WITH THIS POST I’d like to present a little clip from the ‘Arena’ documentary One Irish Rover: Van Morrison in Performances (1992)—Morrison sitting on a little wooden jetty in the Louisiana bayou with John Lee Hooker, sketching out a soulful rendition of “Don’t Look Back”.*
‘Arena’ is a British television documentary series, made for and broadcast by the BBC. As a BBC Young Turk—1968 trainee-producer intake—Alan Yentob developed ‘Arena’ as a television series in the 1970s, adopting the format of single subject film-essays. The series has attracted critical acclaim worldwide for its refreshing and intelligent produce—Grammys, Emmys, BAFTAs, Royal Television Society Awards, Prix Italia, Sundance Film Festival awards and so on. (Yentob, of course, would go on to become one of the BBC chiefs, one of the barons of British broadcasting.)
The series has run since October 1975—over five hundred episodes—film-essays by the likes of Martin Scorsese, Jim Jarmusch, Roly Keating, Frederick Baker, Volker Schlondorff, and Vikram Jayanti. ‘Arena’ subjects make for a roll-call of the leading cultural figures of our time—Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Brian Eno, David Bowie, Francis Bacon, Joe Orton, Ingmar Bergman, William Golding, Edward Said, William Burroughs, Bob Marley, Amy Winehouse [centred on her performance of an acoustic set in the little Church of St James in Dingle, in the west of Ireland], Jean Genet, Salvador Dalí, V S Naipaul, James Ellroy, Harold Pinter, Orson Wells, T.S. Eliot, Phil Spector, Evelyn Waugh, Salman Rushdie…[the list continues for pages]
Filmed in 1991, this portrait of Irish musician and singer-song-writer Van Morrison (b. 1945), is, as one critic put it, “nearly as wayward and eccentric as Morrison himself. Essentially it is just a collection of performances stitched together with voice-over musings by Morrison about music and poetry; for anyone else, it would be a standard vanity project. But old Van the Man has long been such a reclusive, cranky star that One Irish Rover seems like a revelation.”
Of course, people have their own favourite bit of this quirky profile which they like to single out and feature in flashback pieces and the like—Van jamming with Bob Dylan on a hillside overlooking Athens, Van and the Chieftains [an Irish trad group], and so on—but my favourite is this: George Ivan Morrison from gridiron east Belfast sitting on a little wooden jetty in the Louisiana bayou, playing silky blues with John Lee Hooker (1917-2001)—Hooker in an especially mellow groove—essaying a great rendition of “Don’t Look Back”.
* Morrison first recorded “Don’t Look Back”—a John Lee Hooker song—on his debut album as the frontman for the Northern Irish band ‘Them’—The Angry Young Them, 1965. Don’t Look Back is also the title of a Grammy-award-winning album released by Hooker in 1997, produced and arranged by Morrison.)
And below, from the same Arena documentary film, Morrison and Hooker doing a version of Hooker’s ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’; and, below that again, Van Morrison as frontman with THEM doing their version of Hooker’s classic on British television (Top of the Pops) in 1964.