Brian Kennedy

Former Clonard choirboy woos crowd in sell-out monastery performance

Brian Kennedy recalls the moment he realised that he had made it in the music industry. Walking down the Falls Road in Belfast in 1990, a male passer-by regaled him with the comment, 'Who do you think you are? Tom Jones?'

It was at this point, the former choirboy, who is now an established musician and singer with a worldwide following, knew that he was perhaps a little bit famous!

Back on home turf in Belfast as the headlining act at Féile 2008, it is clear that Kennedy will play to a packed audience. Arriving at Clonard Monastery, the car park is full and a long stream of people flow through the doors.

Inside, there is a feeling of excitement circulating, a real buzz amongst the crowd. Situated in this atmospheric setting the audience take in the ambience of the historic church.

Beginning the evening, the Féile Women Singers take to the floor with a beautiful version of 'The Rose'. They perform an eclectic mix of songs including 'Drop a Little Love' by Benjamin Zephaniah, 'Love Can Build a Bridge' and 'Forever Young' by Bob Dylan.

Emer Kenny. Image (c) Emily Hirst. All rights reserved.South African and Gaelic tunes complement the pop songs, all delivered with not a note out of tune. Wonderful melodies and harmonies fill the air, while Clonard's ornate stonework, statues and elaborate Stations of the Cross provide a transcendent backdrop.

Next up is renowned harpist Emer Kenny. With her pure white skin, vibrant red hair and beautiful dress, she makes her entrance with two male musical accompanists.

Her first song is the emotional 'Rescue Me', followed by a great version of The Strangler's 'Golden Brown'. 

An upbeat and unusual, jazzed-up version of 'She Moves Through the Fair' follows but Kenny's best song is 'Let You Go', with a touching melody that resonates. Kenny plays the harp as it is meant to be played, plucking the strings skilfully, creating a magical, haunting, celtic sound.

After a short interval and presentation to honour the role of Clonard Monastery, the man of the moment, Brian Kennedy enters. Amidst cheers, claps and whistles from his adoring fans, he struts his stuff and bursts into song.

Kennedy performs a series of numbers from his tenth album Interpretations, and is one man who knows how to work a crowd. He talks to the audience, he tells jokes, he flirts, he charms, he throws his jacket off, he dances, he twirls.

Kennedy is also humble, taking time to talk of his roots. He is thankful for his success, his faithful fans and Van Morrison, with whom Kennedy began his career as a backing singer.

Brian Kennedy. Image (c) Emily Hirst. All rights reserved.There's no doubting Kennedy's abilities as a storyteller and entertainer and the audience seem entranced with his performance. He takes requests throughout and invites people to sing along and clap. He really connects with the crowd.

Taken from Kennedy's On Song television series, 'The Curragh of Kildare' begins to rapturous applause and the monastery comes to life. 

Waves of energy erupt throughout the audience and the proceedings liven up quite considerably. Kennedy fans don't hold back and his shows are a two-way affair.

He performs a slow version of Morrison's 'Brown Eyed Girl', inviting the audience to sing along. 'Carrickfergus' and 'Christopher Street' also prove popular. 

The closing number is the upbeat hit 'Message in the Box', which goes down a treat, with the excitable crowd joining in and even priests dancing in the aisles. This song is uplifting, inspiring and an obvious highlight.

Leaving to thunderous applause, Kennedy returns for his encore, an a cappella version of 'You Raise Me Up'. 

The song is dedicated to Angie Best, ex-wife of the late footballing legend George Best. Then it's off to the Crying Chapel to sign autographs and pose for photos. 

This event must be the crown in Feile's 2008 line up. A majestic venue, sensational music line up and spectacular show. Kennedy's performance goes down a storm with everyone, including this brown eyed girl.

Kennedy may have his critics, but on the evidence of this performance, in the heart of his home town, there is no denying that he's an enigmatic and engaging musician with presence, talent and integrity.

The Belfast boy made good and certainly knows how to fill a house of worship. If Sunday Services were this much fun, we might see a revival in church going! 

Anne-Marie Marquess 

Photography courtesy of Emily Hirst.