Saturday, October 4, 2008

Classic Rock: Van Morrison, 'You don't pull no punches, but you don't push the river'

Following the dissolution of his marriage to Janet Planet, Morrison quit the California life and took an extended trip back to Ireland in search of a new source of artistic energy and purpose. The following album Veedon Fleece, was written quickly in a three-week blitz of creative activity that saw a shift in tone from his previous run of albums. The album itself is his most preoccupied with Ireland, as if he was consciously attempting to invoke the memory of ‘Astral Weeks’ and achieve the type of divine transcendence which made that album live in immortality.

‘Veedon Fleece’ contains some of the most ambitious and challenging work of Morrison’s career. He puts himself at the heart of it all, the weary traveller trying to immerse himself back amongst the “real people”. ‘You Don’t Pull No Punches’, is the gargantuan centrepiece of the album, which appears as a form of escapist fantasy among the other grounded songs.

As with all of his best work, the song sounds like the lonely troubadour standing in front of the microphone, entering a trance like state, and allowing the supporting musicians to follow his lead. They enter almost tentatively, one by one, but building, eventually giving life to a swirling, dreamlike choir of strings and woodwinds. The whole thing is delicately supported by Morrison’s voice, lying above it all manipulating from the heavens.

Lyrically the song takes us to exhilarating new places. He creates a new Celtic mythology, with the fleece as the Irish equivalent of the Holy Grail, a religious relic that would answer his questions if he could track it down, on his quest around the west coast of Ireland. William Blake and the Eternals and the Sisters of Mercy are added to the already bewildering mix, a symbol of everything yearned for in the preceding songs on the album; spiritual enlightenment, wisdom and artistic vision. Somewhat surprisingly, he subsequently revealed that the song owed a considerable debt to his readings in Gestalt therapy.

Morrison took a three year break coming back with the relatively lightweight ‘A Period Of Transition’ a man absolutely cleansed by the experience of ‘Veedon Fleece’.

Where to find: Veedon Fleece (1974)

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