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John McCarthy: Former hostage says Van Morrison's music helped him heal

Authors and former Beirut hostages Brian Keenan and John McCarthy. Picture by Bill Smyth
Staff Reporter

FORMER Beirut hostage John McCarthy has spoken of his "special connection" to legendary musician Sir Van Morrison.

In a programme on the BBC's World Service, Van Morrison and Me, Mr McCarthy spoke of how the east Belfast singer had influenced his life.

He said during his period in captivity his cellmate, Belfast writer Brian Keenan, often spoke of Sir Van and his music.

"But as Brian spoke, I somehow I felt as though I had stood with him in a crowded Belfast concert hall watching Morrison leaning into the microphone as he sang one of his soulful ballads - or throwing himself about the stage like a wild man, overwhelmed by the power of the music," Mr McCarthy said.

Sir Van grew up just a few streets away from Mr Keenan and is only a little older than the writer.

Mr McCarthy said during the recording of the radio programme, Mr Keenan took his friend to the streets around Belfast where he and Sir Van grew up, including the tree-lined Cyprus Avenue which the musician wrote about on his album Astral Weeks and Hyndford Street where the singer lived.

He said Sir Van's songs were a key part of his "liberation soundtrack" after he was released from captivity in 1991.

Mr McCarthy and his girlfriend Jill Morrell, who had campaigned for his release, were particularly touched by Wonderful Remark, first released on the soundtrack for the 1983 film The King of Comedy.

"Morrison's words seemed to capture the emotional heart of our experience over the hostage years: How can you stand the silence, that pervades when we all cry? How can you watch the violence that erupts before your eyes?"

When he met Sir Van at the Culloden Hotel on the outskirts of Belfast, Mr McCarthy asked the musician how he had managed to touch so many people's lives.

"I think it comes from God, whatever that concept is. A lot of people are given gifts and they don't develop them. I thought because I was given this gift, I had to develop it," Sir Van said.

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