Belfast Telegraph

Van Morrison Astral Weeks writer left in limbo

By Claire McNeilly

An author is struggling to deliver an eagerly-awaited book about Sir Van Morrison's seminal album Astral Weeks.

And the reason given by Ryan Walsh? He has managed to get hold of every living person who worked on the 1968 masterpiece - except The Man himself.

Walsh's book Astral Weeks: The Secret History Of Boston 1968 was inspired by an article the devoted American fan wrote about Morrison's magnum opus in Boston Magazine. The article referred to the musician's nine-month sojourn in the American city that year.

At the time the former Them lead singer was 22 and living on Green Street in the city's Cambridge district.

The incomplete manuscript, commissioned by Penguin, details Morrison's work in the context of other events in the Massachusetts metropolis that year, including James Brown's show at Boston Garden following the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King.

"I know Van isn't a big fan of interviews and has certain feelings about his past work, preferring to focus on his new stuff," said Walsh. "I get all that, but I'm writing a whole book about Astral Weeks and I'd really like to talk with him about it."

Walsh, a singer with US rock band Hallelujah The Hills, conceded that he was running out of time to deliver his manuscript for publication.

A recent tweet the Bostonian sent, pleading with east Belfast's most famous son to get in touch, went unanswered, as did repeated attempts to get hold of the notoriously reclusive musician.

Morrison, who is as busy as ever, will kick off a new series of concerts in Los Angeles on St Patrick's Day.

And the blues legend is said to be delighted with the positive reviews for his new album, Keep Me Singing.

Astral Weeks, meanwhile, will be the subject of a live event in London next week.

A concert in Great Portland Street on March 16, marking the 50th anniversary of work starting on the album, will feature some of the finest UK jazz players reinterpreting Morrison's arrangements on the original recording.

Astral Weeks, recorded across three sessions at New York's Century Sound Studios in the latter part of 1968, was Morrison's second studio LP.

It is widely regarded as one of the most influential albums in the history of music.

Produced by the late Lewis Merenstein, its dream-like blend of spontaneous blues, jazz and folk initially baffled the record company, whose executives had never come across such a work before.

Renowned music critic Lester Bangs was overcome by the brilliance of the eight-song album that spawned classics such as Madame George and Cyprus Avenue.

His review is credited with getting the record to the audience it deserved.

Bangs wrote: "It sounded like the man who made Astral Weeks was in terrible pain; (but) there was a redemptive element in the blackness, ultimate compassion for the suffering of others, and a swath of pure beauty and mystical awe that cut right through the heart of the work."

Walsh, meanwhile, will continue his attempts to contact Van The Man.

"The man who wrote Astral Weeks is a man worth pursuing," he added.

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