Sunday, 25 March 2012

Best of the Fanzines #1 - Van's Belfast

The following edited article is taken from The Van Morrison Newsletter, Number 4, September 1991.

Belfast in the 1950s

Down the Street With the Wrought Iron Gate Rows

The Weekend section of the Independent carried a number of guides to Rock Holidays on their Traveller page.  On March 30, 1991 they focused on Van Morrison's Belfast with a heading "Down Van's Street of Dreams".   The articles featured photos and interviews with neighbours who remembered Van when he was young and was written by Van biographer Steve Turner. 

Not all of the article is an interesting read.  Early on Turner mentions"The home where Van was born on August 31, 1945, has a black wrought iron gate and fence.  The small front garden is now concrete and painted doorstep red.  New windows and a glass front door are indications of modernisation."

More interesting are the recollections of Van's former guitarist Herbie Armstrong who recalled to Turner how, as a teenager, he would visit Van at home during the day when his parents were out to listen to records on the radiogram.  "The music he had went a bit over my head because I wasn't into jazz at that time. He would stick on all these records that I had never heard before.  The first time I ever heard Bo Diddley and Bob Dylan was at his house. "

Coming to Cyprus Avenues, Turner quotes a few lines of the song and observing its peacefulness and comfort he writes, "For a working class boy in the 50s, growing up in a two bedroomed house with an outside toilet and no bathroom, it must have seemed like another world."

Van's former English teacher at Orangefield, David Hammond says: "he slipped through the school without making any impression.  And I say that out of admiration than as a criticism. If he had listened to people like me he could never have written a line in his life. He believed in nobody but himself."

His old partner Sammy Woodburn is still cleaning windows but much of the city has changed.  The Maritime Hotel was demolished just days before Turner's visit. 

The Pylons?
Record shop owner Dougie Knight claims a small part of Van's musical development.  "I was describing Hooker to Van and then I introduced him to Baby Please Don't Go by Big Joe Williams as being a great number.  He later came to me and said that in its original form it was a bit too subtle but that he could make a hit record out of it with his group Them, who used to rehearse in one of my attic  room."

Pilgrimages to Belfast are becoming popular with Van fans trying to seek out old haunts and references in songs.   

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