VAN MORRISON - DREAMING IN GOD

STUART BAILIE - 75 VAN SONGS

75 Van Songs

Imagine if a small city in a small part of the UK or Ireland (depending on the lottery of your birth) not only produced one of the icons of the rock genre but also a world class journalist who could write about it.

Stuart Bailie was assistant editor of NME at the height of Brit-pop 90s and has been accused of starting the Oasis - Blur war by Noel Gallagher! He has written in every rock magazine worth reading,  as well as books about Thin Lizzy and the Northern Irish Troubles, even sleeve notes for U2.

One of the revelations of 75 Van Songs is that none of the above would have happened had it not been for his landlady while he was picking fruit in the south of France in 1983 making him listen to Van Morrison’s Madame George on a cassette in the kitchen.

It was a conversion moment of sorts for Bailie. He writes in the Introduction “The songs of Van Morrison have given me decades of joy and fascination. They have  been companions through many life changes, instances of hurt and homesickness, romance and reflection.”

Part of me asks why it has taken so long for Stuart to finally write a book on Morrison. Another part of me thinks it might be better for the fact that it has been 37 years in the incubation. Almost four decades of Bailie listening, meditating and surmising on all of these songs.

And in some ways that is what we get. It is almost like a book of spiritual meditations. Janice and I took the opportunity in Kickstarter to be patrons of the book and were asked for our favourite song. Our song is Someone Like You which I didn’t even expect to be in the book. 

Yet, there it is and with “our” song Stuart does what every page of the book does. It is like he pries the song open and helps us hear, see and feel more:

“Someone Like You is the voice of a pilgrim who has done his searching and craves the illumination. He submits to us that, finally, he can see the light, but there’s no elation in his voice. It’s a quiet consolation, although when he talks of the best days ahead of him, it figures that the load has been lifted.”

It is beautiful and spiritual. Each entry is like a sacred manuscript, like a cross between Leonard Cohen’s Book Of Longing and Nick Hornby’s 31 Songs with a wee piece of John O’Donohue sprinkled in. You could do worse in your day than meditate on these reflections, listening to the song and taking a few minutes for quiet after.

Of course Stuart Bailie’s particular strength as well as his gift of writing is that he knows the city of Van Morrison. If anyone from wherever in the world wants to find the place of Van Morrison’s inspiration then Bailie takes us to the streets, churches, shipyards, windowsills and chip shops.

The book ends in an other worldly way fitting to the book and the work of Van Morrison. By seeming serendipity Bailie gets connected with the son of the man who owned Davy’s Chipper on the Beersbridge Road as featured in Sense Of Wonder. A photograph arrives of the Castlereagh Road in 1952. Stuart’s keen eye finds so many Morrison references in just one shot.

I have waited a long time for Stuart Bailie to write a book about Van Morrison. It was worth the wait. Everything I hoped for… and a lot of spiritual insights beyond!

 

You can purchase 75 Van Songs in No Alibis Book Shop on Botanic Avenue, Belfast or on line at https://www.musicglue.com/trouble-songs/products/75-van-songs 


HAPPY 75th BIRTHDAY VAN MORRISON - I Want To Thank You

Van 75th

(I had the privilege of wishing Van Morrison Happy 75th Birthday when I did a Special Thought For The Day to mark the occasion on Good Morning Ulster...)

 

A joy to be on the radio to publicly say Happy 75th Birthday Van Morrison brought up in Hyndford Street, East Belfast. From Astral Weeks to last year’s Three Chords and The Truth you have created as qualitative a body of work as any of your peers. Van, you are up there with Bob Dylan and without you there would be no Bruce Springsteen. 

I want to thank you personally for a few things. 

Firstly, making our wee ordinary places sound extraordinary… Ballystockart, Ardglass, Cyprus Avenue, Castlereagh Road, Hyndford Street, Davey’s Chipper and the man who played the saw outside City Hall. You make me proud of where I’m from.

