In a new series for BBC Radio Ulster, Ralph McLean picks out the best Irish albums of all time. In a sneak preview, he tells Twentyfourseven about his choices - and explains the reasons behind them.
Over the years there has been no shortage of albums released by artists from Northern Ireland. Many of these releases have been very good but I'd say that very few could be considered classics.
I have always been a music fanatic and for the new Classic Irish Albums series on BBC Radio Ulster, I wanted to pick albums which I felt no record collection should be without; albums which I felt people should listen to and want to learn more about.
For this series, I have rummaged through albums released from the 1960s up until the present day, covering every genre from punk to jazz and pop, to bring listeners a list of what I believe are truly classic Irish albums...
VAN MORRISON Astral Weeks (1968)
Astral Weeks is a fabulous album and it started Van up as a solo artist after leaving Them. It sounds like no other album I've ever heard with its crazy mix of soul, jazz, Celtic music, poetry, beat poetry and skat singing.
Astral Weeks is just so important and, as we discuss in the programme, it sold absolutely nothing at the time of release which Van is still pretty embittered about. It originally only sold something like 15,000, but it has since gone on to become a true cult classic.
Apparently, Van was pretty much destitute when he recorded it, the money had dried up and he had just got out of a terrible deal with Bang Records in the States. Everything was riding on Astral Weeks. When you know this, you can hear what an incredible album it is. It takes you back to his childhood in Belfast and his time in America as well - it's like a travel log of a very difficult time for Van when he barely had enough to eat and yet he was able to make a really poetic, beautiful album.
I think Astral Weeks has stood the test of time incredibly well and there's no better way to start a series like this than with an album of this standard. It's unbeatable.