- 01 Sep 20
As part of our ongoing celebrations for Van Morrison's 75th birthday, Cara Dillon shares her reflections on Van's music and legacy.
Multi-award-winning trad singer Cara Dillon has been performing since the age of 14. Dillon made a name for herself as a solo artist after leaving folk supergroup Equation, later collaborating with her husband Sam Lakeman and releasing her debut solo album in 2001. She was awarded the Meteor Irish Music Award for Best Irish Female in 2004 for her second album.
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Growing up in Co. Derry in the ’70's and ’80s with four much older sisters and an older brother, Van's music was regularly blasting out of a bedroom record player or the car radio. I didn't have to be "introduced" to it in any way, as it seemed to always be there – it felt as much a part of the cultural fabric of Northern Ireland as traditional music was.
Beyond that, my first proper connection to Van's music came much later on. I was writing songs and exploring different musical ideas with my partner Sam Lakeman, while we were signed to Warners and living in London in the late ’90s. I remember being constantly impressed with how simple and effective Van's writing was... but it's really not that simple at all.
Through his ups and downs, and his hits and misses, his music – old and new – has always formed part of the soundtrack to my life. I couldn't possibly list all the songs that have had an impact on me, as there are so many, and their influence has been in such different ways.
Having seen Van perform live a number times, I've also been inspired as a singer by the way he can be so casual and relaxed one minute, and then completely lost in the moment. Usually the songs I sing are so intense and I can feel like I'm on a knife edge... one slip either way and all is lost. He's a great reminder to just relax.
The sheer number of truly great songs he's written is special, as is his ability to bounce back when you think he's "lost it this time". Then there’s his profound influence on other singers and songwriters. His performances can be playfully carefree or achingly tortured, which is quite unique. There really is no-one like him.
I feel an extra sense of pride that Van's from Northern Ireland – and that he sings with enough soul and swing to give the Americans a run for their money. His self-assured confidence to sing in so many styles and genres has been an inspiration to me, and his constant referencing to his homeland, and Belfast in particular, has often put a positive spotlight on our region.
His influence and output has, in no small part, helped towards rebalancing the darker side of Northern Ireland's troubled history. It's given the people here something to be immensely proud of. The simplest way to describe this is whenever I hear a Van song blasting out of the radio, or playing in between sets onstage at a festival or gig, or as background music in a restaurant. I genuinely think "That's Van... he's ours, he is" – as if he was part of my own family.
I knew everyone would be tripping over themselves to record one of the hits – ‘Moondance’, ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, ‘Have I Told You Lately’, ‘Jackie Wilson Said’ etc... I also knew that some of those songs are too big for me to sing. For the past couple of years, I've been playing Van's 2016 album Keep Me Singing as warm-up music before my concerts. I've grown to love that album; Sam and I have often noodled along to it while we're waiting to go onstage. It was a very easy choice.
The Hot Press 'Rave On, Van Morrison' Special Issue is out now. Pick up your copy in shops now – or order online below:
Our celebrations for Van Morrison's 75th birthday also include a special YouTube event, 'Rave On Van Morrison', with renditions of Van's songs from some of the most iconic names in the country – with upcoming performances from President Michael D. Higgins with Bill Whelan, Hozier, Sinéad O'Connor, Bob Geldof, and Glen Hansard, to name just a few.
You can find all the 'Rave On, Van Morrison' performances on the Hot Press YouTube channel.