By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood
Sir George Ivan “Van” Morrison OBE (generally known as Van Morrison) became known, at least to British fans of the R&B scene for songs such as Gloria and Baby Please Don’t Go.
And the band holds a particular place in Tony’s memory, because Tony played in a band that supported Them in their early days when “Baby Please Don’t Go” was a highlight of their performance.
The second Them album, not unreasonably called, “Them Again” contained a fine cover of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”.
The band worked with Bert Berns (who wrote Twist and Shout and produced Baby Please Don’t Go) with the release of the hit single “Brown Eyed Girl”. After Berns’s untimely death, Morrison was given a very small amount of time to complete “Astral Weeks” by the record company. It sold slowly at first, but subsequently reached great acclaim.
What Van Morrison brings to music which is not commonplace in the music of Dylan is the soul side of R&B, as well as a link back to Irish music which undoubtedly appeals to Dylan. “Astral Weeks” is often known as a stream-of-consciousness narrative, that undoubtedly appeals to Dylan. He was indeed knighted both for his music and for his services to tourism in Northern Ireland.
Morrison moved out on his own in 1967, and after recording “Astral Weeks” Van and his wife moved out to Woodstock. “Van fully intended to become Dylan’s best friend,” she recalled. “Every time we’d drive past Dylan’s house … Van would just stare wistfully out the window at the gravel road leading to Dylan’s place. He thought Dylan was the only contemporary worthy of his attention.”
In 1971 Van toured the US and introduced the most amazing version of “Just Like A Woman” to his setlist.
In the summer of 1989 Bob and Van jammed together on Philopappos Hill, a place where the ancients believed the muses lived. The event was filmed for a documentary film called “One Irish Rover”. The pair played several Morrison tracks including “Crazy Love”, “One Irish Rover” and one of my favourite Morrison songs “Foreign Windows”.
Lastly, “Foreign Windows”, with Bob on harmonica
Also in 1989, Bob played an amazing version of the “Tupelo Honey” track “And It Stoned Me”.
The pair have toured together several times , including in 1998, with Joni Mitchell also sharing the bill. Some nights Bob would be the headliner, some nights it would be Van while Joni played the middle set each night. Here is a fine version of “Knockin’ On Heaven’ Door” from the same year.
In a 1991 Belfast show the pair joined up again to give us “Tupelo Honey”
Bob has this to say about the song, “”Tupelo Honey” has always existed, and that Morrison was merely the vessel and the Earthly vehicle for it.”
Then in 1998 at a New York show they joined up for a fantastic version of Merle Gilgore’s “More And More”. Dylan had previously performed the song with Joan Baez in 1965 at the Savoy Hotel and Morrison would subsequently include his take on his “Pay The Devil” album in 2006.
In 2002 Bob played Morrison’ 1991 track “Carrying A Torch” 6 times. The song was originally from the “Hymns To The Silence” album. Morrison also recorded the song as a duet with Tom Jones. So to finish things off here is Bob’s fantastic version.
Undoubtedly it is the originality of, and Irish links in, Van Morrison’s music, plus the element of soul, that gives Bob Dylan a feel for his music. Plus of course the fact that as a musician Van Morrison is highly original, following his own course, not being derailed by the whims or wishes of those around him. They are also of the same generation, that must also help.
An index to the complete “Why does Dylan Like” series can be found here.
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