Fair play to you....
Released October 1974
Recorded in California and New York
Running time 47.36
This was Van Morrison's most Irish roots-influenced album thus far in his recording career. By now living in San Francisco, and seemingly feeling wistful about Ireland, he re-discovers his Celtic soul and blends it with the stream of consciousness lyrical style that so dominated his late 60s/early 70s output.
1. Fair Play
2. Linden Arden Stole The Highlights
3. Who Was That Masked Man
4. Streets Of Arklow
5. You Don't Pull No Punches, But You Don't Push The River
7. Cul De Sac
8. Comfort You
9. Come Here My Love
10. Country Fair
This sense of homesickness is particularly apparent on tracks like the mysterious, evocative Streets Of Arklow and the extended, inscrutable You Don’t Pull No Punches. This is a track that was a forerunner to the existential material found on 1980's Common One. Morrison sings of "William Blake and the Sisters of Mercy looking for the Veedon Fleece..." over a shuffling, flute-enhanced jazzy improvised backing.
Morrison is often sentimental about his homeland and also ruminates upon emigration on several occasions. He had been away, in effect, since 1967, remember. These are very Irish songs. Mysterious, mystical and beguiling. The short Who Was That Masked Man? is in a similar mode, its meaning unclear and somewhat perplexing.
Personal favourites are the enigmatic Linden Arden Stole The Highlights - a track beloved of Elvis Costello - and the totally delightful, upbeat Bulbs. Also the somewhat ponderous but very appealing Fair Play, with its very Irish turn of phrase. Apparently Morrison got the lyric from an Irish friend who was always saying “fair play to you”. Check out that lovely deep bass line and its interplay with the acoustic guitar and tinkling "waterfall" piano notes.
Cul-De-Sac is a slow, soulful but dramatic Morrison classic too, rarely mentioned in any “best of” lists. David Bowie was seen as a great innovator when he recorded white soul like this a year later on Young Americans. Morrison was leading the way here, unnoticed by many. Comfort You is lovely, a bit of a throwback to the romantic, bucolic feeling of 1972's Tupelo Honey album. It features some sumptuous bass/cymbals and strings. It is another little-mentioned gem of a song. Come Here My Love is a slow, contemplative acoustic melancholic lament that also has a feeling of hope as Morrison want his love to help him fly higher, "enraptured by the sights and sounds...". It is only a couple of minutes long, but it confirms Morrison to be very much at one with nature, which is always a reassuring thing.
County Fair is a haunting, meditative and ethereal folky closer to the album that features some excellent flute. Morrison often used flute in his backing, to great effect, as he did earlier on the album on You Don't Pull No Punches.
In comparison to the more soulful albums in Mooondance, His Band and St. Dominic’s Preview this album is rather more like Hard Nose The Highway in its being far closer to Astral Weeks than any of the upbeat, vibrant, Celtic soul albums that came after that stunning debut. It is a reflective album, that is for sure, and thoroughly beautiful in so many ways.
Morrison himself has pretty much disowned the material on here, which is a shame as it is an album that has a definite “feel” to it - mid evening and thoughtful. as I mentioned earlier, tracks from here rarely appear on “best of” compilations. I find it always worth dipping into every now and again. The sound is a bit hissy at times, but it doesn’t seem to matter, really. It is probably quite a credible thing if asked to name your favourite Van Morrison album to say Veedon Fleece.