- 14 Sep 20
He scored his first hit single as lead singer with Them in 1965, with ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’. In 1968, he released his debut solo album Astral Weeks, which is widely regarded among critics as one of the most important and complete records of the past 50 years. But these are just two early landmarks in a remarkable career which finds Van Morrison still on top of his game 40 years since he made his debut with his own skiffle group, The Sputkniks, at a school concert in Orangefield in Belfast. In an exclusive interview, carried out in 1999 for the RTÉ television series From A Whisper To A Scream, he spoke to Niall Stokes.
It must be two years ago that David Heffernan first called me to discuss the project. He was thinking about putting a series together on the history of contemporary Irish music, and how we’d effectively gone from nowhere to the place we currently occupy, in which Ireland is considered to be one of the primary sources of music talent in the world. Since I was already delving into a lot of this stuff, preparing for the opening of the Irish Music Hall of Fame – where we also tell the story of Irish music, in a very different way – it seemed to offer a potentially valuable synergy. I agreed to get involved.
David came up with the working title From A Whisper To A Scream, and that seemed to fit. He had to go off and raise some money and there was a bit of the usual shuffling and consulting and planning before the real work began. The first interview for the series took place some 15 months ago, during an afternoon in December 1998, in a somewhat eerie and empty Lillie’s Bordello in Dublin.
It s an old story. You dive headlong in, not knowing how the thing is going to unfold, or what it’s going to involve. And by the time you’ve found out – as Van Morrison has declared on more than one occasion, in suitably ringing tones: It’s too late to stop now!
It took fifteen months of labour to bring the concept to fruition – and I’m sure that there were times along the way when the title seemed all too apt to David Heffernan, as the sheer scale of what had to be wrestled with attained an intimidating weight. But it’s done now: the six programmes are in the can. Indeed, if you weren’t asleep at the back of the class, you’ll already have seen the first instalment by now.
Of course in a television treatment of a story of this kind, there’s only so much ground, and so much music, that you can cover. David wanted the narrative to focus on those artists or acts who had left, or are in the process of leaving, a real impression on the national consciousness – or indeed who have stirred the blood in a significant way in the wider world. There is, of course, a different story that might be told, about the cult artists and the indie bands who have charted their own idiosyncratic course through Irish social and musical history, and who have contributed – in however small or large a way – to the spangled history of what people loosely call rock ‘n’ roll. But, for the most part, From A Whisper To A Scream concentrates on the headlining acts oR the ones who set the pace, who made the breakthroughs, who charted the course along which others would follow and who, in the long run, we can say truly made history.
I have, over the past twenty odd years, been fortunate enough to get to know most of those people and to interview the majority of them. For one reason or another, until last year, I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to sit down opposite Van Morrison and see what transpired once the tape started rolling. One of the great pleasures, for me, of getting involved in the making of From A Whisper To A Scream was that it acted as a catalyst in this regard. You couldn’t possibly do a series on contemporary Irish music without speaking to a man who has clearly ranked among the towering figures in music internationally over the past 40 years or so – and, more particularly, one who still does.
Van was happy to talk. It was my job to ask the questions. This is what he had to say...
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Niall Stokes: Van do you remember the first piece of music that really captured your imagination?
Van Morrison: Imagination, yeah. The first piece of music that captured my imagination was probably Ray Charles Live At Newport, that record.
Your father was unusual in that he collected a lot of records, especially interesting R ‘n’ B and jazz ones.
Well, he was coming from, you know, like the jazz era, and so he would go in the record shop to buy something like Kid Ory, Louis Armstrong or one of those records. And I was a kid, and I remember the guy in the record shop saying “Have you heard this?” and this would be like Leadbelly or something. So that’s where that came out of. Blues, folk, gospel, it all came out of that jazz scene. That would be like late 50s, early 60s.
And did they get you to sing at parties, or was there a musical thing going on in the family?
Not that anyone would know about it. My mother would sing and a couple of my uncles sang, maybe at the weekend. But you see all this was normal to me at the time. I wasn’t really aware of anything different; it’s only in retrospect that, you know, you see any significance in it.
Do you remember the first song that you actually got up and sang, and how did it go down?
The first song I got up and sang would probably be the Leadbelly song ‘Midnight Special’ , when I was at school. We did this school concert at Orangefield, at Christmas, in my last year there. I had a skiffle group and, eh, it went down great. The other guys in the group were actually at the same school as me, you know.
