BIOGRAPHY: BRIAN KENNEDY
If there were a special award for
being multi-gifted, then Brian Kennedy would surely walk away with
it. A critically acclaimed singer/songwriter and proven
radio/television presenter, he is now acknowledged as an author of
considerable worth, having produced a series of short stories and
two novels (with a third on the way) - not surprisingly, for a
lyricist of his calibre.
The common denominator of all his
talents is easy to spot. Quite simply, he is a natural
communicator! No more so than in his live concerts. In the firm
belief that ‘music is the language of emotion,’ he takes his
audiences on a roller coaster ride for a full two hours and still
finds the energy to meet up with them after each show. But the
casual manner and good-humoured
banter on and off stage, belie the hard work and early struggles
of a man who seems born to perform, spellbinding his audiences
while making it all look easy.
Brian Edward Patrick Kennedy
was born in Belfast on 12th October 1966 and raised on
the Falls Road, one of six children. His candid account of those
‘troubled’ times suggests little contact with music, but, as if
compensating for what he terms the ‘ugliness’ in his environment,
he developed an uncanny ability to harmonise with the blare of
ambulance and fire engine sirens, discovering he had a pitch
perfect voice. Inexplicably drawn towards music, heading for
London at 18, he toughed it out, making a breakthrough in 1990
with his debut record deal and release of The Great War of
Words, from which the two singles Captured and Town,
now classics, are eagerly demanded as part of the set list at all
Spotted by Belfast-born,
international legend, Van Morrison, he joined Van’s
renowned Blues and Soul World Tour for a period of six
years, performing with some of the legends of the music industry –
Joni Mitchell, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, and many others. He
also backed Van on several albums – Days Like This, The Healing
Game, Back on Top and others, combining with Van and
John Lee Hooker on the live album, One Night in San
Francisco. Recognition of his exceptional vocal talent came
when asked by Van to record the soundtrack version of Crazy
Love for the film When a Man Loves a Woman. The
experience gained from the training and work ethic of those years
on the road were crucial to the foundation of his future solo
career. Brian has referred to this stellar time as a ‘magic
period’ in his life.
a succession of chart-making albums, A Better Man (1996)
soared to No.1 in the charts for many weeks and on to quadruple
platinum status in Ireland with the massive success of its three
singles, A Better Man, Life, Love and Happiness and Put
a Message in the Box. It achieved an Irish Music Industry
Award (IRMA) for Best Irish Male Album and a Hot Press/2TV Award
for Best Irish Male Artist. In 1999 came Now That I Know
What I Want (Sony Music Ireland) with its single, These
Days (a duet featuring Ronan Keating) reaching No.3 in the
national Irish singles chart, and platinum status. This CD saw the
reunion of Brian and his long-time friend and musical
collaborator, Calum MacColl, with the beautiful track, The
First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, written by revered songwriter
Ewan MacColl (Calum’s father).
Around this time, together with
Van, Brian performed the first of many live concerts for
President Bill Clinton, a continuing admirer of his work,
especially the traditional Carrickfergus, something of an
anthem at all BK concerts. Brian also appeared briefly in film
with a cameo part as a singer in This Is The Sea (1997)
with Gabriel Byrne and Richard Harris.
The first decade of his career at
an end, the new Millennium burst in with fresh energy and
an unpredicted twist in Brian’s musical journey. His desire to
face new challenges became a reality when he accepted the role of
lead singer in the celebrated Riverdance on Broadway show
at the Gershwin Theatre, N.Y. Opening in March 2000, he sang new
songs especially written for him by Grammy Award-winning composer
Bill Whelan. A soundtrack CD was released by Decca Broadway. Free
moments from the highly successful run were spent performing solo
gigs at the popular downtown music club, Arlene’s Grocery, gaining
new fans. Simultaneously the seeds were being sown for his next
album, Get On With Your Short Life, for release the
following year and destined to become another BK classic.
There is no better record of the
New York experience than the 17 intimate tracks of this album
which take the listener on Brian’s personal journey, from leaving
Ireland (The Ballad of Killaloe), through to Christopher
Street and New York, in which he paints a vivid
impression of the city and his new life there. One more live
performance for President Clinton in New York, then
back home for the release of his next album, Won’t You Take Me
Home – The RCA Years (December 2000.) The 28 tracks
cover Brian’s most popular and requested songs, traditional and
contemporary, besides previously unreleased recordings,
reconfirming his incomparable vocal skills.
singer/songwriter, ultimate live performer and communicator, was
now an artist with a daunting schedule! – Tours with the Corrs and
others; continual radio/television appearances; overseas flights
from Ireland and UK to New York, Dubai and Australia – in addition
to routine gigs and charity benefit concerts, including Disability
Action and Contact Youth of which he is a patron. Should anyone
need convincing of the phenomenal energy and production level of
this man on a continuing basis, they have only to check the diary
on his official website - www.briankennedy.co.uk.
A significant change occurred in
the Kennedy story in October 2002, when news came that
Brian had attended a book
launch for Breaking the Skin, an anthology of Irish
stories, which included two of his own, chosen on merit by the
editor. This was the first certain indication that Brian was
seriously exploring new areas of the arts, adding further
dimensions to his career.
Meanwhile the albums kept coming
and in 2003, Brian signed to Curb Records for an
outstanding six-album record deal, to include Get On With Your
Short Life, (co-produced by Kevin Killen), plus a series of
two albums, On Song, and later, On Song 2.
The first was based on a 6-part TV music series presented by Brian
for the BBC. Shot at breathtaking locations throughout Ireland the
series proved a valuable contribution to the recorded history of
Irish traditional songs, covering such classics as Mountains of
Mourne, I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls, and the more
up-tempo Curragh of Kildare & Whisky in the Jar,
with an original jazz/blues interpretation of Dirty Old Town.
