The Monarchs (Belfast)

Related: Silhouettes


The Monarchs were the group that Van Morrison played with for a few years prior to joining Them, and they even cut a single, though as it turns out that record isn't as interesting or desirable as one might guess. They formed at the end of the 1950s as an outgrowth of the Belfast band the Javelins. They were at the outset a showband, a term that in Ireland refers to an ensemble that can play many kinds of popular music styles.

Morrison was already into rock, blues, and R&B, but showbands were about the only option for gaining professional experience, so he paid his dues with the Monarchs, playing saxophone and singing. They played, without much success, in Scotland, and through a chance encounter in London in the summer of 1962, passed an audition to be sent over to Germany. Many British bands, from Liverpool but also from elsewhere, were being sent to Germany for residencies in the early '60s, and undoubtedly the Monarchs' time there in 1962 and 1963 helped Morrison become a tougher, more seasoned performer.

Morrison also played some guitar and drums in addition to playing saxophone and singing. In 1963, the Monarchs got the opportunity to record a German single for CBS, "Boozoo Hully Gully"/"Twingy Baby." Unfortunately for archivists who would love to hear a professionally recorded disc with Morrison predating Them, Morrison only played sax on the record and did not sing. Another member of the Monarchs, George Jones, sang lead on "Boozoo Hully Gully." Said Morrison of "Boozoo Hully Gully" (as quoted in John Collis' Van Morrison: Inarticulate Speech of the Heart), "It was a really bad song but we gave it a dynamite instrumental track."

Both sides of the single appear on the Van Morrison bootleg Bluesology 1963-'73. "Boozoo Hully Gully" apparently made the German charts, yet the Monarchs broke up in late 1963. In any event, Morrison's vast musical ambitions could not have been fulfilled in the band, though he wasn't writing songs yet. His singing, songwriting, and overall musical vision would take quantum leaps the following year, when he joined Them.

 by Richie Unterberger | AllMusic

29 March 2017 - by Ivan Little

Singer Sir Van Morrison has stunned the audience at a low-key charity gig in Holywood by turning up to play with members of his old Belfast showband in aid of a hospice where his former lover died six years ago. The 71-year-old legend was reunited with three of his former colleagues from the Monarchs showband on stage at the Holywood Yacht Club, during a fundraiser for the Marie Curie hospice in east Belfast.

It was there in October 2011 that Texan Gigi Lee died from cancer, aged just 44, and nine months after the death of the baby boy named by her as Van Morrison's love child. At Holywood Yacht Club at the weekend, former Clubsound musician and radio presenter George Jones introduced Morrison, his boyhood friend, to the audience who'd paid 10 a head to see a line-up of blues and rock bands, but didn't know that Belfast's most famous singer would be playing on the bill at one of his smallest-ever venues.

Morrison's first number was Sweet Little Sixteen, a tribute to American rock and roll icon Chuck Berry who died earlier this month at the age of 90. Morrison then sang and played guitar on Jesse James, an American skiffle song - "it's skiffle, not piffle," he said. Morrison was accompanied on the tiny stage by his one-time Monarchs showband colleagues, George Jones, Billy McAllen and Roy Kane, along with Mervyn Crawford on saxophone and Kevin Brennan on keyboards.

The singer also donated two signed CDs for a ballot. On Facebook, Jones said: "Amazing night at Holywood yacht club. A little bit of history was made when myself and boyhood friends Roy Kane, Billy McAllen and Van Morrison played together as the Monarchs for the first time in 54 years." He said it had been 'something to cherish' and hinted that 'we may do it again'. Roy Kane joked online that there had been 355 years of rock and roll on the stage. The fundraiser was organised by Fenton and Audrey Parsons in memory of her father, Billy Deane, who died in January.

Mr Parsons revealed that almost 1600 had been raised and said it was the family's way of thanking the staff at the Marie Curie hospice who had looked after Mr Deane. A video of Van Morrison's appearance at the charity gig has been posted on Facebook. It's thought it was the first time that members of the Monarchs had played together in public since they toured Germany in the early 1960s.

Belfast Telegraph | Ivan Little 2017

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