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Sir Van Morrison 'exhilarated' over knighthood

Published 04/02/2016

Singer, songwriter and musician Sir Van Morrison at Buckingham Palace, London, with daughter Shana Morrison after he was knighted by the Prince of Wales.
Singer, songwriter and musician Sir Van Morrison at Buckingham Palace, London, with daughter Shana Morrison after he was knighted by the Prince of Wales.
Singer, songwriter and musician Sir Van Morrison at Buckingham Palace, London, after being knighted by the Prince of Wales.
Singer, songwriter and musician Sir Van Morrison at Buckingham Palace, London, with daughter Shana Morrison after he was knighted by the Prince of Wales.
Singer, songwriter and musician Sir Van Morrison at Buckingham Palace, London, with daughter Shana Morrison after he was knighted by the Prince of Wales.
Singer, songwriter and musician Sir Van Morrison at Buckingham Palace

Sir Van Morrison described himself as just a "blue-eyed soul singer" from Belfast as he was knighted for a musical career that has enthralled audiences and delighted critics.

Over more than 50 years the singer has gone from teenage stardom to innovator and is now a respected veteran, whose classic album Astral Weeks regularly makes the list of top 100 albums of all time.

The artist, whose full name is George Ivan Morrison, was introduced as Sir Ivan Morrison as he stepped forward to be dubbed a knight by the Prince of Wales in Buckingham Palace's ballroom.

Afterwards he said about becoming a Sir: "It's amazing, it's very exhilarating, the whole thing.

"For 53 years I've been in the business - that's not bad for a blue-eyed soul singer from east Belfast."

The 70-year-old performer has blended his influences - R&B, blues, jazz, and country - into a unique mix that reflects his upbringing in Northern Ireland.

Sir Van's best known songs range from the 1960s tracks Baby, Please Don't Go and Gloria, with the band Them, to solo efforts like Moondance, Sweet Thing and Have I Told You Lately.

He has been a prolific recording artist throughout his career and released his latest studio album Duets last year, singing with a range of stars from Joss Stone to the late Bobby Womack.

Morrison's knighthood is for services to the music industry and tourism in his native Northern Ireland.

Sir Van said he still remained committed to performing for an audience: "I enjoy that the most - playing a small club - that's really what I do.

"The bigger places you have to do for financial survival reasons, let me put it that way, but the bigger places enable me to play small clubs occasionally."

He added: "Sales of CDs and stuff like that are very unreliable, it has really gone down a lot, I'm lucky I can still do live gigs and still pull crowds and be able to do that.

"All these years of work have paid off and I'm still able to do that now.

The musician had a brief chat with Charles, who quizzed him about his plans for the future.

Sir Van said: "He was just saying, was I still writing? And he said: 'You're not going to retire any time soon?' And I said: 'No, I'm not, I'm going to keep it going while I can'."

Asked if fans could still call him Van The Man now that he has a knighthood, the singer laughed and said "Well, take your pick".

Morrison grew up in Belfast, where his father, a shipyard worker, was said to have had one of the best record collections in the city.

He absorbed his father's love of music with the influence of acts such as Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Muddy Waters and Mahalia Jackson still apparent in his songs today.

Just into his teens, a 13-year-old Morrison was singing and playing the saxophone and guitar in bands before serving his musical apprenticeship playing places like Germany.

He said: "Germany was real hard gigging because we did seven sets a night and nine on weekends - and no days off - but that was really the training ground."

The musician enjoyed his first taste of success in 1964 as the frontman for r'n'b band Them.

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.

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.

But he was not interested in chart success and instead teamed up with a bunch of veteran jazz musicians to make what many people regard as his finest record.

Astral Weeks, which regularly features in critics' lists of all-time great albums, was recorded in three days and set the template for the rest of his career with its mix of poetic lyrics, often inspired by his native country, jazz improvisation, Celtic folk and soulful vocals.

Critical and commercial acclaim followed with records including Moondance, Tupelo Honey and St Dominic's Preview, while his live act made him an in-demand performer around the world.

He was also in demand from other acts that wanted to have his name - and voice - connected to them, making records with Irish folk veterans The Chieftains and Georgie Fame.

There was also an unlikely hit duet with Cliff Richard - Whenever God Shines His Light - which reflected his own Christian faith.

Asked to pick his favourite album out of the many he has recorded, the musician did not highlight Moondance or Astral Weeks but the 1980 record Common One.

He said: "It's a mixture of different components - a bit of funk, blues, gospel - it's quite a fusion, and plus I seemed to tap into something, and that particular band seemed to have a rapport."

Sir Van also spoke about the cultural change in his hometown of Belfast since the Troubles ended: "I think it's going through a renaissance period but you have to kind of 'take up your bed and walk' sort of thing too.

"So people are realising they need to be more proactive and get things going."

Sir Van described his experience at the Palace as "old-world charm".

He was joined for the ceremony by his daughter, Shana Morrison, also a musician, who has performed with her father, and the pair posed for pictures before leaving.

Journalist Caroline Criado-Perez, whose successful campaign to keep a woman on a British banknote resulted in a backlash of online abuse against her, was awarded an OBE for services to equality and diversity.

She also co-founded the Women's Room, an organisation aimed at increasing the representation of women in the media.

Ms Criado-Perez, speaking about the aim of her diversity campaign, said: "I think it's a mindset, I don't think it's a malicious mindset, just unthinking.

"We're so used to the default being a middle-class white man, that we have to think extra to add anyone else in - that's the thing we need to deal with."

She added: "Ideally what we want is no one will have to think about diversity, because it will be so natural and there won't be this ridiculous imbalance."

Professor Jane Anderson, the wife of presenter and comic Clive Anderson, was made a CBE for her services to HIV medicine and sexual health research.

Professor Anderson is a consultant physician and director of the Homerton Hospital's Centre for the Study of Sexual Health and HIV.

The consultant said her first job in medicine after qualifying as a doctor was looking after young men with Aids in the early 1980s.

She added: "During that time we've gone from everybody dying, to the vast majority of people living, which has been the most extraordinary transformation over the course of my professional life."

Professor Anderson said: "If you are taking your medicine and it's working, the risk of you passing on HIV to somebody else is absolutely tiny.

"And we now understand much better how to use those medicines as prevention as well as treatment."

Her husband hosted TV talk shows in the 1990s and famously told Jeffrey Archer during one interview: "There's no beginning to your talents."

After the investiture ceremony, he joked: "I'm proud to be vicariously attached (to my wife)", adding: "She has had a long career dealing with this extraordinary disease that has arisen - a deadly disease that now can be controlled."

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