Van the Man looks back at 50-plus years of making music

Influenial, inscrutible Van Morrison gives his most comprehensive interview ever

Van Morrison is one of music’s most influential artists, but he’s also one of its most inscrutable. In his most comprehensive interview ever, he offers some revealing insights and discusses the key influences in his 50-plus years of making music.

Speaking last week in Belfast to Fintan O’Toole, Morrison reflects on his career and music. The interview, his most comprehensive to date, is part of a special supplement in this newspaper to mark his 70th birthday.

Morrison has had an uneasy relationship with fame, which he says is the biggest hindrance to his creativity. “The thing about being famous . . . you become objectified, and when you’re writing, if you’re talking about the creative process and being able to stand back, that’s no good, because you need to freely look at what’s going on and observe people,” he said.


“And it’s very difficult to do that when people are focusing on you. You don’t have the anonymity which is important for creativity.”


In the interview, Morrison recalls his childhood, growing up in a Belfast home that was famous in the city for his father's record collection. When just a teenager, he went to Germany to tour with The Monarchs, working the gigging circuit there, "playing seven sets a night, nine on the weekends. It was really training, boot camp."

Blues club

Morrison returned to Belfast. “My only ambition was to have a blues club here.” He set it up at the Maritime Hotel in 1964, and formed Them especially to open it. Some years later, the band would find itself with a residency in the Whisky a Go Go club, sharing a bill with The Doors. It was in LA Morrison wrote one of his most ambitious songs, the blues-flavoured

TB Sheets

. Its subject is the death of a young girl from tuberculosis, but it was also influenced by US comedian

Lenny Bruce

, who Morrison met at the club. Bruce was in decline due to drug addiction and died in 1966.

When it comes to influences, Morrison's touchstones are as literary as they are musical. He mentions Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums, Zen Buddhism by Christmas Humphreys and Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea as being key to this work. Morrison also reveals that Astral Weeks, nearly all of which was written in Belfast, was "a reading of the times . . . It was a period when a lot of things were changing. I was observing how people were perceiving things, and reinventing things, and coming out the other end." He also planned to make a film around the track Madame George, but the project foundered.

Morrison may have decamped to Woodstock in the late 1960s, but he had little time for the counter-culture movement. “I never considered myself a hippy. In fact I hated it, actually. I was sort of in the wrong place in the wrong time. It was just totally funny . . . All these people saying that they were different, but they were all the same . . . It was just another badge. And then the record companies started signing them up, because that’s what made money.”

Digital release

Yesterday, Legacy Recordings released 33 of Morrison’s albums digitally, including all his solo work since 1971, Them’s work from 1964 to 1966, and a new anthology. Warner Bros is to release expanded and remastered versions of

Astral Weeks


His Band


the Street Choir

in October. On Monday, his 70th birthday, Morrison will perform two concerts on Cyprus Avenue in Belfast, the street he made famous on

Astral Weeks

. Morrison will also perform at the 3Arena in Dublin on November 20th.