- 10 Sep 20
As part of our ongoing celebrations for Van Morrison's 75th birthday, Beoga, Cathal Coughlan and Whenyoung share their reflections on Van's music and legacy.
Irish traditional/folk music quintet Beoga have been a powerful force on the Irish scene since forming at the All-Ireland Fleadh in Kerry in 2002. Their third album, The Incident, was shortlisted for a 2010 Grammy Award nomination. Beoga also contributed to Ed Sheeran’s 2016 album Divide, before releasing their new seven-track EP, Carousel, in May.
I think everyone from the six counties has a bit of an affiliation with Van Morrison. Growing up in the North, we were constantly bumping into people who’d played in his band, or had tales from the road, so he was always a reference point. As well as that, his music blared out of nearly every home in the North at one point or another.
He was a constant backdrop to our lives really, be it our own musical journey or the journey of our peers – he was always a reference point. His music also took on significance coming through the Troubles. There’s a Van song for each stage of our lives I reckon.
In terms of what makes him special – there’s his sense of melody, the horn parts, and always the tasty band. Then there’s the fact that he had such an impact on the American music scene of the ’60s and ’70s. You name it. He’s a legend, and he’s our legend. I do feel a connection to his musical legacy – Van is from East Belfast and he broke out, so if he can do it, why can’t we?
The melody drew me to the song I’ve covered, ‘Scandinavia’. He’s so good at crafting the hook, we wanted to do one of his instrumental pieces that mightn’t be on everyone’s radar. He has loads of great instrumental pieces – he’s a living legend.
Famed for his era-defining work with Microdisney and The Fatima Mansions, as well as his solo recordings, Cathal Coughlan is widely considered one of Ireland’s greatest heroes of alternative rock. He recently contributed to Side 4 Collective’s star-studded new album, We Burn Bright.
I first connected with Van Morrison’s music in 1973, when his Hard Nose The Highway album came out, and he came back to play live in Ireland. That was a huge deal. To a young kid, hearing something like the choral/bebop break during ‘Snow In San Anselmo’ on the radio (as would naively be permitted to happen at that time) was quite astonishing and great. It was no less radical to ears more accustomed to whatever was in the charts in that randomised era after the 1960s and before disco and punk than Bowie's ‘Starman’ was the year before.
I couldn't quite make heads nor tails of it then, to be honest. It certainly wasn't glam rock, and I knew that the elder music heads had revered him ever since Them. It was several years further before I heard and grew to love Astral Weeks, Saint Dominic's Preview and that fantastic 1974 live album, It's Too Late To Stop Now.
His massive and unique craft as a vocalist are among the main factors that make him so special. On a good day, and there have been many, this gives him the ability to literally free-associate in song – in all dimensions, lyrically and melodically. No one else could have created something as radical and complex as Astral Weeks, for instance, as they simply don't have that particular craft and those concerns. As a vocalist, he's inclined to the American side, but as a poet, he's far more European and Irish.
Veedon Fleece is a very, very unusual album – by the standards of Van's canon, or anyone else's. I have to admit to only discovering it in the past decade, and it's really remarkable. ‘Come Here My Love’ impressed me right away as a strange kind of blank canvas, which I thought that it might be good to try to occupy one day, should the opportunity arise. I hope I've done something worthwhile within it.
Having relocated from Limerick to London to pursue their career, Whenyoung enjoyed a landmark 2019 – releasing their debut album, Reasons To Dream, on Virgin EMI and supporting the legendary likes of Nick Cave and Garbage. After capping off the year with an Irish tour, they recently returned with a lockdown-inspired single, ‘The Prayer’, raising funds for Women’s Aid.
I’ve always been aware of Van Morrison’s music, but it was at Primavera in 2017 that I really fell in love with it. I had been walking around listening to different artists all day, feeling a bit hungover and overwhelmed by the crowds. But then I saw Van, and I just felt joy and relief. The music was so visceral, raw and pure.
The construction of his songs are so different to how we instinctively construct our own. I find it inspiring to imagine how he builds his songs. There’s a feeling of freedom without ever leaning into obvious swells – the melodies gently ebb and flow. There’s a consistency to his character and output which draws you in, and an intriguing mystery which keeps you guessing.
Obviously we’ve grown up in a different time and place but there’s definitely a comfort and pride in knowing that an artist from a small Irish place can reach such a wide audience.
We chose this song because the melody is really beautiful, and reminds us of an Irish air. The lyrics recall how it feels to be away from home and longing to be with your loved ones – a feeling we know well.
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.