- 14 Sep 20
As part of our celebrations for Van Morrison's 75th birthday, Sinéad O'Connor and Bronagh Gallagher share their reflections on Van's music and legacy.
Widely considered one of Ireland's greatest talents, Sinéad O'Connor initially rose to fame in the late '80s, with the release of her debut album, The Lion And The Cobra, and had a worldwide hit with 'Nothing Compares 2 U' from I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got in 1990. Over the last 12 months, she has made a triumphant return to music, with a run of sold-out shows, a stunning performance on the finale of The Late Late Show, and an upcoming single set to arrive on October 2.
I never heard Van until I was 18 and had moved to London. I had signed with Nigel Grainge for Ensign Records, who gave me some Van Records. They included Summertime In England and also my favourite of Van's albums, Veedon Fleece.
Van's music has had a huge impact on me – he is my favourite artist of all time. I think what makes him so special is how he uses his voice. It's free like a bird. I was also impressed by the fact he seemed to be on a healing journey and using music to get to his healing destination. This inspired me to take a similar journey. Also, the fact he was pretty easy on the eye helped.
He is an earthy artist. Inspiring of much jealousy. I don't like when people slag him off. Makes me wanna find them!
A renowned Derry-born singer, songwriter and actress, Bronagh Gallagher has appeared in classics like The Commitments and Pulp Fiction, and recently receiving an IFTA nomination for 'Actress In A Lead Role - Film' for A Bump Along The Way. She released her latest album, Gather Your Greatness, in 2016.
My mother would play Van at home in Derry growing up, so I was familiar with his extraordinary voice. But it wasn’t until I was 17 that I started going to Belfast for the weekend to see my sister Louise, who was working in the BBC at the time. We started listening to ‘Moondance’, but then I went into an obsessive, “on repeat” Astral Weeks world.
That was the record for a couple of years – that was our go-to hangout album. My actor mate Michael Leibman and I fell in love with it and ‘TB Sheets’. But then in ’91 we discovered Bang Masters, recorded in 1967 in NY by Bert Berns – and then it was game over.
It was the ultimate inspiration. He was from Belfast and he was a genius and sounded like that! He sang about the Holy Lands, the characters in that area and created a whole world of magic and poetry amidst a war zone and sectarian killings… He made us believe we could lift our heads above this heartbreak and breath. We could feel like artists, and try and make art and bring people together, not divide or hurt. Van showed us there was another way.
The music in Belfast then was around Laverys, the Limelight and parties in the Holy Lands after cranking soul and reggae and Van. It brought all religions together – no one gave a monkey what religion you were, just as long as you brought your records.
He’s one of a kind, there’s no one like him. As a child he was exposed to exceptional jazz music by his parents, so he had a serious, heavy duty education early on. He doesn't sound or emulate any other artist – he will always namecheck the ones who inspire him, but he’s utterly unique in the voice, his poetry and his delivery.
His understanding and knowledge of music allows him to sing notes and phrasing that, when attempted by others, will prove how difficult it actually is. It only reaffirms his extraordinary talent. In terms of feeling a connection as an Irish artist – no, he’s Van Morrison, I wouldn’t align myself on the same planet as him. I just adore him.
With regard to choosing a cover, ‘And The Healing Has Begun’ always made me feel it would be the song we would sing in the North when the war ended. When sectarianism and hatred stopped being bred into the youth – the only culture some people there still have. Children are born with love and play in their hearts; hate and violence are passed down in the poison cup. If peace feels like a song, it feels like ‘And The Healing Has Begun’.
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.