Van Morrison

George Ivan Morrison OBE (generally known as Van Morrison) (born 31 August 1945) is a Grammy Award-winning Northern Irish singer, songwriter, author, poet and multi-instrumentalist, who has been a professional musician since the late 1950s. He plays a variety of instruments, including the guitar, harmonica, keyboards, drums, and saxophone. Featuring his characteristic growl—a unique mix of folk, blues, soul, jazz, gospel, and Ulster Scots Celtic influences—Morrison is widely considered one of the most unusual and influential vocalists in the history of rock and roll. Critic Greil Marcus has gone so far as to say that "no white man sings like Van Morrison."

Known as "Van the Man" by his fans, Morrison first rose to prominence as the lead singer of the Northern Irish band Them, writing their 1964 garage rock classic hit, "Gloria". A few years later, Morrison left the band and embarked on a successful solo career.

Morrison has pursued an idiosyncratic musical path. Much of his music is tightly structured around the conventions of American soul and R&B, such as the popular singles, "Brown Eyed Girl", "Moondance", "Domino" and "Wild Night". An equal part of his catalogue consists of lengthy, loosely connected, spiritually inspired musical journeys that show the influence of Celtic tradition, jazz, and stream-of-consciousness narrative, such as his classic album Astral Weeks and lesser known works such as Veedon Fleece and Common One. The two strains together are sometimes referred to as "Celtic Soul".

Morrison's career, spanning some five decades, has influenced many popular musical artists. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003. In 2000, Morrison ranked number twenty-fifth on American cable music channel VH1's list of its "100 Greatest Artists of Rock and Roll", and in 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Van Morrison forty-second on their list of "Greatest Artists of All Time". Paste ranked him twentieth in their list of "100 Greatest Living Songwriters" in 2006 and Q ranked him twenty-second on their list of "100 Greatest Singers" in April 2007.


Early life and musical roots

George Ivan (Van) Morrison was born on 31 August 1945, in Bloomfield, Belfast, Northern Ireland as the only child of George Morrison, a shipyard worker and Violet Stitt Morrison, a singer and tap dancer in her youth. Van Morrison's family roots descend from the Ulster Scots population that settled in Belfast. The young Morrison was exposed to music from an early age, as his father had what was then one of the largest record collections in Ulster (acquired during his sojourn in Detroit, Michigan in the early 1950s). From 1950 to 1956, Morrison, becoming known as Van during this time, attended Elm Grove Primary School. Morrison's father passed his own taste in music on to his son and he grew up listening to artists such as Jelly Roll Morton, Ray Charles, Lead Belly, and Solomon Burke. In a 2005 Rolling Stone article, Morrison said, "If it weren't for guys like Ray and Solomon, I wouldn't be where I am today. Those guys were the inspiration that got me going. If it wasn't for that kind of music, I couldn't do what I'm doing now.

With both parents sharing a love of music, the young Morrison's favourite pastime was listening to recordings from the many various musical genres that would interest him throughout his career. Through his father's record collection, he was exposed to the blues of Muddy Waters; the gospel of Mahalia Jackson; the jazz of Charlie Parker; the folk music of Woody Guthrie, and country music from Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers. Skiffle music became an interest when Lonnie Donegan had a hit with "Rock Island Line", written by Huddie Ledbetter. Morrison later said, "What I connected with was that I had been hearing Leadbelly before that, so when Donegan came along I thought everybody knew about it. Consequently I think I was really lucky to grow up at that time and hear what I heard then."

When Morrison was eleven his father bought him his first acoustic guitar and he then learned to play rudimentary chords, while studying the song book The Carter Family Style edited by Alan Lomax. He soon formed a skiffle band with neighborhood friends; they named themselves the Sputniks after the recently launched Soviet satellite. In 1958, they played at some of the local cinemas and even at this young age, Morrison took the lead, doing most of the singing and arranging. At fourteen, he formed Midnight Special, another modified skiffle band and played at a school concert. When this group disbanded, he wanted to join up with another local band composed of George Jones, Billy McAllen and Roy Kane, but they turned him down because they already had a guitar player. After talking his father into buying him a saxophone, Morrison took lessons in tenor sax and music reading from George Cassidy, a local teacher, and practiced playing unremittingly for several weeks. Morrison said later, "I was more into listening to a guy called Jimmy Giuffre than I was to rock and roll. "I decided I wanted a sax when I heard Giuffre doing 'The Train and The River'. I couldn't get enough of it after that." Now playing saxophone, Morrison joined up with the other three boys and using constantly changing band names, they played local venues. One of these incarnations was Deanie Sands and the Javelins—often cited erroneously as Morrison's first group. Later the group of four boys with Wesley Black as keyboard player became known as the Monarchs.

When Morrison finished school in July 1960, coming from a hard-working family, he was expected to get a regular full-time job. After several short apprenticeship positions, he settled into a job as a window cleaner, referenced in the autobiographical songs, "Cleaning Windows" and "Saint Dominic's Preview". Young Morrison also played with the Harry Mack Showband, the Great Eight, with his older workplace friend, Geordie Sproule. He later named Sproule as one of his biggest influences. Already drinking wine regularly by the age of fifteen, Morrison learned to perform an outlandish and attention-getting stage act by watching Sproule.

