.. It’s Too Late to Stop Now .. in all its glory
Vol I: the original 2-CD set
Vol II, III, IV & DVD; previously unreleased material (4 disk set)
The early 1970s was an incredible time for Van Morrison; not a period of transition but one of great fulfilment.
Following his breakthrough with Moondance (1970) – Astral Weeks was a whole other thing – he produced a series of albums that together amount to the highpoint of his creative life: His band and the street choir (also 1970), Tupelo Honey (1971), Saint Dominic’s preview (1972), Hard nose the highway (1973), culminating in the live double album .. It’s too late to stop now .. (released January 1974).
In the summer of 1973 he set off on a three-month long tour of North America and Europe with the Caledonia Soul Orchestra. Warner Brothers recorded eight sets on that tour – at The Troubadour (23 May) in Los Angeles, the Santa Monica Civic (29 June), and The Rainbow in London (23 & 24 July). The eleven-strong Caledonia Soul Orchestra was perhaps his greatest band; it included a five person string section, sax and trumpet, guitar, bass and drums, all led by Jeff Labes on piano and organ. Many of these musicians had been with him since Moondance, and stayed with him through the first half of the 70s.
That live recording – long-regarded as one of the greatest live albums ever – has now been revisited. The original has been re-mastered and re-issued as .. It’s too late to stop now .. Vol I; this is accompanied by .. It’s too late to stop now .. Vol II, III, and IV & DVD: previously unreleased selections from the gigs in The Troubadour, the Santa Monica Civic, and The Rainbow respectively. The Rainbow gig on 24 July was filmed by the BBC for a TV special, but never broadcast. Part of this concert is issued for the first time on the DVD.
So what have we got?
Each night on that tour he paid due tribute to his R’n’B mentors: Ray Charles (‘I believe to my soul’), Bobby Bland (‘Ain’t nothing you can do’), Sam Cooke (‘Bring it on home to me’), Sonny Boy Williamson (‘Help me’ and ‘Take your hand out of my pocket’) and Muddy Waters (‘I just want to make love to you’). He included the Them-era classics ‘Gloria’ and ‘Here comes the night’ and his first solo hit ‘Brown eyed girl’. At the heart of these recordings, however, are selections from his early 70s albums; we get a total of 18 of these songs from his six solo studio albums (including 6 of the 8 tracks on Hard nose the highway recorded that spring but not released until later in 1973). We get two or even three versions of some songs, such as ‘Caravan’, ‘Into the mystic’ and ‘Cyprus Avenue’.
There are surprising covers as well: ‘Being green’ was written for Kermit the Frog on Sesame Street!, he does a version of ‘Purple heather’ that Francis McPeake – his fellow Belfast man who gave us the best-known rendering of that song – would struggle to recognize; both of them had been recorded for Hard nose the highway. As well as that he does Hank Williams’ ‘Hey good looking’ and a punk cha-cha version of that old chestnut ‘Buona sera’.
Five disks to listen to, one DVD 50 minutes long: is it worth it?
The tour was reaching its end when the Caledonia Soul Orchestra pitched up at The Rainbow in North London on 23 and 24 July 1973. Whether it was because Van and his band had got as tight as could be after a great tour, or they were looking forward to the finish, this is the set (volume IV) with the most verve and excitement. Morrison has returned to ‘Listen to the Lion’ – first recorded for St. Dominic’s Preview – many times, but he and his band nailed a version here that would be hard to better. Similarly with the versions on this CD of ‘Domino’, ‘Caravan’, ‘Into the mystic’ and ‘Cyprus Avenue’, ‘I believe to my soul’ . . .
The Santa Monica set is more restrained, somehow feels a little flat in comparison. The Troubadour gig, while still good, is maybe not as essential as the Rainbow CD. The entire package, though, is a must for anyone with more than a passing interest in Van Morrison.
Everything his fans have loved for four decades can be found here: the unique way Van blends gutbucket blues and breath-taking soul with his romantic mystical longings, his unmistakeable voice, all backed by a fantastic collection of musicians, every one of them fully bought into Van’s way of making music.
Header photo: Art Siegel, Wikipedia Commons