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Van Morrison

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Van Morrison was born in Belfast in 1945, the son of a shipyard worker who collected American blues and jazz records. Van grew up listening to the music of Muddy Waters, Mahalia Jackson, Lightnin’ Hopkins and John Lee Hooker. As a teenager he played guitar, sax and harmonica with a series of local Irish showbands, skiffle and rock ‘n’ roll groups before forming a rhythm and blues band called Them in 1964.

In 1967 he began his solo career in New York where he recorded an LP titled Blowin’ Your Mind with the producer Bert Berns, who had previously produced Them. Following Berns’ death in 1968 Morrison recruited a group of jazz musicians to record Astral Weeks, a timeless classic which brought together elements of Celtic music, improvised jazz and R and B.

Based initially in Boston and then California, Morrison produced a string of albums including Moondance, Tupelo Honey and St. Dominic's Preview while touring extensively with his band, the Caledonia Soul Orchestra. His 1974 live set It’s Too Late To Stop Now marked the end of this prolific early phase as Van returned to Ireland to explore further his Celtic roots. The ensuing album, Veedon Fleece (1974) featured a quieter, more pastoral sound and was to be his last release for three years.

He returned to the public eye in 1977 with the aptly titled A Period of Transition, an album co-produced by Mac “Dr John” Rebennack. Following his re-location to London he released Wavelength (1978) and Into the Music (1979) by which time Morrison’s interest in spiritual matters was finding regular expression in his recordings.

The theme of spiritual quest came to prominence in the albums he made in the 1980s: Common One; Beautiful Vision; Inarticulate Speech of the Heart; A Sense of Wonder; No Guru, No Method, No Teacher and Poetic Champions Compose established Morrison’s status as an artist of unrivalled integrity and vision.

In 1988 he revisited his Irish roots with The Chieftains on Irish Heartbeat. The following album, 1989’s Avalon Sunset, was his most commercially successful for many years and concluded what had been a remarkably productive decade for Van Morrison.

As prolific as ever, Van varied his musical approach in the 1990s. Enlightenment (1990) and Hymns to the Silence (1991) continued down the road of spiritual self-discovery, while 1993’s Too Long in Exile leaned towards the blues, returning Van to the singles chart again with a re-working of “Gloria”, performed with his blues buddy John Lee Hooker.

After the acclaimed Days Like This (1995) came How Long Has This Been Going On (1995), an album of mostly jazz standards featuring his old sparring partner Georgie Fame.

Following the release of 1997’s The Healing Game came The Philosopher's Stone (1998), an album containing 30 previously unreleased tracks recorded between 1971 and 1988, a mixture of new songs and interpretations of Morrison classics like “Wonderful Remark” and “Bright Side of the Road”. In the same year (1998) Van won a Grammy for his collaboration with John Lee Hooker on “Don’t Look Back”, which he also produced.

Back on Top was released in March 1999 and was widely heralded as one of Morrison’s most accomplished and successful albums in years, spawning his first solo Top 40 hit with the single “Precious Time”.

After a career spanning some four decades, it seemed appropriate that the year 2000 saw Van returning to his roots, a musical full-circle, with The Skiffle Sessions - Live in Belfast. Re-uniting with the musical heroes of his youth, Van joined skiffle maestro Lonnie Donegan and Chris Barber on stage at Belfast’s Whitla Hall for a magical performance, and the energy and enthusiasm of both the performers and the crowd was captured in full on this album, which met with huge critical acclaim.

In 2002, Van Morrison returned to Polydor Records and released his new album Down the Road. The album featured thirteen brand new songs alongside a unique version of “Georgia on My Mind” and “Evening Shadows”, an Acker Bilk instrumental to which Van added his own lyrical magic.

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 an awards ceremony in New York City in June 2003.

Later in the same year (2003) he signed a worldwide deal with the legendary Blue Note Records, a natural home for one of music’s most creative figures. Morrison’s debut release at the prestigious jazz label was What’s Wrong with This Picture? This album draws upon the jazz and blues influences that he has explored consistently throughout his career. What’s Wrong with this Picture? received a Grammy nomination for Van Morrison in the “Best Contemporary Blues Album” category.

As his 35th album, Keep It Simple is Morrison's first album of new material since 2005, and the first in several years in which he composed all eleven songs specifically for one album.

On Keep It Simple, Morrison honors all those varied influences - Ulster-Scots Celtic, Jazz, Folk, Blues, Country, Soul and Gospel - most times melding them all together at once creating his unmistakable signature sound of gorgeous songs rich with emotion, depth and beauty.

The subtitle of Van Morrison’s new album, Born to Sing: No Plan B (2012), indicates the power that music still holds for this living legend. No Plan B means this is not a rehearsal, says Morrison. That’s the main thing; it’s not a hobby, it’s real, happening now, in real time. This sense of absolute conviction, which has defined Morrison’s revolutionary work for almost fifty years, runs throughout the new record, his thirty-fifth studio album as a solo artist. The ten original songs on Born to Sing, his first new album in four years (the longest he has ever gone between recordings), reveal an artist continuing to test his creative parameters.

As Morrison notes, perhaps the most striking thing on the new album is hearing him weigh in on the global financial and economic meltdown on several songs. His sense of outrage at the materialism and greed that have poisoned society first appears in the opening track, the breezy soul strut “Open the Door (To Your Heart),” when he sings “Money doesn’t make you fulfilled/Money’s just to pay the bills.”

Born to Sing, recorded live in the studio with a core six-piece band (plus Morrison on piano, guitar, and alto saxophone), extends these musical roots into a signature blend that’s impossible to imitate or to categorize. Despite the album s title, Morrison says that he didn’t immediately know that he was born to sing. I didn’t know it was going to be a job until I was maybe fifteen or sixteen and started working in bands, he says. I was just a kid trying to make my way in life. There was no revelation it doesn’t work that way.

Ever since then, though, Van Morrison has offered non-stop revelation to fans around the world. With Born to Sing, he responds to a time of crisis with solace and insight, vision and wonder, and incomparable soul that shows what happens when you really do create from the heart, with no Plan B.


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