Secondly, I want to thank you for being a spiritual companion. We all need songs for the journey and songs like Full Force Gale, When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God, In the Garden and the recent Transformation have refreshed me and pushed me on in my journey following Jesus.

Stuart Bailie writes in his upcoming book 75 Van Songs about Van’s song Sense Of Wonder that it makes the case “for being a receptive soul, about the prerogative to burn bright”. 

That is Van Morrison. A man born in east Belfast with exceptional gift from God who used it to give the world a sense of wonder, to call us to being receptive souls to the transcendent and burn brighter than the ordinary around us.

American writer and Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner defines our individual vocations… the reason God made us… as the place where our deepest gladness meets the world’s deepest need.

I have watched in the crowd as on a stage Van Morrison lived those moments of his deepest gladness. There’s actually nothing like it. He has battled the fame and music industry that his vocation hurled him into in the mid 60s when he just wanted to play saxophone on the weekend in a Down joint...

BUT he has used that deep gladness to call the world to look higher and seek to the find the eternal now. As he put it in his spoken word song Hyndford Street to Dream in God. Thank you sir, for sharing your vocation with us all. Happy 75th birthday!


THE BELFAST STREETS OF VAN MORRISON

Cyprus Avenue.jpg.gallery

As a music fan I have imagine romantically about the places referred to in the work of Springsteen, Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon among a plethora of others, though a cancelled flight at Newark airport took me onto Simon’s New Jersey turnpike and the reality wasn’t too exciting! Belfast is blessed with our own contemporary music name place dropper Van Morrison. No matter where you go in the world someone has heard of Cypress Avenue. As a Presbyterian minister I used to think I would be called to the Church with the Cypress Avenue street sign outside. It never happened! Then a day or two before I was installed as the minister of Fitzroy I was listening to Madame George and there it was, “Ford and Fitzroy”. Confirmed!

In his poem/song Hyndford Street Morrison travels to Fuscos in Holywood for Ice Cream, name checks Beechie River, Abetta Parade, Orangefield, St. Donard's Church comes down from the Castlereagh Hills through Cregagh Glens, “to Hyndford Street, feeling wondrous and lit up inside/With a sense of everlasting life..." It is what Morrison has been doing since that iconic first solo record Astral Weeks, finding transcendence in the everyday familiar. In what he does and how he does it he is heading back past Irish poets like Kavanagh and Yeats to the Celtic Christianity centuries before; revealing the extraordinary in the everyday ordinary.

Morrison’s Astral Weeks is mentioned in the same breath as Sgt Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band as maybe the best record of all time and where The Beatles in 1967 were singing about places in their native Liverpool, Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields, Morrison created Astral Weeks’ incredible piece of poetry and sound, vast and magical, from a tiny house in a gray and claustrophobic little street in East Belfast. Though it would take him a few decades to name Hyndford Street specifically, Astral Weeks gives us Cypress Avenue, Fitzroy and Sandy Row.

Through the years Morrison has added many other spaces and icons to his catalogue of Belfast memories. Cherry Valley in the aforementioned Hyndford Street, the Orangefield of his school days appears on Got To Go Back from No Method No Guru No Teacher and then gets an entire songs called Orangefield on Avalon Sunset. In the title track of Sense of Wonder, a song in which Van sees himself as a bringer of a firey vision he is finding wonder in Gransha, Ballystockart Road, the Castle Picturehouse on the Castlereagh Road and the man who played the saw outside the City Hall. There are also mentions for pastie
suppers down at Davy's Chipper, gravy rings, barnbracks, wagon wheels and snowballs, all vivid and vital memories for Morrison himself and many of us who have called this city home.

I had one of these magical moments at a concert in Vancouver where a Canadian singer encored with Morrison’s Into The Mystic. There are no specific place names in this song but when he sang about hearing of the fog horn blow and knowing that it meant he would be coming home I was on Belfast’s Lough and tears started to seep. Thank you Van Morrison for giving our city streets a wonder that resonates in our own souls and across the world.


