- 09 Sep 20
As part of our ongoing celebrations for Van Morrison's 75th birthday, Emma Langford, Ailbhe Reddy and Ultan Conlon share their reflections on Van's music and legacy.
Since being crowned 'Best Emerging Folk Artist' at the inaugural RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards in 2018, there's been no stopping Limerick artist Emma Langford. A recipient of the inaugural Dolores O’Riordan Bursary, presented to her in December by Dolores’ mother Eileen, Emma is set to release her highly anticipated second album, Sowing Acorns, later this year. Recently, she was one of several stars to lend her voice to the stunning Irish Women In Harmony’s cover of ‘Dreams’.
I used to play Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’ at every open mic and gig I did. It was a pretty rough and ready version of it – I was an okay singer and a mediocre guitarist, but I loved that song. It blew my mind when I learned that it was written by an Irish artist. That was probably the first moment of real connection with it – finding out it came from the same place as me.
I started to appreciate Van Morrison's work even more over the last few years, as I was exploring what it meant to be an Irish musician on an international stage. Artists like Van have established a context for us – they've set the bar in a lot of ways. I watched The Last Waltz, and saw him sharing a stage with Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton and Mavis Staples. That was a real "wow" moment – to see him among some of the world's biggest musical heroes. It just reminded me – as if I needed reminding! – that there's always been a place on that stage for Irish musicians.
It's hard not to feel a connection to his legacy, as an Irish artist, but it also feels cheeky to even suggest a connection! He's a legend. He has decades of hard work behind him – no doubt it was a far steeper ladder to climb back then, and he's beaten a track to tread for many blues and jazz musicians and songwriters from Ireland. I feel a sense of pride that he's one of our own.
I've worked a bit with Dave Keary here in Limerick, and whenever I explain who that is to folks, it's usually a hushed, revered "He plays guitar on tour with Van Morrison!". There's a myth and mysticism about ‘Van the Man’.
What makes him special is how prolific and consistent he is – he's been on the scene since 1958 and has been uncompromising in his sound, style and energy. Plus, his accent shines through in his songs, and I always love that. That unconcealed connection with where he comes from is a touch of class.
The lyrics of ‘Brand New Day’ hit a nerve. I was strolling within my 2km, browsing his considerable back catalogue, and considering the classics – ‘Days Like This’ and ‘Have I Told You Lately’. Then my ear caught the opening line of ‘Brand New Day’: “When all the dark clouds roll away, and the sun begins to shine, I see my freedom from across the way and it comes right in on time.” I hit repeat and then I hit it again, and I sat in the grass and I breathed deep for the first time that day.
Over the course of her career, Ailbhe Reddy has established herself as one of the country's most captivating songwriters and performers. Following a series of ecstatically-received singles over the last few years, and appearances at the likes of Glastonbury, Latitude, Primavera, The Great Escape, Cambridge Folk Festival and Electric Picnic, she's gearing up to release her highly anticipated debut album, Personal History, next month.
I used to listen to Astral Weeks in the car with my parents when I was a child, so Van Morrison's music was always part of my life. His music was always played at home or on the radio in Ireland, so it was very much part of my formative years. Many of his biggest tracks were a huge part of my life.
He's a really unique artist who sounds very unlike any of his contemporaries or any Irish artist who has come since – yet he has been hugely influential to many. Most Irish artists are massively influenced by other artists who come from the same place and manage to have such successful and respected careers.
I first heard 'I'll Be Your Lover Too' when I saw the film Proof of Life when I was younger. I was just drawn to it as it's quite stripped back and raw which is really appealing to me.
Widely considered one of Ireland’s most captivating artists, Ultan Conlon has shared stages with the legendary likes of Jackson Browne, John Grant and Patty Griffin, and performed duets with Glen Hansard and John Martyn – the latter recording one of Ultan’s early songs, ‘Really Gone’, in 2005. The Galway singer-songwriter released his fourth studio album, There’s A Waltz, earlier this year.
When I was 20, I was living in Boston for a while – and I had a Discman, with The Best Of Van Morrison on CD. I listened to that record on trains and buses, and walking all round Boston city that Autumn. It was a great place and time to connect with him.
It had a great impact on me at that time. Before that, I was into grunge and indie bands. This was one of my first introductions to a solo performer/songwriter. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a singer-songwriter, and not operate within a band unit.
I love that he paints pictures of where and how he grew up. They're like little flashes of fever dreams, condensed into perfect songs. It’s not easy to achieve that perfection, and still manage not to sound over-cooked or over-analysed. I'm proud to be from the same island as Van Morrison. There's a certain Celtic connection I feel there
I love the record Veedon Fleece and ‘Bulbs’ has got to be one of my favourite tracks on there. His version has a serious skip in it.
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.