Van Morrison OBE, Sir George Ivan Morrison; (born 31 August 1945) is Northern Ireland’s greatest singer-songwriter and musician. His live performances are both inspired and transcendental, while some of his recordings, such as the studio albums Astral Weeks and Moondance and the live album It’s too late to stop now, have achieved critical acclaim throughout the world.
Born in East Belfast, on the southern shores of Belfast Lough, from which Columbanus and Gall had left Ireland to restore civilisation in Europe with the Fall of the Roman Empire, another exile has returned to his spiritual home in the North of Down. Van Morrison’s first album for Warner Brothers, Astral Weeks, is considered by many to be not only his best work but the best album of all time. It has been described as not only transcendental and meditative, but possessing a unique and hypnotic musical power which has its origins in the ancient hills, valleys and shores of the Atlantic fringe of Europe, once considered the edge of the world.
Musicologist W. H. Williams has written that Ireland’s initial impact upon American music came predominantly from Ulster. Whatever their other influences the greatest and most lasting effect of the Ulster immigrants was music. Only rarely does that music and song writing reach, as it did in Patrick’s time, the level of the singing of the celestial choir heard by the saint in Bangor’s Valley of the Angels, County Down. But this has happened through that most exceptional man, Van Morrison, a Bard from Heaven, who sings of another time and another place and another world.
Van is the successor of those singer-songwriters and musicians in our country, from ancient and medieval to more modern times. His music is a mix of folk, blues, jazz, soul and gospel with Ulster-Scots, Celtic and pre-Celtic or Pretanic influences, the sum of which is better than the parts, and he is widely considered as one of the most unusual and influential vocalists who has ever lived. His work is as at least equal, if not superior, to that of Robert Burns and he is indeed the greatest Bard that Ireland has ever produced.
Van has received several major music awards in his career, including six Grammy Awards (1996–2007); inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (January 1993), the Songwriters Hall of Fame (June 2003), and the Irish Music Hall of Fame (September 1999); and a Brit Award (February 1994). In addition he has received civil awards of an OBE (June 1996) and an Officier de l’Ordre des Artes et des Lettres (1996), and he has honorary doctorates from the University of Ulster (1992) and Queen’s University (July 2001).
The Folk Music revival of the 1960’s brought success to a number of bands, not only in Ireland, which invoked a Celtic Tradition, such as the Chieftains. The context of musical performance claimed a natural continuity with community and place, an image seized upon by the Irish Tourist Board as an antidote to the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland and the soulless economic growth of the “Celtic Tiger” By the mid-1990’s music was clearly an influence on tourism in several ways, from the subtle “repositioning” of music as a means of “evocation” to the more deliberate focus on particular performers and genres.
Irish popular Music is considered styistically different from that of England, Scotland and Wales, and this is epitomised by the Van Morrison sound. He has now created, indeed, his own tourism site which is part of the Belfast Music Bus Tour, and the Belfast street “Cyprus Avenue” , a song on his famous Moondance album, is the location of the most-stolen street sign in Ireland. National tourist promotions which have utilised music, both formally and informally, for evocative purposes have thus created demand for actual attractions on the ground.
In the important year of the Centenary of the Titanic, which ushered in a Decade of Irish Centenaries, Tourism Ireland teamed up with Van Morrison and EMI to showcase the fantastic music and arts scene of Belfast and Northern Ireland and to highlight the Belfast Festival at Queens (celebrating its own important 50th anniversary milestone ), to potential holidaymakers around the world. The promotion targets music fans in key tourism markets that autumn – including Great Britain, the United States, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Spain.
When Van returned to his home town for two gigs during the Belfast Festival, his concert series was under way and his latest album Born to Sing: No Plan B released , and it was the perfect time for Tourism Ireland to collaborate with Van’s record label, EMI, to highlight Northern Ireland on the international stage. And the perfect time to honour Van the Man himself in the land of his birth, which has drawn him back home.
The message from Tourism Ireland was that “Belfast is Rocking”, that it was one of Europe’s coolest and most vibrant cities with a really dynamic music scene and a fascinating history steeped in music. A brand new radio ad – which included an extract from Van’s latest single – ran in France on jazz radio station TSF; ads also ran in the Netherlands on classic rock music station Arrow. Promotions in the US have appeared in newspapers and on radio stations in cities like New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco.
Activity also included extensive social media promotions on Facebook and Twitter, targeting Tourism Ireland’s 650,000 fans and followers in those countries with a fantastic competition to win a trip to Belfast to see Van perform live. A specially created page on Tourism Ireland’s websites was also highlighting Belfast and Northern Ireland, encouraging music lovers to visit, with plenty of suggestions and ideas for things to do and see in Belfast and around Northern Ireland. As well as extensive email and publicity activity, ads also ran on music website Spotify in France.
Niall Gibbons, Tourism Ireland’s chief executive, said then: “Van Morrison is a tremendous ambassador for the music scene in Belfast and his performances during this year’s Belfast Festival at Queens will mark yet another high point in this year of major events for Northern Ireland. Tourism Ireland is delighted to be working with Van’s record label to showcase the musical heritage of Belfast, reaching a huge audience of music fans and potential holidaymakers in key markets across GB, the US and Mainland Europe.”