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 BK concerts.

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.        

In 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.

Brian Kennedy, 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 others.

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. 

Another 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 a full 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)
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