Many of the places of Morrison's childhood, such as "Cyprus Avenue", Fitzroy, Hyndford Street, Sandy Row and "Orangefield" (the boys' school he attended), would find their way into the lyrics of some of his most famous songs. His contented and self-absorbed childhood has been an important factor in the nostalgic and searching tone of much of his music throughout his long career.

After the death of his father in April 1988, Morrison honoured his father's memory with the song "Choppin' Wood", which he often performs in concert.

1960s – Establishing a musical career

At the age of seventeen, Morrison left home to tour Europe with the group the Monarchs, now calling themselves the International Monarchs. They played in Scotland, London, England and Germany before returning to East Belfast in November 1963 where they disbanded. Morrison connected with Geordie Sproule again and played with him in the Manhattan Showband along with guitarist Herbie Armstrong. When Armstrong auditioned to play with Brian Rossi and the Golden Eagles, Morrison went along and both were hired. As the band was not in need of a saxophonist, Morrison landed his first position as a blues singer, but he soon left to form an R&B club at the Maritime Hotel. Needing a group to perform there, he joined with the members of The Gamblers. Before the first opening night at the Maritime in April 1964, the group changed their name to Them, their name taken from a Fifties horror movie. Morrison soon came to prominence fronting the band, as he was the group's only song-writer. They had a number of chart hits, most notably the rock standard "Gloria", subsequently covered by many artists, including Patti Smith, The Doors, Shadows of Knight, and Jimi Hendrix. In June 1966, while Them headlined during a three-week residency at the famed Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles, Jim Morrison and The Doors were the opening act on the last week. Van's influence on Jim's developing stage performance was noted by John Densmore in his book Riders On The Storm, "Jim Morrison learned quickly from his near namesake's stagecraft, his apparent recklessness, his air of subdued menace, the way he would improvise poetry to a rock beat, even his habit of crouching down by the bass drum during instrumental breaks." On the final night, the two Morrisons and the two bands jammed together on "Gloria".

Morrison and the other Them band members became involved in a dispute with their manager, Decca Records' Phil Solomon, over the revenues paid to the band on their two-month tour of the west coast. Morrison returned to Belfast, intending to quit the music business. Bert Berns, Them’s producer and the writer of their 1965 smash hit, "Here Comes the Night," persuaded Morrison to return to New York and record solo for his new label, Bang Records. From these early sessions, emerged one of his best-known songs, "Brown Eyed Girl", which reached number ten in the US charts in 1967. Becoming his signature song, over the years it has remained a classic; forty years later in 2007, it was the fourth most requested song of DJs in the US. The album that resulted from those sessions was Blowin' Your Mind!. Morrison said he had not been consulted about the album's release and only became aware of it when a friend mentioned on a phone call that he had just bought a copy of it. He later commented to Donal Corvin in a 1973 interview: "I wasn't really happy with it. He picked the bands and tunes. I had a different concept of it."

Following Berns’ death in 1967, Morrison became involved in a contract dispute with Berns' widow that prevented him from performing on stage or recording in the New York area. The song, "Big Time Operators", released in 1991, chronicled his dealings with the New York music business during this time period. He then moved to Boston, Massachusetts and was soon confronted with personal and financial problems; he had "slipped into a malaise" and had trouble finding gigs. However, through the few gigs he could find, he regained his professional footing and started recording with the Warner Bros. Records label. The record company managed to buy out his contract with Bang Records, and Morrison fulfilled a highly unusual clause that bound him to submit thirty-six original songs within a year by recording thirty-one nonsense songs in one session.

His first album for Warner Bros. Records was Astral Weeks (which he had already performed in several clubs around Boston), a mystical song cycle, considered by many to be his best work. Morrison has said, "When Astral Weeks came out, I was starving, literally." Released in 1968, the album achieved critical acclaim, but it originally received an indifferent response from the public. To this day, it remains in an unclassifiable music genre and has been described variously as hypnotic, meditative, and as possessing a unique musical power. It has been compared to French Impressionism and mystical Celtic poetry. A 2004 Rolling Stone magazine review begins with the words: "This is music of such enigmatic beauty that thirty-five years after its release, Astral Weeks still defies easy, admiring description. In 1979, prominent and influential journalist Lester Bangs wrote one of the best-known reviews in rock music history in Stranded, describing the effect that Astral Weeks had on his life. It has often been placed on the most authoritative lists of best albums of all time. In the 1995 MOJO list of 100 Best Albums, it was listed as number two, and was number nineteen on the Rolling Stone magazine's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" in 2003.

1970s – The American Dream

Soon after moving from Boston to an Oyaho mountain home in New York, Morrison released his next album, Moondance in 1970. Moondance reached number twenty-nine on the Billboard charts. The style of this album stood in great contrast to that of Astral Weeks. Whereas Astral Weeks had a sorrowful and vulnerable tone, Moondance constituted a much more optimistic and cheerful affair. The title track, although not released in the US as a single until 1977, received heavy play in many radio formats. The evocative song "Into the Mystic" has also gained a wide following over the years. The single released was "Come Running", which reached the American Top 40. Moondance was both well received and favourably reviewed. Lester Bangs and Greil Marcus had a combined full page review in Rolling Stone, stating that Morrison now had "the striking imagination of a consciousness that is visionary in the strongest sense of the word. "That was the type of band I dig," Morrison said of the Moondance sessions. "Two horns and a rhythm section — they're the type of bands that I like best." He produced the album himself as he felt like nobody else knew what he wanted.Moondance was listed at number sixty-five on the Rolling Stone magazine's The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In March 2007, Moondance was listed as number seventy-two on the NARM Rock and Roll Hall of Fame list of the "Definitive 200".

