Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Van Morrison - Common One

Van Morrison
Common One


Released 1980 on Warner/WEA
Reviewed by Shiffi Le Soy, 23/10/2008ce


1. Haunts Of Ancient Peace
2. Summertime In England
3. Satisfied
4. Wild Honey
5. Spirit
6. When Heart Is Open


At one point in the mid-80s I was stuck in the East End of London trying to work my way back to the USA. Jobs were hard to come by but I eventually found employ as a road sweeper.

I've had a lot of crummy jobs in my time, but this one takes the biscuit. My beat was Commercial Road - possibly the filthiest street in London. As huge lorries pounded by I'd choke on their belching fumes and curse them under my breath.

Street-cleaning isn't the most glamorous of professions and I'd pull the odd scam to make life more bearable. One was hiding my brush and barrow in a side street early in the morning and scarpering off home for the rest of the day. I'd return later in the afternoon and innocently return my barrow to the yard to clock out. "All finished, then?" the foreman would say. "Good lad."

The merchants of East London were very kind to us barrow boys. A greasy cafe on Leman Street gave me free bacon sandwiches in return for a preferential sweep. The Indian food vendors along Brick Lane would ply me with samosas and papri chaat, dispensing advice. "Do not despair, any job is a good job," a chirpy fellow from Bombay assured me.

As I miserably swept my way through London, my companion and salvation was Van Morrison's Common One LP. Listening on my battered Sony Walkman, this transcendent Celtic Soul music provided me with an ecstatic escape from the grime.

Though Common One is for me a watermark Morrison record, it was unappreciated on its release. Recorded in a French monastery, it steered away from the tightly structured songs Van had been composing, marking a radical return toward the spacious, spiritual searching of the Astral Weeks period. Even today it's one of my favorite Morrison albums, and features several Van classics.

The hypnotic, spiritual, In Haunts of Ancient Peace set the tone for Van's musical quest in the decade to follow and transported me away from Commercial Road to a higher plane. Similarly, Summertime in England, Van's tribute to the romantic tradition of Blake, Coleridge and Wordsworth, lifted me to loftier, poetic heights, with its incantations of "suffering so fine" and the sublime moment when Van testifies, " wanna go to church right now."

I was deeply affected by this ambitious, holy music. Almost in a trance, I went about my work with a beatific smile. Passers-by would shoot strange glances at me, thinking, "What the hell does he have to smile about?"

They were perhaps not aware that, no matter how desperate the circumstances, music - especially transcendent music like this - has a way of lifting you out of your despondency. They couldn't know it but, amid all the dust and grime, I had found inner calm in a Celtic Soul paradise.


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