Belfast Telegraph

Cousin who played part in Van Morrison’s early career dies

By Ivan Little

Sir Van Morrison's cousin, who was one of the first ever people to play rock music with him, has died.

Sammy Stitt was a contemporary of Sir Van's growing up in east Belfast in the 1950s and early '60s.

A service of thanksgiving was held for him in Groomsport Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

Mr Stitt was a talented harmonica player who briefly played in one of the final line-ups of his cousin's troubled group Them.

He had remained close to Sir Van, even after he left Belfast to carve out a superstar solo career in America. He was photographed among the 100 guests at Sir Van's glittering 70th birthday party in 2015 in the Clandeboye estate near Bangor, the day after his sell-out concerts in Cyprus Avenue in Belfast.

Mr Stitt was also among the mourners at the funeral in June 2016 of his aunt, Sir Van's mother, the former Violet Stitt.

During that service, pastor Bill Dunn told the congregation at St Donard's church at Bloomfield that Sammy Stitt played a part in Sir Van's fledgling career when they were both youngsters.

The pastor revealed that after skiffle had been replaced by rock'n'roll, Van called at his home in Greenville Street and asked if he would be interested in starting a rock band with his cousin Sammy Stitt.

He added: "The three of us met up in Van's bedroom for a practice with two guitars, a snare drum and an amplifier but when that was switched on, it blew a fuse."

Pastor Dunn said all the lights went out in the Morrison household as he tried to fix the problem and Van's mother told her irate husband George: "They're only boys enjoying themselves."

The author Johnny Rogan said in his book No Surrender that Mrs Morrison tried to promote a band that her nephew Sammy had set up called The Other Ones by writing a letter in praise of them to a newspaper.

It was said that a youthful Van sang with his cousin's group once or twice.

Other books and blogs about Morrison have related how Sammy Stitt returned the favour in the latter end of the Sixties.

It's reported that after splits emerged in the chart-topping group Them in America, Morrison returned to Ireland and gathered together a new line-up which included Sammy Stitt on drums and harmonica.

They played one gig in a packed Embassy ballroom in Derry and another in Dublin but the consensus was that the band were awful and Morrison went off to write songs for Astral Weeks.

Mr Stitt, who was married with two sons, was buried at Redburn cemetery in Holywood, where Sir Van's mother was also laid to rest. Mourners at Mr Stitt's funeral were asked to make donations to the neurosurgical unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast in lieu of flowers.

End of the road for Van and Michelle, Pages 24&25

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