Saturday 1 October 2016

Van Morrison cancels German gigs after death of inspirational mum Violet

Ivan Little

Published 03/06/2016 | 11:58

Handout photo of Van morrison performing on Cyprus Avenue as part of the East Side Arts Festival
Handout photo of Van morrison performing on Cyprus Avenue as part of the East Side Arts Festival

Sir Van Morrison is in mourning after the death of his beloved mother Violet. She will be buried next week after a service in the Bloomfield church where she was married and which has been made world famous in song by her son.

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The singer postponed two concerts in Germany this week after learning that his mother, the former Violet Stitt, had passed away in a Co Down nursing home.

She was in her 90s.

Mrs Morrison was said to have been overjoyed by her son's investiture at Buckingham Palace in London by Prince Charles four months ago and she was pictured smiling last year at a private birthday party in the Clandeboye estate in Bangor after Sir Van turned 70.

Performer: Violet Morrison, mum of singer Van Morrison, entertains members of the Age Concern Day Centre at North Road, Belfast, in 2003
Performer: Violet Morrison, mum of singer Van Morrison, entertains members of the Age Concern Day Centre at North Road, Belfast, in 2003

He'd earlier celebrated the milestone in August with two hugely successful concerts on Cyprus Avenue, the thoroughfare which he immortalised on his album Astral Weeks.

A death notice for Mrs Morrison said she died peacefully on May 31 at Richmond Private Nursing Home in Holywood.

It said she was formerly of Hyndford Street where she and her husband brought up their only son Van.

The death notice said Mrs Morrison was the much loved wife of George, who predeceased her 18 years ago.

Mrs Morrison was also described in the death notice as a loving mother and grandmother.

However, Van wasn't mentioned by name - nor was his grown-up daughter Shana, who is also a singer, or his two children by former Dublin model Michelle Rocha.

The death notice said that Mrs Morrison would be sadly missed by all her friends and by the wider family circle.

Details were given about the funeral and Mrs Morrison's committal in Holywood on Monday, but the death notice cautioned that they were for close friends and family only.

The funeral service will be held on Monday at St Donard's Parish Church on the Beersbridge Road where Van's parents were married on Christmas Day 1941.

Van Morrison namechecked St Donard's - called after a fifth century saint - in his song On Hyndford Street and he also referred to its 'Sunday six-bells chime' in another composition, Beside You.

The ex-Them frontman was extremely close to his mother and a regular visitor to her in her homes in various parts of east Belfast before she moved into private nursing care.

Mrs Morrison and her husband George had followed their son to live in America in the 1970s and they opened up a small record shop in Fairfax in California.

On their return from the States, they ran another record shop on the Beersbridge Road at the corner of Heatherbell Street.

One former customer said of Mrs Morrison: "She was the friendliest and most obliging woman you could ever hope to meet and she'd let you listen to records you were interested in buying."

Mrs Morrison was said by friends to have been a livewire character with an engaging and outgoing personality who enjoyed regular nights out in an east Belfast social club.

She was also an accomplished singer.

While her husband George is often credited with having been a massive influence on their son thanks to his enormous collection of rare US blues and jazz records, it was said that Mrs Morrison's musical tastes also left their mark on him.

Mrs Morrison was a regular at his concerts and at private gatherings she would often join him on stage.

But thanks to the internet the public have also been able to marvel at Mrs Morrison's singing abilities with footage from a show in Belfast, not with her son but with her granddaughter Shana.

In October 2010 she was called onto the stage of the Black Box in Belfast's Hill Street by Shana who was appearing there with her band.

"She might be able to be coaxed," said Shana before introducing her as: "My wee granny."

Mrs Morrison told the audience that Shana had informed that her first undisclosed choice of song hadn't been 'done in donkey's years', adding "I'll have to do something else."

The sprightly Mrs Morrison then launched into a powerful rendition of the traditional American spiritual, He's Got the Whole World In His Hands.

Mrs Morrison is also seen on a YouTube video singing Down By the Riverside but before she started she joked: "I forget the words of this. It's been about a hundred years since I last sang it."

Mrs Morrison's husband George died in 1998 and Van paid a moving personal tribute to him in a song called Choppin' Wood on his Down The Road album in 2002.

Van sang about his father going to Detroit in search of work and to earn money to provide for his family back home in Belfast.

He sang that on his return from the States, his father didn't want to go anywhere and was content to sit in front of the TV in his favourite chair.

He added: "You lived your life of quiet desperation on the side. Going to the shipyard in the morning on your bike."

But he also sang: "You always did the best you could."

Mrs Morrison has featured prominently in a number of newspaper articles and books examining her son's religious experiences.

The singer said in one interview that his mother was a Jehovah's Witness for a while but added it was a "brief encounter, that's all".

He said that he had been taken to a couple of meetings and "found them quite pleasant".

In another interview he said: "My mother was what you would describe as a freethinker.

"She would check things out and read about things but she never joined anything."

Asked if his mother had influenced his religious curiosity, he said: "I got interested in studying the religious thing because it was never shoved down my throat whereas most of the people I grew up with or went to school with, it was really imposed on them."

Last weekend Van Morrison sang at two concerts in Warrenpoint at the Blues on the Bay festival in the town.

He called off two concerts in Dresden which had been scheduled for Tuesday night and last night.

No references to his mother's passing have appeared on the singer's official website or social media accounts which are operated by his Ulster-based staff.

Belfast Telegraph

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