Entertainment Music

Sunday 27 May 2018

The Belfast child is about to turn 50

Feted singer Brian Kennedy tells our reporter about love, desire, Joni Mitchell, recording with Boy George, singing with Van Morrison - and how music is the language of emotion

Singer Brian Kennedy
Singer Brian Kennedy
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Singing is my profession, Van Morrison once said, there is no Plan B. I have always had that same sense from Brian Kennedy - who, of course, has recorded and played with the aforesaid Mr Morrison many a time over the years; so much so that it appeared that he was a mentor of sorts to Brian.

Brought up on the Falls Road in West Belfast during the turbulent times of the 1970s and 1980s, Brian's story is of a child who developed a survival instinct, and whose particularly beautiful voice got him off the mean streets of Belfast and, in the end, saved him.

Brian told me a few years ago that during his teenage years during the Troubles it was like the lines Deborah Kerr sings in The King and I: "Whenever I feel afraid, I whistle a happy tune."

"You shake yourself out of it," Brian said, referring to the fear.

"I think part of it was when you're caught in the sound of war, you find a way not to make that war so scary. And without question, once I started singing in church on Saturday and Sundays, that literally took me off the streets."

Brian will, however, be at another street - Vicar Street - when he plays his 20th anniversary concert (and 50th birthday celebration) on October 13.

By accident, I bumped into Mr Kennedy on Grafton Street last Tuesday afternoon. He took out a copy of his compelling CD, The Essential Collection (featuring 32 songs such as Every Song Is A Cry For Love, You Raise Me Up, Crazy and A Case Of You) out of his satchel. We ended up having a chat about it and life and love and everything in-between (this chat was before Brian talked openly about his cancer).

I asked him was the song You Turn Me On Like I'm A Radio autobiographical.

"You'd have to ask Joni Mitchell," he said, laughing. "She wrote it but I can certainly relate."

How did the song with Boy George, Christopher Street, come about?

"I'm an 1980s kid really and over the years I would occasionally bump into George socially and he's someone that fascinates me musically and personally. He had heard my tribute to Joni Mitchell album via our friend the international stylist David Thomas."

"He rang me up and invited me to London to sing on a track he was working on for his solo project. I asked him to return the favour on my song Christopher Street that I had written while living in New York and I wanted the new reworked version to be extra special. So, after a bit of back and forth he sang loads of ideas and me and my producer Billy Farrell put it all together and sent it back for his approval, which he gave us immediately. I think the outcome is nothing short of magical."

He's not wrong.

Is every song for you a cry for love?

"Yes. I think there's longing in every note and every chord …music is the language of emotion after all and Nat King Cole said it best when he said, 'the greatest thing we'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.'"

What goes through your head when you sing Van's Crazy Love now?

"Well, to me this is a timeless love song, like all the best are. I might be thinking of someone in particular that day that I miss, like a friend or indeed a lover. Would you believe that myself, Van and Boy George actually sang this together once at a John Rocha after-party in The Groucho [in London] many moons ago?" he muses. "Now there was a night!"

As will be Brian's night in Vicar Street on October 13.

Tickets €30, through ticketmaster.ie and usual outlets nationwide.

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