Life

Bap Kennedy's sister Marian nears the end of 'dry' year to raise funds for hospice

Where would you start to commemorate a musical genius and raise money for the hospice where he died? Marian Bunton, brother of Bap Kennedy, started by saying no to alcohol. Here, she tells Gail Bell, why she has no intention of falling off the wagon

Marian Bunton pictured with brother Bap on his wedding day nine years ago when she was his best man

A VERY personal, very 'dry', year-long quest to raise money for Belfast's Marie Curie Hospice is nearing completion for Marian Bunton, who gave up alcohol in January "out of respect and love" for her much-loved brother, the late Belfast singer-songwriter, Bap Kennedy.

Martin 'Bap' Kennedy (54) passed away at the hospice on November 1 last year, following a short, bravely fought battled with pancreatic cancer.

And, in a two-pronged challenge to range money for the "amazing" hospice where he spent his final days surrounded by his wife and family, the end of Marian's crusade coincides with the beginning of a new one: the release of a new tribute EP to mark the first anniversary of the singer's death.

Raving For Bap is being officially released on Friday and is a collaboration between long-time friend Brian Bell of Brighton-based The Raving Beauties and Oxford band The Dreaming Spires, with multi-instrumentalist Joe Bennett handling production duties.

The record, which includes five songs from Bap's solo career, as well as his years as frontman for Energy Orchard, is being released on the Farm Music label – although, the collaborators decided at the start that they didn't simply want to do 'straight' covers.

"The Raving Beauties and Dreaming Spires had done a couple of gigs together and we became friendly," Brian explains. "Originally, we talked about recording some joint new material, but Bap had been on my mind so much since he passed away, that the idea of a tribute EP came about and all the guys from the band were keen to get involved.

"We didn't want to just do 'straight' covers of Bap's original arrangements, so tried to choose songs that would showcase his wonderful song craft and melodic flair, but in a very different way."

The tribute EP – all profits from sales will go to the hospice – has been warmly endorsed by Bap's widow, Brenda, who described the resulting sound as "cool, 60s American West Coast" which would have been "loved" by her late husband.

Those sentiments have been echoed by Marian who says she will always be grateful to the Marie Curie nurses in Belfast for the "warmth and respect" they showed her brother while in their care.

"The dedication of the nurses, doctors and staff can never be repaid," she says. "It's a privilege to join forces to raise funds for Marie Curie with The Raving Beauties and I love their take on Bap's music."

Her own, unusual fundraising initiative started on NewYear's Day and – by her own agreement – officially ends at midnight on December 31. That means no glass of wine with Christmas lunch and avoidance of her favourite Friday night tipple – a vodka and diet coke – at every festive get-together.

"I won't say it has been an easy challenge, but Bap gave up alcohol for 12 years, so I thought I could at least last without it for 12 months," says the 54 year-old who always enjoyed being "Irish twins" with Bap – for six weeks of each year they were both the same age.

"I wanted to do it for him – I hope he would be proud of me – and also to raise funds for the hospice and the amazing care he received there. After he died, I thought, 'What can I do?' and came up with this idea. I set myself an initial target of £2,000, but I have reached more than £2,500 to date and hopefully that will increase before the end of the year."

Describing herself as a "moderate" drinker, she says the most difficult part of her self-imposed sobriety was a family party in January – to celebrate her father's 80th birthday.

"It was the first family occasion without Bap and I was still grieving – I still am – and did so without the crutch of alcohol. I was also just a few weeks into my challenge, so I would say that event was the most difficult. My mum and dad were delighted, though, because I was able to drive them home."

Any unexpected highs? "Losing two and-a-half stone was definitely a bonus and I can honestly say I have never felt fitter. My dad was an athletics coach and we all used to run – I have done two Belfast marathons and one in Dublin – so giving up alcohol has made me think about running again.

"The funny thing is, everyone keeps asking me if I'm looking forward to my first drink, but I don't know if I even want one now. Bap didn't want it and didn't need it – he was a fantastic character without it – and I'm starting to feel that maybe I don't need it now either."

:: Raving For Bap will be available from Friday November 24 on limited edition 10” vinyl and on digital download. To download or stream (suggested donation £5) visit https://ravingforbap.bandcamp.com. Donations can be made at: www.justgiving.com/ravingforbap and at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/marian-bunton2

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