We were in the studio yesterday with some of the finest studio musicians in Nashville. We were laying down tracks for a new song by a young country artist that we manage. We had a lot of ideas on how we were going to record the song before we went into the studio, but after only a few minutes we let go of our control and let the musicians come up with their own interpretation of the song.
The song kinda took on a life of its own, we were knocked out with the initial arrangement that the musicians came up with. The inspiration and feel of the song took me back to the early 90’s when I ran into Van Morrison, one of the most prolific and inspirational song writers of his time. His songs had that same element to them, they just developed a life of their own when he would go into the studio. Structure and planning seemed to have little to do with his finished products.
In a wide-ranging interview to promote a new album of duets with some of the world’s finest singers, Van Morrison revealed that he’s too tired to be a globe-trotting musician any more. That’s why he now prefers playing smaller gigs nearer home like the one in August to celebrate his 70th birthday, in Cyprus Avenue in east Belfast, the tree-lined thoroughfare which inspired one of his most popular songs.
Regarding his grumpy image, he had this to say “it is just a myth – and lazy journalists need to get a sense of humor” The Bloomfield-born star insists that he enjoys a laugh after he’s asked about good-humoured exchanges on stage with musicians like veteran British bluesman, Chris Farlowe, who played with him recently at Dunluce Castle near Portrush. Van – who revealed that some people still call him by his full name, Ivan – replied: “Yeah, well, we have a laugh. This is the thing. They never write about this stuff in the rock magazines. They like to keep the mythology going, it’s all very dour”.
Music insiders say Morrison could still make millions of dollars by selling out massive venues across America where his classic Brown Eyed Girl is one of the most frequently played songs on radio stations. But over the last few years, he has been gigging in smaller, more intimate venues like the Europa Hotel in Belfast, the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle and even the Harp Bar in the Cathedral Quarter.
Scores of Americans fly in for the hotel concerts and Van says the small gigs have always appealed to him. “There is nothing new. It’s harder to do financially when you have the overheads I have. So those type of gigs by the nature of them can pay. It’s a dinner/supper club kind of situation and it pays for everything.
“But he says the absence of travelling is a major factor in staying closer to home, adding: “I don’t like travelling. I never have, especially long distance travelling. I like it even less now because I am tired now.” He says nowadays he just likes to “cross the bridge, finish a gig and go home”.
Morrison also talks about the spontaneity of his performances, with his band, sometimes not knowing what song is coming next.
He says: “Yeah, you have to keep it that way otherwise it gets boring, doesn’t it?” But he describes playing to live audiences as being like breathing, something he needs to do.
One of Van’s most famous collaborations was with the Chieftains but he says it might never have happened if it hadn’t been for his musical and spiritual connection with the late Belfast musician, Derek Bell, who played harp with the traditional Irish group.
The new studio album – Van’s 35th – is called Duets: Re-Working the Catalogue, and features him and an eclectic mix of singers. They include Michael Buble, Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall, Joss Stone, George Benson, the late Bobby Womack, the late Natalie Cole and Mark Knopfler singing new arrangements of his songs.
Van Morrison said that his song “Have I Told You Lately that I Love You” is a prayer to God. It’s an Ignatian song: its style is conversational, it’s full of gratitude, and the lyrics echo the contemplation on the Love of God. This song was also covered by Rod Stewart, who took tit to number one in the US and UK.