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VAN MORRISON

Van Morrison‘Van the Man’ is a unique performer who crosses a lot of boundaries with his brand of ‘Celtic Soul’. Elements of Gospel, Folk and Blues are fused behind a vocal style that also draws heavily on wildly emotional Jazz phrasing. He revealed that he learned a lasting lesson from studying many early Louis Armstrong records, that you should “never sing a song the same way twice”. Van’s own compositions have a deeply spiritual quality and his voice carries a powerful emotional charge, which he uses in many of his songs to embellish a simple vocal line and, by repetition and variation, turn it into an enlightening mantra or an unforgettable anthem.

 

George Ivan Morrison was born in Belfast in the North of Ireland in 1945, and while he was still at Elmgrove Primary School he was known as ‘Van’. His father George was a shipyard electrician who owned a huge record collection, some from his time visiting America, and it included work by Lead Belly and Muddy Waters.

Van has said “Hearing the Blues changed my life,” and when his Dad bought him a guitar at the age of 11, Van was keen to perform. British music was experiencing a wave of home-spun ‘skiffle’ groups, and when the leading light Lonnie Donegan had a massive hit with ‘Rock Island Line’, Van recognised it as a Lead Belly song. Van sang and played guitar and harp in various skiffle bands, then persuaded his parents to buy him a sax, and he learned to read music. Work with local show-bands followed, sometimes touring Ireland and Britain, and with The Monarchs, he toured Europe in 1963. Van’s maturing voice and natural talent for phrasing got him hired as singer by The Golden Eagles, a Belfast based band that played a lot of Blues. A new R&B club at The Maritime Hotel needed an opening act, so Van recruited some local musicians and they called themselves ‘Them’ after a recent horror movie. Their tune ‘Gloria’ was first performed on that stage, in sets that could last quite a long time as Van improvised spontaneous songs of his own, as well as covering R&B classics.

Van and ‘Them’ perform ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ for British TV;

Van-MorrisonDecca Records gave Them a contract in 1964 and ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’, ‘Here Comes the Night’ and ‘Mystic Eyes’ all did well in the singles charts. An American tour in 1966 saw Them supported for three weeks at The Whisky in LA by local band The Doors, and the two Morrisons jammed a version of ‘Gloria’ as a farewell encore. Them broke up in acrimony back in Britain, and Van concentrated on songwriting before returning to New York to record ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ as a solo performer. It went to No.10 in the Hot 100 and a bright future beckoned, but when producer Bert Berns died suddenly it led to contract disputes which had to be resolved before Van could sign for Warners in 1968. The ‘Astral Weeks’ album showed a new side of Van as a spiritual, poetic songwriter and singer who was creating his own mystical genre of ‘Celtic Soul’. However, it was his third solo album ‘Moondance’ that brought big sales and worldwide fame, and soon afterwards ‘Domino’ and ‘Wild Night’ were hit singles. A series of complex, personal albums followed, interspersed with tours as part of his Caledonian Soul Orchestra, and this frenetic activity led to ‘burnout’ and a complete break from music. Rested and revitalised, in 1977 ‘Wavelength’ became his best selling album so far. Commercial success has never seemed to be a priority for Van: he was more interested in the inspirational and healing qualities of music, perhaps best expressed on the ‘Inarticulate Speech of the Heart’ album in 1983 and ‘No Guru, No Method, No Teacher’ three years later.

‘Brown Eyed Girl’ returns to Belfast in 2012, featuring Van’s sax solo!

Van Morrison Discography
This excellent 3 CD collection takes us from Van’s early days with ‘Them’, through many facets of his career.

STILL ON TOP

Van explored his Irish roots on an album with The Chieftains; played on ‘The Wall’ at the historic 1990 concert in Berlin with Roger Waters; issued some live jazz on the album, ‘How Long Has This Been Going On’; and released some skiffle sessions alongside his early idol Lonnie Donegan. Van continues to record and tour regularly, and always plays a good deal of his current music rather than a ‘greatest hits show’, but his back catalogue sales and radio airplay ensure that his musical legacy is carried to present and future generations. Van’s 34th studio album, ‘Born to Sing: No Plan B’ was recorded in Belfast in 2012 and he appeared at the London Blues Festival in 2013. He was awarded a Knighthood in 2015, for services to music, shortly before headlining a Lead Belly tribute show at The Albert Hall, and ‘Sir Van’ continues to tour the world as one of our best-loved musicians.