Belfast Telegraph

Van Morrison's Cyprus Avenue 70th birthday gigs entertain thousands in Belfast

Van Morrison has celebrated his 70th birthday with once-in-a-lifetime concerts on the east Belfast street he immortalised in his masterpiece Astral Weeks.

Three thousand fans squeezed into Cyprus Avenue - the "avenue of trees" as he called it in the seminal album - for two intimate shows in the epicentre of his homeland.

Hundreds travelled from dozens of countries for what had become a pilgrimage, since the gigs were first announced last year.

Tickets which quickly sold out with a face value between £50 and £80 traded on online auction sites for up to £400.

Despite the heavens opening for a deluge of rain at the start of his first show at 3pm, poncho-covered devotees gave the six-time Grammy award winner a standing ovation.

Opening songs included classics Moondance, Brown Eyed Girl and Baby Please Don't Go.

Politicians, playwrights, screen actors and fellow musicians, including Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall and television celebrity chef Rick Stein, were among those who braved the weather for the special birthday concerts.

Rick Haught, 57, travelled from Eugene, Oregon in the US, with his wife Carla, for the first show, the climax of Belfast's EastSide Arts Festival.

"I'd be lying if I told you when I stepped onto Cyprus Avenue I didn't get goose bumps," he said.

"I always wanted to see Van in Belfast, but to see him on his birthday on this street is something special."

Mr Haught has travelled to 12 US states to see the enigmatic star and has been planning this trip for over a year.

"It's the soundtrack to everything I've done for the last 40 odd years," he added.

Mark Keown, 54, from Sandford Avenue in east Belfast, grew up among the local place names made famous the world over on countless Van Morrison albums.

"This is all very familiar to us, so when you listen to something like Cyprus Avenue you know exactly where it is - you have a sense of the geography as well as the poetry of the song," he said.

"I've seen him loads of times before but this is an historic occasion.

"We couldn't miss this - this is really special, it's right up there with the best gigs we've ever seen."

The recently-knighted genre-defying singer and multi-instrumentalist was born close to Cyprus Avenue, in a small two-up two-down on Hyndford Street, on August 31 1945.

A brass plaque marks the house he shared with his mother Violet and his father George, who worked as an electrician at the nearby Harland and Wolff shipyard.

He once described the much more affluent, 85-tree lined Cyprus Avenue up the road as "a very mystical place" and somewhere "where I could think".

Broadcaster, former NME writer and self-confessed "Vanorak" Stuart Bailie said the show was "the equivalent of Paul McCartney doing a gig on Penny Lane".

"It is a major, global international name back in his homeland, playing on a street he has celebrated in song," he said.

"In east Belfast you are walking into this musical map he has given the world.

"People say you can recreate Georgian Dublin by reading James Joyce's Ulysses, and what you can do by listening to a series of key Van Morrison songs is understand what post-war east Belfast was like."

He added: "He has painted this incredible vivid picture and Cyprus Avenue is on the hill in this quarter, on higher ground, it looks like a Parisienne boulevard.

"You can connect to the sense of wonder when you are there, to see where he came from down the road, and what he aspired to up the road, and there he is on his 70th birthday right in the thick of it getting respect from everybody."


From Belfast Telegraph