VAN MORRISON 75th BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS and MY PART IN THEM (ha)

Stocki as Van

(photo by Gary Burnett... for one of his Blues Nights... I thought it was as close as I ever was to looking like Van... ha!)

 

There is little doubt that in Belfast at least this is Van Morrison Weekend. Van Morrison is an iconic music artist, up there in legendary status with Bob Dylan who he has played with and Bruce Springsteen who would have no problem citing Morrison as a major influence. Van The Man has been making quality records for over 50 years and his first solo record Astral Weeks is still recognised as one of the all time great albums.

AND… He’s from east Belfast. Remembering that always does my heart good! The same area of our city that gave the imagination of CS Lewis’s Narnia gave us Morrison’s Sense of Wonder. 

There is no Birthday concert as there was for Van’s 70th at the end of the street he made famous - Cyprus Avenue. Maybe if it hadn’t have been for Cornavirus! 

Van Morrison will be omnipresent though. Hot Press magazine already had had a few weeks of their Rave On Van Morrison series where every night on Youtube another Irish artist covers a Van song. If you have missed this please go watch Gary Lightbody with Iain Archer and Miriam Kaufmann’s Into The Mystic and Bronagh Gallagher’s The Healing Has Begun are astounding and there are other great covers by Duke Special, Damien Rice, Cara Dillon, Tim Wheeler… and so many more!

Stuart Bailie is marking the occasion too. Our best ever rock journalist has almost finished a book called 75 Van Songs which takes 75 of Morrison’s songs and has written his own insightful “reviews, appreciations and imaginative responses.” There are extracts from the book available in the current edition of Northern Ireland’s premier new Arts magazine Dig With It. 

There will be much more I am sure.

As a Van fan since I bought Beautiful Vision in 1982 I will be getting in on the act. There will be various blogs and reblogs here on Soul Surmise. 

Then on Sunday morning I will be on Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence at around 9.30am talking about the spiritual songs of Van that have meant most to me. I have to pick three songs and I am finding it hard to cut them down. There might also be an extending blog on this theme!

Then our Fitzroy Sunday Service going out at 11am on Fitzroy TV will be have within it a few nods in tribute to Van. Our hymns will be influenced by hymns Van has recorded and Brian Houston will bring us a Van song to meditate upon after the benediction. 

My sermon will bring in a Van idea too. In the John Paul Lederach and Angela Jill Lederach book When Blood and Bones Cry Out there is a chapter about John Paul using Van Morrison music in the long convalescence after a serious car crash. Some of Lederach’s ideas about what Van does in his music will come together with Jesus asking us to remember his death and some of the struggles to keep the faith in Coronavirus times.

Then on Monday morning I will be back on Good Morning Ulster at 7.50am to do a Van Morrison Special Thought For The Day on his actual birthday. 

So, from now until Monday I will be able to list to Van and call it work!

On Monday I will be plugging particularly the Light in Van Morrison that we premiered on Fitzroy TV back in late June, with me talking about the spirituality of Van’s work and Brian Houston covering three of his songs. If you haven’t already seen it you can watch it HERE

Phew!


GIVE ME MY RAPTURE - PLAYLIST OF 20 VAN MORRISON'S MOST SPIRITUAL SONGS

Van Spiritual

Van Morrison music has been full of the spiritual and transcendent since the very beginning. As I speak about it in my new series on Fitzroy TV - Light From Rock Music - here is one of two Playlists of 20 songs I have compiled to accompany that blog.

 

Hymns To The Silence

(from Hymns To the Silence)

 

In The Garden

(from No Guru, No Method, No Teacher)

 

Full Force Gale

(from Into The Music)

 

Give Me My Rapture

(from Poetic Champions Compose)

 

When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God

(from Avalon Sunset)

 

See Me Through

(from Enlightenment)

 

See Me Through Pt 2/Closer Walk With Thee

(from Hymns To The Silence)

 

When The Saints Go Marching In

(from Avalon Sunset deluxe edition)

 

Beyond The Ritual

(from Keep It Simple)

 

Haunts Of Ancient Peace

(from Common One)