Over the next few years, he released several acclaimed albums, starting with a second one in 1970. His Band and the Street Choir had a free, more relaxed sound than Moondance, but not the perfection, in critic Jon Landau's opinion and contained the hit single "Domino". The last song "Street Choir" manifested a more serious tone.

He moved with his family to a hilltop home in Fairfax, California in 1971 and released another popular album, Tupelo Honey. This album produced the hit single "Wild Night", and the catchy title song that has a notably country and western feel about it. It ended with another country tune, "Moonshine Whiskey". Morrison said he originally intended to make an all country album. His co-producer, Ted Templeman, although impressed with Morrison's ability as a musician, arranger and producer, described the recording process with Morrison as the "scariest thing I've ever seen. When he's got something together, he wants to put it down right away with no overdubbing." He later said, "I'd never work with Van Morrison again as long as I live, even if he offered me two million dollars in cash. I aged ten years producing three of his albums."

Released in 1972, Saint Dominic's Preview, revealed Morrison's break from the more accessible style of his previous three albums and moving back towards the more daring, adventurous, and meditative aspects of Astral Weeks. The combination of two styles of music demonstrated an elaborate versatility not previously found in his earlier albums. Two songs, ("Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)" and "Redwood Tree") reached the Hot 100. Two other songs, ("Listen to the Lion" and "Almost Independence Day") were ten and eleven minutes long and employed the same poetic imagery not heard since Astral Weeks. It was his highest charting album in the US until his Top Ten debut on Billboard 200 in 2008.

By 1972, despite being a performer for nearly ten years, Morrison began experiencing stage-fright when performing for audiences of thousands, as opposed to the hundreds as he had experienced in his early career. He became anxious on stage and would have difficulty establishing eye contact with the audience. He once said in an interview about performing on stage, "I dig singing the songs but there are times when it's pretty agonizing for me to be out there. After a brief break from music, he started appearing in clubs, regaining his ability to perform live, albeit with smaller audiences. He then formed the backing group The Caledonia Soul Orchestra and ventured on a three month US tour with them. The live double album, It's Too Late to Stop Now, captured the tour for posterity and has been regarded as one of the great live albums in rock history. Soon after recording the album, Morrison restructured the Caledonia Soul Orchestra into a smaller unit, the Caledonia Soul Express. (For many years, his parents owned a record store in Fairfax, California named Caledonia Records.)

In 1973, Morrison divorced his wife of five years, actress and model, Janet (Planet) Rigsbee. His daughter from the marriage is singer-songwriter Shana Morrison. He released his next album Hard Nose the Highway in 1973 receiving mixed but mostly negative reviews. The album contained the popular song "Warm Love" but otherwise has been largely dismissed. However, the Rolling Stone magazine reviewer concluded: "Hard Nose the Highway is psychologically complex, musically somewhat uneven and lyrically excellent.

1974 saw the release of his introspectively poignant album, Veedon Fleece. Though it attracted scant initial attention, its critical stature grew markedly over the years -- with Veedon Fleece now considered to be one of Morrison's best works. "You Don't Pull No Punches, But You Don't Push the River", one of the album's side closers, exemplifies the long, hypnotic, cryptic Morrison with its references to visionary poet William Blake and to the seemingly Grail-like Veedon Fleece object.

Morrison would not release a follow-up album for another three years. After ten years without taking time off, he said in an interview, he just needed to get away from music completely and even ceased listening to it for several months. Also suffering from writer's block, he later said that he seriously considered leaving the music business for good. During this time, a new album was often rumoured to be ready for release under such titles as Mechanical Bliss, Naked in the Jungle and Stiff Upper Lip. Morrison later said that the project was nothing more than an extended jam session.

On Thanksgiving Day 1976, Morrison performed at the farewell concert for The Band. Morrison's first live performance in several years, he considered skipping his appearance until the last minute, even refusing to go on stage when they announced his name. His manager, Harvey Goldsmith, said he "literally kicked him out there." Morrison was on good terms with The Band as near-neighbours in Woodstock, and they had the shared experience of stage-fright. At the concert, he performed two songs, including "Caravan", from his 1970 album Moondance. Greil Marcus, in attendance at the concert, wrote: "Van Morrison turned the show around...singing to the rafters and ...burning holes in the floor. It was a triumph, and as the song ended Van began to kick his leg into the air out of sheer exuberance and he kicked his way right offstage like a Rockette. The crowd had given him a fine welcome and they cheered wildly when he left. The filmed concert served as the basis for Martin Scorsese's 1978 film, The Last Waltz, which is widely considered a landmark in concert film history.

During his association with The Band, Morrison acquired the nicknames that fans would ultimately bestow on him: "Belfast Cowboy" and "Van the Man". When Morrison sang the duet "4% Pantomime" (that he co-wrote with Robbie Robertson), Richard Manuel calls him, "Oh, Belfast Cowboy". It would be included in The Band's album Cahoots. When he left the stage, after performing "Caravan" on The Last Waltz, Robbie calls out "Van the Man!"

