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Van Morrison reunites Monarchs showband for surprise charity gig

By Ivan Little

Singer Sir Van Morrison has stunned the audience at a low-key charity gig in Holywood by turning up to play with members of his old Belfast showband in aid of a hospice where his former lover died six years ago.

The 71-year-old legend was reunited with three of his former colleagues from the Monarchs showband on stage at the Holywood Yacht Club, during a fundraiser for the Marie Curie hospice in east Belfast.

It was there in October 2011 that Texan Gigi Lee died from cancer, aged just 44, and nine months after the death of the baby boy named by her as Van Morrison's love child.

At Holywood Yacht Club at the weekend, former Clubsound musician and radio presenter George Jones introduced Morrison, his boyhood friend, to the audience who'd paid £10 a head to see a line-up of blues and rock bands, but didn't know that Belfast's most famous singer would be playing on the bill at one of his smallest-ever venues.

Morrison's first number was Sweet Little Sixteen, a tribute to American rock and roll icon Chuck Berry who died earlier this month at the age of 90. Morrison then sang and played guitar on Jesse James, an American skiffle song - "it's skiffle, not piffle," he said.

Morrison was accompanied on the tiny stage by his one-time Monarchs showband colleagues, George Jones, Billy McAllen and Roy Kane, along with Mervyn Crawford on saxophone and Kevin Brennan on keyboards.

The singer also donated two signed CDs for a ballot. On Facebook, Jones said: "Amazing night at Holywood yacht club. A little bit of history was made when myself and boyhood friends Roy Kane, Billy McAllen and Van Morrison played together as the Monarchs for the first time in 54 years." He said it had been 'something to cherish' and hinted that 'we may do it again'.

Roy Kane joked online that there had been 355 years of rock and roll on the stage.

The fundraiser was organised by Fenton and Audrey Parsons in memory of her father, Billy Deane, who died in January.

Mr Parsons revealed that almost £1600 had been raised and said it was the family's way of thanking the staff at the Marie Curie hospice who had looked after Mr Deane. A video of Van Morrison's appearance at the charity gig has been posted on Facebook. It's thought it was the first time that members of the Monarchs had played together in public since they toured Germany in the early 1960s.

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