Sunday, September 13, 2015

Blowin’ our mind: what Van Morrison means to us // Irish Times

Surrendering to the yarragh: Van Morrison at Orangefield High, his old school in Belfast, in August 2014. Photograph: Exile Productions

“Take me back, take me way, way, way back,” he murmurs in On Hyndford Street. “Where you could feel the silence at half past eleven / On long summer nights / As the wireless played Radio Luxembourg / And the voices whispered across Beechie River . . .”Picking apples, playing around Mrs Kelly’s lamp, stopping at Fusco’s ice-cream shop": in a few brief words Morrison invokes an entire world, the magical summer world of childhood, where you come home at night “feeling wondrous and lit up inside, with a sense of everlasting life”. 
I guess it was twenty five years ago that I became obsessed with Van Morrison.  It started with a joint and Into the Mystic, segued into Rave On John Donne, and then Irish heartbeat (with the Chieftains) lived on my turntable for a couple years.  Paul Muldoon, Glen Hansard, and several others (writers, poets, photographers, producers) recount what Sir George Ivan Morrison has meant to them. At last count I have thirty five albums, and have seen him  a dozen times.  Like me he was born in 1945 - and he is still blowing my mind.  - gwc

Blowin’ our mind: what Van Morrison means to us// Irish Times


In the spring of 1974 I lived in London, training to be a BBC radio producer in what is now the Langham Hotel, on Portland Place. I was subletting a room in a lovely old house on Camden Square. The people who lived in the house were what would shortly be known as “young professionals”. Though they were musically sophisticated and wide-ranging in their tastes, it seemed they had one record and one record only. It was Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, and it played nonstop morning, noon and night.
Though we were all “fallen in a trance”, all under the spell of this remarkable album, I expect that, as an Irishman, I was particularly smitten. It was only a year previously, in 1973, that I’d lived in a near-slum on the selfsame Fitzroy Avenue mentioned in Madame George. For many of us of a certain vintage, the fact that Van Morrison was able to give a voice to our local habitations was no less important than Heaney’s or Hewitt’s naming names. He helped us not only to recognise who we were but to come to some realisations about ourselves.
Those realisations had come long before 1974, of course. The frontman of Them had been a revelation exactly a decade before; Van Morrison was a punk before punk was a twinkle in its own eye-linered eye. I first saw Van Morrison play live not in the Maritime Club, alas, but off the back of a lorry, in the grounds of the King’s Hall, Balmoral, in the very early 1980s. I remember vividly his threatening to leave the makeshift stage if one more bottle or beer can came on to it: a not unreasonable threat, surely. In the 30 years since then I’ve seen him any number of times – occasionally in a double bill with Bob Dylan or Brian Kennedy or his very talented daughter, Shana – but always reinventing his gleeful, glorious self.
Paul Muldoon is a Pulitzer prize-winning poet and author
Glen Hansard (co-writer of Once)

Van Morrison has been in the consciousness since the day you were born. He’s that guy who is on the radio, but he’s also the guy who is doing the most out-there art you can imagine. He’s a very interesting man to be a fan of. He walks every side that musicians fear and crave.

Van is hugely underrated. He’s done every kind of music better than anyone else has done it, back to the punk rock of Gloria.

Van is not interested in who you are; he’s only interested in if you can play. We spent one evening in my early 20s where we played music, just the two of us all night, and he didn’t talk to me at all. We passed the guitar for a whole night. The guitar lost two strings and we still kept going. At the end he stood up and left. And all he said was, “Nice voice, nice songs.”

Everyone in the music industry, everyone, loves to talk about Van, because he’s real. He’s authentic. You don’t get the impression that he got jaded. I’ve spoken to Levon Helm about him, to Robbie Robertson, and they all say they same thing: that guy’s too real.

When you hear a Van story it’s always about some selfish moment. But actually what you realise when you add up all the stories is that he’s only interested in music. There’s a quote from him where he said, “I’m an introvert in an extrovert business.” That’s it perfectly.

Glen Hansard is a musician

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