Monday, 5 June 2017

"The Authorized Bang Collection" by VAN MORRISON (April 2017 Exile/Legacy/Sony 3CD Set - Andrew Sandoval Remasters - including the "Blowin' Your Mind" LP from 1967) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Let It Out..."

I've donned my Sherlock Holmes deerstalker, ordered in ten crates of Lucozade to replace lost energy and have a well-thumbed copy of Donald Trump's Comprehensive Guide To World Peace beside my Porta-Nuclear Shelter to calm the nerves (what can possibly go wrong). OK here goes...

As Van Morrison obsessives will know - the two sessions our rotund spiritual leader made with Bert Berns in New York in March and October 1967 after he left Belfast's THEM - have been an LP and CD compilation nightmare for decades on end.

The actual "Blowin' Your Mind" debut LP from September 1967 had only 8-tracks – but after his Warner Brothers success in 1968 and 1970 with the masterful "Astral Weeks" along with the classic "Moondance" and "His Band And The Street Choir" albums – a mad dash in the Bang Records vaults plundered the remaining recordings. They produced unsanctioned albums like the dubiously titled "The Best Of Van Morrison" in September 1970, "T.B. Sheets" in December 1973 and even as the decade was coming to a close - the British compilation "This Is Where I Come In" from September 1977 – all of which seemed to be adding and mixing up more songs and muddying the waters.

The last decent fist at sorting out this shady period of Van Morrison’s early solo recording career came with the stunning April 1991 CD simply called "Bang Masters" (the UK issue is Columbia/Legacy 468309 2 - Barcode 5099746830922). But while it was a sonic sensation at the time - Audio Engineers Mark Wilder and Stephen St. Croix had decided to Remix all the 60ts tracks for that release - and those 1991 versions have been used on everything released since.

This April 2017 Exile/Legacy/Sony Music 3CD set is the first time that the original sixteen tracks have been presented digitally in their original STEREO form – along with Session Outtakes, Mono Single Mixes and a huge swath of Previously Unreleased versions that have circulated unofficially on bootlegs for years. There is a mountain of info to get through – so let’s get red-eyed never mind brown...

UK released Friday, 28 April 2017 – "The Authorized Bang Collection" by VAN MORRISON on Exile/Legacy/Sony Music 88985424672 (Barcode 889854246723) is a 3CD Definitive Anthology remastered by the Grammy-winning Audio Engineer ANDREW SANDOVAL (he did the Deluxe Editions of the much-praised Kinks and Small Faces) and has been sanctioned/overseen by the artist himself. It plays out as follows...

Disc 1 – The Original Masters – 71:30 minutes:
1. Brown Eyed Girl (Original Stereo Mix)
2. He Ain't Give You None (Original Stereo Mix)
3. T.B. Sheets (Original Stereo Mix)
4. Spanish Rose (Original Stereo Mix)
5. Goodbye Baby (Baby Goodbye) (Original Stereo Mix)
6. Ro Ro Rosey (Original Stereo Mix)
7. Who Drove The Red Sports Car (Original Stereo Mix)
8. Midnight Special (Original Stereo Mix)
9. It's All Right (Original Stereo Mix)
10. Send Your Mind (Original Stereo Mix)
11. The Smile You Smile (Original Stereo Mix)
12. The Back Room (Original Stereo Mix)
13. Joe Harper Saturday Morning (Original Stereo Mix)
14. Beside (Original Mono Mix)
15. Madame George (Original Mono Mix)
16. Chick-A-Boom (Original Mono Mix)
17. The Smile You Smile (Demo)

Disc 2 – Bang Sessions & Rarities – 74:29 minutes:
1. Brown Eyed Girl (Original Edited Mono Single Mix)
2. Ro Ro Rosey (Original Mono Single Mix with Backing Vocals)
3. T.B. Sheets (Take 2)
4. Goodbye Baby (Baby Goodbye) (Takes 10 & 11)
5. Send Your Mind (Take 3)
6. Midnight Special (Take 7)
7. He Ain't Give You None (Take 4)
8. Ro Ro Rosey (Take 2)
9. Who Drove The Red Sports Car (Take 6)
10. Beside You (Take 2)
11. Joe Harper Saturday Morning (Take 2)
12. Beside You (Take 5)
13. Spanish Rose (Take 14)
14. Brown Eyed Girl (Takes 1-6)
15. Brown Eyed Girl (Takes 7-11)
Track 1 issued May 1967 as a US 45 on Bang Records B-545, A-side
Track 2 issued October 1967 as a US 45 on Bang Records B-552, A-side
Tracks 3, 4, 5, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 are PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED
(An edited version of Take 6 inside Track 14 was first issued 1991 on the US Legacy CD compilation "Bang Masters" on Columbia EK 47041)
Tracks 6 and 9 first issued 1998 on the US Legacy CD for "Blowin' Your Mind" on Columbia ZK 65751
Track 7 first issued 1991 on the US Legacy CD compilation "Bang Masters" on Columbia EK 47041

Disc 3 - Contractual Obligation Session - 35:42 minutes:
1. Twist And Shake
2. Shake And Roll
3. Stomp And Scream
4. Scream And Holler
5. Jump And Thump
6. Drivin' Wheel
7. Just Ball
8. Shake It Mabel
9. Hold On George
10. The Big Royalty Check
11. Ring Worm
12. Savoy Hollywood
13. Freaky If You Got This Far
14. Up Your Mind
15. Thirty Two
16. All The Bits
17. You Say France And I Whistle
18. Blowin' Your Nose
19. Nose In Your Blow
20. La Mambo
21. Go For Yourself
22. Want A Danish
23. Here Comes Dumb George
24. Chickee Coo
25. Do It
26. Hang On Groovy
27. Goodbye George
28. Dum Dum George
29. Walk And Talk
30. The Wobble
31. Wobble And Ball
All tracks by Van Morrison, recorded 1967 in New York, all tracks Previously Officially Unissued

The four-flap foldout card digipak certainly feels substantial and looks the 'major' reissue part. The 24-page booklet is a very classy affair and features liner notes from the mighty Vanster himself explaining in detail the torturous circumstances in which the album and the sessions took place. He praises Bert Berns as a genius - his connection with the American going back to London in 1964 when a young Van met Berns in the London offices of Phil Solomon at Decca Records. There are loads of classy photos showing Van with Bert as they recorded - Van with his acoustic in hand and giving some at the microphone. There are snaps of the three Bang 45s "Brown Eyed Girl", "Ro Ro Rosey" and "Goodbye Baby" - a concert flyer for 7 October 1967 at the 'Hullabaloo' where the support act is The Yellow Payges and the usual detailed reissue credits.

But it's the AUDIO that excels. Grammy-nominated Audio Engineer ANDREW SANDOVAL explains the intricacies of the 'tangled tapes' in his 'Compiler's Note' – two whole pages of facts about what's what. Both Disc 1 and 2 are mindblowingly good and I think will take most Morrison fans by storm. Sure the STEREO imaging is often crude – Van’s voice to the left speaker while the drums and tambourines whack out of the right – but there’s warmth to it all. "The Back Room" is spectacular while "T.B. Sheets" is eleven-minutes of Sixties R&B bliss (Tracks 12 and 3 on Disc 1). And while Disc 3 is actually questionable in its value with its one-minute throwaway vignettes (even if it the first legal issue of these wisely bootlegged recordings) - the outtakes on Disc 2 are another matter entirely. Many actually had me tingling - unbelievable finds that have been buried in a morass of legality and acrimony that's lasted 50 friggin' years. But before we get to the content of all three discs - a word on the actual 1967 debut album "Blowin' Your Mind" contained within...