 

Ancient Of Days

(from A Sense of Wonder)

 

These Are The Days

(from Avalon Sunset)

 

Beautiful Vision

(from Beautiful Vision)

 

By His Grace

(from Hymns To The Silence)

 

The Spirit Will Provide

(from The Prophet Speaks)

 

Transformation

(from Roll With The Punches)

 

If I Ever Needed Someone

(from His Band And The Street Choir)

 

When Ever God Shines His Light On Me

(from Avalon Sunset)

 

The Master’s Eyes

(from A Sense Of Wonder)

 

Dweller By The Threshold

(from Beautiful Vision)


SONGS OF HOME - PLAYLIST OF 20 VAN MORRISON SONGS BAOUT BELFAST AND IRELAND

Cyprus Avenue.jpg.gallery

"There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places & desecrated places." Wendell Berry

Van Morrison has given a sacredness to the streets of Belfast and places all across Ireland. As I speak about it in my new series on Fitzroy TV - Light From Rock Music - here is one of two Playlists of 20 songs I have compiled to accompany that blog.

 

A Sense Of Wonder 

(from A Sense of Wonder)

 

Brown Eyed Girl

(from It’s Too Late To Stop Now)

 

On Hyndford Street

(from Hymns to The Silence)

 

Cyprus Avenue

(from Astral Weeks)

 

Into The Mystic

(from Moondance)

 

Cleaning Windows

(from Beautiful Vision)

 

Coney Island

(from Avalon Sunset)

 

Going Down To Bangor

(from Keep Me Singing)

 

Northern Muse (Solid Ground)

(from Beautiful Vision)

 

Madame George

(from Astral Weeks)

 

One Irish Rover

(from No Guru, No Method, No Teacher)

 

Song Of Home

(from Keep It Simple)

 

Irish Heartbeat

(from Inarticulate Speech of the Heart)

 

Streets Or Arklow

(from Veedon Fleece)

 

Choppin’ Wood

(from Down the Road)

 

Gotta To  Go Back

(fron No Guru, No Method, No Teacher)

 

Cry For Home

(from Inarticulate Speech of the Heart)

 

And It Stoned Me

(from Moondance)

 

Orangefield

(from Avalon Sunset)

 

Mystic Of The East

(from Born To Sing: No Plan B)


VAN MORRISON AND ME

Van Cyprus

On Sunday night - June 28th 2020 going live at 7pm - Fitzroy TV will put out a short vlog called Dreaming In God - Light From Van Morrison in which Brian Houston will sing some Van covers and I will commentate on the spirituality in Van's work. This blog gives you the setting of Van Morrison's place in my life...

I discovered Van Morrison at University. Beautiful Vision was released in the second term of my first year. Two things drew me. Reviews spoke of Morrison’s spirituality and Mark Knopfler, a musical hero of mine at the time, played on it. Those were two similarities to Slow Train Coming that had converted me to Bob Dylan about a year earlier. 

From there it was a catch up on the twelve album released before Beautiful Vision. I quickly fell in love with Moondance, Wavelength and Into The Music and got intrigued with Veedon Fleece, Common One and Astral Weeks. Astral Weeks took decades before becoming my very favourite and I would dare suggest one of the most unique and brilliant records of the 20th Century; unquestioningly a masterpiece.

I was so into Van that I was pretty sure that God would call me to be minister of Bloomfield Presbyterian Church which has the road sign for Cyprus Avenue outside it. It wasn’t to be. I ended at Fitzroy… oh hang on… “Down on Cyprus Avenue/With a childlike vision leaping into view/Clicking, clacking of the high heeled shoe/Ford and Fitzroy, Madame George”. Read to the end of the verse Steve!

Van Morrison hasn’t always been understood in the rock music world. He is often labeled grumpy which I count as lazy journalism. Van Morrison is a deeply introverted man who never envisaged when he set out in music that he would have to deal with stardom, celebrity and paparazzi invading his personal space. He just wanted to be a musician “blowing saxophone on the weekend/In a Down joint”.

