Never felt more like singing the blues

Irish Daily Mirror - - MUSIC -

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.”


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

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