Legend has it that you started playing guitar at something like 10 or 11.
No, I was about 13, I think.
Did you spend hours practising?
Yeah, well I had this book, it was called The Alan Lomax Folk Guitar Book, and it was mainly based on the Carter Family style, which was a picking style, and that’s fundamentally the folk style as we know it today. So that’s what I was learning. I listened to records as well, of the Carter Family and Leadbelly, while I was practising.
So at what stage did you become interested in R ‘n’ B?
All this was pre the R ‘n’ B scene. It was very unique even to be listening to this music at that point. But the R ‘n’ B thing developed out of when I was in a showband called the Manhatten Showband and we were playing at what is now the Camden Palace in Camden Town; it was a ballroom then. We were there for the weekend, and this guy in the band and myself went down to a place in Soho, called Studio 51, and we saw this group there (it was The Downliners Sect – N.S.) playing Jimmy Reid and Bo Diddley, and all this stuff. And this was the kind of music that I was already listening to, and I grew up on, so it was kind of like a shock that there was actually people playing this. So I went back to Belfast and started a club, which was the Maritime. Before that, blues would have been part of Trad Jazz in Belfast. Jim Daly, for instance, was a blues piano player but he was part of a traditional jazz band. No one had actually thought about doing a blues club, it was unheard of – so, like, I was the first.
The first showband you were involved with was The Monarchs. How conscious were you when you joined The Monarchs of people like the Royal Showband, the Miami, the Capitol and those guys?
Well that’s how one got work if you were a professional musician – which I was at that point. You had to work with somebody, and showbands were probably the only entity in Ireland that were getting work – I mean I don’t know anyone that wasn’t in a showband. It was revolving chairs, you’d either be in one or the other. It wasn’t any big deal, there was so many then – there was like hundreds of showbands and there was gigs galore, at that time. So you always knew you were going to get a gig with somebody. And the people that actually paid money were showbands. Like, groups didn’t make any money then, you know. In fact groups didn’t even exist on a professional level at that point.
Do you think it was a good training ground for musicians?
Absolutely yeah, definitely.
So at that time showbands were mainly playing cover versions of other people’s hits?
No it wasn’t just that. You know the showband story, it wasn’t just that – some of these bands had a very high calibre of musicianship so, it was something that they could have done in Las Vegas, it was actually a show. You know, they did everything, they did comedy, right, they did top ten, they did jazz, they did impersonations – you know it was a very professional show. It wasn’t just like a matter of guys like doing steps and wearing suits. It was a couple of levels above that.
They used brass a lot, that was kind of a feature.
You had to have brass, they had to have brass. It was a pre-requisite.
It must have been quite a culture change when you formed Them?
It didn’t happen overnight. After that Showband broke up, the guitar player, Herbie Armstrong was offered a job with Brian Rossi, and I just happened to be in the phonebox at the time, and I said ‘tell him I play saxophone’ , so he said ‘my mate plays saxophone, I’ll bring him along’. So I got a job at the Plaza working with The Brian Rossi Orchestra. This was like a Big Band, in the Mecca ballrooms, it was 15-piece or whatever. So that was the bridge between the Showband and starting the blues club. Actually I started Them with the same guy, Herbie Armstrong, but he didn’t want to leave Brian Rossi. This thing that I was putting together, it was like ‘let’s see what happens’, and he’d go ‘I don’t know, I’m getting 40 quid a week, I don’t know if I can do this’. So I had to get new people to go in and play this club. I ended up with other people that I didn’t actually know, cos it was a last minute thing at that point. Forty quid a week was a lot more than you’d get playing R ‘n’ B in those days.
So when Them actually got moving, there were hits pretty quickly?
No, no , not at all. I mean the first single we put out died. I think it sold two copies, you know. No it wasn’t like the Rock ‘n’ Roll history books say. That’s not reality, you know what I mean? That’s looking through rose coloured glasses or something. It wasn’t like that at all. It actually took off when the second single, as a fluke, was played on Ready Steady Go, cos somebody there liked the record, and they just decided to play it. And gradually through being on that progamme, people heard about it and it got into the lower part of the charts or whatever. That was how it started.
So was there a transition from when you were doing the R ‘n’ B stuff to when you started to think of yourself as a songwriter?