So if grumpy is his defence against invasion into his privacy we need to be more forgiving. Anyway, how could a grumpy man write the kind of beautiful romantic songs that Morrison has given us - Moondance, Crazy Love, Tupelo Honey, Have I Told You Lately to Someone Like You, Carrying a Torch, In The Afternoon. 

Someone Like You has always been Janice and my song. One of my rare romantic moments was when Have I Told You Lately That I Love You was on the radio and I phoned her, said nothing, and just played the song.

There are two obvious things that grab my attention in Van Morrison’s work. He is from Belfast for goodness sake. He is up there with Dylan, Springsteen, Mitchell, Cohen and Young and he comes from my city. Indeed if you drink coffee enough in east Belfast you might find him find him at a table near you.

Not only is he a Belfast artist but he has right from the very beginning of his work had this sense of place. Even while in self exile in America in the 70s there were still those references to home. Belfast has not always had a good reputation across the world but when you listen to Van Morrison you can only be intrigued by something sacred about our streets, rivers and cakes!

As I already stated the spiritual aspects of Morrison’s work endeared me. I love using music as a way to nourish my soul but also as a way for my faith to caress and collide with the world around me. 

Van Morrison’s work is more of the former kind. He has never veered towards societal critique. Yet songs like In The Garden, Whenever God Shines His Light, Give Me My Rapture and the two we will use on Sunday night, Full Force Gale and When Will I Ever Learn To Live in God are helpful resources in devotional disciplines.

Full Force Gale was the song used as an introit to my Installation service in Fitzroy sung as a choir piece in the style of The Voice Squad’s version on No Prima Donna: The Songs Of Van Morrison. 

Full Force Gale was also a central piece when we built our entire morning service around Van Morrison’s art on the eve of his 70th Birthday concert up on Cyprus Avenue and I preached on When Will We Ever Learn To Live in God. 

On Sunday night I will be asking what we can spiritually learn from Van Morrison’s work and how we can apply it to our daily walk of faith. 

Brian Houston will be singing three Morrison songs, reinterpreting them in his own imaginative way and eeking out their deepest soul. 


VAN MORRISON - THREE CHORDS AND THE TRUTH

Three Chords Van

I am convinced that Van Morrison is as happy about his vocation as he has been since he was playing The Maritime Bar in Belfast in the early 60s. 

My thoughts on Van Morrison’s complicated relationship with the public in general and the press in particular is that a young Morrison simply wanted to play his music. Most unfortunately for Van his musical vocation coincided with an explosion of pop music and his particular vocational genius got caught up in an industry that was not at all in keeping with his shy personality. 

To be as deeply introverted, as Van Morrison seems to be, and then get caught up in the pop circus is not a match made in heaven. Rather than take swipes at Van Morrison’s contrariness we should be grateful that he didn’t just give it all up and walk away as he threatened to after Veedon Fleece in 1974. 

Forty five year after that little flirt with retirement, in the mid 70s, Morrison is now in his mid 70s and everything about his relationship with pop music is very different indeed. No longer does he have to fear his photograph on the front cover of music magazines or the pressure of hit singles. Yes, the odd journalist still tries to shoehorn inside his introverted mystery but even they are now few and far between.

As a result, Morrison is having the musical time of his life. He now plays smaller intimate venues like those he imagined he would be playing when he started out. As far as albums are concerned he can do what he wants, creating as much or as little as his own soul directs.

Hence, Three Chords and The Truth is his sixth record in four years. The last four records have seen Morrison liberally mixing jazz and blues covers, along with his own originals or re-workings of his classics. It all seemed free and easy, enjoyable for him and his fans. I wouldn’t say I loved every song but I am glad of them.

Three Chords and The Truth is not part of that outpouring. It is almost a bookend, the other being the first of the recent six records, Keep Me Singing.

Like Keep Me Singing most of these songs are original Morrison songs but more than that there is a different intention to the collection. This is very much a Van Morrison record in the vein of his very best. Indeed, you can hear echoes of most every era of Morrison’s eclectic career.