Morrison finally released A Period of Transition in 1977, a collaboration with Dr. John, who also appeared at The Last Waltz. It received a mild critical reception and marked the beginning of a very prolific period of song making.

The following year, Morrison released Wavelength; it became at that time the fastest selling album of his career and soon went gold. The engaging title track became a modest hit, peaking at number forty-two. It made use of 1970s synthesizers to mimic the sounds of the music, that was so influential, coming through on shortwave radio stations that he listened to in his youth. The opening track, "Kingdom Hall" (delving into Morrison's own childhood experience around Jehovah's Witnesses), stood as a precursor to the religious turn in his next album, Into the Music.

Hailed as a masterpiece, Into the Music, was released in 1979: "An erotic/religious cycle of songs that culminates in the greatest side of music Morrison has created since Astral Weeks".Songs on this album alluded to the healing power of music, which had become an abiding interest of Morrison's — dominating his music from this point forward. "Bright Side of the Road" was a joyful, uplifting song that would appear on the soundtrack of the popular movie, Michael.

1980s – Back to Europe and the spiritual

With his next album, the new decade found Morrison following his own muse into uncharted territory and marked his first significant exposure to merciless reviews. In 1980, Morrison and a group of musicians traveled to Super Bear, a studio in the French Alps, to record (on the site of a former abbey) the most esoteric and controversial album in his discography. The album, Common One, consisted of only six songs, each of varying length. The longest, "Summertime in England" lasted fifteen and one-half minutes and ended with the words,"Can you feel the silence?" NME magazine's Paul Du Noyer called the album "colossally smug and cosmically dull; an interminable, vacuous and drearily egotistical stab at spirituality: Into the muzak." Even Greil Marcus, whose previous writings had been favourably inclined towards Morrison, said: "It's Van acting the part of the 'mystic poet' he thinks he's supposed to be." Morrison insisted that the album was never "meant to be a commercial album." Biographer Clinton Heylin concludes: "He would not attempt anything so ambitious again. Henceforth every radical idea would be tempered by some notion of commerciality." Subsequently, the critics would reassess the album more favourably with the success of "Summertime in England" and other tracks that seemed to reveal new meaning in live performance. Lester Bangs wrote in 1982, "Van was making holy music even though he thought he was, and us [sic] rock critics had made our usual mistake of paying too much attention to the lyrics."

Morrison's next album, Beautiful Vision, released in 1982, had him returning once again to his Belfast roots. Well received by the critics and public, it produced a popular single, "Cleaning Windows", that documented one of Morrison's first jobs after leaving school. Several other songs on the album, "Vanlose Stairway", "She Gives Me Religion", and the instrumental, "Scandinavia" (on which Morrison plays piano), show the presence of a new personal muse in his life: a Danish Public relations agent, who would share Morrison's spiritual interests and serve as a steadying influence on him throughout most of the 1980s. Morrison had quit drinking alcohol, sometime during 1973 or 1974, and now drank "gallons" of coffee a day, according to friends. However, he again encountered problems with alcohol, beginning later in the decade, following the sudden death of his father.

Morrison had moved back to Europe in the late 70s and at first settled in London's Notting Hill Gate area. Later, he moved to Bath, where he bought Wool Hall Studios. Increasingly, he exerted even more control over the music he produced.

Much of the music Morrison released throughout the 1980s continued to focus on the themes of spirituality and faith as his compositions moved towards New Age territory. His 1983 album, Inarticulate Speech of the Heart offered a special thanks to L. Ron Hubbard; however, after taking courses in Scientology for eighteen months, Morrison became disillusioned with it.

In 1985, he released a new album, A Sense Of Wonder, that contained the opening track "Tore Down a la Rimbaud". Morrison said he had been reading about Rimbaud in 1974, at the same time he again suffered through a period of writer's block. He then carried this song around with him for eight years, before he could complete it. In 1985, Morrison also wrote the musical score for the movie, Lamb starring Liam Neeson.

Morrison's 1986 release, No Guru, No Method, No Teacher, served as new evidence of his interest in using music to heal the divide between mind and body. During the recording, the artist's characteristic deep growl manifested itself in grand form, and the album featured some of the grittiest acoustic arrangements since the days of Astral Weeks. Most critics received this album well. It contained a popularly performed concert song, "In the Garden" that according to Morrison had a "definite meditation process which is a 'form' of transcendental meditation as its basis. It's not TM". He entitled the album as a rebuttal to media attempts to place him in various creeds such as Scientology. In an interview in the Observer he told Anthony Denselow:

In Dublin in May 1986, Van Morrison performed at Self Aid, a benefit concert focused on the problem of chronic unemployment at that point widespread in Ireland. The benefit constituted Ireland's largest ever television audience for a national event up to that time. It included performances by over thirty acts, including Elvis Costello, Christy Moore and U2.

After releasing the "No Guru" album, Morrison's music appeared less gritty and more adult contemporary with the well received 1987 album, Poetic Champions Compose, considered to be one of his recording highlights of the 1980s. The romantic ballad from this album, "Someone Like You", has been featured subsequently in the soundtracks of several popular movies, including 1995's French Kiss, in 2001, both Someone Like You and Bridget Jones's Diary.

