BBC News

Van Morrison makes magic at Waterfront show

By Nuala McCann
BBC News

image captionDemon on the sax: Van Morrison at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast

Forget the golden ticket in the Willy Wonka chocolate bar, the Belfast City Council lottery ticket licked that.

The numbers came up for 2,000 lucky citizens, off to see Van Morrison for free in the Waterfront Hall, Belfast.

The concert was to celebrate the rock star being given the freedom of his native city: no long speech for him, he let his music do the talkin'.

The city turned up in style - pensioner punks and teenage One Direction fans were in the mix.

From Cherryvalley and the Malone to Shankill and the Falls - uptown girls and downtown boys rubbed shoulders. It was a melting pot of Belfast city folk.

They came; they queued; they cheered.

In the words of a Van song, our mothers told us there'd be "days like this" and nights like this... and this was one of them.

It was that "hand of history" moment in Belfast all over again - this time minus Tony Blair.

A Sinn Féin lord mayor and a DUP alderman stood together, united in a salute to a man who put Belfast on the rock'n'roll map.

'Respect and gratitude'

Van the man was Van our Man and the crowd gave him a lion's roar of a standing ovation.

Lord Mayor Máirtin Ó Muilleoir called him the city's greatest son and he couldn't resist quoting a few lyrics along the way.

"This represents our love, respect and gratitude for Van Morrison from the 'dark side of the street to the bright side of the road'," he said, and the crowd laughed and clapped.

image captionVan Morrison with Gavin Robinson and Máirtin Ó Muilleoir

But the night was all down to one person, said Ó Muilleoir.

"Yes, yes," the crowd screamed.

"Violet Morrison," said Ó Muilleoir, paying tribute to the woman who made Van possible... his mum, sitting up in the audience.

Van, who normally lets his saxophone do the talking, cracked a smile for his mum and gave the audience the thumbs up.

In his traditional dark suit, sunglasses and black hat, he cut a moody, rock figure on the stage. But the mood was mighty.

He opened with Celtic Mist and then the hits came thick and fast.

Diving and swooping

There was time for the odd joke along the way. He let us in on that Tommy Cooper moment: "Just like that!" in the chorus to Brown Eyed Girl. He played Moondance.

Sitting down he joked: "This is the part where I hide behind the piano."

It took a couple of goes and a laugh over a tuning problem with a keyboard, then it was straight on Into The Mystic - the mood diving and swooping from rock highs to haunting blue lows.

On Hyndford Street was a whispered prayer in the darkness to the world of his childhood, to the days before rock'n'roll, to his love affair with his home city - Cherryvalley, Cyprus Avenue, Abetta Parade, Fusco's for ice cream - the names fell softly like night snow into a holy silence.

And then the mood swooped again and he ended with a rousing version of Gloria.

So he may have a reputation for being gruff, but on Friday night in Belfast's Waterfront, he was the gruffalo of rock... and who's afraid of him?

Halfway through his final song, Gloria, he exited stage left, off to where a few small children watched from the wings.

And the band played on and the audience cheered and clapped... and the newest freeman of the city took his freedom and took off... leaving the audience awestruck in the aisles.