1973 Talk About Pop interview
When Van Morrison was on holiday in Ireland late in 1973, he took time out to appear on a music programme called Talk About Pop on RTE television. He was to have been interviewed by the presenter Tony Johnson but on the day of the show Van brought along his long time friend Belfast journalist Donal Corvin to help out. What follows is the transcript of what went on. The show opened with Van performing "Wild Children" after which Tony Johnson had the opening lines. The date of the interview was November 2, 1973.
TJ: Very nice. As promised last week Van Morrison and his music. We're not going to interrupt that or waste any time, straight on with the music and the man.
VM: I thought you were going to give me a break.
Van then plays "Slim Slow Slider"
VM: You could say that
DC: What about the songs in between on albums in between?
VM: What about them?
DC: You changed your style an awful lot since Astral Weeks and you've come back to it.
VM: No, not really. I think the, style is the whole trip. It's like, from that one (Astral Weeks) through all the other ones I do everything, I do the whole, range. You see them as different albums but really it's all the same except it's released at a different time. Just because I put an album out one way and then put an album out another way doesn't mean I stop singing the other one.
DC: Talking about lyrically, for a while you got away from the sort of mystical lyric music writing that you had.
VM: Lyrically it's very hard to...
DC: You were writing simple love songs lyrically for a while.
VM: (Long pause) Yeah, you could say that
DC: Are you going to do another song?
VM: I don't have one in mind right now.
TJ: I have a nice one in mind, do yon mind if I ask? Do you do requests on this show?
VM: Maybe, it all depends on what it is.
TJ: "Warm Love".
Van then proceeds to play "Warm Love"
DC: You have a live album coming out soon, it's going to be a triple record set.
VM: Yes, as a matter of fact that's right. It's on Warner Brothers Records, it's a double set. Yeah, a two record set is what it is, contains live performances of things you've heard before and other things that I don't know if you've heard. It's done live, songs that were on albums and they came out very d1fferent live. Other songs that were written by other people. There is a Ray Charles song on it, a Sam Cooke song, a Sonny Boy Williamson and a Bert Berns song.
DC: Good old Bert eh! Play us another song.
VM: (Jokingly) Don't be asking any more questions, I'm running out of steam.
TJ: Come on, you have a million and one songs to sing for us.
VM: This is a song that's going to be on the album after the live album. There is a new album coming out after the live one but I don't know when. The title of this song is "Drumshanbo Hustle", I got the title from a town we played when I was with a showband one time. We were getting ripped off in those days, like you always get ripped off no matter what you do if you're a musician. That's where the title comes from and the rest of it is about something else.
"Drumshanbo Hustle" is performed
TJ: You mentioned there about your days in showbands. How grateful are you having made that trip? Did it give you anything that you might never have gotten had you not been in showbands?
VM: That's a hard question, it gives you a lot. I think the showbands are where it's at. I don't like groups, I can't stand these groups where you get five people and they play one thing to death. There's no versatility. I'd rather have a showband any day.
TJ: Recently somebody said showbands are a great training ground. Would you agree with that?
VM: Oh yeah, seven sets a night, seven nights a week in clubs and stuff like that.
TJ: How naked do you feel as a musician now here with a guitar in your hand and you don't have your brass backing and those knockout Caledonia men that you use?
VM: I don't feel naked at all. I feel fully clothed.
TJ: I mean musically.
VM: Musically I don't feel naked either.
DC: This is the way you write your songs just with your guitar and who, Jack Schroer does the arrangements.
VM: Well, sometimes Jack Schroer does them and sometimes Jeff Labes, the piano player, does them and sometimes I do them. I do the basic arrangements and the rest is either horn or string arrangements.
DC: When you recorded Astral Weeks did you go in and do that with the guitar first?
VM: No, I did it first with two guitars, bass and percussion and sometimes vibes. That's the way it was recorded with my vocal included at the same time, all live except the strings which were overdubbed. That's the way it was done, it wasn't tampered with.
DC: How do you do albums now?
VM: Well, that's the way I like to do them. With a section and the vocal live because I don't like, I think it's artificial when you lay down a track and then sing over it, it's not spontaneous. My whole thing is spontaneity, ad libbing and all that I can't do that over a track. It's good for other people.
DC: You say that quite often it's the first take that's the one.
VM: Usually the first take is the best because that's the one that's hot. You're usually into it a lot more on the first one. Then the second and third, and the tenth, I never take the tenth. You usually end up taking the first take.
DC: What are you going to play?
VM: I want to try and do something that is going to be in context, if you know what I mean.
DC: No, I don't know what you mean.
VM: Rather than just pick a number at random or ask for a request. Any more requests? That's a good way to do it - then I don't have to
DC: "Autumn Song".
VM: I hope I remember it. I just wrote that and recorded it and never performed it after that.
Plays "Autumn Song"
DC: I say this is the only way to go to a concert. I want to talk about what happened that there wasn't a concert in Dublin.
VM: Let me elaborate, there was never any concert at all. I mentioned to some people that I was really interested in playing in Ireland. I told the agency over in London that if I could fit it in I would do it. But I had something happening in California that I had to go back to. I told the people concerned not to book or put a gig out with my name on it until I called them. I looked them straight in the eyes and I said, if you get a phone call from me you know I'm going to do it, if you don't I'm not. Straight ahead, no paper, just one to one.