In 1988, he released Irish Heartbeat, with the Irish group, The Chieftains. A popularly-selling album, it demonstrated the full range of Morrison's unique vocal power on a collection of traditional Irish folk songs. Originally recorded on his 1983 album Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, the song "Irish Heartbeat" with the Irish Chieftains as back-up was reinvigorated. Morrison also played drums on this album.

In 1989, Morrison released an even more popular seller, Avalon Sunset, which featured the hit duet with Cliff Richard "Whenever God Shines His Light" and the ballad "Have I Told You Lately" on which "earthly love transmutes into that for God."(Hinton) Although often considered to be his most spiritual album, it also contained the sensual song, "Daring Night": "It deals with full, blazing sex, whatever it's churchy organ and gentle lilt suggest."(Hinton) Morrison's preoccupation with the erotic/religious theme again evidenced itself. Indicative of his belief that his recordings should be spontaneous, he can be heard calling out the change of tempo in the ending of this song. He often completed albums in two day's time, with first takes frequently being the norm.

1990s – Recognition and collaboration

Morrison capitalised on the success of Avalon Sunset with the release of The Best of Van Morrison, in 1990. Not to be mistaken with a similarly-titled compilation, released in 1967 and long out of print, this album constituted the first survey of his entire career. Compiled by Morrison himself and focused on his hit singles, it became a multi-platinum success spanning a year and a half on the UK charts, and Allmusic determined it to be "far and away the best selling album of his career. He released another album, Enlightenment which included the hit single, "Real Real Gone": first recorded ten years earlier.

On 21 July 1990, Morrison joined many other guests for Roger Waters' massive performance of The Wall Live in Berlin with an estimated crowd of between three hundred thousand to half a million people and broadcast live on television. He sang "Comfortably Numb" with Roger Waters, and his friends from the Band: Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Rick Danko. At concert's end, he and the other performers sang "The Tide Is Turning".

BBC2 filmed a career overview entitled One Irish Rover for its Arena series broadcast in March, 1991. The film opened with Van Morrison and Bob Dylan singing a duet on the Hill of the Muses above Athens, Greece. Dylan and Morrison performed duets on "Crazy Love", "Foreign Window", and "One Irish Rover". The Independent described "the Irish singer flanked by Bob Dylan and the Acropolis: all three of them legendary, all looking their age, and all a waste of time talking to with a microphone in your hand."

Another television documentary shown just a few days later comprised part of a series on Channel 4, called Without Walls. Named "Coney Island of the Mind", the documentary involved Morrison in discussions with the Irish poets: Michael Longley, Seamus Deane and John Montague. The poets and Morrison discussed the relationship among poetry, music and mysticism. Also in 1991, he wrote and produced four songs for a Tom Jones album including the title song, "Carrying a Torch". Morrison also included the song on his successful 1991 double album, Hymns to the Silence.

In January 1993, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Van Morrison; he became the first inductee ever who did not attend his own induction ceremony. Robbie Robertson from The Band accepted the award on his behalf. The Counting Crows performed Morrison's song, "Caravan" (providing them with nationally prominent exposure by this appearance.)

The early to middle 1990s marked a thirty-year high in Morrison's career with three Top Five UK albums, sold out concerts, and a highly visible public profile, but this period also marked a decline in the critical reception to his work. He found time to release another compilation album, The Best of Van Morrison Volume Two in January 1993 followed by Too Long in Exile another Top Five album in June.

In contrast to these commercially successful but not always critically-acclaimed albums, the 1994 live double album, A Night in San Francisco was a "tour-de-force", clearly demonstrating Morrison's talents and his influences in equal measure and reached number eight on the UK charts. The Rolling Stone magazine review states the album stands as: "the culmination of a career's worth of soul- searching that finds Morrison's eyes turned toward heaven and his feet planted firmly on the ground. 1995's Days Like This had large sales even though the critical reviews were not always favourable.

On 14 February 1994, Van Morrison received the BRIT Award for his Outstanding Contribution to British Music. He was presented with the award by former Beirut hostage, John McCarthy, who while testifying to the importance of Morrison's song, "Wonderful Remark" called it "a song that he wrote more than twenty years ago, which was very important to us." Sting, Bob Geldof, Elvis Costello, Bono, and Peter Gabriel provided televised accolades. Bob Dylan's televised comment was:

Morrison performed before an estimated audience of sixty to eighty thousand people when US President Bill Clinton visited Belfast, Northern Ireland on 30 November 1995. His song "Days Like This" had become the official anthem for the Northern Irish peace movement.

On 14 June 1996, Morrison was awarded an OBE by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace for his service to music.

This period also saw a number of side projects, including the live jazz performances of 1996's How Long Has This Been Going On, 1997's Tell Me Something: The Songs of Mose Allison, and 2000's The Skiffle Sessions - Live In Belfast 1998, all of which found Morrison paying tribute to his long-time favourites.

In 1997, Morrison released The Healing Game and the following year, he finally released some of his previously unissued studio recordings in a warmly-received two-disc set, The Philosopher's Stone. His next release, 1999's Back on Top, achieved a modest success, being his highest charting album in the US since 1978's Wavelength.

