Belfast Telegraph

£36,000 for 'free' Morrison concert

Van Morrison's band is being paid £36,000 to perform at a concert in his home city where he will be awarded the Freedom of Belfast, it has been revealed.

Belfast City Council, which is organising the Waterfront Hall show, has signed off an agreement for the singer's company Exile Productions to receive the money.

The concert, before an invited audience of 2,000, is taking place on Friday night.

The fee does not include costs for special receptions before and after the concert which is scheduled to last for one hour 45 minutes.

Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers said he was shocked and amazed at the payment.

He said: "As far as we were aware this was a free concert."

The event has already sparked controversy after it emerged a fifth of the tickets had been reserved for VIPs.

Two thousand tickets were released to members of the public in Belfast through a lottery system but there was a huge outcry after it emerged 500 were being held back for councillors, senior staff and special guests.

Each of the 51 elected representatives has been issued with four tickets.

Mr Rodgers added: "As far as we were concerned we thought this was a free concert. I do not recall for a freedom ceremony any person or their company ever receiving any monies before.

"This should have been brought to our attention. We are elected representatives and custodians of the public purse and we should have been informed."

The Alliance Party's Maire Hendron said she too was surprised that a payment was being made for the performance.

"I had not heard anything about the costs," said Mrs Hendron. "I thought this was at the behest of Van Morrison himself. This is not the normal way we would go about giving a freedom award but, I thought that was the way he wanted the Freedom of the City bestowed on him."

Belfast City Council agreed in September to grant its highest honour to the singer, who is only the second person in 10 years to receive the accolade.

He was hailed a hero as a motion recognising his "extraordinary contribution" received unanimous support at a specially convened meeting.

In May, former Olympic champion Dame Mary Peters was awarded the Freedom of the City at a civic ceremony in Belfast City Hall.

Other previous recipients also include the Merchant Navy who were given the Freedom of the City in 2002 ; the poet John Hewitt and former Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Democratic Unionist Lee Reynolds said he was astonished. "I'm gobsmacked," he said.

Throughout his 50-year music career Morrison has risen from the Irish showband scene to global stardom, winning six Grammy Awards and a Brit as well as places in both the Rock and Roll and the Songwriters Halls of Fame.

He is known to fans across the world as "Van the Man" and the shipyard worker's son from east Belfast has drawn inspiration from area where he was born and raised for hits such as Cypress Avenue and Hyndford Street.

Sinn Fein councillor Jim McVeigh said the concert would be worth the money.

He said: "I was aware a payment was being made but I wasn't aware of the amount. I wouldn't be prepared to comment further. It is a great event and even if it does cost us a few quid it is worth it."

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Belfast City Council said: "Van Morrison has not asked for, and will not be receiving, a fee. Van's band and crew will receive their standard professional fee but details of the exact amount is privileged under the Data Protection Act, on the grounds of commercial confidentiality."

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