Van Morrison thrills crowds at Cyprus Avenue homecoming
ONLY Van Morrison would dress head to toe in black for his 70th birthday celebrations.
However, the sombre hue perfectly offset the celebratory gold microphone and stand which served as a tangible sign yesterday of how far the musician has come since the youth that he captures so eloquently in song.
And, of course, the 3,000 people who packed out Belfast's leafy Cyprus Avenue for his double homecoming gig.
The suburban street has long served as something of a sacred totem for the mystic of the east, featuring in at least six of his songs.
On the junction of the working-class Beersbridge Road and a 10-minute walk from Morrison's boyhood home on Hyndford Street, with its genteel detached houses and attendant verdant gardens, it was a "mystical" place for the aspiring troubadour "to think".
He has been no stranger to the area in the intervening decades - indeed his mother, Violet, has recently moved to a new house around the corner.
But yesterday, the working class Belfast boy who brought the sound of the black American hardship home did so in triumph.
Among in the crowd those paying homage were DUP ministers Arlene Foster and Jonathan Bell and North Antrim MP Ian Paisley Jnr, whose late first minister father called the street home for decades.
Present day residents invited friends to peer over well-manicured hedges from sedate garden parties or watched from their upstairs windows - the driest seats in street.
The gigs - iconic even before the first wail of the saxophone - drew people from across the globe.
Flags from Denmark fluttered in the crowd and US twangs - including that of controversial rock star Chrissie Hynde - rang out everywhere.
It was a concert that superfan Mike Millard from Canterbury in Kent could not miss.
So incredible. Just heard Van Morrison sing Hyndford Street on Cyprus Avenue in Belfast. Spine tingling.— Duke Special (@DukeSpecial) August 31, 2015
"I stopped counting (Morrison concerts) at 390-something in 1999. Since then I've seen him 30 or 50 times a year," he said.
"It's the voice and the fact that he's still got the voice at this age. You hear (Bob) Dylan and you can't say that, but listen to him at a concert and you could be listening to the original record.
"The voice is always constant. There's the quality of the songs, sometimes he throws them away, sometimes he puts his heart and soul into it."
It's hard to tell from Morrison's gruff demeanour if he's putting his heart and soul into a song.
Those hoping for a cheery "It's so good to be here" from the stage, with a photographic image of Cyprus Avenue as its backdrop, would have been disappointed.
This is a man who expresses himself through his music and on that measure he was enjoying his birthday.
The gig was classic `Jazz Van', the set beginning with a virtuoso instrumental which he commanded with a soaring sax.
It segued seamlessly into `Close Enough for Jazz', with its upbeat opener "No use feeling sad, No use staying mad, Better when you're glad' giving the clearest indication of the day that the singer was here to party.
The Mike Millard-style aficionados' hearts may have sunk a little when crowd-pleasing `Moondance' began, but they will have rallied almost immediately when `Whatever Happened to PJ Proby' turned out to answer that particular musical conundrum with the musical contribution of the man himself, dressed festively in what looked like a gold lamé jacket.
And what's a birthday party without your friends? Soul legend Chris Farlowe joined him for `You Were Born to Sing' and `Sometime I Feel Like a Motherless child' was dedicated to Brian Keenan.
The ubiquitous `Brown-eyed Girl' thrilled the crowd and clouds cleared for `Sometimes We Cry'.
In the end he did not play the much anticipated `Cyprus Avenue', instead referencing it at the end of his penultimate song `Ballerina' to rapturous applause and ended the show with the peerless `In The Garden', leaving the stage to a thready `Happy Birthday' refrain from pockets of the crowd.
He had stretched an anticipated hour-long 3pm gig out for another 25 minutes.
Local residents weren't complaining.
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