Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The exiled son of the city

This is a profile of Paul Charles, a man of many hats: talent agent, tour promoter, novelist. Charles, who hails from Magherafelt, Co. Derry, is currently promoting his latest book, The Lonesome Heart is Angry. Set in 1960s Northern Ireland, it's a story about the age-old tradition of matchmaking. I emailed Charles after reading his mammoth blog post on Astral Weeks, which opens with him reprinting his concise 17-word review of the album:
The beauty and the magic of Astral Weeks

Like all things pertaining to love, will last forever.

The above was the two-line review I wrote in 1968 for City Week, a Belfast newspaper, of Van Morrison's groundbreaking album, Astral Weeks. The Editor, Chris Moore—who was more used to wielding his red pen on my double page reviews (as with the triple-disc Woodstock Album)—said, politely, "And would you like to expand even just a little on that?"

"No, I think that covers it for me," I replied, not even realising that it was then, and still is now, an impossible album to review.
In his email to me, Charles contended that an album that exudes so much "place-ness" had to be written by an emigrant: "I grew up in a wee village called Magherafelt which is just outside of Belfast. Over the years I've spent a good bit of time in and around Belfast and to me (a personal view) Belfast is certainly ever present in the words and music of Astral Weeks. However, I've often felt that the vision and the soul could only have been created by an exiled son of the city."

In the article I linked above, Charles casually mentioned our small exchange before further expounding on his original point: "I was asked recently how much I thought Belfast influenced Van Morrison's Astral Weeks and I replied that I thought there was a lot of Belfast in the record, but it was a Belfast that only an exile would see. I don't think Van would have created a work like that had he still been living in Belfast. When you are away from home, you see it in a different way—sometimes through rose-tinted glasses. I think I'm the same. Certainly with regard to Magherafelt and Castlemartin, I can't remember those places being anything other than wonderful and great fun. And very happy times."

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