Graham Reid | | 1 min read
By the time Van Morrison released his double album Hymns to the Silence in '91, many of his longtime followers had moved on -- some disappointed by so many uneven albums, some just having enough Van in their lives.
Over two discs, Hymns to the Silence was just too much Van, and even the most generous reviewers had to note many songs were not a patch on the Celtic soul he had previously delivered. It was overly ambitious, some of the songs were make-weights and others simply circled around old concerns.
There were, of course, great songs too: his heart-stopping version of I Can't Stop Loving You was the equal of Ray Charles' original and the long title track (see clip below) opened up his emotional weariness ("it's been a long, long journey").
The standout however was On Hyndford Street -- about the streets in Belfast where he grew up -- and it was a spoken word, more correctly whispered-word, reflection of childhood and teenage years, and a catalogue of his influences and those musicians and writers and events which had shaped him.
Over spectral synth and not much more Morrison beautifully evokes "the days before rock'n'roll" and in the line "it's always being now" he captures that lost innocence, those years when past concerns or the future simply didn't enter into your world.
In his inflated essays Listening to Van Morrison, Greil Marcus passes lightly over this album and this track, but drops attention on the song Take Me Back which, while one of the better songs on the album (also reflective but more forced and obvious), doesn't for my money touch On Hyndford Street.
Morrison has made too many indifferent albums in recent years -- but on the strength of songs/pieces like this, even now almost two decades on, I'm prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt and listen again.
He might just offer again something as exceptional as this.
For more one-off or unusual songs with an interesting backstory see From the Vaults.