Well, that goes back to the Showband. When I was with the Monarchs in Germany, I was writing songs then – that would be like ‘62. But, you know, you didn’t really do your own songs because it had to be something that people knew, so that’s why all those bands played covers. I wrote a couple of songs while I was in the Manhatten Showband, for instance, and I recorded those two songs on the second Them album. So I was already writing songs, but I was only writing a few songs here and there, you know. It was mainly other people telling me that I should do them that registered, you know, it was like oh you should do this blah blah blah, ‘cos I didn’t think about it myself.
Would you have been conscious of The Clancy Brothers, and the fact that someone like Bob Dylan would have been influenced by them at the time?
That wasn’t evident then. That’s another one of those things in the books. That wasn’t apparent then at all, you know. The Clancy Brothers was like showband music at that point, but it was later on when people got the connections between that and Bob Dylan.
And did hearing someone like Bob Dylan for the first time make an impact on you?
Yeah I think I heard it in a record shop, in Smith Street. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. And I just thought it was incredible that this guy’s not singing about moon in June and he s getting away with it. That s what I thought at the time. The subject matter wasn’t pop songs, ya know, and I thought this kind of opens the whole thing up. You don’t have to write about “I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill”. You could write about virtually anything, and I think Dylan opened that up. Leadbelly was doing this, Woodie Guthrie was doing it, but it wasn’t that apparent, it wasn’t in your face at that point. Dylan put it into the mainstream that this could be done.
You got involved with Bert Berns and ‘Here Comes The Night’ arose out of that, which was a big hit. But you fell out with him later.
When Bert Berns produced Them – he produced a couple of tracks on the first record – he was a very easy-come easy-go kind of guy, and that’s why we liked him and that’s why it worked. He was very flexible – ’just do whatever you want and I’ll get it on tape’, kind of thing. Then a couple of years later, I was supposed to sign with, it was then called Phillips Fontana in the UK, and I got this phonecall from Bert Berns saying ‘let’s get together, do blah, blah, blah’ and I ended up signing with his label, which was Bang. And between the way he was then and the way I knew him before, well, it was like Dr. Jeckyll and Mr Hyde.
You went to New York at that point to work with Berns, right?
I went to New York and everything was very controlled, everything had to be done like the way he wanted it done – but to the extreme. There was no flexibility. He wasn’t the same kind of creative force he was when I first met him. It just seemed he was going through the motions. I was playing these songs with just me and the guitar and then I’d go in the session and there’d be 20 people that were unnecessary – you know, like, three guitar players, three bass players, three drummers, ten back-up singers, and it was like ‘what’s this’? I didn’t know what he was trying to get at. Everything was kind of locked in. I felt constricted. I soon got really fed up with this so it was kind of an artistic disagreement.
You did some recordings for Bang that included ‘Brown Eyed Girl’.
I went to New York for four days. One of those days I recorded eight tracks, which was supposed to be for four singles and they put those four singles out as an album. And I didn’t know at that point it was an LP – so that was the first mistake, and that was the best part of it! It just got worse from there. It just kept getting worse and worse and worse – until it came to the point where it was unworkable, you know. Everything was unworkable, so that’s what happened.
In the run up to making Astral Weeks, did you have a strong sense of the end result that you had in mind?
Well, I just wanted to break away from this kind of structured thing at that point, em, ‘cos I didn’t realise that all these records I was hearing, like Aretha Franklin, the R ‘n’ B stuff, Wilson Pickett, I didn’t realise that that was so structured and so tight and so arranged. It didn’t sound that way but in actuality, those kind of sessions were very uptight and very structured, almost like a showband, you know. And to me that didn’t make sense because I was listening to Sam Cooke, and also to a guy called King Pleasure and Bobby Blue Bland. And the slow stuff that King Pleasure was doing, he stretched the words, everything was extended and also Sam Cooke was doing it, that’s what I was into. I just wanted to get back to playing and singing really, so it was like getting rid of everything and starting again. It was just guitar, voice and singing the songs. So Astral Weeks came out of this desire to break out of this rigidity, you know, to extend the lines, and chop it up and move beyond this 1,2,3,4, beats to the bar. That’s what that was all about.
So did you know that the guys you were working with on Astral Weeks were some of the top jazz guys?
