(4 / 5)
Deluxe three disc CD set, ‘Van Morrison – The Authorized Bang Collection’ is the first official comprehensive anthology ever assembled chronicling Van Morrison’s musical output during a brief association with Bang Records.
The ground-breaking hit-making label founded by legendary American producer/songwriter Bert Berns. A man who Van Morrison calls a genius and for whom he recorded three albums in 1967, one of which gets its first time release here.
The first disc focuses on the original masters from Morrison’s Bang sessions – including original mixes of songs like “Brown Eyed Girl,” “T.B. Sheets” and “Madame George” – while the second boasts rarities from the sessions. The third disc – dubbed the “Contractual Obligation Session”, as it closed Morrison’s tenure with the label – contains 32 short, stripped-down “nonsense songs” that were bootlegged over the years, but presented here in its best sound quality to date.
After leaving Them for a solo career in 1967, Morrison aligned with Berns’ Bang Records; Berns, who wrote tracks like “Twist and Shout,” “Piece of My Heart” and “Cry to Me,” produced Them’s 1965 hit “Here Comes the Night.” However, after the recording sessions, Morrison and Berns’ partnership fizzled. After Berns died unexpectedly in December 1967, Morrison entered a legal battle with the producer’s widow over his creative independence.
“Bert Berns was a genius. He was a brilliant songwriter and he had a lot of soul, which you don’t find nowadays,” says Morrison, who features in a documentary film about Bern, “Bang: The Bert Berns Story”, due in cinemas from 26th April; two days before the release of this box set.
This set celebrates the 50th anniversary of Van Morrison’s first solo record and includes, for the first time on CD, the original mixes of the master recordings, including the hit “Brown Eyed Girl”. An additional 13 tracks of session outtakes (10 previously unreleased) complement the original masters, in both original stereo or mono mixes.
The first ever official release of Morrison’s “Contractual Obligation” session will receive mixed reactions. “Completist” collectors and “Vanatics” will just have to have it in their sticky mitts. But these 31 hastily composed, wryly humorous “nonsense” songs disc illustrate how dissatisfied Morrison was in the very days of his solo career. Song titles among the 31 cuts on the third disc include “Ring Worm”, “You Say France And I Say Whistle”, “Blowin’ Your Nose”, “Nose In Your Blow”, “Here Comes Dumb George”, “Goodbye George”, “Dum Dum George”, and “The Big Royalty Cheque”. Methinks he was not taking things too seriously at this point!
The package includes rare session photos and new liner notes drawn from a recent interview with Van. Disc one opens with the original stereo mix of “Brown Eyed Girl”, and disc two kicks off with the edited mono single mix of the same song. Tracks 14 and 15 on the second disc give us takes 1 – 6 and takes 7-11 of the classic hit song. It was 50 years ago on 28th March 1967, that ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ was first recorded.
Fourth track in to the first CD, is a cracking track, “Spanish Rose”, and at the risk of bodily harm, I will say this is every bit as good as “Brown Eyed Girl”, if not better! Track eight on CD one, he gives us another standout, “Midnight Special,” which I saw him sing at the Royal Albert Hal in London a couple of years ago, when Van headlined the star-studded Lead Belly Fest, a tribute to the legendary blues man who recorded the song in 1934. It is thought to have originated among prisoners in the American South, and was published in 1905. Here we get the original stereo mix and on the second disc, an alternate take (Take 7). All the material on the first two discs was produced and directed by Bert Berns at the 1967 New York sessions.
Last year, I was invited to be part of a 220 strong audience in a hotel in Belfast, to watch Van Morrison and his band perform a very intimate concert on a tiny stage a few feet from my table, as part of his 70th birthday celebrations. The third time I had seen him live, the first being at a festival in the grounds of a festival in 2001, then the Royal Albert Hall Lead Belly tribute and this cosy little gig in his home city. Many celebs and VIPs at this Belfast gig, including some of the cast from Game Of Thrones and one of my favourite actors and a mate of Van’s, James Nesbitt.
Van can be a miserable so and so, as we all know, and he didn’t smile once at the palace festival, cracked one smile at the RAH; when Eric Burdon kissed him on the cheek in the big finale, but at the Belfast show he was cracking jokes and very relaxed. But no matter what his personality is, and what we believe from what is said and written about the guy, it is totally accurate to say he is a living legend, a genius songwriter, a total one-off and his music is part of the soundtrack to the lives of many, many millions of people around the world.
That timeless music will live on long after he, you and I have shuffled off this mortal coil. This box set should be part of any serious Van the Man fan’s collection; even if one chooses to use the third disc as a drink’s coaster! Van probably already has…………..Cheers!
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’