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LEAD VOCALS: Van Morrison
MUSICIANS: Jeff Labes (piano & synthesiser), David Hayes (bass), Chris Michie (lead guitar), John Platania (lead guitar), Baba Trunde (drums), Richie Buckley (tenor & soprano sax), Martin Drover (trumpet), Kate St. John (oboe & coranglais)
BACKING VOCALISTS: Bianca Thornton, Jeanie Tracy, June Boyce & Rosie Hunter
PRODUCED BY: Van Morrison
ALL SONGS WRITTEN BY: Van Morrison
Recorded in California in 1985 with a few little last touches of overdubbing added in the UK, then subsequently reaching no.27 in the UK in August 1986, No Guru No Method No Teacher is one of Van Morrison's albums from his 'spiritual' period. A single was released in 1986 of the final track, Ivory Tower, but never made the UK charts. Van has had only very sparse singles success in the UK, probably due to him being an artist/performer whose work is more orientated towards albums and an astonishingly extensive catalogue of live performances.
It is interesting to note that Van himself isn't credited on the album for playing any instruments, which is unusual as he often, in addition to writing nearly all his own material and being a multi-instrumentalist, plays sax, harmonica and guitar during his live performances and on some of his albums. He either took a rain-check this time around, or perhaps did play one or more instruments but didn't bother to credit himself.
The first track, Got To Go Back , begins gently and tenderly, with some lovely oboe and piano. Van takes the main vocals, using soft tones, with his voice at its very best. The female backing singers blend in perfectly, and don't sound out of tune as they sometimes can. Lyrically, Got To Go Back is a song steeped in nostalgia, yearning for a time from the past, expressing a desire to return to a part of one's life where things were gentler, more peaceful and harmonious; to go back, for the purpose of 'healing'. Musically, this is a very well put together song, with all of the instrumentalists combining perfectly and in total sync. There is something about the lyrics of this song which now in time, can dig quite deeply into me, as it aligns itself with a lot of my current day thought patterns. Overall, this is a gentle, mildly uplifting song with a slight tinge of sadness around the edges.
Oh The Warm Feeling begins with a sound like running water, of medium tempo, and with the oboe taking up the main tune, backed by some extremely nice and tastefully played guitar which has an almost Spanish feel. Van's voice as he takes the lead vocals is thoughtful, soulful and gently penetrating. This is a tender love song, with some profound words and images aligning romantic feelings with all that surrounds us in nature. There is a middle-eight where the oboe does sound as if it is going a bit mad to the untrained ear, but it actually is a clever, non-raucous piece of improvisation. When the middle-eight launches back into the main verse, there is a stretch where Van's vocals and the oboe are harmonising with one another in almost 'call and response' mode. This is overall a very soft, relaxing, reassuring song which is performed perfectly and at a steady pace, being very easy to listen to.
The next track, Foreign Window, begins with two dueling guitars, then oboe and a little harmonica (probably played by Van himself but uncredited). Van then takes the lead vocals, again with his voice at its very best. This is quite a slow-tempo song, with interjections of brass and further harmonica. The tune is pleasant, but if you listen to it carefully, is actually quite complex with some unusual chord changes. Even when I read the printed lyrics, I'm not too sure exactly what this song is about, but it doesn't really matter as it is beautiful. I consider it possible that it has overtones of meditation, karma, and striving for some kind of higher ground. On first hearing, it sounds as if the words could be of a romantic nature, but I don't think they are supposed to be. In the middle of the song, there are a few little ripples of lead guitar which is very much in Van's trademark style of wistfulness, although the mood of the track as a whole is gently happy rather than steeped in melancholia. The only very tiny complaint I have about Foreign Window, is that I think it goes on for just a little bit too long....it could do with being about 30 seconds shorter.