No, I didn’t know that. I was playing this stuff live after this Bang records situation, because they managed me – they were the manager, the agency, the publisher, the record company, they were everything. I couldn’t move, so the only way I could make any money was to go and do live gigs and I got a gig at a place called The Scene in New York, for $75 dollars, all in. I had to pay the band, pay the taxi, pay everything out of $75 dollars a night, two sets a night. I was lucky enough to get a gig at that point, ‘cos they didn’t know who I was in America – I couldn’t get arrested, you know. So that’s when I started to develop this thing. And then of course when it came to making the record, you know, people don’t want to use the band. We all know about that one, ‘we don’t want to use the band, we want to get people that we want to get’ – ‘cos they never wanted to use the band, you know, ever. So it was really the producer that brought these other people in. I didn’t know who they were.
Astral Weeks is a record in which language is important – there’s this repetitive thing that you were getting into.
The repetitive thing came out of a period of a couple of years. It started when I was in California, when I was with the group Them – I had this concept. But I wrote most of those songs on Astral Weeks in Belfast. I wrote one of them in Ladbroke Grove in London, but the bulk of the lyrics were written in East Belfast.
So where did this repetitive thing spring from?
Where did it spring from? I think it was just from the way people talk, you know, hearing things against the rhythm of speech. The rhythm of speech. It came out of that, and the music I was listening to at the time. Which was, you know, sort of soul jazz sort of stuff. So it was a combination of those two things.
Your voice, as a writer, has a huge amount to do with trying to reach inside and express the inexpressible. I was wondering, in its origins, is that a jazz thing or does it come from the literary interest that you have?
Well, I don’t think it came from literary interest, I think it came from hearing like people talk, not from reading books. Later on the connections were made with the poetic tradition, but at that point it was just stuff I was picking up from the way people talked. That’s what it was.
Had you any awareness of Irish traditional music at that time?
The only people that I knew of who were doing Irish music were the MacPeakes. And there was a guy, Davy Hammond, who was one of my English teachers at Orangefield. But they were the only people that I knew that sang folk music.
And were you listening to what was happening in rock ‘n’ roll?
I was never into what was being done at the time. I was either into previous or what was going on in my own head. I never paid attention to what was contemporary or what was commercial, it didn’t mean anything to me.
Thinking of the songs that you would be inclined to sing from those early years, are there reasons why some stand out for you now?
Well, I just move on, I don’t really get that involved in the past. It’s like, you do something and you move on. So before I did Astral Weeks I had, like, myself, an upright bass player and a flute player, and that was the gig. I was playing that music before I made the record, so by the time that even came out, I was doing something else. By the time that came out it was like – where’s the next meal coming from, you know what I mean? Because I wasn’t getting any money and that record didn’t sell, you know. Astral Weeks didn’t sell. So I had to make something that was going to get played on the radio. I was getting screwed by these people. I was getting no record royalties, no publishing royalties, no nothing. So apart from live gigs, the only the way they couldn’t screw me was airplay because that came direct from BMI. You couldn’t steal that money ‘cos it came direct to the person. But it was basic survival you know, the next record was just basic survival.
But it produced some great songs, like ‘Moondance’.
Well, I don’t know ‘cos that was then and I’ve moved on. You know, I think my great songs are now. The songs I’ve written recently, on the last couple of records I think that they are my best songs. So I can’t comment on that.
The idea of Caledonian soul, what was your inspiration for that?
I don’t know, it seemed like a good idea at the time. When I met Bert Berns, the only positive thing that he taught me was that I should meet Bobby Scott, ‘cos Bobby Scott thought that soul music came from Ireland and Scotland, and this kind of stuck in my head. So that was just an idea that came out of that. That’s where the name came from. At that point I’d never met Bobby Scott. I met him much later, and Bert Berns was right I should have met him then. But I didn’t meet him until the ‘80s.
The ‘70s was kind of a fallow time in music. There was a lot of so-called progressive rock.
That didn’t mean anything to me, I was just doing my own thing. I was never into what you call rock. I was into Rock ‘n’ Roll, you know, when I was starting out but that was, like, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Carl Perkins. But that was Rock ‘n’ Roll. I never knew what Rock was. I still don’t. I know what Rock ‘n’ Roll is, but I don’t know what rock is. I’d never been into it, so it didn’t matter to me.
During that time there were interesting things happening here in Ireland. The Bothy Band, and Clannad, those kind of folk acts were coming through very strongly, with a vibrant new kind of folk music.
I was only aware of something like Horslips at that time. I remember hearing a couple of their records. Of course I was aware of The Chieftains – actually I tried to do a record with the Chieftains then, it was about ‘78, but it never came together ‘cos of calendars and geographically, but at that point I was trying to hook up with the Chieftains. I remember talking to Garech Brown about this at the time, but of course it didn’t happen until much later.
