- 09 Sep 20
As part of our ongoing celebrations for Van Morrison's 75th birthday, Imelda May, Wallis Bird and Moya Brennan share their reflections on Van's music and legacy.
Imelda May has secured her legendary status as a solo artist across five acclaimed albums – as well as through her work with a star-studded list of collaborators, including Jeff Beck, Lou Reed, Smokey Robinson and Tom Jones. Earlier this year, she explored a new side of her artistry with the release of her poetry EP, Slip Of The Tongue.
I’m delighted to be part of Rave On, Van Morrison. I’ve always been a fan of Van’s but as time goes on, I’m understanding his lyrics more. They are meaning more to me. He is a wonderfully soulful singer. Dear God, he is so soulful! His writing has that beautiful mix of poetry and complexity but fools you into thinking they are simple so they connect with you. His songs are stories and they almost feel they could be your story. Everybody feels like that and that’s a magical talent. I wish him all the best and hope he has a wonderful birthday.
One of Ireland’s most celebrated songwriters, Wallis Bird has been dazzling audiences for over a decade – picking up two Irish Meteor Awards and the Deutscher Musikautorenpreis (German Music Authors’ Prize), as well as nominations for the 2019 International Folk Music Award and the Irish Choice Music Prize along the way. Currently based in Berlin, Wallis released her socially-conscious sixth album, Woman, in September.
My first “aha” moment with Van Morrison’s music happened quite late in life. During SXSW 2009, I was staying with a friend. She was playing Astral Weeks in the background at her party, and I dropped out of a conversation because a moment in the music became too heavenly, lush and pure. It felt like the future. At that moment, my friend and her daughter absolutely lost themselves in the song – embracing, crying and singing their heads off in some cosmic bond. I asked who it was, and when they told me, I felt thankful and stupid at the same time – to only cop this album I’d heard so much about so late in life. But still, that moment between mother and daughter was a powerful way to find Van Morrison.
I’ve heard so much of his music vicariously – it’s like walking through your life with someone there beside you. I love his presence through other people, and their devotional connection. The pride he brings out in people. The intrigue and the mystery. I love being a fan on the fringes. It sounds fake, but I have a connection with Van Morrison’s music in the same way I do with Bob Dylan or Led Zeppelin. I’m a slow receiver, but over the course of my life I’ll have a really full and innocent experience of his music. It always catches me at the right time.
There’s nobody like him. Nobody can touch him. His music is real and he is a searcher. He constantly works on bettering his performance for his own relief and also not to let his duty as a performer slip. He’s genuine. He adores music. He’ll never leave its side, and the music loves him. They don’t make ‘em like him anymore!
It’s nice to be cut from the same kind of cloth – Irish, Pagan or Celtic, or whatever you’d call our music, has always shined through, never giving a fuck about what anyone thinks. It’s always been nomadic that way, and when he speaks about his heritage I smile to myself – because of an unknowing brethren pride, I suppose. But he seems like a nice man with a really interesting life, willing to impart his knowledge. That’s my kind of person and my kind of basis for art. So, on that leve, it’s easy to connect.
I asked my friend Kevin Ryan, who’s a huge fan, to point me in the direction of a song that represents Van’s hidden soul – a song that the man likes himself. Kevin pointed me to ‘Listen To The Lion’. A fuckin’ great song. So, I went studying it and researching it, and it turns out that it’s one of the only songs which Van talks about himself in the lyrics, and it’s seen as a peak vocal performance from him. He loses his inhibition, yet is really tender about it – serving his art, praying and chanting to the muse, the Lion. He’s thanking his art. It’s almost private.
Dubbed the ‘First Lady of Celtic Music’, Irish folk singer, songwriter, harpist, and philanthropist Moya Brennan first began performing in 1970, when her family formed Clannad – widely regarded as the band to have popularised contemporary Celtic music. Brennan has also enjoyed a hugely successful solo career, and released Timeless, a collaboration with Cormac De Barra, last year.
In 1967, tuning into an old transistor radio in Donegal to hear the latest pop/rock songs, I couldn’t believe my ears when the DJ introduced a new singer/songwriter from Belfast with an amazing song called ‘Brown Eyed Girl’. We were both from Ulster and I felt that connection, I was hooked.
What was and is brilliant about Van is all the influences he used. It made a huge impact on me when he blended jazz and folk, Celtic rock and rhythm and blues and many more genres of music together. Van is special because of his poetry in music and his Celtic soul. Very few artists have recorded over 40 albums from 1967 to the present and still come out with gems of songs. He can still bring me on a spiritual journey.
I’ve always felt a connection with Van – we’ve met lots of times and we’ve both wanted to do something together. I had the opportunity last August in The Met in Belfast, when poet Paul Muldoon was putting on one of his summer picnic shows. Van came along and sang two songs with myself, Cormac de Barra and Paul’s band.
The two songs he choose were ‘Steal My Heart Away’ and ‘The Beauty Of The Days Gone By’ from Down The Road. Loved singing with him, loved the songs. So I thought it would be nice to do one of them on this special tribute.
See the full line-up for this week's 'Rave On, Van Morrison' performances here.
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You can find all the 'Rave On, Van Morrison' performances on the Hot Press YouTube channel.