A Town Called Paradise is probably my favourite track on this album. It opens with two guitars, and has a steady beat, is mid-tempo and has a slightly gospel-ish flavour. Van's voice is superb....occasionally gentle, occasionally gritty, yet very much 'out there'. The lyrics start off with a complaint about the music business, but then evolve into a plan to take someone to a place in the country where two souls can recapture the spirit of nature and experience joy together. In the middle of the song, there is a wonderful, finger up your spine sax solo which is intricate, a little dirty and utterly mind-blowing. As the song progresses - and, it has an amazing tune - it builds up, up, up and up, slowly at first, never becoming raucous or noisy, but evolving into a massive crescendo of jubilant elation. Each time I listen to it, I'm lifted up somewhere higher than my everyday state of mind, and it jolts my occasionally lazy spirit out of its inertia, into a bright and shining place - letting me know who I can really be when I get in touch with my inner essence. Overall, this track does bear a little resemblance in parts to Lou Reed's Walk On The Wild Side, but the mood and subject matter of the two songs are totally different.
In the Garden begins with a piano solo playing some intricate little twiddles, then two soft guitars join in. The tune is very pleasant, with a slight hint of the Van wistfulness in there, but in a happy way. When Van takes the vocals, again his voice is on top form, and the lyrics are spiritual, soulful and he returns to his 'gardens wet with rain' which he first introduced us to on his 1968 album, Astral Weeks. Interestingly, the bass line in this song is also very similar to that used frequently on Astral Weeks, and I believe this was done deliberately. During this track, the piano player gives some incredible rolls up and down the scale, creating a feeling of running water. This is a very tender love song, with the lyrics taking the state of romance to an almost unearthly place of wonder, mysticism.... dare I even (as an agnostic) say holiness? This is an incredibly powerful song, which sounds sweet and pretty, but taken as a whole with the complex musical arrangement and tune together with the profoundly poetic lyrics, it is a real mind-blower if listened to properly....and I don't hesitate to say that is the magic of Van Morrison....he really needs to be listened to carefully to be fully appreciated and admired.
The next track, Tir Na Nog, begins with a few notes on guitar, then the whole band joins in. Van's vocals yet again are on top form, singing lyrics which are almost unfathomably deep, concentrating heavily on nature. There is a piece of synthesised orchestration which pops its head up now and again, and I must say it really sounds natural...as if it were a real orchestra. The tune is very simple, gently soulful, complementing the gentle yet highly powerful words perfectly. Despite being slow and soft in mood, this is a full-on, in your face piece of music which is very highly arranged, almost a wall of sound but not in a heavy way. This is another song which is very spiritually inclined, the lyrics talking about making connections, observing seasons and weather, plus Van also sings of 'gardens wet with rain' again. I know what he means whenever he uses that phrase, but it is difficult for me to put into words as he does it far better than I ever could hope to. This is a song of hope, observation, appreciation, spirituality and fulfillment concentrating on a walk through the countryside to Tir Na Nog, which is a beautiful rural location in Ireland.
Here Comes The Knight is a mild send-up of Here Comes The Night, which Van performed with is band Them, and had a singles chart hit with during the 1960s....but, the two songs bear no resemblance whatsoever, sound-wise. This is a thoughtful love song, perhaps with religious/spiritual undertones. Van's voice is soft and tender, reaching some very high notes with perfection. I love the guitar and piano on this track, but feel that the oboe is a little overdone, it being too prominent and swamping the delicate mood of the song. The backing vocals perhaps could have been dubbed down a bit too. However, it is still a powerful and moving song which even has a little bit of a military (hence the term 'Knight') feel in parts. Although I love it, especially the romantic element, it is probably my least favourite track on the album; it doesn't sound out of place though.
The next track, Thanks For The Information, has an unusual introduction, with one guitar playing strummed chords and another playing little twiddles. The oboe is pushed more into the background here, but the bass and drums are brought to the forefront. The brass section is quite heavy here and there, perhaps a little too much so, but its addition gives this song a slight 1960s traditional black soul feel, mixed up with its ballad element. The lyrics, sung by Van again in great voice, seem to be either a slight dig at the music business, or perhaps one side of a conversation had in mild disagreement with somebody. In the middle of the track, there is some lovely twiddly guitar, yet as with Here Comes The Knight, it isn't my favourite from the album but still is excellent. Perhaps I would like it more if the instrumentalisation were lightened up a bit?