There is the wonder on the Don Black co-write If We Wait For Mountains. The opening song March Winds In February reminds me of Hard Nose The Highway. Dark Night Of The Soul could be a title from anything between Beautiful Vision and The Healing Game. I can hear Them play Early Days. Fame Will Eat The Soul is that recurring them on his albums since the late 80s. Days Gone By is a wonderful closer, as he re-writes Auld Lang Syne and infuses it with Van transcendence.

There are a plethora of different shades of the Van Morrison muse are stretched right across this tracklist. The return of Jay Berliner to the session players adds sublime guitar playing throughout. 

Nobody In Charge is not my favourite song on the record but it is the most politically intriguing. Is this as political as Van has ever been:

 

Politicians that waffle endlessly

People just don’t want to see

Getting’ paid too much for screwin’ up

don’t you think everyone’s had enough?

 

There’s nobody in charge

At that we know, that we know about

There’s nobody in charge

Nobody seems to have any clout

 

And speculation across the nation

Media implantation rules the day

Brainwash is easy, if everybody’s lazy

Everything always looks so grey 

 

This could be about the fact Northern Ireland’s Local Assembly has not met at Stormont in almost three years. It could also be about the daily newscasts from outside a Brexit divided Westminster. Some of my American friends would say that it has wider connotations! Surely, that Morrison feels at liberty to surmise on such issues is a sign of his new sense of freedom.

Don’t miss Van’s humour either.. When he sings “Free State” in You Don’t Understand it has local connotations in his Northern Irish homeland. The Free State is what my Granny and Van’s parent’s generation called the Republic Of Ireland. 

He articulates it here with the wry Van humour that he used at Self Aid in Dublin in 1986 when he introduced new songs from No Guru, No Method, No Teacher by saying that it would be out “on the Twelfth of July!” Or in that little snippet of The Sash on I’ll Tell Me Ma on his collaborative album with The Chieftains, Irish Heartbeat. 

Three Chords and The Truth is not the most iconic album of Van Morrison’s career or the one with the most hit singles. To compare it in such ways is to miss not only what Van Morrison is now doing and also what he always wished he had been doing. It is another wonderful record of inspirational music by a genius of the genre. It is a most satisfying listen. 


VAN MORRISON - THE HEALING GAME (Deluxe Edition)

Healing Game

Oh what a Van-fest! In this 3 Cd digipack CD box there is a treasure-trove of goodies.

It is the kind of thing that I would be up to with my Playlist series. On the back of the original The Healing Game, which has not been remastered, we get the B-sides of singles from the time. Then we have CD 2 which is a collage of songs from The Healing Game project and various other projects from the era.

So, if unlike me you haven’t already, you don’t need to hoke out - CD singles, Sult, Good Rocking Tonight and The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers, John Lee Hooker’s Don’t Look Back and Lonnie Donegan’s Muleskinner Blues - because the Van tracks from them are here. 

On CD two there are three collaborations that bring some fantastic tunes. I’ve been particularly loving the rocking rhythm and blues of his five songs with Carl Perkins. Four of these have been previously unreleased and one of those My Angel is a co-write. This second disc has ten previously unissued songs including a Morrison original Didn’t He Ramble and A Kiss To Build A Dream On made famous by Louis Armstrong in 1951.

There is more! The third disc is an absolutely pumping live show from Montreux in July 1997. Just a few months after the release of The Healing Game the set list has seven songs from the record. This is the Morrison’s few years with Brian Kennedy bringing backing vocals. Kennedy’s singing added grace notes indeed. That high end voice gets close to angelic and when he and Morrison play off each other like a call and response, it is climactic and electric. 

So, as I say, a treasure trove! In the end though, what the three discs did for me was highlight the strength of The Healing Game in Morrison’s phenomenal body of work. There are six varied versions of the title track here, three versions of Fire In The Belly and Sometimes We Cry. What these versions did was throw different hues across them and the entire album. It rose up my favourite Morrison records list for sure.

Then… and maybe contrived but… these dongs were recorded between the Northern Ireland ceasefires and the Good Friday Agreement. So when I hear: -

 

Don't look back

To the days of yester-year

You cannot live on in the past

Don't look back

 

An' I've known so many people

They're still tryin' to live on in the past

Don't look back

(Don’t Look Back - John Lee Hooker)

 

and

 

Here I am again

Back on the corner again

Back where I belong

Where I've always been

Everything the same

It don't ever change

I'm back on the corner again

In the healing game

(The Healing Game)

 

Morrison used yet another acoustic version of The Healing Game on a fundraising album Across The Bridge Of Hope for the victims of the 1998 Omagh bomb. Morrison always said it was a song from America, doo-wop singing on street corners. Healing is a spiritual thing here and Van was intrigued by it - The Healing Has Begun and Did Ye Get Healed just two other songs on the theme! It’s hard as you listen to some of these versions to not see those corners as the streets of East Belfast where, whatever his geographical place, Van Morrison always seems close to. 

We are still needing that Healing on his Belfast streets in 2019!


VAN MORRISON - GRUMP... OR ROMANTIC SOUNDTRACKER FOR VALENTINE'S DAY?

Have I Told You Lately

Van Morrison has been often labeled a grumpy man. Much as I understand his gruff public persona attracting such a caricature, I believe that it is lazy judgement. I honestly believe that Sir Van is a very shy individual and is perhaps haunted by social anxiety. Consider that that is your personality and you get hurled into the world of rock stardom. It has not been easy for our East Belfast son. 

And do not be lazy twice and suggest that it was his choice. It wasn’t. When Van started playing the blues around Belfast in the early 60s there was no rock music industry. He honestly, as he has said time and time again over 60 years, was thinking that he would be “blowing his saxophone at the weekend in that down joint”. Celebrity and fame were never in his dreams or nightmares!

Now that is a Valentine’s Day song introduction! Where are you going with this Stockman? It is context! I often find it amazing that someone we can hastily judge so grumpy can have sent out into the world the most amazing array of love songs. From Brown Eyed Girl to Moondance to Crazy Love to Tupelo Honey to Have I Told You Lately to Someone Like You to Carrying a Torch to In The Afternoon. Goodness me but there would seem to be more evidence to call this man a natural born romantic than a gump!

For Janice and I, Van has always been our romantic singer. Avalon Sunset was the album he released in 1989 the year we fell in love and Have I Told You Lately was the single on the radio that most romantic of summers. 

The other big song for us is Someone Like You from Poetic Champions Compose released two years earlier. 

"I've been travellin' a hard road

Lookin' for someone exactly like you

I've been carryin' my heavy load

Waiting for the light to come

Shining through.

Someone like you makes it

All worth while

Someone like you keeps me satisfied 

Someone exactly like you." 

I sang that last line a lot on the London underground in August 1989. 

Have I Told You Lately though is a rare and wonderful love song. Rare because of its acknowledgement of and thanks to God in a love song. The recommitment to the lover is enveloped in prayer and the realisation that the love between lovers is a gift from a God who is love. 

The Scriptures tell us that we can only love because God first loved us. Here we have Van Morrison at his most romantic and spiritual in the same classic song. You can see why we were so drawn to it. 

Janice will tell you that I am not much of a romantic. Perhaps the most romantic thing I have ever done was phoning Janice when she was still working in London… and then… as she answered… saying nothing… and just… playing this song down the line. It has been one of our songs ever since! Before it became illegal, we were known to repeat that romantic moment it if it came on the car radio. 

And tonight, no doubt i will sing, or at least say the words again… 

“And it's yours and it's mine
Like the sun
At the end of the day
We should give thanks and pray to the One

Have I told you lately that I love you
Have I told you there's no one above you
Fill my heart with gladness
Take away my sadness
Ease my troubles, that's what you do”

Van Morrison? Call him what you like. For us he’ll be our romantic soundtracker!