Saturday, 6 June 2015

“Bang Masters” by VAN MORRISON (1991 Columbia/Legacy CD Mark Wilder and Stephen St. Croix Audio Restoration and Remasters)

“...Let It Out...Don’t Worry Which Way It Goes...”

Back when CD was really making inroads into the marketplace (after the first Beatles launch in 1987 had made the format respectable) – I can remember vividly hearing the awesome Audio on this CD for the first time – and noticing Columbia's Legacy logo on the rear inlay too. Not only is Van's first recorded Solo music (done in New York in 1967 after he left his Belfast group THEM) a properly great listen – the sonic quality on offer here will take most by storm.

And with his Bang label material being such a mishmash of early releases (most exploitive) – this CD goes a long way to sorting out that shady part of his career before be signed to Warner Brothers and produced the masterful "Astral Weeks" and the classic "Moondance" albums. "Bang Masters" is a winner on all fronts. Here is the girl with the big brown eyes and more from Old John too...

UK released May 1991 – "Bang Masters" on Columbia/Legacy 468309 2 (Barcode 5099746830922) breaks down as follows (75:13 minutes):

1. Brown Eyed Girl
2. Spanish Rose [see Notes]
3. Goodbye Baby (Baby Goodbye)
4. Chick-A-Boom
5. It’s All Right
6. Send Your Mind
7. The Smile You Smile
8. The Back Room
9. Midnight Special
10. T.B. Sheets
11. He Ain’t Give You None (Alternate Take)
12. Who Drove The Red Sports Car
13. Beside You
14. Joe Harper Saturday Morning [see Notes]
15. Madame George
16. Brown Eyed Girl (Alternate Take)
17. I Love You (The Smile You Smile) (Previously Unreleased, Mono)

All tracks on this CD have been remixed from the original multi-track master tapes with the best clarity offered to date. In researching the release – the tracks "Spanish Rose" and "Joe Harper Saturday Morning" were found to have had verses edited out of them for their initial vinyl release. These verses are now presented here in full – the original performances in the studio. "Spanish Rose" was originally 3:09 minutes, is now 3:54 minutes - while "Joe Harper Saturday Morning" was originally 2:53 minutes and is now 4:17 minutes.

A 21-year old Van was in New York in March 1967 with Producer Bert Barnes to cut some single-sides across two days (28th and 29th). The sessions produced a flurry of fully formed studio-recorded material including his biggest hit (and most famous early song) – the wonderful "Brown Eyed Girl". Van returned to Ireland to work on songs that would become his first album proper as far as he was concerned – 1968’s "Astral Weeks". Barnes however put out the hit single and it became a monster smash. Eager to capitalise on the momentum of the 45 and with contractual authority – Barnes then went back to the session tapes and cobbled together 7 other tracks (without Van’s consent) to make the album "Blowin' Your Mind" released September 1967 in the USA on Bang BLP 218 (Mono) and BLPS 218 (Stereo) and in the UK on London HA-Z 8346 in Mono-Only. That first LP sequences as follows:

1. Brown Eyed Girl
2. He Ain't Give You None
3. T.B. Sheets
1. Spanish Rose [Side 2]
2. Goodbye Baby (Baby Goodbye)
3. Ro Ro Rosey
4. Who Drove The Red Sports Car
5. Midnight Special

After the albums "Astral Weeks" (November 1968), "Moondance" (March 1970) and "His Band And The Street Choir" (November 1970) on Warner Brothers made Van Morrison a Rock Star around the world – Barnes went at the material again and came up with a 2nd LP - the dubiously titled "The Best Of Van Morrison" 10-track compilation LP released May 1971 on Bang Records in the USA on Bang BLPS 222 and President Records PTLS 1045 in the UK. He took "Brown Eyed Girl", four other tracks from the "Blowin' Your Mind" album and a further five outtakes from the sessions and sequenced them as follows:

1. Spanish Rose
2. It's All Right
3. Send Your Mind
4. The Smile You Smile
5. The Back Room
1. Brown Eyed Girl [Side 2]
2. Goodbye Baby (Baby Goodbye)
3. Ro Ro Rosey
4. He Ain’t Give You None
5. Joe Harper Saturday Morning

A 3rd (and final original) compilation "T.B. Sheets" was released January 1974 in the USA on Bang BLP-400 (charted at 181) and March 1974 in the UK on London HSM-5008. This 8-track LP contained two new surprises – Bang-era early versions of two tracks that would eventually come out on "Astral Weeks" – "Beside You" and "Madame George". It sequences as follows

1. He Ain’t Give You None
2. Beside You
3. It’s All Right
4. Madame George
1. T.B. Sheets [Side 2]
2. Who Drove The Red Sports Car
3. Ro Ro Rosey
4. Brown Eyed Girl

A 4th compilation came out in the UK-only in September 1977 on London/Bang 6427 625 called “This Is Where I Come In” and its generous 15-tracks are gathered up as follows:

1. Spanish Rose
2. Good Baby (Baby Goodbye)
3. He Ain’t Give You None
4. Beside You
5. Madame George
6. T.B. Sheets
1. Brown Eyed Girl [Side 2]
2. Send Your Mind
3. The Smile You Smile
4. The Back Room
5. Ro Ro Rosey
6. Who Drove The Red Sports Car
7. It’s All Right
8. Joe Harper Saturday Morning
9. Midnight Special

"Chick-A-Boom" was issued in September 1967 as the B-side to "Ro Ro Rosey" in the USA on Bang 552 as the follow-up 45 to "Brown Eyed Girl" and doesn't feature on any of the four albums. Of the Previously Unreleased tracks - Sony only found the Demo tape to "The Smile You Smile" (labelled "I Love You") in 1990 while the Alternate Version to "He Ain’t Give You None" has more verses about the dodgy Old John character in the song.

CDs of "Blowin' Your Mind" followed on from "Bang Sessions" in 1995 – but for my money there's something about the Audio on this compilation that is fabulous. The 12-page booklet with informative liner notes from BILL FLANIGAN (of Musician Magazine) tell us that MARK WILDER did the Remixing and Remastering at Sony Music Studios in New York while STEPHEN St. CROIX handled the Noise Removal and Stereo Imaging on the Demo "I Love You (The Smile You Smile)". The clarity on these tracks is breathtaking.

Musically the whole CD presents this fascinating battle not just within Van - but with his professional musicians trying to capture what this mad 21-year old veteran of the clubs from Belfast actually wanted. The sessions are looking for a hit – so his R&B leanings from those Them albums surface in "Ro Ro Rosey" and "Midnight Special", the Blues come through on the fabulously sloppy "The Back Room" - but if you want genius - it’s the near ten-minutes of "T.B. Sheets" that does my head in every time. His ad-lib free-form style that would dominate his performances for decades to come was already kicking in here - you can just 'feel' his inner-Tim Buckley trying to break out (and on this track succeeding). The more Bluesy earlier version of "Beside You" and the in-studio shouting of "Madame George" have long since been the subjects of scholarly debate (when are Warner Brothers going to do a Deluxe Edition of "Astral Weeks" like they did with "Moondance"?) – but they sound just incredible anyway. I’ve always loved the lyrical "get it together" rap that goes on in "It's All Right" and those guitar flourishes too (lyrics from it title this review). It's all good really.

I return to this CD so much. Formative years or not –"Bang Masters" rocks – a stunning listen. Van the Man’s all right...

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