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

Influenial, inscrutible Van Morrison gives his most comprehensive interview ever

Into the music: Van Morrison on stage  in 1973.  Photograph: Ed Caraeff/Getty Images

Into the music: Van Morrison on stage in 1973. Photograph: Ed Caraeff/Getty Images

 

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.

Anonymity

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.”

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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.”

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Astral WeeksHis Bandand the Street ChoirAstral Weeks