- 17 Sep 20
As part of our celebrations for Van Morrison's 75th birthday, Gary Lightbody, Loah and Malaki share their reflections on Van's music and legacy.
Over the last 25 years, Gary Lightbody has firmly established himself as an icon of Irish music – whether through his globe-dominating work with Snow Patrol, or his efforts to champion young musicians in Northern Ireland through Third Bar Artist Development, which he co-runs with Davy Matchett. Last year, Snow Patrol celebrated a quarter-of-a-century since their formation with the release of Reworked.
My English teacher at school, Mark McKee, would wax lyrical about music just as much as he did about poetry – and his three favourite topics were Seamus Heaney, Bob Dylan and Van Morrison. I was 14, and his English class was the first time I paid attention at school, and the first time I encountered Van’s music. Mr McKee has a lot to answer for! Heaney and Van are still gigantic presences in my life, and two big reasons I do what I do. The first steps on any ground I have covered in music over the years were taken during those English lessons.
When you hear a great artist sing or play, they can’t be mistaken for anyone else. The more you hear them, the more they imprint on you. So part of my musical DNA is Van Morrison. Van was never my teacher – but he was my teacher, if you know what I mean.
That singular voice makes him special. And by that I don’t just mean his singing voice – I mean his way. His dao. Just watch him on stage in The Last Waltz (seriously go to YouTube right now and do that). His aura. His stage presence. How much in awe The Band are of him. His total control of everything around him. He has something that can’t be taught, ever. Not ever. Not in a million life times. You have it, or you don’t. I sure as hell don't. And then some.
It gives me so much pride that an artist from our wee island can conquer the world and reach into the souls of so many. Some artists write the soundtrack to their generation and that is extraordinary enough. He, however, has written the soundtrack to multiple generations' lives. It feels like his music is always in the room somewhere, even if it’s not playing. Like it’s atomised. Like all the very greats. If you've ever been in a recording studio with history, you can feel it when you walk in the door, in the air, or emanating from the amps before you’ve even plugged in your guitar. It hangs there, daring you to be bold.
I chose 'Into The Mystic', because, Jesus, what a song! One of the greatest opening lines in music, too: "We were born before the wind". Bloody hell. The depth of it. You could drop a coin into it and still be waiting for the noise of it hitting the bottom a week later. If you start there then you know you’re in for something special. It was always my favourite of his. And I know, I know, it’s one of his biggest. But that means little to me – big song, little song, who cares. Is it awesome? That’s all that matters. and yer damn right it is!
Irish-Sierra Leonian singer-songwriter Loah (aka Sallay-Matu Garnett) has been producing some of the most interesting music in Ireland for a number of years. After releasing her debut EP This Heart in 2017, the she released a string of remixes with Bantum, Elaine Mai and Fehdah – and starred as Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar at the Barbican in London.
'If I Ever Needed Someone' is essentially a prayer, modelled on various blues/gospel congregational song-forms, from African-American churches across the USA (though I changed the style to suit my voice and approach).
There's a great version featuring Mavis Staples on Van's duets album, which is so gorgeous and makes total sense. So much great American (and therefore, world) music comes from black church prayer and worship – the music is deeply spiritual and uplifting, and often performed to an exceptional technical standard.
In light of the trials and tribulations African-Americans have struggled with throughout the centuries, the music is a profoundly powerful way of raising the hands and the heart to Divinity, to seek courage, strength and wisdom. And in doing so, raising people's spirits to continue on, despite pain, or even to heal from it.
Van Morrison has quite a few powerful songs in this vein, and it felt right to sing this song at this moment in our own cultural awakening. I have a deep faith of my own that has gotten me through tough periods, and music and songs such as this allow me to converse directly with the Source of all life and ask for wisdom!
Following the success of his stunning Butterfly Boy EP and his collaborative Cocoon series, Malaki has emerged as one of the most compellingly original new voices in the Irish hip-hop boom.
The first time I connected to Van Morrison’s music was in 2015. I was driving with my mother on a summer's evening and 'Someone Like You' was playing on the radio. I asked my mother who this was, as she replied “That's Van the Man”. I have felt a connection towards his music ever since.
Van Morrison has been impacting me ever since I heard him first. It’s a sort of admiration I have for the man that you can’t quite find in some other artists. He is definitely a role model to me musically.
What makes Van Morrison so special in my eyes is his diversity in genres. He ranges from Rock to R&B to jazz to blues. There’s nothing the man can’t do.
It's hard not to feel some sort of connection towards Van Morrison’s legacy as an artist. His music transcends a sense of Irishness throughout commonly referring to poets such as Seamus Heaney. I admire his dedication to never forgetting his roots no matter how successful.
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.