AT FIRST glance the reader could be forgiven for thinking Gerald Dawe’s new book, In Another World - Van Morrison and Belfast, is a memoir of Van and his life in Belfast. There is some justification for this, but Dawe's short volume is so much more, and in fact packs one hell of a punch.
Van was born in 1945, Gerald Dawe in 1952, both in Belfast. Morrison became a world famous singer-songwriter while Dawe became an acclaimed poet and critic. While there seemed to be a significant difference in age and in interests between the two men, a love of Belfast, particularly Belfast during the sixties, drew them together.
Dawe writes: “In the summer of 1970, sitting on the tiny balcony of my mother’s flat, which overlooked a square in an estate of houses in east Belfast, I was looking at the sky when ‘These Dreams Of You’ came over the radio; the voice of my home town. This is what In Another World is about”.
Here Dawe is somewhat reticent. Perhaps the title of the book should have been In Another World - Van Morrison, Belfast, and Me, as it contains as much of Dawe’s as of Morrison’s life during the Sixties in Belfast. It describes, with a tremendous sense of excitement, the musical scene in Belfast after the war weariness of WWII had faded; the new generation was challenging the values of a polarised society, and the central role Van Morrison and the group Them played in this cultural whirlwind:
“Them with Van Morrison gave voice to a generation...we did not know a great deal about sectarianism. It just wasn’t part of the psychic landscape...We used to walk everywhere. Everybody used to meet on the clubs; Van captures that defiance in his voice and, with Them, aggressively declared ‘We’re here, with a kind of dismissiveness, publicly, about being in ‘the business’ - the music business.”
The almost infectious excitement evident in this quotation underlines the narrative for most of the first half of the book, but as it progresses, the tone matures and becomes more considered as both artists come to know one another’s work intimately. Here Morrison’s album Astral Weeks was perhaps the deus ex machina that brought them closer together artistically and personally, their common ground being Belfast and their epoch the 1960s, when the “Mother City” was still at peace.
When these two men, one a sock star, the other a poet, sit down to chat about their work, as they do towards the end of this book, it becomes abundantly clear that, though they do not exactly share the same background, they both mirror and share a deep love for their Mother City - Belfast. This is what makes In Another World, such an engrossing, fascinating and intriguing read.