Never felt more like singing the blues
As Van Morrison sings the blues on his new album he looks back to how the sound of the Mississippi Delta shaped him as a musician. Roll With The Punches, Van’s 37th studio album, sees the Belfast native reconnecting with the music he grew up with, Leadbelly, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Little Walter and Bo Diddley.
The Brown Eyed Girl hitmaker revealed: “You had to search the music out, but there was an intensity of interest in the music that you’d hear on Luxembourg and AFM.
“The music sounded very remote. But there was something in that music we all heard.”
He added: “Those blues lyrics were, to me, very relatable to the working class, white or black people. So it was the poetry of the lyrics that inspired me, because I could relate to those working class lyrics, but also the intellectuals, and the Bohemian strand in Europe that the blues appealed to.”
He added: “I was aware of country music very early on. There was a guy on my street, we used to call him the Hank Williams Jukebox. So all of this was going on at the same time as listening to jazz records and going to Solly Lipsitz’s shop in Belfast High Street, where my dad used to get these records.
“Then skiffle, and Lonnie Donegan; Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, came out of gospel into soul; and the way it was relatable to the blues, the way they were singing in church.”
Roll With The Punches also reconnects Van to the musicians he would have encountered when he was on the road with Them during the 1960s blues boom: Chris Farlowe, Manfred Mann’s Paul Jones, The Yardbirds’ Jeff Beck.
Van explained: “We were just so busy. Everyone was just on the road non-stop, going up and down the M1 motorway, or the A1, I didn’t really know what I was getting into.
“I was playing this club, the Maritime Hotel in Belfast, every Friday night, and it was really taking off. And a guy came over from Decca to sign a blues band, so to all intents and purposes I thought I was getting signed as a blues singer, and that’s what they wanted, because they had London, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Newcastle, but they didn’t have anything from Belfast, so that’s how it started.
“But everything changed when we got to London and we were being pushed in the direction of pop records – and that wasn’t really about the blues. So then there was a struggle with that, and obviously they won, because they had the money!”
While he was finding his feet in London, Van was fortunate enough to meet some of the blues legends in whose music he had found such inspiration.
“I hung out with Little Walter, at a hotel near Russell Square, John Lee Hooker stayed there sometimes.
“I used to go for Chinese food with Walter and we hung out. He would rehearse in the lounge, and whatever musicians were in the hotel at the time, he would invite them down – and he would be coaching people, so it was a learning kind of experience.”
Alongside the material he grew up with, Roll With The Punches also features five new Van Morrison originals.
“The songs on Roll With The Punches, whether I’ve written them or not, are all performance oriented. Each song is like a story, and I’m performing that story.”
STILL GOING STRONG:
Van Morrison performs at the 2017 Americana Music Association Honors & Awards on September 13, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee VAN ON TRACK: Recording at Wally Heider Recording Studio on September 28, 1971 in San Francisco, California