The Wondrous Night When Glen Hansard Met Van Morrison

Depending on which circles you run in, you might have first spotted singer-songwriter-actor Glen Hansard as the leader of the rock band The Frames, as an actor in Alan Parker’s film The Commitments, or, more recently, as one half of the folk-rock duo The Swell Season. But if the success of John Carney’s movie Once is anything to go by, you may well have become aware of Glen Hansard while watching it. Carney, The Frames’ former bassist, knew that Hansard had accumulated just the kind stories in his youth spent busking around Dublin to shape his film’s down-and-out musician protagonist. By shooting time, Hansard had taken on the role himself, ensuring that a whole new, large audience would soon learn of a second inimitable Irish voice to put on their playlists.

The first, of course, would have to be Van Morrison, whose artistic captivation of generations of listeners extends to Hansard himself. Invited to Morrison’s birthday party by a Guinness heiress whom he befriended while busking, Hansard seized the chance to get near his favorite singer. Like some brave fans, he found a way to approach the reputedly brusque and temperamental Morrison. Unlike most of those fans, Hansard’s experience turned into a uniquely close and personal one. Watch the clip from Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show below and hear him tell the story of how he inadvertently parlayed a brushed-off song request (“You don’t know me!” was Morrison’s devastating dismissal) into an entire night spent exchanging songs alone with his musical idol.

Hansard likens this memory to one of “jamming with a Beatle,” before correcting himself: “No, better than a Beatle — it’s Van Morrison!” Though Hansard hails from Dublin and Morrison from Belfast — the root of such innate difference, Hansard explains, that he can’t even imitate Morrison’s accent — it seems only to make good sense that the two artists could engage in such a brief yet intense connection. Despite coming from separate generations and subcultures, these two immediately recognizable Irish musicians sound possessed of, or possessed by, something unusual. In both cases, their peculiarly expressive vocal and rhythmic energies defy easy description. In his book When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison, critic Greil Marcus describes this quality in Morrison as “the yarragh.” Listen to the cover of Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” above and wonder: what to call it in Hansard? H/T Metafilter

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

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