prominent, played by Toni Marcus. I don’t know how he met her – it was like a leaflet on a telephone pole or something – and Van just kind of turned her loose! She was a real character. She was a Sufi, or a Krishna, always wearing pink and orange. Van was having a good time making the record. It felt like a new beginning. It was cut in about four days, all live, but he worked a little bit more on the arrangements with us. We even did a couple of days’ rehearsing in a hall.


PETER VAN HOOKE (DRUMS): I came over from England and they were rehearsing with another drummer [Kurt Wortman]. I was a bit confused, I didn’t really understand what was going on, so I just sat and listened. I wouldn’t say it was typical Van, but if he wants to play and you’re not there, he’ll get someone else. I was bit savvier when it came to recording, so I was given my opportunity. It was a really good band. Toni Marcus was a very extrovert player, but everyone else was locked into something else. Van enjoyed having a few English people around, he likes that humour. He can be a very funny guy.

MARK ISHAM (HORNS): He was very much in Irish Bard mode at that time, but he always has a wide frame of reference. I was a specialist in the piccolo trumpet, and Van said that he wanted that “Penny Lane” sound on “Troubadours”. He had left a hole in that track for it, he could hear it, so I improvised a part and it worked really well. He asked me if I knew a good sax player and I suggested Pee Wee Ellis. He laughed and said, “The Pee Wee Ellis?” That was it. We both worked with him for the next several years. He’s very good at picking the right people to do the job.
HAYES: He really stretches out on that record. By the end of “It’s All In The Game” we’re all in a certain kind of space. When you get to that stage with Van, the telepathy just kicks in. You lose all those kinds of thoughts about, ‘Am I locking in with Peter’s kick drum?’, or whatever. It’s transcendental telepathy. I’ve done hundreds of records, and there are so few people who can do that.

VAN HOOKE: It was intuitive communication. “It’s All In The Game” was actually much longer than that, it was edited down. There was a sense of great achievement from everybody when we finished the take. It happened because everyone was listening and ready to have a collective experience, and Van was willing to really open himself up. When he’s on, you can be so adventurous.


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