BBC goes into overdrive for Van Morrison's 70th birthday
Thousands of Van Morrison fans who couldn't get tickets for his sold-out 70th birthday concerts on leafy Cyprus Avenue in Belfast will be able to hear one of the gigs in a live radio broadcast.
BBC Radio Ulster will air the first of the two concerts on Monday afternoon, August 31, and a recording will be shown four days later on television.
The transmissions are all part of six days of special programmes marking the celebrated Belfast singer's birthday, and even a gardening show will be devoted to the man from Hyndford Street, who was recently awarded a knighthood.
Discussions have been under way for some time to secure the rights for a live broadcast of the matinee gig on Cyprus Avenue, which was immortalised by Van in one of his most famous songs bearing its name on his ground-breaking album Astral Weeks.
The concert, part of the EastSide Arts Festival, will be screened on BBC One NI on Friday, September 4 at 10.35pm.
Tickets for the first gig sold out in minutes and a second show was hastily added.
Sources close to the organisers say they could have sold out the concerts 10 times over.
Scores of Van's most enthusiastic fans are flying in from America and Australia for the concerts.
The late DUP leader, Rev Ian Paisley, was one of Cyprus Avenue's most famous residents, and his MP son Ian jnr, who has admitted to being a big Van fan, has been seen at a number of his concerts, including one in his own North Antrim constituency at historic Dunluce Castle two years ago.
Radio Ulster's Van plans in the run-up to the Cyprus Avenue gigs include a series of short programmes called Happy Birthday Van, which will feature special greetings from famous musical fans including Sir Bob Geldof, Phil Coulter, Paddy Maloney of The Chieftains and pianist Barry Douglas.
Former Beirut hostage Brian Keenan, who, like Van, was brought up in the Beersbridge Road area of Belfast and, like the star, attended Orangefield Boys' Secondary School, will also feature in an insert in which the contributors will discuss how they were inspired by the singer, and choose the song that means most to them.
Three nightly two-hour programmes on Radio Ulster presented by Ralph McLean will focus on a countdown of 70 of Van's top songs picked by listeners from his remarkable career which spans more than 50 years and which started when he was a teenager with skiffle groups, showbands and his first major combo, Them.
Radio Ulster's Arts Show will include a daily celebration of Van and his work in the days before the concerts.
On the Saturday before Van's birthday, a special Gardener's Corner hosted by Cherrie McIlwaine will centre on gardens and green spaces in east Belfast.
And later that morning there'll be a special John Toal show from the same area.