Brian Kennedy photographed at Carnegie Hall on Dec. 9, 2019. PHOTO BY GENEVIEVE RAFTER KEDDY
By Peter McDermott
Belfast-born and -raised singer-songwriter Brian Kennedy is well-known to his worldwide fan base for his powers of reinvention. This year, like other entertainers, he has turned to online platforms and is currently hosting an extremely popular series of shows on Facebook. However, the latest restrictions in Dublin, where he lives, have meant he has to pause the show. The eighth due last Saturday was postponed but the first seven can be viewed on Facebook here and Kennedy has also posted a message on his Instagram account, which can be seen here. And so, now that he’s on a pause, the Echo decided to ask him a few questions.
Irish Echo: First of all, Brian, how have you been doing during this trying time for everyone? In your own case it’s two years since cancer surgery, but we’re told you’re back in the gym and doing very well. Tell us more about that.
Brian Kennedy: I am indeed back in the gym with my great friend and trainer Paul Byrne and my two-year surgery anniversary will be Oct 29 which is so hard to believe. I had to learn to walk again and Paul has helped devise a plan to gradually strengthen my legs and I’m glad to report I’m doing very well actually, particularly since my Facebook live shows have been so well received, we now have over 120,000 people checking it out and I try to keep the set-list fresh and challenging, sometimes deciding on a song the same day as the broadcast. It’s so weird not to be driving the length and breadth of Ireland doing my gigs and meeting people after shows at the signings and there’s really no end in sight so it’s a trying time. Like a lot of artists I’m accustomed to spending a lot of time on my own but of course it’s entirely different when you’re forced to stay home by the government. Thank goodness for emails and technology.
IE: For fans who haven’t seen the seven shows so far on Facebook, describe what happens.
BK: Well I always try and reflect what’s going on in the world. The last show, we had just lost the great Johnny Nash so I sang “I Can See Clearly Now the Rain Has Gone” as a tribute. And John Lennon would have turned 80 so I sang “Intuition” as a tribute to him too. We literally discuss the set in the afternoon of the show and that way it keeps it as fresh as possible. I also love that fans send in requests so I sang “Beautiful” that I had recorded with Secret Garden a few years ago and I hadn’t ever sung it live before.
IE: In one show you did a special tribute to Van Morrison – with whom you toured the world for six years. Tell us something about that experience and the stars you shared the stage with.
BK: Touring and recording with Van for all those years meant I was able to meet legendary people like Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro… would you believe Richard Gere joined our band and played guitar with us for a week or so on tour in the UK. That was a memorable experience. You’ll have to wait for my memoir to hear more details!
IE: Any anecdotes to share about these big names? Did you bond well with anyone in particular?
BK: Joni Mitchell was particularly friendly I must say and she even gave me a signed artist’s lithograph print of her album “Taming the Tiger” that she was promoting at the time. She was the one I was most excited to meet and she didn’t disappoint.
IE: What about other virtual events during the lockdown?
BK: I loved doing sets specifically for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe that I've played every year for many years so it was sad not to be able to travel to Scotland and stay there for a week and see other artists and writers before my usual run of three nights there. Also being able to curate special set lists for both the Rochester and Minnesota Fringe Festivals was medicinal in a way and again one of the upsides of technology allowing me to do that. I know there are many fans there who are Irish and couldn't travel home and of course the continuing love affair with America and Ireland through music. It was a thrill to be able to record those special concerts. I’ve contributed to a few charity singles here in Ireland and I made a video from my music room in lockdown with Boy George for our duet of “Things Are Gonna Change” from his new album “This Is What I Dub” so do check that out on YouTube. I’m toying with doing my own Podcast series. I’m a big fan of Joe Rogan for example and I’d love to cover all kinds of subjects, especially men living with cancer and what it’s like to have a colostomy bag and be a performer for example.
IE: You’ve had a few small in-person shows in Ireland, haven’t you— how have they gone?
BK: Yes, I’ve done two now that went so brilliantly even though we were only allowed 50 in the big theater space but it made it more intimate and quite special somehow. Again, I couldn’t do a meet and greet afterwards as I usually do so that was weird and actually it really reminded me just how much I love performing live and how much I miss it so it was bittersweet. .
IE: You made your Carnegie Hall debut last December. Do you have plans to return someday? And generally, do you have any medium- and/or long-term plans you’d like to share?
BK: Isn’t it mad how much the world has changed in less than a year? Yes, I would dearly love to return to Carnegie Hall and indeed New York. You know I really felt that Trump had sucked a lot of the joy out of your magical city that I used to live in and that was very sad to see. My plans going forward is to make the best album I possibly can and indeed write some more stories and possibly another novel. Other than that, I’m enjoying cooking, eating, drinking red wine and of course being with my friends whenever possible. I will not miss 2020 for all kinds of reasons.