Them: Complete Them 1964-1967

review them x1 cong

Stealing their name from now long-forgotten London band, Shorty and Them (“Nobody’s going to hear of us London” figured young Ivan Morrison), Them are the band with which Van the Man first made his name, though not much cash (“It was a weird situation to be famous and broke — it’s one thing being broke and anonymous but famous and broke, that’s heavy,” Morrison writes in the sleeve notes).

This collection offers something to fans of both Van Morrison and of classic 60s British blues. For the fans, CD3 features demos, alternate takes, live BBC recordings and previously unissued rare tracks.

The 15-page sleeve notes include an essay on the band by Van Morrison, which is very interesting. The band seems to have been no more than him and assorted musicians, with session players adding a fair amount — producers used session men to guarantee the quality of the recording, particularly drummers.

As Them’s session men included Jimmy Page and drummers Bobby Graham (described as “the greatest drummer the UK has ever produced” and who turned down Brian Epstein’s offer of the Beatles’ drum throne) and Alan White (we guess the same Alan White who later drummed with Yes and played on John Lennon’s Instant Karma and Imagine), we can see what Van means.

Musically, it’s early British blues/rock n roll, with the band playing both covers and originals, CD1 opening with songs such as Baby Please Don’t Go and original tune Gloria.

Bert Berns — whose writing credits included Twist and Shout, Hang On Sloopy and Under The Boardwalk — was an early collaborator, and his Here Comes The Night, a hit for Them, is on CD1.

For Van Morrison fans it’ll be a treat but it’s also a good collection for anyone who likes early and mid-60s British R’n’B done well. A couple of tracks sound derivative today but that’s in hindsight and at the time this was cool music (and still is).

Having said that, there’s a very modern-sounding tear-arse roughness about it, an early example of garage / punk, particularly on the outtakes CD.

Morrison was clearly a fan not just of blues but jazz and gospel, and the influences can be clearly heard. This is much better than just a collection of 50-year-old songs of geeky interest to Van Morrison completists only.

About jerobear

Weekly newspaper editor in Cheshire, England. I blog my editorials and the CDs I write about. I play drums, drink coffee, play music, meditate. I hate filling in forms.

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