Saturday, 1 April 2017

The Hollow

Late last year The Hollow, a landmark featured in the lyrics of Brown Eyed Girl, was transformed in response to the growing Van Morrison tourism happening in Belfast.  Here’s most of Ivan Little’s Belfast Telegraph article about the renovations. 

Sir Van Morrison's fans have been invited to a party in his old backyard in Bloomfield, Belfast to celebrate the dramatic transformation of a landmark he made world famous in one of his most iconic songs.

The Hollow, just off the Beersbridge Road, features in the classic rock anthem, Brown Eyed Girl, which was written by east Belfast's self-styled 'blue-eyed boy of soul' nearly 50 years ago and which is now one of the most aired records on radio stations right around the globe.  The once-shabby and run down Hollow behind Abetta Parade, where the youthful Van and his friends used to play, has been completely refurbished as part of the £40m Connswater Community Greenway project.

New paths, landscaping, lighting and seats have been added and the Loop and Knock rivers which converge at the Hollow before becoming the Connswater River have been cleaned up, and a new channel cut through an old weir to improve the water flow. A small car park has been built to encourage more visitors and signs are going up to tell the history of the Greenway and the connections between Van Morrison and the Hollow.

The historic Conn O'Neill bridge in the Hollow has been re-pointed and made more accessible to the public. Several years ago Van was pictured on the bridge to publicise a new trail map signposting his legions of fans around his old Bloomfield haunts - which the Belfast Telegraph had campaigned to have recognised.

The EastSide Partnership is hoping that the newly-renovated Hollow will become a major new tourist destination for Van fans who regularly follow the trail around the places he frequented in his youth and which he has written about in songs like Cyprus Avenue and On Hyndford Street.

Hundreds of Vanatics, as they call themselves, frequently come to Northern Ireland from all around the world to see their hero in concert at hotels in Newcastle and Holywood and a series of walk tours around east Belfast is regularly sold out.

The Hollow is right beside Van's old primary school, Elmgrove, and it's rumoured that Morrison wrote Brown Eyed Girl about a girl who lived in Abetta Parade, though the singer has consistently denied it was about any one person.

Standing in the Hollow and re-running the lyrics of Brown Eyed Girl in one's head, it's all too clear that Van adopted more than a little poetic licence as he wrote about his childhood memories including youngsters "going down the old mine with a transistor radio". Contemporaries of Van the Man said the mine was actually an old water pipe which was just big enough for Van the Boy - and his pals - to squeeze through.

The waterfall in the song is hardly a rival to Niagara or Victoria Falls, but there are a number of watercourses in the Hollow, which is dominated by one of the massive electricity pylons that are referenced heavily in Van's compositions about the area in which he grew up.

Van, who's now 71, also sings about a rainbow's wall in Brown Eyed Girl - but the reality of his inspiration was somewhat less colourful. The wall was part of long-since demolished sweet shop called Rainbow's, at the corner of the Beersbridge Road and Hyndford Street, where Morrison lived at number 125.

The Hollow is a small part of phase three of the Greenway which will eventually have 10 miles of foot and cycle paths, 26 new or improved bridges, a CS Lewis themed civic square and a series of cleaned-up rivers.

Even though Brown Eyed Girl is a massive royalty earner through its millions of plays on the radio, especially in America, Van Morrison doesn't see a penny of the money because of the way the song was licensed back in 1967.

The song initially had to be re-edited into an alternative version to make it acceptable to American audiences, due to its references to "making love in the green grass behind the stadium". There's always been speculation that the stadium was Glentoran's Oval football ground, but Morrison's former associates believe he was singing about a cycle track in Orangefield Park, now part of the Connswater Community Greenway.

Morrison received his knighthood for services to the music industry and tourism in Northern Ireland from the Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace in February and afterwards said it wasn't bad for a "blue-eyed soul singer from east Belfast".

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