- 03 Sep 20
As part of our ongoing celebrations for Van Morrison's 75th birthday, Altan, Rosie Carney and The Henry Girls share their reflections on Van's music and legacy.
Altan's Mairead Ní Mhaonaigh
Few Irish traditional bands in the last twenty years have made an impact on global audiences quite like Altan. Formed in Donegal in 1987, the group have sold over a million records throughout their career, and have collaborated with the likes of Dolly Parton, The Chieftains, Bonnie Raitt and many more.
When Altan were on tour, Van Morrison was a favourite choice to listen to on long journeys in the tour bus.
But I really got interested in Van Morrison through my late husband Frankie Kennedy, who was a huge fan and felt an affiliation with him, as they were both from Belfast – and proud to be.
He’s an amazing wordsmith, and he sings from the heart. His singing affects me, even though I personally approach my singing differently from the traditional song style. Sometimes it’s what you can’t do that most attracts you!
First and foremost, he must be one of the most prolific entertainers in the world – which is very impressive. He also has a way to make you listen intensely, as he changes his approach, performance and even the lyrics of a song every time. It’s really exciting!
Van Morrison, like all good poets, has a true spiritual message in his work. I feel that this song, ‘Whenever God Shines His Light’, has hope and light – just what the world needs right now during this Covid-19 pandemic.
With the release of her acclaimed debut album, Bare, last year, acclaimed singer-songwriter Rosie Carney cemented her reputation as one of the most powerful voices in Irish music. Earlier this year, she returned with her new EP, i dreamed i was the night.
My parents loved playing music around the house when we were young – which meant listening to Moondance on Sunday mornings. It was the only thing I liked about Sundays growing up!
I didn’t properly start listening to music until I moved to Ireland. It’s what made me start to write.
When I first heard songs like ‘Crazy Love’ and ‘Into The Mystic’, I was pretty much bowled over. I was too young to really understand what he was singing about, but his soulful voice stopped me in my tracks. Now that my older ears actually understand what he’s saying, these songs have become songs I wish I’d written. They’re comfort blankets to me.
His unique and raw voice and his ability to make such soulful and nostalgic music is what makes him special. It’s just such great music that takes you away.
‘Gypsy Queen’ is one of my favourite Van Morrison songs. I just love how soulful it is. It’s hard to not belt along with that chorus with a smile when it’s playing.
The Henry Girls
Donegal’s The Henry Girls – sisters Karen, Lorna and Joleen McLaughlin – have forged a reputation for their unique brand of charming, understated, Celtic-fused Americana. Their recent live tribute album Shout Sister Shout follows 2017’s Far Beyond The Stars.
Lorna: Weirdly, the first time I got into Van was through an album called How Long Has This Been Going, which he made with the great UK jazz singer Georgie Fame back in the ’90s. I picked it up in HMV Belfast, and I listened to it over and over again in my college days. I'd always liked individual songs by Van, but this was the first album of his that I loved.
Not long after that, while still at university in Belfast, I discovered Astral Weeks, and that was a game-changer altogether. It's got a magical quality to it, and the fact that I was living in Belfast made it all the more potent to me then.
There is so much truth and integrity in his music. He demonstrated that you can write about things that are deeply personal and local, and how these experiences can be turned into something that connects universally. He is such a fantastic wordsmith: his lyrics can be very simple but so effective, and it has a visceral effect.
I like how he doesn't overcomplicate things in terms of chords and harmonies, which makes his music much more mainstream and accessible, without being dumbed down. Ultimately, his music has taught me to stay true to myself in my own writing.
Joleen: His voice has such warmth, and captures such a laidback atmosphere, you instantly feel relaxed when his music is on. The brass section and other musicians on his recordings and live performances have always been top of their game – I think he really cares about every detail of the music.
Karen: We have been greatly influenced by Van's music and words, and also his overall style. The way he manages to crossover his Irish folk influence with jazz and blues is something we’ve always admired and aspired to. He is a powerful storyteller who really knows how to create a particular atmosphere for the listener.
We love so many of Van's songs, so it was really hard to decide on a cover. But we listened to a few, and for some reason, ‘These Are The Days’ seemed to have the best message for the current situation we are living through. He encourages the listener to find joy in living for here and now, and appreciating the simple things in life. I think we all need a bit of that from time to time.
See the full line-up for this week's 'Rave On, Van Morrison' performances here.
The Hot Press 'Rave On, Van Morrison' Special Issue is out now. Pick up your copy in shops now – or order online below:
You can find all the 'Rave On, Van Morrison' performances on the Hot Press YouTube channel.