Thursday, June 11, 2015

A period of limbo

The Astral Weeks narrative is filled with bit characters, less-heralded folks who played small (albeit important) roles in the album's creation. One such individual is Van Morrison's mum, Violet. Two passages from Johnny Rogan's biography Van Morrison: No Surrender provide details on the elder Morrison's minor role during the writing process for Astral Weeks.

This first bit is from late '66/early '67, following Morrison's bitter departure from Them and his reluctant return to his hometown. Violet passes herself off as a reticent listener. However, one can't help but speculate that Morrison was playing his compositions for his mother (who was a musician herself) because he was hoping she would be an arbiter of sorts, someone willing to offer constructive feedback.
Back in Hyndford Street, his priority was to kick-start his career and get out of Belfast. His mother looked on patiently as he attempted to translate some ideas into song, filling up tape. "He'd usually start off by playing and just humming a note and then the words would come," she recalled at the time. "He'd play the chords at first, and he'd go on and on maybe for about an hour. He'd work on a basic idea ... Then he'd work on it the next day and it might have a different tempo and the words could change. It just flows."
This second passage is from the spring of '67, after Morrison recorded his debut album, Blowin' Your Mind!, with Bert Berns in New York City. Here, Violet plays a much more active part.
A period of limbo followed during which Morrison concentrated on writing more of the impressionistic prosopography that would dominate Astral Weeks. His mother occasionally offered some musical accompaniment, thereby risking the screaming rebukes of her snappy son. "I play harmonica and I used to play guitar and a bit of organ and piano," she explains. "I never pleased Van the way I played organ because it was too square. We always ended up having rows about it ... He always said I played organ like I was in a church."

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