In September 1999 Morrison became the first musician inducted into the newly opened Irish Music Hall of Fame. Bob Geldof presented Morrison with the award remarking, "I believe there is only one genius in Irish music, and that's Van Morrison." Niall Stokes was quoted on this occasion:

During this decade, Morrison developed a close association with two vocal talents at opposite ends of their careers: Georgie Fame, with whom Morrison had already worked occasionally, lent his voice and Hammond organ skills; and Brian Kennedy's vocals complemented the grizzled voice of Morrison, both in studio and live performances.

Taking this concept of association further, the 1990s saw an upsurge in collaborations by Morrison with other artists, a trend continuing into the new millennium. He recorded with Irish folk band The Chieftains on their 1995 album, The Long Black Veil. Morrison's song, "Have I Told You Lately" would win a Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals in 1996. He also produced and was featured on several tracks with blues legend John Lee Hooker on Hooker's 1997 album, Don't Look Back. This highly acclaimed album would win a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album in 1998 and the title track "Don't Look Back", a duet featuring Morrison and Hooker, would also win a Grammy Award for "Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals" in 1998. Morrison additionally collaborated with Tom Jones on his 1999 album Reload, performing a duet on "Sometimes We Cry", and also sang vocals on a track on Mark Knopfler's 2000 album, Sailing to Philadelphia.

2000s – Moving towards keeping it simple

Van Morrison continued to record and tour in the 2000s, often performing two or three times a week. Playing fewer of his well-known songs in concert than almost any other artist from his era, he has firmly resisted relegation to a nostalgia act. During a 2006 interview, he told Paul Sexton:

Contrary to the days when he felt at the mercy of the music industry, he formed his own independent label, Exile Productions Ltd. He maintains full production control of each album he records, which he then delivers as a finished product to the recording label that he chooses, for marketing and distribution.

In July 2001, Morrison received an honorary doctorate in music from Queen's University in his hometown of Belfast. Nine years earlier, in 1992, he had received an honorary doctorate in literature from the University of Ulster — at the time being the only other university in his native Northern Ireland.

Morrison released a new album, Down the Road in May 2002, which was critically well received and was his highest charting album in the US since 1972's Saint Dominic's Preview. It had a nostalgic tone and was comprised of fifteen tracks that represented the different musical genres that Morrison had covered throughout the years such as R&B, blues, country and folk; one of the tracks was an autobiographical song written as a tribute to his late father George, who had played such a pivotal role in nurturing his early musical tastes.

"In recognition of his unique position as one of the most important songwriters of the past century," Van Morrison was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, at their awards ceremony in New York City in June 2003. Ray Charles presented the award, following a performance during which the pair performed Morrison's "Crazy Love", from the album, Moondance. Morrison's admiration for Charles was evident in the award ceremony and he later wrote an article published in Rolling Stone in 2004, describing Ray Charles' influence on music and on him personally. In the same year, Morrison released What's Wrong with This Picture? on the legendary jazz record label, Blue Note Records. The album would later receive a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album.

In 2004, his song, "Bright Side of the Road", from his 1979 album Into the Music was featured in the UNESCO advertisements for World Press Freedom Day. In October 2004, Morrison was honored as a BMI ICON at the annual London Awards for his "enduring influence on generations of music makers.

Morrison remains popular with the public: his album, Magic Time, debuted at number twenty-five on the US Billboard 200 charts upon its May 2005 release, some forty years after Morrison first entered the public's eye as the frontman of Them. Rolling Stone listed it as number seventeen on their list of The Top 50 Records of 2005.Also in July of 2005, Morrison was named by Amazon as one of their top twenty-five all-time best-selling artists and inducted into the Hall of Fame. Later in the year, Morrison also donated a previously unreleased studio track to a charity album, Hurricane Relief: Come Together Now, which raised money for relief efforts intended for Gulf Coast victims devastated by hurricanes, Katrina and Rita. Morrison composed the song, "Blue & Green", featuring the late Foggy Lyttle on guitar. This song was released in 2007 on the album, The Best of Van Morrison Volume 3 and also as a single in the UK. Van Morrison appeared in The Hebridean Celtic Festival in Stornoway Outer Hebrides in the summer of 2005, where he was a headline act at the growing international Celtic music festival.

He released an album with a country music theme, entitled Pay the Devil, on 07 March 2006, which the mayor of Nashville declared as "Van Morrison Day". Morrison appeared for the very first time at the historic Ryman Auditorium that evening to a sold-out crowd. (In fact, the entire Ryman sold out twelve minutes after the tickets went on sale.) Pay the Devil debuted at number twenty-six on The Billboard 200 and peaked at number seven on Top Country Albums. Amazon Best of 2006 Editor's Picks in Country listed the country album at number ten in December 2006. Still promoting the country album, Morrison was the headline act on the first night of the Austin City Limits Music Festival on 15 September 2006. Rolling Stone magazine reviewed this performance as one of the top ten shows of the 2006 festival. In November 2006, a limited edition album, Live at Austin City Limits Festival was issued which is sold only at Van Morrison concerts and at the Van Morrison Official website.

Live At Montreux 1980/1974, released in October 2006, was the first ever commercial DVD released by Morrison, though the Pay The Devil CD was re-released in the summer of 2006 with a DVD containing tracks from the Ryman.

