Into the mys­tic with Van and Robert

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - ART & MUSIC -

Van Mor­ri­son and Robert Plant are go­ing to rock your gypsy soul tonight at the 3 Arena in Dublin, writes Barry Egan

ONE was born at 125 Hyn­d­ford Street, Bloom­field, Belfast, on Au­gust 31, 1945; the other in the Black Coun­try town of West Bromwich, Stafford­shire, Eng­land on Au­gust 20, 1948. Both are kin­dred spir­its.

The Belfast Cow­boy and the Wolver­hamp­ton Wan­derer are head­lin­ing a dou­ble-bill of au­then­tic sonic magic tonight at the afore­said uber-theatre in Dublin. The mys­tics of soul/blues/what­ever you’re hav­ing your­self are both per­form­ing full sets at Blues­fest, and as such, it should be a night of nights from two of the greats of any genre.

Now 73-years-of-age, Van, like his body of work, has moved past time. He is the great­est singer to ever emerge from this is­land; the late Luke Kelly, Bono, and Sinead O’con­nor some­times come close.

“It’s been way over 50 years since I first shared the stage with Van Mor­ri­son; and his band were po­si­tioned no.2 in the charts with Here Comes the Night,” said Robert Plant (who will per­form with his Sen­sa­tional Space Shifters) in ad­vance of tonight’s show.

“His style then, and now, re­mains unique and loaded with deep soul. I’m look­ing for­ward to an ex­cit­ing and dy­namic night.”

Some would ar­gue that no one has ever bet­tered Van’s 1968 al­bum As­tral Weeks (imag­ine Robert per­form­ing As­tral Weeks’ blues mas­ter­piece Madame Ge­orge); oth­ers might ar­gue that Plant’s vo­cals on Led Zep­pelin’s Go­ing To Cal­i­for­nia, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Kash­mir and Bat­tle of Ever­more have never been matched.

As Tom Shack­le­ford wrote in Au­gust 2016 to mark Plant’s 67th birth­day, cit­ing his six best vo­cals, among them Bat­tle Of Ever­more: “In Bat­tle of Ever­more, Plant chan­nels a very folk-driven, al­most Joni Mitchell-es­que style of singing, full of long, drawn out no­ta­tion and let­ting his voice hold onto notes to re­ally em­pha­sise the song’s mys­te­ri­ous and dreamy theme.

Full of vo­cal lay­ers, a range in dy­nam­ics, there aren’t very many lyrics in rock more haunt­ingly beau­ti­ful and eerie than when Plant sings: Dance in the dark night/sing to the morn­ing light.” Hope­fully, he will sing it tonight. “When I heard Good­night Irene by Lead­belly, with Sonny Terry on har­mon­ica, that was it,” Van once said. “Ev­ery­thing else went out the win­dow.” Plant once at­trib­uted his de­sire to sing thus: “When I saw Sleepy John Estes and heard that voice — part pain, part oth­er­worldly — I went, ‘I want that voice’.”

Ever since Led Zep stopped in De­cem­ber 4, 1980, two months af­ter the tragic death of their drum­mer John Bon­ham, Robert Plant has plot­ted a beau­ti­ful di­verse course on a solo ca­reer that has drawn in­spi­ra­tion from the roots mu­sic of Mis­sis­sippi, Ap­palachia, Morocco, Gam­bia, Bris­tol and the foothills of Wolver­hamp­ton and be­yond.

“I have to keep mov­ing,” he told Un­cut in 2014. “Ev­ery­body laughs at me, my kids and ev­ery­body. ‘Jeez, why?’ And I say, ‘Be­cause it’s there to go to it’. When you go to Es­saouira in Morocco, or the Welsh coast… when you go to these bor­der­lands here, get out of the car and just sit there and take it in, it’s the very pulse of life. All the old gods are long gone but still… I don’t wanna say that they’re in the hedgerow be­cause some­body will come and take me away. But there’s some­thing of the old magic that’s still around...”

Al­though Plant and Mor­ri­son’s styles are per­haps dif­fer­ent — and in some ways ex­actly the same — they are both shamen of song, singers who draw on the power of mys­ti­cism in mu­sic and the power of tran­scen­dence at their fin­ger­tips.

In 2012, when asked by pro­ducer Don Was in an in­ter­view with The Guardian, about the point at which he started to be­come con­scious of the sort of tran­scen­den­tal na­ture of mu­sic, and how it could have a deeper im­pact on peo­ple, Van an­swered: “My fa­ther had Ma­halia Jack­son records, and when I heard Ma­halia Jack­son sing it was like, wow! They weren’t us­ing the word “spir­i­tual” then, it was gospel, but it wasn’t the gospel I was hear­ing in Sun­day school. I re­alised, this is com­ing from some­where else com- pletely, y’know? So that’s when I first be­came aware of it.

“And then, af­ter that, it was soul and Ray Charles and all that. When we were in Ger­many, there were a lot of GIS. There was this tiny record player at the ho­tel, and some black GIS brought these 45s in and they played this Bobby Bland thing — Stormy Mon­day; the B-side was Your Friends.

“And some­thing hap­pened. It was the same as the Ma­halia Jack­son thing, only it was dif­fer­ent, be­cause I felt like it was ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing to me — what­ever you want to call it, a spir­i­tual ex­pe­ri­ence or what­ever. That’s when it started, but it was a grad­ual thing to ac­tu­ally get it in the per­for­mance. It took un­til the 1970s un­til I had the right mu­si­cians to do what I wanted to do.”

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