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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Ten unhurried, stately songs of contemplation, rooted in memories and evocations of Ireland. On one of his most rapturous pieces, “In The Garden”, a meditative Morrison is transported back to the “garden, wet with rain” of Astral Weeks’ “Sweet Thing”.

DAVID HAYES (BASS): He was back and forth a lot. He still had his home in California, but he was spending a lot of time in the UK, and he definitely had his toes in that sensibility. They were really well-written songs, and he was prepared when he came in. He’d really got it together. He even had a little binder with all the lyrics typed out. I’d never seen him do that before – maybe he had a new secretary or something! He knew exactly what he wanted to create, but he didn’t verbalise it. “In The Garden” is one of his great songs. He started playing and we rolled in and came up with parts really quickly. I found it really close to what he was saying on Astral Weeks and Veedon Fleece. I had the same feeling while I was doing it, because it was all coming off the phrasing and the lyrics. That’s what you have to do with him, follow the words and the voice. On that album he was as connected to that space as he had ever been.


JEF LABES (PIANO, ORGAN): The material was an extension of Common One in many ways. Mystical, with that Irish-English theme running through everything. There was no rehearsing, no demos, we did it all in the studio. He gets a sense if it’s going in the right direction, and fortunately it was all going in the same direction on that album. It’s very subtle. It’s not his rocking-out side, it’s part of something else that he does that’s much more spiritual. He was still searching for the magic.

BABA TUNDE (DRUMS): He wanted it right the first time. We played the songs through once and recorded them. Van always went for the magic, and if it wasn’t there after two takes, he moved on. We did the whole thing in Studio D in Sausalito in three or four days. There wasn’t a lot of banter or small talk, it was strictly business, but after we were done, he took us all out for lunch and he was a different person, just a total sweetheart. We talked about how messed up the business can be.

KATE ST JOHN (OBOE, COR ANGLAIS): There was an overdub session in London. Van was quite late, but Mick [Glossop, engineer] said, “I’m not allowed to play you anything until he comes.” When he arrived he was really friendly. “Got To Go Back” was the first one we did, it had a plaintiveness which was perfect for oboe. I was just noodling away, and he immediately said, “Oh, that’s great! What sign are you?” We talked about astrology for a while and then we built a part. We also did “Foreign Window”, which I loved. He said he wrote that song about Bob Dylan.

JOHN PLATANIA (GUITAR): Ry Cooder came in, but it didn’t work out, so they brought me in. Ry sat through every song, he played and played, but I don’t know what happened because he isn’t on the album. I was there when Chrissie Hynde came in for backing vocals, and he didn’t use those either! Chrissie was real nervous, she didn’t know what to do and Van didn’t help her out at all. I felt bad, but he just expected her to know.


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