TODAY is Sir Van Morrison’s 72nd birthday, and the legendary Belfast songsmith is still going strong after the release of his 43rd album Keep Me Singing last September.
In February 2016, Sir Van was knighted by Prince Charles for services to the music industry and tourism in Northern Ireland over a 53-year career, in which his heart has never strayed too far from his homeland.
Here are five of Van Morrison’s best songs about Ireland, in celebration of his big day...
5. On Hyndford Street
“Take me back, take me way, way, way back,” Morrison croons in On Hyndford Street, named after an inner-city working-class terrace in Belfast. “Where you could feel the silence at half past eleven on long summer nights.”
Picking apples, stopping at Fusco’s ice-cream shop and adventures on the local buses; Van reinvigorates this part of east Belfast as only he can.
4. One Irish Rover
‘The Irish Rover’ is an Irish folk song about a huge sailing ship that loses its way in the fog and meets an unfortunate end.
In One Irish Rover, Van Morrison covers similar ground whilst converting the folk tale into a love song, with lines such as “you’re so far away, like a ship out on the sea without a sail.”
In 1989, Morrison performed the song live with none other than Bob Dylan atop a mountain in Athens, as part of a programme for the BBC.
3. Madame George
From the 1968 album Astral Weeks, Madame George makes a number of references to people and places in Belfast, with Unionists “throwing pennies at the bridge down below” from trains in the Protestant area of Sandy Row.
Some have speculated that the character “Madame George” was none other than Georgie Hyde-Lees, the wife and muse of famed Irish poet W.B. Yeats.
2. Irish Heartbeat
Van originally recorded ‘Irish Heartbeat’ for his 1983 album Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, but it wasn’t until 1988 with the release of 18th studio album Irish Heartbeat that the song took centre stage.
Performed with traditional Dublin band The Chieftains, Irish Heartbeat sees Morrison consider all the things that “make the Irish heart beat.”
From emigrating to London for work to a much needed Irish homecoming, Irish Heartbeat sees Morrison journeying back to Ireland.
1. Cyprus Avenue
One of Van’s best-loved songs from one of his greatest albums in Astral Weeks, Cyprus Avenue is a nostalgic song in which Morrison pulls on memories from his native Belfast.
Morrison uses the name of a middle-class, suburban street in east Belfast as a symbol of his adolescence in Belfast, in which he describes his younger self as “so young and bold, fourteen years old.”
Morrison celebrated his 70th birthday last year with two special live performances of Cyprus Avenue at the EastSide Arts Festival in Belfast.