A £36,000 bill charged by Van Morrison's band to play at a free concert where he will be awarded the Freedom of Belfast has been defended by the music star's company.
While Morrison is performing free of charge, Belfast City Council, which is organising tonight's Waterfront Hall show, has signed off an agreement for his band and crew to be paid.
The payment has been heavily criticised by a number of city councillors.
Tickets have been allocated free of charge through a draw open to Belfast residents.
Morrison's company Exile Productions insisted the charge for the band was justified.
"We are very saddened that certain people have felt the need to sully the special event," said a statement posted by the company on the musician's website.
"The most important thing to Van is that he is doing his gig for free and that the people of Belfast are coming to see it for free. Van's band and crew are themselves working people and deserve to be paid for their services like anyone else."
He said: "As far as we were aware this was a free concert."
"I'm gobsmacked," he said.
But Sinn Fein councillor Jim McVeigh said the Freedom of the City gig would be worth the money.
STORY SO FAR
The Van Morrison gig sparked controversy after it emerged a fifth of the 2,500 tickets had been reserved for VIPs. Two thousand tickets were released to members of the public in Belfast through a lottery system but it emerged 500 were being held back for councillors, senior staff and special guests.