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Monday 24 October 2016

Rock knight delight for Van's fans

Published 13/06/2015 | 00:06

Van Morrison's career has taken him to the world's biggest arenas
Van Morrison's career has taken him to the world's biggest arenas

The news that Van Morrison has joined the ranks of rock knights will delight his millions of fans.

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It is another highpoint in a career that has taken him from the back rooms of Belfast's pubs to the world's biggest arenas, winning him critical acclaim along the way.

His unique style - a meshing of blues, country, soul and folk - is a product of his home town and the music he grew up with.

His father was an east Belfast shipyard worker and was said to have one of the best record collections in the city.

Certainly the young George Ivan Morrison absorbed his father's love of music with the influence of acts such as Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Muddy Waters and Mahalia Jackson still apparent in his music today.

By his teens he was singing and playing saxophone and guitar and enjoyed his first taste of success as the frontman for R'n'B band Them.

They charted with a string of bluesy hits including Here Comes The Night and Baby Please Don't Go, but are best remembered for their garage band staple Gloria which has been covered countless times by acts including The Doors, AC/DC and Patti Smith.

Relentless line-up changes took the wind out of their sails and Morrison quit the band, ending up in New York where he recorded a handful of throwaway tracks and the song that would become one of his biggest hits - Brown Eyed Girl.

But Morrison was not interested in chart success and instead teamed up with a bunch of veteran jazz musicians to make what many people regard as his finest record.

Astral Weeks, which regularly features in critics' lists of all time great albums, was recorded in three days and set the template for the rest of his career with its mix of poetic lyrics, often inspired by his native country, jazz improvisation, Celtic folk and soulful vocals.

Critical and commercial acclaim followed with records including Moondance, Tupelo Honey and St Dominic's Preview while his live act made him an in-demand performer around the world.

He was also in demand from other acts that wanted to have his name - and voice - connected to them, making records with Irish folk veterans The Chieftains and Georgie Fame.

There was also an unlikely hit duet with Cliff Richard - Whenever God Shines His Light - which reflected his own Christian faith.

Morrison, whose knighthood is for services to the music industry and tourism in his native Northern Ireland, has a reputation for being grumpy but has blamed that on "lazy journalists" who "keep the mythology going".

He is certainly protective of his private life, but found himself at a centre of a global media storm in Christmas 2009 after a statement was posted on his website announcing the birth of a son, George Ivan Morrison III.

Tragically the child's mother - a former manager on some of his tours - and her son died within 10 months of each other.

Morrison, who is married to former Miss Ireland Michelle Rocca and has two children with her, has always denied being the boy's father.

Belfast-born singer-songwriter Brian Kennedy toured the world with Morrison.

He said: "If anybody deserves the title of Sir it would be Sir Van. I am quite delighted and excited for him.

"He has played through the darkest of times and wonderful times."

Kennedy and Morrison sang No Religion for US president Bill Clinton during a 1995 peace process visit to Belfast by the American statesman.

Kennedy said: "He is the soundtrack of celebration when it comes to our part of the world. His contribution has been so extraordinary. They broke the mould when they made Van.

"Everything he does is exceptionally original. He does it with such commitment.

"I am very proud to be involved in six of his world tours. People just don't realise what a phenomenon he is but the Queen of England does."

Jackie McAuley played the organ with Morrison for around five months as part of Them in 1965 when the teenagers toured England and joined the Rolling Stones and the Beatles at Wembley.

He said they were under a lot of pressure from management and travelled around in a vehicle too small for them and all their equipment.

"Van was fantastic, absolutely brilliant. His voice was phenomenal, his timing was brilliant. He was just a natural as a front man.

"He was writing stuff, writing some very good stuff."

Material being toured included a hit rendition of Baby Please Don't Go.

"It was only going to go one direction, Van's way. He was the writer and singer, the front man, he was what it was all about."

Press Association

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