You came back and based yourself in England at the end of the ‘70s. Were you conscious of returning to a kind of spiritual base in this part of the world?
I got fed up of the America thing. Henry Miller called it the ‘air conditioned nightmare’, you know. I just had enough. I wanted to get out, that’s basically it.
And at that stage a more pastoral thing was coming into the music. You seemed to be plugging into people like William Blake.
That just came out of stuff I was reading. I remember Halls Of Ancient Peace, that was the title of a book I bought in a second-hand bookstall in Cornwall one time. And so I wrote a song from that. That was the kind of thing I was doing, so, at that period, I was kind of writing off the back of books.
Do you have an interest in the poetry of Seamus Heaney? He’s someone who’s a contemporary of yours.
I connect with Heaney on a level where he talks about the weather reports, you know. I think that’s where I connected with Heaney, ‘cos I did the same thing when I was a kid. He found that to be very poetic and so did I, you know. Rockall, Faroes, where they used to give the weather report on the radio, and eh, that’s kind of why I connect with him.
And would you listen to radio now at all?
No, it never comes up, except in the car, you know. But most of the time it’s off, ‘cos what they play is total crap at this point. So, no, not really. I just play tapes.
Irish Heartbeat led into another area, songs that were familiar from the folk tradition say a song like ‘Carrigfergus’.
My father loved John McCormack, and he had lots of John McCormack records. So it was always part of the picture. And I always liked those sort of songs anyway. So whether I did it with The Chieftains or not was neither here nor there. I always loved those songs. So basically that’s where I came in on that, I was coming from the John McCormack angle, you know, into the Chieftains angle. So it was like marrying the two things.
You sang ‘Raglan Road’ on that album, which touches into the poetic tradition.
I just knew it as a song. Various people did it. Paddy Reilly did it. The Dubliners did it, so I knew it as a song, not as a poem.
You also did a rousing version of ‘Star Of The County Down’.
Well, that was straight off John McCormack, that one. Even his arrangement, you know, the piano with Derek Bell that’s the way John McCormack would have done it, but he did it with just piano and voice. That stuff comes from that tradition of those Scottish and Irish type of singers that just sang with piano accompaniment. I always liked that music, so it was just a matter of getting the right songs.
How important are live performances to you?
I think it’s important to play. I think that’s what’s important. All the people that I admired when I started out, that’s all they did. They just did gigs. Jimmy Witherspoon, John Lee Hooker – they just keep going out. So, I’m coming back to where I started out. I’ve been loads of different people throughout the years, but I think I’m coming back to the beginning, to the blues and to those people. They just played. Whether you can call it performance, I don’t know. I think there was more emphasis on playing than performing. I think that’s where I am coming from now.
At its most intense, live performance can aspire to being a spiritual experience. Is that what you’re after?
Sometimes it is a spiritual experience but most of the time it’s not. Most of the time it’s just doing a gig. The odd time something happens and you go into some kind of enchainment. But you have to work very hard to get that. Most of the time you’re just playing and singing the songs, and there’s no guarantee that you are going to get anywhere. But that’s ok, there’s no free lunch, you know?
Do you feel happy on stage? Is there a real pleasure in it for you?
No, not really. The point I’m trying to make is those guys that I admired, they were just doing it cos they had to do it. It wasn’t like: are you happy doing it, are you this, are you that? You just do it, because that’s what one does. I think I’m at that stage, that I’m doing it simply ‘cos that’s what one does, you know. You don’t have to be anything. You’ve gone past the stage of being all the different things, and you’re just back to square one, you’re just standing up there singing. And you can’t name what it is. It is what it is and it s just doing the gigs, you know?
What about this idea that the writer is a channel for something?
Well, that’s writing. Writing and performing are two different things, because when you sing a song that many times, it loses the impact. When you write the song, and it’s fresh and you record it, and you get a good take of the song, it means something then. But if you keep singing that song for years and years, it doesn’t mean anything at some point – it’s just a vehicle for singing. All that repetition of the stuff kind of burns it out, so you’re just left with the skeleton of the thing.
To you, is what a song says, the meaning of it, important?
