The Caravan Music Club, Melbourne April 2019
The Way Out West Music Club, Newport May 2019
The Newport Folk Festival, Melbourne July 2016
The new Geelong Library, February 2016
The old blue Laser, 1990s
A university office, 1990s
The Swimming Pool, Melbourne 1985
Tom’s house, late 1970s
Let’s start with the last on the list. Tom’s house, late 1970s. Tom was a high school mate. I visited his share-house in Geelong a few years after high school. Van Morrison was blasting from the record player. St Dominic’s Preview, maybe. I lost track of Tom but I kept listening to Van Morrison.
I get to see The Man. The Swimming Pool, Melbourne 1985 or so. He starts with a medley of his early hits. Races through the songs. Gets them out of the way. The reputation for gruffness is plain to see. But he’s playing in a venue that was once the swimming pool for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, so it ain’t gonna be like a gig in Belfast or New Orleans or Montreux.
Late 1980s. I ask an acquaintance, Nicole, if she’s ever seen Van.
“Yeah,” she says confidently.
“Where?” I ask.
“Dublin!” Smiling. Almost smirking.
I don’t mention The Swimming Pool.
My friend Gina and I are talking in a university office, 1990s, where we’re both teaching professional writing. Gina wants to write about Van but can’t find a way. I have no insights to offer. Then we read a piece by Brian Doyle, a writer from Portland, Oregon. Doyle nails the story through rhythm. And description. And lyricism. And a sense of place. Many places. It’s one of those stories you realise you can’t top.
I’m a family man. 1990s. Not much time to myself. Not much time for music. But every now and then when I’m on my own and driving the old blue Laser sedan I keep driving just so that I can hear the end of the cassette, the gorgeous finale of the Wavelength album, pulling into the driveway as the last chords play.
Nearly 40 years after losing track of long lost Tom I write a Stereo Story about him. And Van. And Ireland. My brother plays Caravan and The Way Young Lovers Do in between the paragraphs. The new Geelong Library, February 2016.
A woman, a singer, hears The Stereo Stories Band. Chris writes a story about the first song she sang to her first child, minutes before leaving the maternity ward and heading home to a new life. Into The Mystic. She asks if she can tell the story and sing the song with the band at one of our gigs. The Newport Folk Festival, Melbourne July 2016. She nails it. Chris joins the band.
I’ve never been sure about so-called tribute shows but Joe Creighton is doing his Van Morrison gig, and I’ve been meaning to see it for years, figuring I’ll never see The Man himself unless I fly to Belfast or Dublin or New Orleans or…
There are about a hundred people at the Way Out West Music Club in Newport. May 2019. The MC introduced Creighton by noting some of the many bands he’s played with: The Black Sorrows, John Farnham, Kylie Minogue, Olivia Newton-John. But when the MC says ‘Joe was born in Belfast, in 1949…’ I know we’re really in for a treat. Creighton and his three colleagues are, not surprisingly, terrific. Everybody knows all the songs, of course. But even as I hum Crazy Love and Ballerina and Cleaning Windows and Blue Money over the next few days I’m also thinking about a song that’s inspired by Van. A song I heard recently at The Caravan Music Club. April 2019.
Chasing Van is by Rob Snarski. He played it at the launch of his gorgeous new album Sparrow & Swan. He played its full eight minutes with a full band in a room full of Snarski fans A song about two Van devotees taking their chances on the streets of Belfast during The Troubles so that they can get to see Van.
TWO GREEN-EYED GIRLS SO FOOLISH, FOOLISH AND FAIR
THEY CHANGED THEIR NAMES AND THEY CHANGED THEIR HAIR
THERE’S NO CHANCE IN THE WORLD THAT ANYONE COULD RECOGNISE US HERE
COATS GLEANING LIKE TWO BOWER BIRDS, LOCKS LIKE A COCKATOO
BLUFFING YOUR WAY IN, RISKING YOUR SKIN
BRAVE AND STUPID, ANXIOUS, SANGUINE
EAST, WEST, NORTH AND SOUTH, IRON, BRICK AND STEEL
NO RED SPORTS CAR, NO MADAME GEORGE
NO T.B. SHEETS, NO SPANISH ROSE,
NOT A SPANISH ROSE
A song that, inevitably, sounds a little like Van. And a lot like Rob Snarski. A song I want to touch. I don’t buy the album after the gig at the merch desk because I’m still holding onto the memory of hearing Chasing Van, of savouring it, of treasuring it. I don’t want to make a commercial transaction. Yet*. I don’t want to talk on the drive home. I just want to hold the song – and the whole album – in my head as long as I can. I don’t want to break the spell.
*Yes, I’ve since bought the album.