Then one night, while stuck with my family in a dreary Galway two-storey, semi-detached house for a week in the summer of 1980, listening to the Dave Fanning Show for some sustenance, he played ‘Madame George’ next to a creepy sounding Iggy Pop number I can’t remember, ‘Ashtray Heart’ from Captain Beefheart and a Virgin Prunes’ demo which scared the shit out of me.
I thought the Van song sounded odd and quaint to my ears, which were still ensnared in a horrible diet of Yes and Deep Purple. Then Kevin Rowland from Dexy’s spoke of love of Van and Astral Weeks and ‘Caledonian Soul’ in the NME in 1982 and I was intrigued, because Dexy’s were just entering their gypsy-dungaree phase and were the big noise of the time.
Rowland poured out such a stream of rhetoric about Astral Weeks that I became carried away in mystified enthusiasm. I still, however, felt fearful about dipping my toes in . . . because Van still seemed a bit naff compared to Orange Juice, Joy Division or The Associates, which were on my hip list at the time.
Then I saw Astral Weeks sitting in the record racks in Musik Tapes, a local music shop and I peered at it with suspicion several times over the course of a few months.
The cover looked a bit weedy to my eyes, which were used to Peter Saville sleeve design and the plush colours of The Associates’ Sulk. It seemed a bit ‘Oirish’ and I declined to buy it, but the music scene became steadily more awful as 1983 progressed so one day I said ‘fuck it’, and bought the damn thing.
Listening to the record when I got home, I wasn’t sure what to make of it but I knew it was something special.
‘Sweet Thing’ reminded me of Joy Division songs like ‘Atmosphere’ – they seemed to be soul brothers of a two chords in the chorus kind, coming from some regal sacred space and the lyrics intrigued me because Van was singing about Dublin and Belfast without ‘diddly-i-dling’ about it.
‘Cypress Avenue’ haunted me, because I hadn’t a clue what he was on about in the song about until I read Lester Bangs’ classic review from the ‘Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung’ book.
I don’t give a shit what woolly jumper-wearing Irish singer songwriter wanker talks about this masterpiece, this album will heal you if you let it do its job and if you don’t like it, fuck off back to Vampire Weekend then.
Jinx Lennon has released several critically acclaimed albums on his Septic Tiger label, and captured the essence of the country over the last decade as one of Ireland’s finest modern polemicists.