Obviously they didn't wait on my call and they started printing and putting up advertising and stuff like that. They just went ahead and did it themselves, it didn't have anything to do with me. Plus I did an interview on a TV show called the Grey Whistle Test and I told the guy specifically. He said 'Do you want me to mention Dublin?' and I said I didn't know if I could do the show, so he better not mention it. I said specifically not to mention it. He had the show all done and a spokesman from Warner Brothers Records came in and told them I was doing it and he taped that on to the end of the show. It wasn't true, so between this Warner Brothers spokesman and whoever put out the advertising, let's face it. People have been asking me why I backed out of the gig. I didn't back out of anything - it wasn't happening to begin with.
DC: You are planning to do some gigs in Dublin?
VM: Oh yeah, in March.
DC: Will you be doing a couple of nights?
VM: Yeah, it seems like it will be two or three nights, that's the way it stands now.
TJ: Is this part of a tour you'll be doing?
VM: It's part of a world tour.
At this stage, there is a break in the tape and what makes it more annoying is what Van says when the conversation returns. What was said to cause the following remark?
VM: Why would I have a chip on my shoulder? People have a lot of misconceptions about everything
TJ: What I am trying to get across here is, you're on holiday here, we've interrupted your holiday, you've agreed and you were very kind about all this. I was very surprised to find that you were so interested in relating your music to the Irish people, because we have always had this publicity that for some strange reason Van Morrison doesn't want to play to the Irish people.
VM: That's the media. The reason you get all that stuff is through the media because people print things without ever talking to the actual people. They make money out of that, columns in papers and stories in papers, they sell. Especially rock 'n' roll magazines - that's how they make a living, most of it is just rubbish but people love to buy it and read it.
DC: You weren't talking about me.
VM: No, I'm not talking about Corvin, where did you get that impression?
DC: What about doing a song for the people in Belfast, what about "Cyprus Avenue" or "Madame George", or "St. Dominics Preview?"
Van then plays "St. Dominics Preview"
TJ: Let me ask you about when you're putting your bands together, which you invariably do when you're making a trip. I read that you like to get these really worked so tight so that you can be free when you go on stage...
VM: Yeah, you know I work them to death, but they love it, they really love to work.
TJ: How necessary is it for you to get to that stage you know they are so tight that you can just..
VM: It takes hours, it takes years.
TJ: But do you find it necessary to do that?
VM: Oh yeah, I have to keep them up in Nivea Cream too, they are very fond of that.
TJ: I wont pursue that any further.
DC: You do all your improvisations on stage, your little kicks and your "Grrrr Grrrr Listen to the lion" job. How well rehearsed is that?
VM: It's not rehearsed at all, you don't rehearse those parts. We rehearse just the basic song, we structure and do the arrangements, after that we just go.
DC: They are a good band that can follow you.
VM: They're the greatest. I think they have an album coming out of their own too. Same time as my next album comes out.
DC: I have a request, everybody is getting in on the requests. I would like to hear "Purple Heather".
VM: I should explain this, a lot of people are saying "Why are you doing that?" I tried to get it on an album for a long time, I heard this song for years but I never heard it done like the McPeakes . I was at a party, a phony record company party, and the McPeakes were at it. They were the only real thing happening there, they just stood in the middle of the floor and sang this song. I don't sing it the way they sing it, but that's what inspired me, it's what turned me on to the song.
Van then performs three songs in a row: "Purple Heather", "Madame George" and "The Wild Side of Life". After being asked by Donal Corvin did he ever write songs specially for other people, Van sings I Shall Sing. It is after this that the interview descends into farce with Morrison, as part of a bet with Corvin, proceeding to walk around the studio on his hands, with Corvin offering to take him home should he fall and break his neck. Finally settling back, Van again takes up the guitar and plays "And It Stoned Me". After this there is a split in the tape and it resumes with Van.
VM: I'm not talking about this time, I started a lot of things with a lot of people in Belfast, a lot of other people muscled in on it. It didn't have anything to do with the thing and they took over. It has nothing to do with Ireland what you're talking about, it's got to do with some business people.
TJ: But surely these are the people who would still love to get you to Belfast and pay you a small fortune to gig at this point in time.
VM: I'm sure they would, but I don't need those people.
TJ: That's what I was relating to, how does it feel now?
VM: I thought you were talking about Ireland, you're being broad, but when you pin it down to one thing, the music business, you're being specific. How do I feel now? Well I answered that question, I feel like taking a long walk off a short pier.
TJ: Not at this point, we've got more music. We have a piano over there, are you interested in playing that for us?
VM: Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't.
TJ: We'll see what happens anyway.
"Snow in San Anselmo" gets the full treatment on piano.
TJ: What was that song all about, Van?
VM: It's about one time it snowed in San Anselmo which is in north California. It very rarely snows there at all.
TJ: Do you have a song that is so far back in your life like a bleak memory, like a nursery rhyme or something of that nature, that has always been with you.
VM: You got me there - I can't remember that far back. I can't remember past... I can't get past that.
TJ: Belfast is a place really rich in street songs and folklore.
VM: My mother used to sing a lot of those things. I remember one, but I can't sing it, it's about "Bops with sugar on the top" or something like that.
Van is then asked to play another song and he performs "Beside You", after which the interview is wound up. In our next issue we shall cover the reaction to the "edited" version when it was shown on television. We shall also discuss in part the music played on the programme.