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