Brian collaborated with a number of luminaries, including Calum
MacColl, Sinead O’Connor, Paul Brady, Adrian Dunbar, and many
Successfully hosting the Gerry
Anderson Radio Show in early 2003, Brian again changed
direction, literally, with a brief promotional visit to Australia
for Get On With Your Short Life. After non-stop
performances and endless TV radio and press interviews, he was an
outstanding success. Returning again in October of the same year
for the main three-week gargantuan tour of several states, he
appeared triumphantly at The Basement, Sydney, a
prestigious music venue. He was a knock-out! Media reports locally
and nationally were glowing. Despite the punishing schedule in
terms of distance, climate and physical effort, Brian completed
the tour, with his usual energy, dedication and charisma. The
audiences loved him.
By November 2003 he was back
in Belfast at the Waterfront Hall, for the unique Live
in Belfast concert, subsequently filmed and released as a
double CD and DVD set, featuring the superb collection of 22
tracks of material written and gathered over his extraordinary
15-year career. His first-ever live recorded concert, this was
another landmark in the journey, serving not only as lasting proof
of his own incomparable skills, but also a unique record of the
combined talents of his supporting musicians, Calum MacColl, James
Blesserhassett, Liam Bradley and James Hallawell.
More change was in the air and
after months of anticipation, came the news fans had been waiting
for. In September 2004, Brian’s debut novel, The Arrival
of Fergal Flynn, came hot of the press, to jump straight into
the Irish Best Book List at No.3. Positive reviews poured in.
Almost immediately, it was back to Oz for a third visit. No
newcomer this time, he was welcomed ‘home’ by his recently-made
fans, gathering many more as he promoted Live in Belfast
and signed copies of his book. Audience and media feedback said
it all – Australia had taken Brian Kennedy to its heart.
brief tour of Australia and New Zealand in early 2005 for the
major folk festivals, then, almost without warning, Roman Song,
sequel to Fergal Flynn, hit the bookshops in November of that
year. Brian Kennedy was now a fully-fledged fiction writer
and many were left wondering how he had fitted it all in! There
was barely time to read the book before the next bombshell struck.
Brian had been chosen to represent Ireland at the Eurovision
Song Contest, Athens, in May 2006. Fans worldwide
backed him in the challenge, certain that he would give a
heart-rending performance whatever the circumstances, based on his
known ability to beguile audiences internationally.
But life is a roller coaster and
2005 came to a close with the sad and shocking news of George
Best’s death. Mourned by the world in general, this Belfast
legend was deservedly honoured with a public funeral of
extraordinary proportions, on 3rd December at the Parliament,
Stormont. Selected to perform, the impact of Brian’s inspiring and
powerful renderings of You Raise Me Up and Vincent
resulted in the release by Curb Records of a charity
single, George Best – A Tribute, from which You Raise Me
Up rapidly shot to No.4 in the UK Charts.
Exciting news arrived in February
2006 with the announcement that the University of Ulster
had awarded Brian an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters (D
Litt) in recognition of his contribution to the arts. This
deserved acknowledgement was reinforced when his composition,
Every Song is a Cry for Love, was chosen by public vote to
represent Ireland at the Eurovision Song Contest. The
single was released at end of April.
With preparations for the great
event in full swing amid ever-mounting pressure from increased
international media interest in his participation, Brian managed
to complete his new double album, Homebird, for release on
26th May. Entering the Irish charts at No.9, this latest
album is a superb mix of new material with a bonus acoustic
version of what can only be described as a true BK classic. To add
to the action, Brian was also asked to sing at the opening
ceremony of the Special Olympics Ireland Games to take
place on 21st June.
On Saturday, 20th May 2006,
Brian Kennedy performed magnificently for Ireland in the
finals of the Eurovision Song Contest, achieving 10th place
and ensuring Ireland’s automatic entry into next year’s finals.
The response worldwide is evidence of his inspiring performance on
that global platform. He excelled again as an artist who writes,
interprets and tells a story in song that reaches the heart of
every individual regardless of age, culture or musical background.
Acknowledgement is due also to his polished, professional support
team led by Calum MacColl.
Currently, it is ‘business as
usual’ for Brian Kennedy, which in BK terms means
schedule with something extra, of
mega proportions, thrown in! - on this occasion, a new half-hour,
ten-week TV summer show, 1 to Remember with Brian Kennedy.
The series, covering No.1 hits from the Irish charts through the
years is scheduled for Sunday nights, 8.30pm on RTE One,
commencing 23rd July. Brian, as presenter, will be singing
selected songs, joined by a variety of stars from the music world
– a sure formula for success!
As to the future?
Midway through the 2nd decade of his profession, his star still on
the ascent and shining even brighter, one might well wonder which
direction and which talent this unique artist will pursue. As
no-one tells a story better than the man himself, perhaps the
lyrics of his new album, Homebird, hold the key. Brian
Kennedy, extraordinary artist and man, labeled by Q magazine
as ‘a voice to charm the angels’, may have every excuse
to be carried up and away by the accolades showered on him, but
his lyrics often suggest otherwise. Whilst flying high, exploring
‘othernesses’, he seems well aware of the pitfalls of fame.
Significantly or not, several of the superb tracks of Homebird
speak of the traps and loneliness of celebrity and the need for a
home base. Fans may perhaps take comfort from his earlier words,
delivered in that endearing Northern Irish accent: ‘This voice
was made in Belfast!’ – and who would want it any other way?
(Updated July 2006)
For further information log on www.briankennedy.co.uk