The Summer of Astral Weeks
www.rte.ie/radio1/doconone/2018/1004/1001009-the-summerof-astral-weeks THIS was made by Alan Torney and Tim Desmond, and is part of the excellent RTE Documentary On One series. It tells the story, in wonderful detail, of the making of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, an album that regularly features in the lists of greatest records of all time.
It was 1968 and Van, then only 23, was at a low point. Despite Brown Eyed Girl having been a major hit just a year before, he was broke, tied into a bad recording contract, living in New York under threat of mob violence (following a late-night argument with a mobster, who smashed an acoustic guitar over Van’s head), and facing deportation.
“It was a very scary time,” says Van’s girlfriend at the time, Janet Rigsbee (aka Janet Planet). “We were in a terrible position. We had no money. Still Van wanted to continue on and make his music.”
In one year, Van entirely turned his life around. He married Janet, wrote Astral Weeks, and signed to Warner (he had to be bought out of his previous contract for $20,000 in cash, delivered by Warner executive Joe Smith to “the ninth floor of a ware- house at night when it’s dark”). The album was recorded in three sessions, many of the songs captured on the first or second take. Morrison himself has called the sessions that produced the album “uncanny,” adding that “it was like an alchemical kind of situation”.
Van himself rarely talks about Astral Weeks, and declined to take part, but this documentary tracks down nine people who all played significant parts in the story, including Janet and the musicians — many of them students at the time — who recorded the album. Part of the inaugural RTE Radio 1 Folk Awards, this is a mesmerising documentary.