Monday, July 27, 2009

And it stoned me to my soul

34 Van Morrison, 'Haunts Of Ancient Peace'

I think it takes some distance to appreciate what you've got, and it takes being a stranger in a strange land to truly appreciate your surroundings and your life. Sometimes I feel like I'm drowning while I'm knee deep in the river, sometimes I need to get out and watch the river flow.

I was born in Auckland, New Zealand and moved to England in 2004. When I lived, worked and travelled in England I felt far more distinctive than when I lived in New Zealand. I felt my kiwiness, heard my accent, took greater pride in being a kiwi - far far more than when I lived in NZ. I also loved England, Scotland and Wales (never made it to Ireland unfortunately). At the time, I made a list of things I loved about the place. Here's some - The Guardian, the BBC, Radio 2, the Tate Modern, football culture, Edinburgh Castle, the B&Bs, the semi-detached in Victoria Road, Wimpy bars, Fopp, the tube, the Thames estuary around Leigh-on-sea, Tintern Abbey and other haunts of ancient peace.

Van Morrison was another alien invader who fell in love with Avalon. It stoned him to his soul, as it did me, as it does so many others.

Van and I go way back to my teenage years. My great friend Greg Knowles introduced us. Greg and I were about 15 and the Moondance album was the initial hook and the clincher to our lifelong friendship. I have always gravitated to people who love music and have an off kilter sense of humour. My friends' recommendations of music have been crucial throughout the years, especially when I was young. Without Greg, Noel, Roger and others I would probably still be listening exclusively to Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Rory Gallagher, Uriah Heap and Deep Purple - my steady diet from 1971 to 1974.

When I met Greg in 1974, he was much more advanced and eclectic in his listening than me. Van was one example - Greg had 100% more knowledge of Van Morrison and even had a copy of Hard Nose The Highway which was brand new at the time. This amazed me. Music was much more inaccessible for me in those days. Not having a part time job, I had to save for ages by doing odd jobs. I'd pore over music papers endlessly - read reviews, look at artwork, and agonise about each potential selection. It's no idle boast that I can remember where I bought every single piece of vinyl. Nothing I got was ever bought at the time of its release though - it needed to have stood the test of time to some greater or lesser extent for me to shell out my hard earned pennies.

So I was over the moon when Greg made me a cassette tape (I actually still have it) with his selection of Moondance, St Dominic's Preview and Hard Nose tracks. There's nothing like the first time you discover these things. Your ears and mind open, new vistas present themselves, a skin sheds itself, the world changes. I miss those times when a new tape from my cousin Christine, or Greg, or Roger would introduce me to new sounds (in the late 1970s Christine sent me a brilliant tape from Rochdale, that I still have, of the new punk bands - it was like music from a distant planet). These days I earn enough to take a punt on The Doves new album. Some special things have been lost about that lead up to a purchase.

Haunts Of Ancient Peace leads off the Common One album. A theme through the album is Van's love of Avalon, Wordsworth, Blake, Coleridge, T S Eliott, the English countryside - hillside, mountains, valleys of Kendall and elsewhere. Van's lyric suggests that we go back to those haunts of ancient peace whenever we need some relief. This echoes Wordsworth's lines in the Tintern Abbey poem - when he thinks "in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din of towns and cities"of scenes such as the Abbey to gain 'tranquil restoration'. My spirit has also often turned to thee.

Let Van have (nearly) the last word - 'You know I want to go there one more time again. Be still in haunts of ancient peace. (Be still).'

Amen to that.

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