It is when you first do it. There’s a difference between writing the song and recording it initially, and performing the thing. ‘Cos when you perform the thing – I mean, some of these songs, I’ve sung them thousands of times, so they lose the original meaning you know, and it ends up just being a vehicle. So it doesn’t really matter what the words are, it’s what the performance is, and what you put into it, that’s what it becomes, and the lyrics become irrelevant after a certain stage. And you play with them. I’ve played with some of my songs, done them back to front, upside down and wrung them out, you know. But that’s the difference between performing and writing. A huge difference. Performing you have to make it interesting for yourself, otherwise you can’t do it. And in order to do that, you have to be able to play around with it.
How does it feel to hear someone else sing one of your songs?
Some of it’s very good. I’ve heard some really good versions over the years. Esther Phillips, she did a couple. I don’t have the list with me, but there has been some good cover versions.
In ‘Gloria’, you wrote a song that everyone that ever joined a rock ‘n’ roll band had to know.
That wasn’t one of my best songs, that’s the thing. That was like a throwaway, that was ‘I’m A Ma’n’ meets, em, Bo Diddley, you know. That’s what that song was. It was a throwaway. So to me, that’s not a real song, it’s like ‘Brown Eyed Girl’. That was then, this is now, it’s kind of not relevant to me. It was at the time, but that record was done simply because I needed the money, it was basic survival, you know. Now I don’t have to do that anymore, I can do what I want, so I can’t relate to that now.
Was there a point where you made a conscious decision to own the rights to all the material?
I could only start from where I was, I couldn’t get the old stuff back again, I could only start from the present time, which was the end of the ‘70s, that’s when I started to try and own what I do. It took a long time. In the ‘80s I started owning what I actually do. I have ownership of it. But some people don’t own anything they do. In fact a lot of top acts that we all know and love don’t actually own their own masters. So, em, it’s very unique to own your own masters.
How important is that to you?
It’s only important to me artistically. It means that nobody can mess around with it and if I don’t want to put it out, if I don’t like it, if I make a record say and get fed up with that record, then I don’t have to put it out. It’s different where this ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ thing is concerned. Sony bought this from the original people who owned the masters, and they put this out at least twice a year, sometimes three times a year, on different labels. Sony do this, right. I don’t have any control over that, but if it was my choice, I’d burn the tapes. I wouldn’t put it out ‘cos it’s not representative of me or what I do. In fact it creates a problem for me – for instance some people come to my gigs and they think that’s Van Morrison. And that wasn’t even me then, you know what I mean. It certainly isn’t me now, so it’s misrepresentation. And it’s got nothing to do with what I do, so if I owned that record, I’d just burn the tapes.
It would not exist. But seeing as they own it and I don’t, they keep putting it out every five minutes, which is queering the pitch for what I actually do.
At your induction into the Irish Music Hall of Fame, you spoke about Paul McGuinness and what he brought, as a manager, to music in Ireland.
Well, like I said, I think Paul McGuinness and U2 created the Irish music industry. It certainly wasn’t there before that. So that’s basically what I’m saying.
You’ve been around the world but in terms of your sense of Ireland at this point, is it a place that you ultimately want to get back to?
Yes. It’s a place I’d like to be full time but I think it’s become a bit tabloid for me. So that doesn’t feel good. I’d love to live in Ireland but I’d like to live as me, not what someone thinks I am or not what the Irish Independent think I am or whatever. So that’s a big problem. Maybe the book is right, you can never go home again. I don’t know. But these people don’t understand – I lived there before I was famous, you know what I mean? They don’t get it. At one point, I read a couple of things and they didn’t even say that I was singer or a musician, like it came out like I was a business tycoon or something, you know. For a while they were going ‘millionaire blah, blah, blah’ – anyone reading that wouldn’t even know I was a singer, for God’s sake. I don’t want to live in Ireland under these conditions, ‘cos it’s bullshit and that’s what I’ve been trying to get away from all my life. It’s a bit LA, so not at the minute, you know.
Do you think much about Belfast?
Well, Belfast is the same for me, I just get this thing all the time, you know. It’s like, to put it bluntly, the star fucker syndrome, you know what I mean? Ireland is going through this phase at the moment where that’s predominant. Maybe it’s going to die down, I don’t know. And I mean these people forget that I lived there before I was famous. They sort of don’t get it, so that’s why I’m not living there.
So the title of your last album of original songs – Back On Top – was that intended as a statement of intent?
There is no top, that’s what it’s about. There is no top. When you reach that level, then you’re just doing the same thing again, so that’s what the song’s about. There isn’t any top. You just do what you do. It’s like I said before you know, you do what you do and that’s what it is. There’s no top, there’s no bottom, there’s no middle it’s just what it is, you know.
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