The answer is quick, blunt and impatient. “Yeah, yeah, I agree,” Van Morrison says, responding to a question about a song on his new album, Keep Me Singing. There is a brief silence. “What’s next?”
I had asked him about the first lines on the record, which sum up Morrison’s life in music over five decades: “Put another coin in the wishing well/Tell everybody got to go to hell.” Pressed for additional comment, Morrison, 71, curtly declines. “No, you got it,” he says in his low brogue. “There’s no need to explain it any further.”
It is a beautiful late-summer day in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where George Ivan Morrison was born on August 31st, 1945, the son of a shipyard electrician. Morrison now lives on the outskirts of the city, after years in America, England and Ireland. We are speaking in a hotel not far from his office, and just a short drive from Cyprus Avenue, a street he celebrated on his 1968 masterpiece, Astral Weeks. Across the River Lagan, in central Belfast, there is a commemorative plate marking the site of the city’s first R&B club, co-founded by Morrison as he launched his band Them. “I didn’t even know there was a plaque there,” says Morrison. “I should go and have a look at it.”
It’s a rare admission of nostalgia during a conversation in which he often shows weariness with questions about his classic Sixties and Seventies records, and practically explodes with frustration over how his recent work is taken for granted. But the singer, wearing a light-blue shirt, a brown leather cap and tinted glasses, also smiles and laughs with surprising frequency. He said it was “exhilarating” to receive an honorary knighthood from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace in February. And Morrison can turn reflective when you least expect it – like when he’s asked if there was a real-life inspiration for the 1964 garage-rock anthem “Gloria.” “I had a cousin called Gloria,” he says. “She was 13 years older than me. So it was her name. It wasn’t about her.” There is another pause. “But that’s old history,” Morrison adds quickly, ready to move on.