THE FOUR ORIGINAL "Blowin' Your Mind" LPS:
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 eventually become his first album proper as far as he was concerned – 1968’s "Astral Weeks". Barnes however released "Brown Eyed Girl" in May 1967 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 February 1968 in the UK on London HA-Z 8346 in Mono-Only. It is presented here in STEREO and that American first LP can be sequenced in consecutive order from Tracks 1 to 8 on CD1:

"Blowin' Your Mind" LP in STEREO
Side 1:
1. Brown Eyed Girl
2. He Ain't Give You None
3. T.B. Sheets
Side 2:
1. Spanish Rose
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". That 10-track compilation LP was released September 1970 on Bang Records in the USA on Bang BLPS 222 and May 1971 on 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. That record can be sequenced from CD1 as follows:

"The Best Of Van Morrison" LP in STEREO
Side 1:
1. Spanish Rose [Track 4]
2. It's All Right [Track 9]
3. Send Your Mind [Track 10]
4. The Smile You Smile [Track 11]
5. The Back Room [Track 12]
Side 2:
1. Brown Eyed Girl [Track 1]
2. Goodbye Baby (Baby Goodbye) [Track 5]
3. Ro Ro Rosey [Track 6]
4. He Ain’t Give You None [Track 2]
5. Joe Harper Saturday Morning [Track 13]

A 3rd (and final original) compilation "T.B. Sheets" was released December 1973 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 – Mono mixes and early versions of two Bang-era tracks that would eventually come out on "Astral Weeks" in 1968 – "Beside You" and "Madame George". It sequences as follows

"T.B. Sheets" LP in STEREO
Side 1:
1. He Ain’t Give You None [Track 2]
2. Beside You [Track 14]
3. It’s All Right [Track 9]
4. Madame George [Track 15]
Side 2:
1. T.B. Sheets [Track 3]
2. Who Drove The Red Sports Car [Track 7]
3. Ro Ro Rosey [Track 6]
4. Brown Eyed Girl [Track 1]

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 featured the bulk of the previous three gathered together as follows:

Side 1:
1. Spanish Rose [Track 4]
2. Goodbye Baby (Baby Goodbye) [Track 5]
3. He Ain’t Give You None [Track 2]
4. Beside You [Track 14]
5. Madame George [Track 15]
6. T.B. Sheets [Track 3]
Side 2:
1. Brown Eyed Girl [Track 1]
2. Send Your Mind [Track 10]
3. The Smile You Smile [Track 11]
4. The Back Room [Track 12]
5. Ro Ro Rosey [Track 6]
6. Who Drove The Red Sports Car [Track 7]
7. It’s All Right [Track 9]
8. Joe Harper Saturday Morning [Track 13]
9. Midnight Special [Track 8]

In hindsight the 8-track 1967 album still holds up and it comes as a shock to hear "Brown Eyed Girl" in Stereo as opposed to the Mono 7" single mix we're all so used to. Bang Records made a mistake in leaving something as cool and as brilliant as "The Back Room" off the original album - but the fake studio joviality at the beginning of "Madam George" is pretty hateful stuff when you compare it with the beauty of the "Astral Weeks" version. And of the Previously Unreleased Outtakes I'm digging the Bass and Chatter beginning to "Goodbye Baby (Baby Goodbye)" where the Producer advises "...that opening is a little bit too much man..." and a superbly atmospheric groove in the rolling on six take for "Who Drove The Red Sports Car". Fans also get an amazing Takes 1 to 11 look into the organic construction of "Brown Eyed Girl" - the musicians ironing out kinks - trying to actually play what's in Van's head. Amazing stuff – and there’s so much of it too.

"...I see the way you joke at me...from behind the door...and look into my eyes...your little starstruck innuendos...inadequacies...and foreign bodies..." – Van tells a clearly misguided Julie in the epic "T. B. Sheets". 
Morrison then adds - "...Open up the window and let me breathe..." - pleading to be made clean – get me away from the smell of sickness - away from people who don't understand me.

Well there's no need to moan any more mate - because this new way into those halcyon days of creativity is beautifully clear. Big kudos to all involved in what is surely going to be an early contender for CD retrospective 'Reissue of the Year 2017'...

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