In November 2006, Time published their list of The All-TIME 100 Greatest Albums. Two of Van Morrison's albums, 1968's Astral Weeks and 1970's Moondance, were on the list. His continuing popularity with music fans was evident when he was voted as number thirteen on the list of WXPNs 885 All Time Greatest Artists in 2006.

Van Morrison was honoured at the Second Annual Oscar Wilde: Honouring Irish Writing in Film Pre-Academy Awards Party, in Los Angeles, California, on 22 February 2007 for his contribution to over fifty films. Al Pacino presented him with the award, comparing Morrison to Oscar Wilde as they were both "visionaries who push boundaries". Van Morrison at the Movies - Soundtrack Hits, a new nineteen song album, was released by Morrison's record label, Exile Productions Ltd. under license to Manhattan EMI, on 12 February 2007, to coincide with this event.

Morrison appeared at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on the first evening on 27 April 2007 as the headline act where his longtime collaborator and friend, Dr. John joined him for one set on stage. On 04 July 2007, he performed at the Ottawa Bluesfest, drawing the largest crowd ever — thirty-five thousand.

On 8 May 2007, Van Morrison was named Best International Male Singer of 2007 by the first ever International Awards at the renown Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in London, England. A new double CD compilation album The Best of Van Morrison Volume 3 was released in June 2007 containing thirty-one tracks, some of which were previously unreleased. Morrison personally selected the tracks to represent the best of his work from 1993s album Too Long in Exile to the song "Stranded" from the 2005 album Magic Time. On 3 September 2007, Morrison's complete catalogue of albums from 1971 through 2002 were made available exclusively at the ITunes Store in Europe and Australia and during the first week of October 2007, the albums became available at the US ITunes Store.

Still on Top - The Greatest Hits, a thirty-seven track double CD compilation album was released on 22 October 2007 in the UK on the Polydor label with a limited edition three CD digipack box set available on initial release. On 29 October 2007, the album charted at number two on the Official UK Top 75 Albums — his highest UK charting ever. The November release in the US and Canada contains twenty-one of his best-known tracks. The hits that were released on albums with the copyrights owned by Morrison as Exile Productions Ltd. — 1971 and later — have been remastered in 2007.

Morrison signed a new contract with Polydor Records that was announced in October 2007 and has been characterized as one of the "music industries most important deals of the year". This contract gives Polydor licensing rights to his back catalogue to be re-released with added audio content in batches of six or seven albums at a time over a two year period. The first batch of seven albums was issued on 28 January 2008. Each newly reissued album contains previously unreleased tracks of alternative takes and reworkings.

Keep It Simple, Morrison's thirty-third studio album of completely new material was released by Exile/Polydor Records on 17 March 2008 in the UK and released by Exile/Lost Highway Records in the US and Canada on 01 April 2008 . It comprised eleven self-penned tracks demonstrating the many genres of music that have influenced him over his almost fifty years as a professional musician. Morrison promoted the album with a short US tour including an appearance at the SXSW music conference. In the UK, the Music Club program at BBC Radio 2 on 15 March had an exclusive concert featuring Morrison performing the new songs. In the first week of release Keep It Simple debuted on the Billboard 200 chart at number ten, Morrison's first Top Ten charting ever in the US.

Morrison recorded a concert at LSO St. Lukes broadcast on BBC Four sessions on 25 April 2008. The set list included songs Morrison first performed in the 70s and 80s: "Help Me", "Vanlose Stairway" — as well as several from his latest album including "That's Entrainment" and "Behind the Ritual". Georgie Fame and Mick Green, who both played with Morrison in the 1990s, appeared as special guests. Some of the songs shown on BBC 4 can be viewed at Van Morrison's official website: Link Several videos of songs performed but not shown on the TV concert are available for viewing at BBC 4: Link

On 07 and 08 November 2008, Van Morrison will close out the season at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, California performing the entire Astral Weeks album besides classic music from throughout his career. The Astral Weeks band will feature the original musicians, bassist Richard Davis and guitarist Jay Berliner, who both played on the acclaimed album released forty years previously in November 1968. Also featured on piano will be Roger Kellaway. A live album entitled Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl will result from these two performances. A vinyl LP will be released before Christmas 2008 with a CD version set for January 2009. The releases will be on Morrison's new label, Listen To The Lion Records.

The Van Morrison influence

Morrison's influence can readily be heard in the music of a diverse array of major artists and according to The Rolling Stone's Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll (Simon & Shuster, 2001), "his influence among rock singers/song writers is unrivaled by any living artist outside of that other prickly legend, Bob Dylan. Echoes of Morrison's rugged literateness and his gruff, feverish emotive vocals can be heard in latter day icons ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Elvis Costello". His influence includes U2 (much of The Unforgettable Fire); Bono ("I am in awe of a musician like Van Morrison. I had to stop listening to Van Morrison records about six months before we made The Unforgettable Fire because I didn't want his very original soul voice to overpower my own."); John Mellencamp ("Wild Night"); Jim Morrison; Joan Armatrading (the only musical influence she will acknowledge); Rod Stewart; Tom Petty; Rickie Lee Jones (Recognises both Laura Nyro and Van Morrison as the main influences on her career.); Elton John; Graham Parker; Sinéad O'Connor; Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy; Bob Seger ("I know Bruce Springsteen was very much affected by Van Morrison, and so was I." from Creem interview) ("I've Been Working"); Dexys Midnight Runners ("Jackie Wilson Said"); Jimi Hendrix ("Gloria"); Jeff Buckley ("The Way Young Lovers Do", "Sweet Thing"); and numerous others, including the Counting Crows (their "sha-la-la" sequence in Mr Jones, is a tribute to Morrison) Morrison's influence reaches even into the country music genre, with Hal Ketchum acknowledging, "He (Van Morrison) was a major influence in my life.

