Arts

Brian Kennedy: I'm delighted to be alive, singing and moving forward

Brian Kennedy will be performing at the Glenarm Castle May in the Marquee festival for the first time at the end of this month. He tells Joanne Sweeney how his cancer experience has left him with a voice that's stronger than ever

Brian Kennedy will be performing at the finale of May in the Marquee bank holiday festival in Glenarm Castle on May 27 Picture: Paul Faith
Joanne Sweeney

FOR someone who is still recovering from cancer, Brian Kennedy is working ferociously hard and says his distinctive, melodic Irish voice is as strong as ever.

He certainly sounds chipper for an artist who has just finished a UK tour and reports on his health: "I had a very encouraging scan recently so I’m moving in the right direction. I'm feeling so good at the moment."

Kennedy continues: "Cancer is a very strange thing. It takes a long time to get it and a long time to get rid of it – that is, if you're lucky enough to get rid of it.

"So I feel very lucky that I’m working away and singing my head off. I’ve never been stronger vocally and I’m looking after myself. You just roll with the punches and I’m proud to say that I’ve never missed a single show. I’m delighted to be alive, singing and moving forward with everything."

However, the singer-songwriter, honorary doctor and writer – he has two novels to his name – says his current upbeat mood could change at any time.

"I’m an artistic, hormonal person," he admits, "I’m a weather-changing man – a change in the weather can change my mood. Sometimes I’m in brilliant form and then there are times I’m thinking 'I could have done that better' or 'I should have done this, and phoned that person back'. As the [Crowded House] song goes, I’m four seasons in one day."

He's a younger brother of the late Bap Kennedy, formerly of Belfast band Energy Orchard, who ironically had been fighting his own battle with pancreatic cancer before Kennedy received his diagnosis in 2016.

Estranged for more than 20 years, the talented brothers had a final meeting as Bap, who died in November of that year, was in the Marie Curie Hospice in east Belfast.

All Kennedy will now say about the experience is, "It was a great gift to have been able to sit with him before he died. My quote about that is I think cancer puts manners on people and situations and I love that it does that."

He's back home at the end of the month for his first appearance at the May In The Marquee music festival at Glenarm Castle in Co Antrim. He will be performing at the finale event and promises to perform songs including early hits Captured, A Better Man and Put The Message In The Box as well as more recent and present-day recordings.

"It’s going to be just extraordinary. What a setting for a concert and a festival," says Kennedy. "I’m really excited at this point in my career to be still playing at brand new venues in Northern Ireland and particularly to places I’ve never been to."

Kennedy says fans can expect a more intimate, theatre-style performance where he opens the floor to the audience to ask him questions while he tells his own tales about the songs he performs and why he wrote them.

Having first come to prominence on the back of his six years singing, touring and recording with Van Morrison on albums such as the live A Night In San Francisco, Days Like This, The Healing Game and Back On Top, Kennedy now records on his own label.

Despite still recovering from rectal cancer, he put out two albums last year, his Christmas classic recording, Christmassy and his double album, Brian Kennedy – The Essential Collection, which was released to mark his 50th birthday and the 20th anniversary of A Better Man.

Further recordings with Van Morrison still to be released in the coming years, he says. Kennedy says of his time with Morrison: "It’s a total blessing as it was such an incredibly authentic way of getting to an audience. What better way to be introduced when Van Morrison says to a live audience, 'Check out this guy out, he’s got a huge pair of lungs on him'. What an endorsement."

Born and raised on the Falls Road in west Belfast, Kennedy is now based in Dublin. Although he hasn't lived in his home town for many years, he says that he doesn't miss Belfast, as the city is always part of him.

"It’s so easy to get to Belfast now so it’s really difficult to miss it as it’s and an hour and a half up the road from Dublin where I live," he says.

"That’s been one of the greatest gifts about Belfast, actually – it never leaves you. Although I physically left it all those years ago, it’s never left me really. I always feel that I’m carrying it a bit around with me. The minute you get to anywhere in the world like China [where he toured recently], I’m always reminded that I’m very much a Belfast boy."

Having come out as gay years ago, it's no surprise that Kennedy supports the introduction of equal marriage in the north. He also supports the repeal of article eight of the Irish Constitution, which outlaws abortion in the Republic, which will be the subject of a referendum in the south on May 25.

"In terms of women's rights and repeal of the eighth, I think that men should not be going too deeply into the conversation as abortion is something that men will never have to go through. At the same time, we have to support our women and say that they have to have equal rights," he says.

:: An Evening with Brian Kennedy will take place at the May In The Marquee festival, Glenarm Castle on Sunday May 27 at 7pm. For tickets and information see glenarmcastle.com/events/mayinthemarquee

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