- 04 Sep 20
As part of our ongoing celebrations for Van Morrison's 75th birthday, Mary Coughlan, Luka Bloom & Mary Coughlan share their reflections on Van's music and legacy.
Widely considered one of the greatest female singers to have emerged from Ireland in living memory, Mary Coughlan has crafted a unique, soulful sound that pulls from folk, blues and jazz throughout the 30 years of her extraordinary career. Her new album, Life Stories, is out now.
My first Van Morrison record was Saint Dominic’s Preview, and for a long time the only track I listened to was ‘Listen To the Lion’. I listened for hours at a time – and that's how it started. The same was true of every album. I had friends who loved him too and we would listen together.
When I moved to London in the ‘70s, I knew he lived in Ladbroke Grove. We walked down there in hope of seeing him every Saturday!
Fast forward to 1987, and I was singing at Cork Jazz Festival. He asked if I would like a cup of coffee afterwards! I was speechless for once…
Richie Buckley played saxophone in my band for years, and he also played for Van. For a few years in the late ‘80s, Van came to all my London gigs. We got to hang out a lot afterwards.
When we were filming Neil Jordan’s High Spirits in Limerick, Van was playing the Cork Opera House. I organised tickets for some of the cast: Beverly D’Angelo, Daryl Hannah, Liam Neeson, Donal McCann, Peter Gallagher, Connie Booth and more. We hired a bus and went to the gig. It was perhaps the finest Van gigs I’ve ever seen. At one stage, the entire cast of the movie were crying. A night I will never forget!
Over the last five decades, Luka Bloom has cemented his legendary status as a prolific singer-songwriter and performer. He launched his career while he was still a teenager – opening for his older brother Christy Moore on a tour of England in 1969. He has since released over 20 albums, with his latest project, Bittersweet Crimson, released earlier this summer.
The first time I connected with Van Morrision’s music was in 1974, when I was briefly sharing a house with my brother Christy and his wife Val. They had an amazing sound system, and a lot of Van’s early albums.
Initially I was in awe, obviously. And then, as I would light a joint and listen to the records, I became overwhelmed with a sense of insecurity. This resulted in me stopping listening to Van for some time. It was another 10 years before I really re-connected with Van’s music. Astral Weeks is still my favourite record by anyone ever.
Everyone who does this has varying degrees of lyrical talent, musical talent, vocal talent, performance talent, arrangement talent, spirituality, curiosity, and maybe even a talent for business. Clearly, Van has all of the above, at a very high level. There’s also a consistency in his passion to create great songs and music. In the end, it is about the records for me. And nobody will ever create a record like Astral Weeks.
What drew me to singing ‘Madame George’ was pure fear. My concept of hell is a comfort zone – and this song took me right out of my comfort zone. I wanted to challenge myself to deliver a believable version of this iconic song, without trying in any way to be Van. It’s up to others to decide the extent to which I succeeded or failed. I loved the effort – singing it everyday at home for a few months. What a song. What a champion. Thanks Van.
Armed with one of the most powerful voices in the country, Jess Kavanagh has found widespread acclaim as the lead singer of self-described ‘agrosoul’ group BARQ. Some of her career highlights include a lauded performance on Body&Soul’s Main Stage in 2018 and sold-out headliners with BARQ, as well as a special guest appearance during Hozier’s Electric Picnic set in 2019, to sing ‘Nina Cried Power’.
My earliest memory of Van Morrison is listening to a cassette of Tupelo Honey in my mam's car, on the way to car boot sales and garden centres on Sundays. What always struck me was the tone and timbre of his voice. That sound was so specific to him – I would always know when he was the album of the day.
Growing up, I was lucky that there was great blues and soul music around me – a lot of Bonnie Raitt and Van Morrison being played in my house and car. Having that calibre of music regularly playing in my vicinity definitely moulded my taste towards the music I make and sing now.
The way he can seem to stylistically throw away a lyric, but also make it sound super important at the same time, is crazy. Having the visibility of a soulful, Irish man with a shit-hot band was also hugely important to all the musicians and vocalists that came after him. He paved a path. A lot of Irish musicians followed that route with a lot more confidence because of his trail-blazing.
The international music scene is surprisingly small, and the Irish music scene is even smaller – parochial even. In my experiences of being a musician in Ireland, I’ve always only felt one or two degrees of separation away from Van Morrison. I’ve been able to learn important gems of wisdom from the session musicians that worked with him, and in that sense I have really felt his legacy.
I've been lucky to have had the opportunity to play with Ralph Salmins over the last couple of years with The Waterboys. Ralph also worked with Van Morrison for ten years, so I asked him to recommend a good song I may not have known. He suggested ‘Vanlose Stairway’. I loved the call and response from the backing vocals, and I wanted to recreate that myself. I roped in Ralph Salmins, Steve Wickham and Aongus Ralston from The Waterboys, and the wonderful Luke Dunford from Chief Keegan to play with me – and they were more than happy to help. Although it was all recorded separately, it all sounds magically tight, and the interplay between the fiddle and keys sounds so good. I’m blessed that I could call on such a superteam!
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.
- 12 Aug 22