Van Morrison was born on the 31st August 1945 in Belfast, Northern Ireland and was christened George Ivan Morrison. He and his parents lived at 125 Hyndford Street for many years. His father George was a shipyard electrician and his mother Violet used to be a tap dancer and singer when she was young.
Van the Man’s Musical Roots
She definitely had a strong influence on the young George and passed on her love of all things musical. The Ireland that George (Van) was born into had a rich music scene, which largely continues today.
However, his father was the biggest music fan in the family. Legend has it that, at one stage, he had the biggest music collection in Ulster. His father had spent several years working in Detroit, Michigan right when the music scene was taking off there, and came home with an amazing and eclectic record collection.
Van’s early influences
The young George, who started to be known as Van form the age of about five, grew up listening to Ray Charles, Solomon Burke and Jelly Roll Morton. He was exposed to music hardly anyone in Ireland listened to, which many say is why he stood out to the extent that he did when he started making music.
He told a Rolling Stone journalist in 2005:
His father’s collection included music from a huge range of music genres including gospel, blues, jazz and country music. He even listened to and enjoyed early skiffle music.
The instruments Van learnt to play
At 11, Van Morrison learned to play the acoustic guitar. By the time he was 12 he was confident enough to set up his first band, which unsurprisingly, given the age of the members, was a skiffle band.
They called themselves The Sputniks after the Russian satellite. He was in several other bands, but at 14, he formed Midnight Special. They were a popular local band.
At that stage, he was hooked on the idea of learning the saxophone. Once he had mastered the instrument, he was asked to join a lot of local bands. There were plenty of drummers, guitarists and traditional instrument players available, but very few people in the area who could play the saxophone.
By that time, he was a good singer and could read music. He also played the harp, but it is not clear when he learned to do so. In no time, Van Morrison also learned to play the harmonica and keyboards.
AT 17, he set out on his first European tour. In Germany, he and his then band -George and the Monarchs recorded Boozoo Hully Gully with Twingy Babas as a B-side. It was not a big hit, but today it is a collector’s item.
The band disbanded as soon as they returned from that European tour, which meant yet another change of band for Van Morrison. In 1964, he finally found sustainable success with the band Them. They were formed as the house band for a new R&B club, within two years the band signed a contract and the hits started to come. From that point on Van Morrison was viewed as a star. He went on to form several other bands and have a long string of hits.