Plan for Van
Van Morrison says he didn’t immediately know that he was born to sing and that he was 15 or 16 before he realised he could make a career of it.
“Van The Man”, as he has been affectionately dubbed by his fans, has a new CD – ironically, in view of what Van says, entitled “Born To Sing: No Plan B” – and still has a busy concert schedule.
“I didn’t know it was going to be a job until I was maybe 15 or 16 and started working in bands,” said Van, perhaps still best-known for numbers like ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, ‘Moondance’ and ‘Gloria’ released in the 1960s and 1970s.
“No plan B means this is not a rehearsal. That’s the main thing – it’s not a hobby, it’s real, happening now, in real time.”
Van’s career – he sprang to international stardom with the group Them in 1964 – has seen him honoured among other things with an OBE, Ivor Novello, Six Grammys, honorary doctorates from Queens University, Belfast and the University of Ulster, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Them, taking their name from a 1954 sci-fi horror film, were formed in Belfast in April 1964, comprising Van (lead singer/tenor saxophone/harmonica), Billy Harrison (lead guitar), Alan Henderson (bass), Ronnie Millings (drums) and Eric Wrixon (keyboards).
The group quickly climbed their way to fame, winning British television and media appearances before the year was out and charting in 1965 with the UK No.10 ‘Baby, Please Don’t Go‘, which had ‘Gloria’ on the b-side, and the No.2 ‘Here Comes The Night’.
Van quit the group in 1966 for a solo career and Them were never able to find chart success again, but they did leave a strong influence on other groups like The Doors.
“Born To Sing: No Plan B” is the 34th studio album by the Belfast-born singer/songwriter, and his first album of original songs since “Keep It Simple” in 2008.
It is the second album Van has made for jazz label Blue Note and he returned to his home city to record it.
“With most record companies being so corporate, I am happy to be working with Don Was and the team at Blue Note.
“To have such a creative music person as the head of my recording label assures me that all the effort taken to write and record this new album will be rewarded with a music based focus and marketing approach.
The 10 original songs on “Born To Sing: No Plan B” reveal an artist still intent on testing his creative parameters.
“They’re not all one thing, Some are about the world crisis, others are more mystical. Whatever ideas come in, there’s no set ABC of it. Really, it wouldn’t be interesting if everything was set – no surprises.”
Perhaps the most striking thing on the album is hearing him weigh in on some numbers on the global financial and economic meltdown on several songs.
But Van said: “I’m not protesting, I’m just observing what’s happening – like Lenny Bruce said, ‘Observation, baby!’
“Starting about two years ago, everybody was talking about money, money, money, and that’s the way songs come about. Whatever people are talking about, the ideas around you, that’s what you pick up.”
A fascinating track is ‘If In Money We Trust‘, a song-length meditation on the ways in which cash has replaced God at the centre of the modern belief system.
“That came from looking at a dollar bill and turning the concept on its head. I thought: ‘What is this stuff on here, what does it mean?’ Some people’s God is money; we’ve discovered that about a lot of people recently, so then what happens after that – what happens if you don’t have it, or if you don’t have enough?”
Van says that people like Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Muddy Waters, Mahalia Jackson and Leadbelly have been huge influences on his work.
“Ray Charles has always been my role model – he did everything, including reinventing country music.”
Van’s music has varied widely over the decades, from the swinging soul-jazz of ‘Moondance’ to the traditional Celtic styles of “Irish Heartbeat”.
He has collaborated with a range of artists including John Lee Hooker, Mose Allison, Cliff Richard and Tom Jones. Van says his affiliation with the Blue Note label, home to many of his jazz idols, is significant to him.
“My father had quite a few of the old Blue Note records and one of first records I had was Sidney Bechet’s ‘Summertime’, which was on Blue Note too.”