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Saturday, 28 March 2015

Who Is The Sender?

In the latest edition of Uncut several musicians speak about the spirituality of music.

One of the feature articles explores the making of many of Van Morrison's best albums from Astral Weeks (Lewis Merenstein - '... it was immediately clear to me that he was being born again') to Back on Top (Walter Samuel - 'I'm not sure how he does it... it just comes out of him. It just happens'). From the musicians who played on these albums there is much talk about 'looking for the spark,' 'channelling,' 'transcendental telepathy,' and 'intuitive communication'. When he channelled or connected with the spark Morrison set everyone else on fire so that the atmosphere was truly transcendental.

In his interview Morrison describes this as 'creating space.' The key to the creation of space - the stretching out of time - is listening, watching and absorbing. Most musicians, he says, don't understand this. They 'might be great technically; but they don't have the feeling;' the ability to listen in order to be in the same space and have 'a collective experience,' The phrase he regularly used for the times 'when he felt it was working' was, 'I think it's all coming together.'

My co-authored book with Peter Banks, The Secret Chord, is essentially an extended exploration of this experience common to artists and musicians, which is often described in spiritual terms, of things coming together - gelling, coalescing - into something greater than the sum of its parts.

Jef Labes, a longtime associate of Morrison, notes that:

'He once said to me that he sees all his work as variations on one piece of music that he channels. He doesn't sit down and work on songs, he gets a rush of energy. He'll grab a guitar and start playing, switch on a recording device, and whatever comes out, he'll write down. It arrives as almost a complete work ... when that goes away he's sad and exhausted, and when it's there, when he's visited by the spirit, he's compelled to get it out. It's scary. He has no idea where it comes from.'

The song 'Who Is The Sender?' on Bill Fay's latest album is about this same phenomenon, which Fay sees as 'songfinding' rather than songwriting:

'Ask Bill Fay about his relationship with his instrument and he says something revealing, not "Ever since I learnt to play the piano", but "Ever since the piano taught me..."

What the piano taught him was how to connect to one of the great joys of his life. "Music gives," he says. And he is a grateful receiver. But, it makes him wonder, "Who is the sender?" ...

joy and sadness are indeed deep in this material, which Bill describes as "alternative gospel". Though it clearly stems from his belief, he doesn't seek to proselytise or convert anybody, but just hopes to share the concerns he puts into the words and the feelings that he receives from the music: 

"Goodness, beauty, comfort. If something gives in the world, that's a good thing, isn't it? Maybe that's what music wants to do."'


Van Morrison - Listen To The Lion.

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