Van Morrison receives freedom of Belfast

Musician conferred with city’s highest honour


Van the Man became the Belfast freeman last night when, before an audience of 2,500, he was conferred with the city’s highest honour.

Van Morrison didn’t say much when he received the award in the city’s Waterfront Hall. In fact he didn’t say anything at all, but under the black hat and behind the sunglasses you could somehow tell he was pleased.

When he came on stage he was accorded tumultuous applause. He responded with the thumbs-up sign.

Then he expressed his gratitude with his singing voice. When the formalities were over, he led his daughter Shanna and a seven-piece band into an instrumental, followed by Moondance and Brown-Eyed Girl.

You could also tell he was in good form from the fact that he let the audience sing the “la-dee-da” chorus to the latter.

Sinn Féin Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, who conferred the honour, and former DUP lord mayor Gavin Robinson, who last year made the proposal to confer the honour, kept it brief and simple.

“He has always united us and he will continue to unite us,” said Ó Muilleoir

“He brings us from the dark side of the street to the bright side of the road,” he added.

Morrison is originally from east Belfast, a place that figures prominently in many of his songs. He joins Olympic gold medallist Mary Peters, Edward Carson and Winston Churchill as holders of the honour.

The singer performed free of charge. However, Belfast City Council came under criticism for the cost of the event, estimated at around £58,000 (€69,300) which includes a payment of around £30,000 to his band. Some members travelled from the US to perform.

Opinion in the city is sharply divided over whether such a sum should have been spent on a concert for 2,500 people, with the ratepayers of Belfast footing the bill.

Controversy also surrounds the allocation of the 2,500 tickets for the special concert.

Belfast City Councillors and other VIPs were given 500 tickets, with the remainder distributed via a lottery. However, some tickets, which had no face value, were exchanging hands on sales websites.

City Hall said tickets were fully traceable, and anyone presenting a ticket which had not been awarded to them would be turned away.

Some councillors transferred tickets to others, many of them via raffles in support of local organisations. These tickets would be accepted, a spokesman told The Irish Times. But anyone who had otherwise been given or bought a ticket from someone else would be turned away at the door.

Online sale
The tickets were clearly marked “void if sold for profit”. However, some pairs of tickets have been found on online market sites at £100.

Morrison is already heavily decorated after more than 50 years in the music business. He is the holder of six Grammy Awards, a Brit Award for outstanding contribution to music, and he also has places in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

His latest award was agreed unanimously by the council in September after the proposal was put forward by then lord mayor, Gavin Robinson.

On hearing of the planned award, Morrison told the BBC at the time: “Belfast is my home. It is where I first heard the music that influenced and inspired me.”

He added: “It is where I first performed and it is somewhere I have referred back to many times in my songwriting over the past 50 years.

“I am delighted and honoured to receive the freedom of the city.”