Iconic rhythm and blues superstar Van Morrison has teamed up with a carefully selected assortment of some of music’s biggest names for his 35th studio album, a series of duet versions of lesser-known songs from his career.
While the likes of Michael Bublé , Steve Winwood, Bobby Womack, Mark Knopfler, Natalie Cole and George Benson appear, don’t expect Rihanna,Beyonce or anyone from contemporary R&B.
Why? Because Van the Man thinks it’s all “terrible”, along with most other modern music.
He said: “ I can’t relate to it now, what they call R&B. It doesn’t have any rhythm in it. It doesn’t have any blues. To me, it is very unrhythmic. It’s very robotic.
“That’s what happens, the words take on different meanings after a while. It’s like the word spiritual. What does that mean? It could mean anything now.
“Like a hundred years ago that meant mediums, séances or something. Then it meant something else.
“So you don’t know what these words mean any more, in fact it doesn’t mean very much because it’s overused.
“It’s like soul, I don’t know what that is now. To me soul was Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Bobby Bland, Solomon Burke, Bobby Womack. But what is it now?
“What is jazz? Some of the stuff that they say is jazz, I don’t know what it is.
“Blues also. Something started with Jimi Hendrix. So the jumping off place was loud guitar and feedback, then that became the blues.
“To me, that’s not blues. Blues is like Junior Wells and Buddy Guy in a club live. That was the blues for John Lee Hooker.
“Funk, George Benson used to play funk, before he sang. People wouldn’t even know what to call that.
“I just feel like you know what you know and you just get on with it. I don’t really know if there is any tradition any more. I was lucky to meet, work and hang out with all these people.”
When it came to choosing the artists he would collaborate with on a project plucking his favourites from his 360-song back catalogue, Van didn’t draw straws. Top of his list was Bobby Womack, who sadly died last year after recording the duet.
He said: “I chose with great difficulty. I had to leave a lot of people out because of the time factor and it was going to run into a double or triple album.
“I just had to get people who were available. It started back in October 2013. I wanted Bobby, he was one of the first people on my list. Bobby, Mavis Staples and Natalie Cole were playing the Blues Festival in London and so was I. It made sense to get them during that.
“Those three kind of kicked it off. Then it was much harder to get the rest because of calendars.”
Unsurprisingly, Van isn’t an advocate of the modern variety of collaboration, where artists never meet, just record their parts in studios around the world then put them together digitally. For Van, it’s got to be face to face.
He said: “You want to get that whenever possible. It is not always possible because of calendars as people are all over the place and very busy. The George Benson track I did live with his band in the studio, because I wanted to do something with his band rather than mine for a change.
“You just have to work with what’s available. Luckily, he was in London at the time, his band were there, so it worked out.
“He was there that day we did it, it was a great couple of takes and we were out of there having lunch by 3pm.
“I’m from the John Lee Hooker school of, ‘you get in, you get out’, kind of thing.”
While the concept of the album is something Van has toyed with for years, he brought it to life because he feels the industry has changed with back catalogues as extensive as his own no longer promoted or revived – songs can vanish.
The chance to breathe new life into some of the songs was too good to pass up.
Van said: “The ideas has been around for years. I’ve done duets before, several with John Lee Hooker, Tom Jones, Ray Charles, Carl Perkins, Bobby Bland, Lonnie Donegan.
“It ended up being called ‘Re-working the catalogue’.”
The hard part was whittling 360 songs down to 15 – so he accepted help from his collaborators.
He said: “Some picked their own songs or I made suggestions.
“Like Bobby. I sent him that track, he said, ‘Yeah, I like the song, I can do that’.
“Other ones had songs in mind, like Mick Hucknall wanted to do Streets of Arklow.
“Mark Knopfler picked his song. The PJ Proby one is obvious. I recorded that in the early 2000s so that was an easy one.
“I don’t really ponder past stuff unless I want to maybe redo it.”