Born on 31 August 1945 in Belfast, George Ivan Morrison (best known as Van Morrison or under the nicknames "Van the Man" and "The Belfast Cowboy") is a Northern-Irish singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist musician. Throughout his professional career, he has played a wide range of musical styles, including rock, blues, rhythm and blues, folk, jazz fusion, country and also Celtic music, hence the term "Celtic Soul" which has been given to define some of his music.
Van Morrison was raised in a working-class Protestant family, where he was exposed to early blues and jazz thanks to his father’s music collection. At the age of eleven, his father bought him his first acoustic guitar and then, at fourteen years old, he received a saxophone. Having taken up those two instruments and with the help of some lessons, he was soon able to start his career as a teenager by playing in several Irish showbands which covered the music hits of that time.
He first came up to the light in the mid-1960s with the rhythm and blues band Them and their single "Gloria", which became an instant classic. In 1967, he released as a solo artist a single called "Brown Eyed Girl", which was followed one year later by his first solo album, Astral Weeks. Although this album did not get good critics and was rather ignored at first, it gradually received critical acclaim and is now regarded as a classic masterpiece which has had a great influence on later music styles. His second album, Moondance, as well as his other works from the 1970’s were immediately well received and allowed him to establish himself as a major artist, who still continues to make records and go on tour nowadays.
Van Morrison distinguished himself from the other rock singers of his generation who were more regarded as simple entertainers whereas he was more of a dark and complex singer, inspired by the integrity of the old bluesmen and the willfulness of poets. An interesting anecdote might be that from 1972 onwards, he began to experience stage fright, making it more difficult for him to perform in front of bigger audiences: indeed, being usually under stress, he therefore tried as much as possible to avoid making eye contact with the audience. Regarding his writing style, Morrison was heavily influenced by English poets John Donne (metaphysical poetry), William Blake (romantic poetry) and Irish poet William Butler Yeats.
The many awards he received definitely confirm him as an icon of Irish and Anglo-Saxon culture. Indeed, he received six Grammy Awards, an induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Irish Hall of Fame. More importantly, he was also decorated OBE, namely Officer of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
Live version of "Brown Eyed Girl" in 2006: