What about Van Morrison? Yes, I think he is a triumph of marketing over mediocrity.Yes, very much so.
He's boring, old and curmudgeonly in a way that has destroyed any semblance of the brilliance from his early years in the dazzling 60s rock & roll group Them. I really liked the sharp, slightly sinister music of Them, and a classic like ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ is still wonderful today. I quite like some of Morrison’s early solo work, such as ‘Astral Weeks’ (1968) and a bit of ‘Moondance’ (1970) but that’s it really. Ever since his ‘Avalon Sunset’ (1989) album, and (like Costello, but much worse) subsequent, inexorable, weight-gain, I just can’t stand his bland, overwrought, pompous and very overly-praised music.
There are some equally trying, self-important people out there who like his works wholeheartedly, and consider it ‘proper’ grown-up soul music! I’m sure every single one of you reading this can instantly name a superior, more definitive soul and blues artist.
One such pretentious Morrison fan was someone I used to work with in a record shop (before going to university); she really liked the stodgy Morrison works, and to put this properly into context, she was also a huge fan of the appalling Style Council (how could Paul Weller have sunk so far down after the perfection of The Jam?).
More importantly, why I really can’t stand Morrison now is his involvement with late, great John Lee Hooker.
Hooker, though older than Morrison, never came across as curmudgeonly, old or boring – far from it – he had lots of younger women fans visiting at his house, apparently! I really love Hooker’s music, from the classic brittle-sounding old recordings from the 40s and 50s to the more modern ones in the late 80s and into the 90s – he really lasted the distance as a musician. Hooker, for me, is the quintessence of Blues music; I think of him simply as ‘The Blues’ – like Hendrix is the Electric Guitar. Hooker had a wonderfully emotive voice that became even more emotionally compelling with age, with a finer, more textural and deeper delivery – much like a properly aged XO Cognac compared to a VSOP.
Similarly his guitar playing style, though spare and raw, was so very earthy and expressive – therefore, for me, the heart of Blues music. Unfortunately, Morrison was involved with Hooker on ‘Don’t Look Back’ (1997) and blanded-out my Blues hero… Morrison has had more ‘Ben Elton’ moments than most – his duet with Cliff Richard on ‘Whenever God Shines His Light’ from ‘Avalon Sunset’ being another.
Final part tomorrow