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'Poetic' Morrison merits knighthood

Published 12/06/2015

Van Morrison has received a knighthood in the honours list
Van Morrison has received a knighthood in the honours list

Friends of Van Morrison have said he is the WB Yeats of the music world after he was knighted for services to the industry.

The East Belfast-born singer/songwriter was named in the Queen's Birthday Honours list as he nears his 70th birthday.

His poetic lyrics have immortalised the streets of his childhood, and former bandmates, fellow musicians and critics have lauded his "unique" contribution.

Touring support act Brian Kennedy said he had written the soundtrack of the country and broadcast it to the world.

"His contribution has been so extraordinary. They broke the mould when they made Van."

Kennedy said Morrison had played through the darkest and brightest of times for his home country.

"If anybody deserves the title of Sir it would be Sir Van. I am quite delighted and excited for him."

Morrison enjoyed his first taste of success as the front man for Belfast R'n'B band Them in the 1960s.

They charted with a string of bluesy hits including Here Comes The Night and Baby Please Don't Go, but are best remembered for their garage band staple Gloria which has been covered countless times by acts including The Doors, AC/DC and Patti Smith.

Jackie McAuley played the organ for around five months as part of Them in 1965 when the teenagers toured England and joined the Rolling Stones and the Beatles at Wembley.

He said they were under a lot of pressure from management and travelled around in a vehicle too small for them and all their equipment.

"Van was fantastic, absolutely brilliant. His voice was phenomenal, his timing was brilliant. He was just a natural as a front man.

"He was writing stuff, writing some very good stuff."

Material being toured included a hit rendition of Baby Please Don't Go.

"It was only going to go one direction, Van's way. He was the writer and singer, the front man, he was what it was all about."

Relentless line-up changes took the wind out of their sails and Morrison quit the band ending up in New York where he recorded a handful of throwaway tracks and the song that would become one of his biggest hits - Brown Eyed Girl.

He went on to make Astral Weeks, greeted by critics one of his seminal albums.

BBC Radio Ulster DJ Ralph McLean has followed Morrison's career closely and is organising a series of special events by the broadcaster marking his 70th birthday.

"In the pantheon of great Irish artists he is right up there with the WB Yeats and James Joyce's of this world."

He said his music had touched people globally and brought Northern Ireland place names to international prominence.

"The first moment was Astral Weeks when people realised we were talking about a remarkable poetic force.

"It stands alone to this day as among the most unique collections of sounds."

Morrison has said Belfast was the source of the "river" of his lyrics.

Songs like Cyprus Avenue and Madame George are set there.

Mr McLean added: "That is part of the magic of Van, that he takes this local stuff and internationally people adore it and tourists come over to see the places he sings about.

"It is about time we acknowledged the genius of Van Morrison. His work stands proudest as some of the greatest ever made in this country and we should be celebrating."

Other people from Northern Ireland recognised in the honours list include Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) chief constable George Hamilton, who receives the Queen's Police Medal after 29 years of service in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Assistant chief constable Will Kerr receives the OBE.

Will Haire, the leading civil servant in the Stormont powersharing administration's Department for Social Development, becomes a Companion of the Bath for services to government in Northern Ireland.

Robert Adair, chief executive of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners, becomes a Commander of the British Empire for services to the UK ports industry and voluntary service to business in Northern Ireland.

Mark Nodder, chairman and chief executive of Co Antrim-based manufacturer Wrightbus which built London's latest double decker red buses, is given the OBE.

David Surplus, director at the B9 Energy Group, receives the same award for services to renewable energy. The firm is involved in generating wind energy.

David Wall, a director at the Department for Social Development, established a programme supporting people under threats of assaults from paramilitaries. He established an organisation supporting education for ex-prisoners. He receives an OBE.

Trevor Parkhill, chairman of Hazelwood Integrated College in Belfast which educates Catholic and Protestant children together, is to be given the MBE.

Former East Antrim MP Roy Beggs Snr is to receive an MBE for services to local government. George Robinson, a member of the Stormont Assembly, is be given the same accolade for public and political service and also engages in charity work.

Hugh Barry, vice president of the Northern Ireland Ploughing Association, earns the MBE for services to ploughing in Coleraine, Co Londonderry.

Yuk Shan Lui is awarded the British Empire Medal for services to cultural diversity and education in Northern Ireland. He is an ICT lecturer at Belfast Metropolitan College.

He founded the Lion Dance Association for promoting an appreciation of Chinese culture in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland had 85 recipients in the honours list, almost two thirds male. Most of the awards were at MBE level.

Arts and media made up almost a 10th, the community and voluntary sector more than half and education, health, sport and state were also represented.

The chief constable, 48, is married with three daughters and a son.

He said: "While this award is a personal honour for myself and my family it is also an acknowledgement of the professionalism and commitment of the many people I have had the privilege to have worked with over many years both at home in Northern Ireland and Scotland."

Jonathan Hill, an investigator with the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains which searches for those abducted, murdered and buried by the IRA during the conflict, was named a CBE for his services to the Northern Ireland peace process.

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