To the average punter in the street the name Van Morrison, if it means anything, means Brown Eyed Girl. For some reason (possibly because he has never earned any royalties for it) that song seems to have permeated the consciousness of the compilation-buying public at large to an extraordinary degree (see these last.fm playcount stats as an example). Whilst it is a great song, it seems a shame that one song kind-of hides for many people the far richer, ground-breaker and soulful sounds that Van has made throughout the rest of his career.
Born Gorge Ivan Morrison, Van’s music has always been grounded against a backdrop of jazz, gospel, blues, and folk, always imbued with a deep celtic spirituality that taps into his Northern Irish roots. Originally coming to prominence as part of the R&B band Them in the mid-1960s (seen here performing the classic Gloria) his solo career has – sometimes unfairly – always been measured against the high-water mark that was the follow-up to Brown Eyed Girl – the “mystical song cycle” that is the Astral Weeks album, an album regularly cited in top-album-ever polls. Following that up with the more accessible Moondance, Van produced a fine stream of recordings throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s. Whilst notoriously inconsistent in concert, and harsh on under-performing band members, the live albums that he has produced (particularly 1973’s It’s Too Late To Stop Now) show a man fully in control of his art, stretching and improvising, rising and falling, tight and loose at the same time.
Whilst some of my favourites are the stretch-out, blissed out tracks such as Summertime In England, Bright Side Of The Road holds a special place in my heart. It was the first track on the first Van Morrison album I ever bought (1979’s Into The Music, second-hand from Ross Records in Portsmouth). Full of sunny, bouncy optimism, this is a song that can’t help but put a smile on your face and a spring in your step. Driven along by Van’s harmonica introduction and interludes, on a foundation of light and airy piano, punctured by a brass section that includes Pee Wee Ellis from James Brown’s 1960s band, interlaced with some lovely violin lines, and topped off with the lovely contrast of Van’s growling lead vocal and the gorgeous tones of Katie Kissoon’s backing vocals.
Trying to get all that into a ukulele version is probably unlikely, but here is the song sheet anyway! It’s pretty straightforward, and follows the recording in terms of verses, instrumentals, etc. Play with a bounce, and play with a smile. Enjoy!