How you can now listen to a never-before-heard Van Morrison recording from 1968 Boston

CROPPED VERSION. 04AstralWeeks Images from Astral Weeks by Ryan Walsh. 17. Van Morrison, smiling, confident, and clad in a striped suit. Spring Sing on Boston Common, April 20, 1968.
MONTUSE/Dick Iacovello
In an image from “Astral Weeks,” Van Morrison is clad in a striped suit on Boston Common on April 20, 1968.

In his very fine book, “Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968,” Boston writer/musician Ryan Walsh shares the backstory of Van Morrison’s celebrated album “Astral Weeks,” which was written, at least partially, while the Irish singer was holed up in an apartment on Green Street in Cambridge.

The centerpiece of Walsh’s book, which was released to considerable acclaim earlier this year, is a never-before-heard recording of a few “Astral Weeks” songs during a 1968 performance at the Catacombs, a cramped, wood-paneled jazz club in the basement of a building on Boylston Street. Morrison, just 22 at the time, debuted the “Astral Weeks” songs that night, joined onstage by Tom Kielbania, a student at Berklee College of Music, on upright bass, and John Payne, a Harvard dropout, on flute.

In the book, Walsh writes about trying to track down the 50-year-old recording, which was captured on reel-to-reel tape by Morrison’s friend, the future J. Geils Band singer Peter Wolf, but no one, including Kielbania and Payne, had ever heard it.


On Wednesday, quite unexpectedly, the legendary “Catacombs Tapes” became available for download via the UK iTunes store.

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“What I went through hell to find and hear is finally out there, and people can finally hear it themselves, which, in the end, is what I always wanted,” Walsh said.

Why now? Morrison, who’s nothing if not idiosyncratic, isn’t explaining himself. But Walsh has a theory, which he shared it in an interesting thread on Twitter.