Belfast Telegraph

Van Morrison: My grumpy image is just a myth - and lazy journalists need to get a sense of humour

Forever labelled as crotchety, the music star tells a different story

Intimate gigs: Van Morrison now plays small venues
Intimate gigs: Van Morrison now plays small venues
Van Morrison's daughter Shana
Joss Stone
Michael Buble

By Ivan little

Music legend Van Morrison has laughed off suggestions that he's grumpy, dismissing it as a myth.

And he claimed that the 'lazy' journalists who brand him dour are the ones who need a sense of humour.

In a wide-ranging interview to promote a new album of duets with some of the world's finest singers, Van also revealed that he's too tired to be a globe-trotting musician any more.

That's why he now prefers playing smaller gigs nearer home like the one in August to celebrate his 70th birthday, in Cyprus Avenue in east Belfast, the tree-lined thoroughfare which inspired one of his most popular songs.

The Bloomfield-born star insists that he enjoys a laugh after he's asked about good-humoured exchanges on stage with musicians like veteran British bluesman, Chris Farlowe, who played with him recently at Dunluce Castle near Portrush.

Van - who revealed that some people still call him by his full name, Ivan - replied: "Yeah, well, we have a laugh. This is the thing. They never write about this stuff in the rock magazines. Keep the mythology going, it's all very dour and I am grumpy, never have a laugh, because they are so lazy.

"They might have to get a sense of humour."

Music insiders say Morrison could still make millions of dollars by selling out massive venues across America where his classic Brown Eyed Girl is one of the most frequently played songs on radio stations.

But over the last few years, he has been gigging in smaller, more intimate venues like the Europa Hotel in Belfast, the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle and even the Harp Bar in the Cathedral Quarter.

Scores of Americans fly in for the hotel concerts and Van says the small gigs have always appealed to him. "There is nothing new. It's harder to do financially when you have the overheads I have. So those type of gigs by the nature of them can pay. It's a dinner/supper club kind of situation and it pays for everything."

But he says the absence of travelling is a major factor in staying closer to home, adding: "I don't like travelling. I never have, especially long distance travelling. I like it even less now because I am tired now."

He says nowadays he just likes to "cross the bridge, finish a gig and go home". But he describes playing to live audiences as being like breathing, something he needs to do.

Van adds: "I can't do tours anymore. I can't do it. Too exhausting."

Morrison also talks about the spontaneity of his performances, with his band, sometimes not knowing what song is coming next.

He says: "Yeah, you have to keep it that way otherwise it gets boring, doesn't it?"

One of Van's most famous collaborations was with the Chieftains but he says it might never have happened if it hadn't been for his musical and spiritual connection with the late Belfast musician, Derek Bell, who played harp with the traditional Irish group.

Van recorded an album of Irish songs in 1988 with the Chieftains who added a snatch of The Sash at the end of one of the numbers, I'll Tell Me Ma.

Van says of Bell: "It wasn't like he was telling me something I didn't already know. I would give him some info, he would go, yeah, and come back with something because we were coming from a similar place. Spiritually and sometimes musically."

The new studio album - Van's 35th - is called Duets: Re-Working the Catalogue, and features him and an eclectic mix of singers. They include Michael Buble, Simply Red's Mick Hucknall, Joss Stone, George Benson, the late Bobby Womack, Natalie Cole and Mark Knopfler singing new arrangements of his songs.

Sources close to Morrison say he has deliberately steered away from his best known compositions to record others from his back catalogue - giving him a staggering 360 to choose from.

Van is said to have chosen the artists on the album, which is released next week, because of his respect for them, and speaks of his admiration for Canadian singer Michael Buble.

"He is great. I like him. He has recorded a couple of my songs and mentions me quite a bit," says Van, who recorded the song Real Real Gone with Buble's big band for the duets album.

Van says he thinks it's great that someone like Buble is singing songs from the big band era.

"There's not many people doing it apart from Harry Connick and he is not doing that much. Buble is out there, promoting himself. He is out there all the time, non-stop."

One of the singers is his daughter Shana who has appeared with him in numerous shows in recent years. She chose the song Rough God Goes Riding for the new album.

One of the duets is with the American singer PJ Proby whose career went into decline after his trousers ripped during a live show in the Sixties.

Morrison recorded a song called Whatever Happened to PJ Proby on his Down the Road album in 2002.

And that's the song that Morrison and Proby sing on the duets album.

"His voice is still there. He has a great voice," says Van.

Read more:

Van Morrison to toast 70th with homecoming show on Cyprus Avenue

The unlikely rock star  

Van sets the record straight over allegations regarding child 

On the Van Morrison trail through Belfast icon's past  

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