Morrison's influence on the younger generation of singer-songwriters is pervasive: including Irish singer Damien Rice, who has been described as on his way to becoming the "natural heir to Van Morrison"; Ray Lamontagne; James Morrison; Paolo Nutini; Eric Lindell and David Gray are also several of the younger artists influenced by Morrison. Glen Hansard of the Irish rock band The Frames; (who lists Van Morrison as being part of his holy trinity with Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen); commonly covers his songs in concert. The Wallflowers have covered "Into The Mystic and Canadian blues-rock singer Colin James also covers "Into The Mystic" frequently at his concerts.

In the 1980s, Morrison expressed some grudges regarding his obvious influence on some of the more popular artists of his generation, admitting that although "flattered by the compliment", he "felt ripped off, in an academic context, because there are just people who don't know." On his 1986 album, No Guru, No Method, No Teacher, he included the song, "A Town Called Paradise", which begins with the words: "Copycats ripped off my words/ Copycats ripped off my songs/ Copycats ripped off my melody", but then goes on to say: "It doesn't matter what they say/ It doesn't matter what they do".

Overall, Morrison has typically been supportive of other artists, often willingly sharing the stage with them during his concerts. On the live album, A Night in San Francisco, he had as his special guests, among others, his childhood idols: Jimmy Witherspoon, John Lee Hooker and Junior Wells. Although he often expresses his displeasure (in interviews and songs) with the music industry and the media in general, he has been instrumental in promoting the careers of many other musicians and singers, such as Brian Kennedy and James Hunter.

In the end, however, one critic argues that given the truly distinctive breadth and complexity of Morrison's work, it is almost impossible to cast his work among that of others: "Morrison remains a singer who can be compared to no other in the history of rock & roll, a singer who cannot be pinned down, dismissed, or fitted into anyone's expectations".

Band members

(Note:This list is accurate as of October 2008)

Van Morrison discography

Awards and Recognition

Grammy Awards:

* Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals, 1996, "Have I Told You Lately" (with The Chieftains)
* Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals, 1998, "Don't Look Back" (with John Lee Hooker)
* Hall of Fame, 1999, Astral Weeks
* Hall of Fame, 1999, Moondance
* Hall of Fame, 1999, "Gloria"
* Hall of Fame, 2007, "Brown Eyed Girl"

Other recognition:

* Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1993
* BRIT Award - Outstanding contribution to Music, 1994
* OBE award, by Queen Elizabeth II for his service to music, June 1996
* First Musician inducted into the Irish Music Hall of Fame, 1999
* Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, 2003
* Honoured as a BMI ICON, October 2004
* Ronnie Scotts Club "Best International Male Singer of 2007" First Inaugural Awards
*Oscar Wilde Award - Irish Contribution to Film, February 2007

See also



  • Collis, John (1996). Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, Little Brown and Company, ISBN 0-306-80811-0
  • Heylin, Clinton (2003). Can You Feel the Silence? Van Morrison: A New Biography, Chicago Review Press, ISBN 1-55652-542-7
  • Hinton, Brian (1997). Celtic Crossroads: The Art of Van Morrison, Sanctuary, ISBN 1-86074169X
  • Marcus, Greil. 1992. "Van Morrison." In: The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. Anthony DeCurtis and James Henke, with Holly George-Warren, eds. (original ed. Jim Miller): pp442-447. New York: Random House, ISBN 978-0-679-73728-5
  • Rogan, Johnny (2006). Van Morrison:No Surrender, London:Vintage Books ISBN 9780099431831
  • Rosenthal, Elizabeth. (2001) His Song: The Musical Journey of Elton John, Billboard Books, ISBN 0823088936
  • Turner, Steve (1993). Too Late to Stop Now, Viking Penguin, ISBN 0-670-85147-7
  • Van Morrison. Peter Wolfe. Rolling Stone Issue 946. Rolling Stone. .
  • The Immortals: The First Fifty. Rolling Stone Issue 946. Rolling Stone. .

Further reading

  • Dawe, Gerald (2007). My Mother-City, Belfast:Lagan Press — (Includes section on Van Morrison from previous edition, The Rest is History, Newry:Abbey Press, 1998)
  • Yorke, Ritchie (1975). Into The Music, London:Charisma Books , ISBN 0-85947-013-X

External links

{{Persondata Morrison, Van |ALTERNATIVE NAMES=Morrison, George Ivan (full name) |SHORT DESCRIPTION=Musician, singer and songwriter |DATE OF BIRTH=August 31, 1945 |PLACE OF BIRTH=Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom |DATE OF DEATH= |PLACE OF DEATH=] at the Internet Movie Database

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