Wednesday, February 27, 2013

One story of Them

Like countless other artists, the fog of myth surrounding Van Morrison and Them's "discovery" is thick and nearly impenetrable. Here are three versions recounted by four different prominent characters in the early history of Them (unsurprisingly, two place the tellers as the main proponents of Them's breakthrough to the big-time): Mervyn and Phil Solomon, the former a founder of Emerald Records and a manger of several record shops in Belfast, the latter the head of a London-based music promotion business; Billy Harrison, Them's original guitarist; and Peter Lloyd, a one-time employee at Decca and manager of a recording studio in Belfast's Cromac Square.

Lloyd's version: A former electronics student at Queen's University in Belfast, Lloyd was in search of local talent to record a song for the school's rag week. He ultimately settled on Them. Morrison and the band cut a three-song demo featuring "Stormy Monday," "Don't Start Crying Now," and "Got My Mojo Working." According to legend, only 49 records were pressed, which was how burgeoning artists circumvented the duty tax assessed for 50 copies. In 1965, one year after Them signed with Decca Records, Lloyd offered two versions of what occurred next: In one, he claimed to pass the demo to an unspecified London press agent (presumably Phil Solomon); in the other, he brought the demo to Dublin, where it eventually fell into the lap of Phil.

The Solomons' version: Mervyn purchased the main recording machine, a BTR-2, for Lloyd's recording studio. Mervyn's generosity meant Lloyd was obligated to allow the man to make the studio a frequent of haunt of his. As a result, Mervyn was present when Them cut its three-song demo. Impressed with the recordings, he swung by the Maritime for one of the group's raucous live shows. Said Mervyn: "My first recollection was coming through those doors and seeing Van sliding across the stage, singing 'Turn on Your Lovelight' ... I called them over after the show and said, 'I'd like to see you boys again. What are you doing Sunday morning?' They all said, 'Lying in bed.'" Mervyn then urged his brother Phil to use his clout within the industry to get the act signed.

Harrison's version: Lloyd didn't take the demo to Phil Solomon, but to Decca A&R head Dick Rowe. The two were friendly from Lloyd's tenure at the label years earlier. Rowe (yes, that Rowe—the individual marked as a some sort of pop music pariah because he was allegedly the sole label man to turn down the Beatles) then made his way to Belfast, where he arrived with Phil in tow.

Of course, this is all minutia that will only captivate the most overenthusiastic and insatiable Morrison zealot.

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