Monday, 30 July 2018

Van Morrison - No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986)


Released July 1986

Recorded in California and London

After three albums widely thought to be his "spiritual triad"of work, this, from 1986, bookends those three with "Common One" at the other end, in 1980. I believe that these two are the most spiritual works in Van Morrison's canon. Yes, the three between are also intensely spiritual, especially the tranquil, meditative "Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart", but these two really delve deep into Morrison's spiritual soul.


1. Got To Go Back
2. Oh The Warm Feeling
3. Foreign Window
4. A Town Called Paradise
5. In The Garden
6. Tir Na Nog
7. Here Comes The Night
8. Thanks For The Information
9. One Irish Rover
10. Ivory Tower

I cannot analyse the whole thing too well, as I am not as up on the spiritual struggle as I may be. What is clear is that as well as searching for answers, Morrison is always looking back, trying to "reclaim the previous". The first track, "Got To Go Back" has him referencing 1979's "And The Healing Has Begun" and getting nostalgic, as he now increasingly does, for those 1950s "days before rock'n'roll", playing Ray Charles and aching to "go back to the feeling". This is very much a precursor for the conceits of "Hymns To The Silence" and "Hyndford Street". "Oh The Warm Feeling" features some appealing oboe, acoustic guitar and organ as Van ruminates upon fulfilment, with the "sun on your countenance". On "Foreign Window" he mentions Lord Byron and Jean Arthur Rimbaud over a jazzy, soulful mid-tempo semi-rock backing. He loves his poetic references, does Van. "In the Palace of the Lord" he muses - another familiar lyrical theme.

A new subject for Morrison to rail about on a regular basis from now on is "all those cats who ripped off my work". His slightly sour gripe is expressed on the rumbling, bassy and acoustic "A Town Called Paradise", which also features some sumptuous saxophone and fetching backing vocals. It is one hell of an addictive slow cooker of a track. If he is moaning, who cares? Nobody moans as soulfully as Van Morrison. Strains of "Jerusalem" are heard in the fade out. I think it is time for Van to take us to Heaven. Now, I may not be as spiritual as Van, or Khalil Gibran, or whoever, but "In The Garden" is just sublime. One of the holiest, spiritually ecstatic pieces of music I have heard. Its beautiful piano coda, and Morrison's gently growling vocal - "you were a violet colour as you sat beside your mother and your father in the garden...". It is a mine of lyrical gems - "and felt the presence of the youth of eternal summers...". Sometimes, Morrison's lyricism is totally nonpareil. I simply love that track to distraction. Only Van Morrison, only he, from musicians, can bring vivid visions of my departed parents into my mind. Yes, that sounds cheesy but it is actually true.

I saw Van in concert a while back, and he was performing "In The Garden", at the point he was about to sing "wet with rain", a member of the audience bellowed out the line. Expecting notoriously grumpy Van to get irked, I was surprised when he half smiled and replied in his Belfast brogue - "yes, that's right - wet wit' reeyan..." before continuing the song, perfectly synchronised. You had to be there, I guess, but it was a marvellous moment.

You thought Van was finished - no, "Tir Na Nog" comes next. A magnificent piece of Celtic/Irish nostalgia for the "Church of Ireland" and walking all the way to "Tir Na Nog". It is sung gracefully and proudly over an insistent, sweeping orchestral backing. It is a truly great track. "Here Comes The Knight" harks back to the old Them song, in a wistful, airy number, while "Thanks For The Information" is a mysterious bluesy and jazzy song, with a great vibe to it. Lovely tenor saxophone in the background and some uplifting backing vocals on the chorus. There are hidden depths in this album, to be sure.

"One Irish Rover" is a gentle, Celtic low key refrain with Van reflecting on his journey. It has been a generally slow tempo album, but, strangely enough it ends with the really lively Celtic soul of "Ivory Tower", with Van rocking it up over a punchy horn, harmonica and Duane Eddy guitar backing. He often starts his albums with tracks like this. Here he ends it with one, just for a change. That's Van for you.


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