'You can take all the tea in China
Put it in a big brown bag for me
Sail right around all the seven oceans
Drop it straight into the deep blue sea...'
Name that song...
You got it...
'She's as sweet as Tupelo honey
She's an angel of the first degree
She's as sweet as Tupelo honey
Just like honey, baby, from the bee
And now, thanks to the Queen's Birthday Honours, it's Sir Van Morrison, who'd have thought it.
Tupelo Honey apparently written when Van Morrison was 'living in domestic bliss in Woodstock with his first wife Janet "Planet" Rigsbee.'
We adored Van in our corner of the sixth form common room. One poor soul, who owned the Tupelo Honey LP gamely lending it to the rest of us for one night each. Long enough to set it up next to the microphone on the reel-to-reel tape recorder and then insist that the whole house stayed silent for the next hour.
It would seem I eventually bought my own copy, still in the cupboard full of obsolete 1970's vinyl that we can't decide what to do with..
No matter that Van the Man now has a reputation for being Mr Grumpy...am I bothered?
I'm not sure song lyrics always translate that well onto the page, but Lit Up Inside might be one of the exceptions because I have been dipping into it for months now, and if you are a Van fan then like me you might find yourself humming the song in your head the minute you read the words..
Well it's a marvellous night for a moondance
With the stars up above in your eyes
A fantabulous night to make romance
'Neath the cover of October skies...
Or how about...
Out on the highways and the byways all alone
I'm still searching for my home
Up in the morning, up in the morning and out on the road
And my head is aching and my hands are cold
And I'm looking for the silver lining, silver lining in the
And I'm searching for the philosopher's stone.
In his introduction to the book novelist Ian Rankin recounts his own first encounter with the music of Van Morrison, a veritable latecomer to the club in 1989. With a writing career that wasn't happening and suffering from panic attacks, Ian Rankin was advised by his doctor to get out of London for a while which he did, armed with his Walkman (ah remember those, didn't we all feel clever with our tiny music machines) and a stack of Van Morrison cassettes. Plumping for a train to Scarborough off he went...
'There were stories in the music, and characters and commentary. There was a search for the spiritual in the commonplace, the personal straining towards the universal... amidst the poetry there was room for disenchantment and anger too...This was music filled with beautiful visions, sung with passion and immaculate phrasing by a singer who was both of the world and rooted in a particular upbringing and landscape.'
In Van Morrison's case that was Belfast in Northern Ireland.
As Ian Rankin agrees, 'not every songwriter's lyrics cast a spell when stripped of the accompanying music,' also suggesting that to read the lyrics is to be led back into the music and that is exactly what happened to me when I first opened the book last autumn. 'Music to warm the soul' says Ian Rankin and I have to agree, but music that also reminds me of that seventeen-year old me...we were all searching for something and not a clue what it was I'm sure.
Plenty of melancholy Van tunes, but how about this one for a nice jolly foot-tapping jig of a moment, and if you were or still are a Van Fan please do own up...
'Let's enjoy it while we can
Won't you help me share my load
From the dark end of the street
To the bright side of the road...'