Hand me down my big boots....
Released August 1980
Recorded at Super Bear Studios
Running time 55.01
This album was about as far removed from a conventional “rock” album as it was possible to be - utterly uncommercial and outside the pop mainstream. Seemingly oblivious to contemporary music trends, Morrison once again delves into his old favourite - that stream of consciousness, together with spirituality and the quest for peace and enlightenment. Morrison describes this as his favourite of his many works. One could even say he attains a state of grace within it.
Musically, instead of the more familiar Morrison rhythm and blues, we get jazz stylings, soulful horns and Pee Wee Ellis’s ubiquitous saxophone. The sound quality on this remaster (somewhat difficult to get hold of at the moment), is simply superb.
It only contained six tracks, and lasted nearly an hour. Many critics at the time found either dull or pretentious, or both. Richard S. Ginell, writing on the Allmusic website has since re-assessed it in a way that I wholly agree with -
"....No wonder the rock critics of the time didn't get it; this is music outside the pop mainstream, and even Morrison's own earlier musical territory. But it retains its trancelike power to this day...."
1. Haunts Of Ancient Peace
2. Summertime In England
4. Wild Honey
6. When Heart Is Open
Listening to this “al fresco” on an early summer’s morning can be a delight. Spirit does just what its title suggests - it lifts the spirits, particularly when the horns kick in and blend with Morrison’s gruff but soulful voice. Summertime In England is a fifteen minute journey that sees Morrison imagining poets Wordsworth and Coleridge “smoking up in Kendal” in the Lake District, as well as William Blake and T.S. Eliot, while musing on Avalon and the Church of St John, amongst other things. Some would say it is indulgent, and indeed it is lengthy, but somehow it is never tiresome. Morrison is just in the spiritual groove and you just go with it. It is actually quite a shuffling rhythmic track. Listen to that addictive drum, guitar and organ intro. Just wonderful.
The laid-back, melodic Wild Honey finds Morrison at his bucolic best, celebrating nature and “where the hillside rolls down to the sea”. When Heart Is Open , another fifteen minute opus, has him asking that someone “hand me down my big boots”. It is far more slow-paced and reflective than the (comparatively) livelier Summertime In England, having similarities with Almost Independence Day from the St. Dominic's Preview album from 1972. It remains at the same tranquil pace throughout, Van occasionally rousing himself for the "big boots" request, but otherwise it is sleepy and soothing.
Satisfied is a gentle, organ-based, catchy soulful piece that sticks in your head despite its peaceful melody and the opener, Haunts Of Ancient Peace is typically ethereal. Spiritual images abound in pretty much every song. Particularly in this slow-paced, dreamy, reflective, almost solemn start to the album. The saxophone on this track is beautiful, as are the backing vocals. This is sublime music. The album should really be assessed as a complete one-off, not as part of any era. It was/is timeless.
This was Van Morrison’s finest attempt to make truly holy music. He succeeded. Despite what so many have said, he really did.