Thunderous Applause as Singer is Awarded City’s Top Honour
Van the Man became Van the Freeman at a ceremony punctuated by thunderous applause in Belfast last week.
Watched by his mother Violet, the freedom of the city was conferred on the 68-year-old east Belfast native by Mayor Mairtin Ó Muilleoir who thanked him for uniting the city and using his “genius and poetry” to put it on the musical map.
The mayor and Alderman Gavin Robinson presented the legendary singer-songwriter with a large golden key and freedom scroll during the short event at the Waterfront Hall.
Dressed in his trademark sunglasses, dark suit and hat, Van did not speak during the ceremony but nodded to the crowd as he walked onstage and gave them a thumbs-up.
They responded by getting to their feet and greeting their musical hero with cheers and applause.
The mayor said Van Morrison had “united” us, adding “he unites us tonight and will unite us in the future”.
He paid tribute to “all he has done to move us from the dark end of the street to the bright side of the road”.
Van’s “genius and poetry” had put Belfast on the map and for that the city was thankful, the mayor told him.
The mayor said bestowing the freedom of the city on the acclaimed musician was “the greatest way we can say thanks”.
Minutes later, Morrison lifted his trusty saxophone and kicked off a concert for 2,500 guests in the Waterfront Hall who greeted him like a long-lost son.
He opened the show with an instrumental, before punching out Moondance, immediately followed by Brown Eyed Girl and Sometimes We Cry.
Accompanied by his daughter Shana and a superb band, he entertained for just over an hour with favourites such as Whenever God Shines His Light and Days Like This, even sharing a few unexpected jokes with the crowd.
It was the second time this year that Belfast has honoured one of its celebrated citizens.
The honour was bestowed on Olympic gold medallist Dame Mary Peters in May after the council agreed to recognise her sporting and civic achievements, and in August the Irish News revealed that Van was to be bestowed with the honour.
However, there was some controversy attached to last night’s concert with the Irish News revealing that a fifth of the ticket allocation was reserved for councillors, senior staff and special guests.
Some 11,000 Belfast residents applied for a further 2,000 tickets which were allocated by a lottery system.
Although Van is not being paid for the performance his band received its “standard professional fee” of £36,000.
The singer’s management company defended the move in a statement: “The most important thing to Van is that he is doing his gig for free and that the people of Belfast are coming to see it for free. Van’s band and crew are themselves working people and deserve to be paid for their services like anyone else.”
Since the freedom of the city was first awarded in 1898, 53 men, 16 women and nine organisations have been honoured.