One Irish Rover starts with electric piano, slow, soft and with a slight Irish lilt. Quiet percussion and guitar join in, then Van takes the vocals gently, with this slow song that has a tinge of sadness around the edges. Lyrically, this isn't as strong as most of Van's material, but the words still touch on something with a degree of depth which is typical of The Man. I guess he may be singing about himself, being lost in some sort of wilderness yet plodding on towards an ultimate place...I also get the feeling that this is a very veiled, less scathing than usual, dig at the music business. These little digs Van has sometimes, aren't spiteful...they merely are a plea for the moguls to understand him and where he is truly coming from. The best part about this song for me is the tune, which is gentle, sensitive and a little melancholic.
The final track, Ivory Tower, is uptempo, with a piano taking the lead. The tune is happy, gospel-tinged and soulful, with Van's voice at its best. This was released as a single, and although it didn't make the charts, most non-Van fans do seem to have heard of it, so maybe it was played on the radio a lot at the time. I like the brass section, which lends a 1960s soul sound to the song, combined with an almost Duane Eddy style guitar twanging at intervals. The lyrics are a plea to be understood, for anybody - maybe Van's fans, the music business - anybody I suppose - to see him for who he really is, and what a struggle it can at times be for him to live inside of himself and be true to his creative urges. For people who aren't really all that familiar with Van Morrison or find some of his material difficult to get into, this is an ideal track to begin familiarising yourself with the essence of his work, and a perfect way to end an utterly brilliant album.
When No Guru No Method No Teacher was first released, I was at a very important and pivotal point of my life, as I'd just begun divorce proceedings against my now ex-husband. I was happy, alive, positive and feeling as though I was about to enter into a new doorway of life that would lead me to all sorts of mind-blowing experiences...and, at least for a few years, I wasn't wrong. I used to listen to music all day in the office on my personal cassette player, and when I first bought this album, I would sit and listen to it three or four times in a row, my mind being blown further into some kind of cosmic paradise with each hearing.
The whole mood of the album is very easy-listening, although some of the lyrics are quite deep, ultra-poetic, at times being a little difficult to get to grips with exactly what Van means and is trying to say, but it nonetheless is an equally peaceful and exalting collection of brilliantly written and performed songs. Now and again I feel that different band members Van uses at different times can let him down a bit, but the musicians he chooses for No Guru No Method No Teacher are excellent, spot-on, really having a good connection with one another and are more than able to express the mood of The Man's music in the way that I'm sure he intends.
Finally, I will say that this definitely is one of Van Morrison's best offerings, which I'm sure would hold appeal across a wide spectrum of musical tastes, although it probably wouldn't be for you if your preferences are limited to things like Eminem or Guns & Roses or ACDC!
At the time of writing, No Guru No Method No Teacher can be purchased on Amazon as follows:-
New: only one copy currently available @ £24.95
Used: from £9.98 to £28.91
(NB: It appears this is a re-mastered version)
On Vinyl (highly collectible):-
Only one copy currently available @ £193.90
There are various other CD versions of this album for sale on Amazon, some of which are re-mastered and others as the original, with some being imports and some containing extra tracks.
Some items on Amazon are available for free delivery within the UK, but where this doesn't apply, a £1.26 charge should be added to the above figures.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Got To Go Back
2 Oh The Warm Feeling
3 Foreign Window
4 A Town Called Paradise
5 In The Garden
6 Tir Na Nog
7 Here Comes The Knight
8 Thanks For The Information
9 One Irish Rover
10 Ivory Tower
11 Oh The Warm Feeling
12 Lonely At the Top