Hall of Fame - Brian Kennedy

The Belfast singer 'on song'

The first real inkling Brian Kennedy had of the adulation with which he would later be held in Belfast came around 1992, when he supported Fairground Attraction in Belfast and received a rapturous response.

He had already had a taste of success with the single 'Captured', from his 1990 RCA debut album, The Great War Of Words as well as the well-received Goodbye To Songtown album a year later, when he teamed up with Fairground Attraction’s Mark E Nevin as Sweetmouth. Like so many before him, he had taken the well-trodden road to London at the age of eighteen, spending a few months in an early version of his older brother Bap’s band, Energy Orchard, before signing his own deal.

Never one to push himself, he did not capitalise on this early success and was only occasionally heard in Northern Ireland for some time. His first encounter with the folk scene, perhaps, was when he made a special guest appearance at the first Northern Lights festival in Ballycastle in 1993 although he had duetted with Niamh Parsons on two songs for her 1992 album, Loosely Connected. That Ballycastle festival opened his eyes to his potential here and a few years later he began to tour regularly, always singing mainly his own songs and building a strong local following.

He has never felt that to be tagged as a folk singer is a negative – in fact he has been pleased to be accepted as part of the scene. Over the years, as his popularity has grown to the extent that he can fill the biggest halls in Northern Ireland, he has still played occasional low-key gigs in his home area, west Belfast and has collaborated on a number of overtly folk projects.

Although the five years he spent touring with Van Morrison were enormously rewarding for him on several levels, his proudest achievement to date has been the two BBC television series, Brian Kennedy On Song. For these, he looked into the stories behind some well-known songs and re-interpreted them, sometimes with the help of other singers such as Sinead O’Connor, Paul Brady and Ronnie Drew.

In addition to the two CDs from these series, other album releases have included Now That I Know What I Want (1999), Get On With Your Short Life (2001) and Live In Belfast (2004). He has also branched out into writing with the publication of a novel, The Arrival of Fergal Flynn, in June 2005. He also spent a couple of years in New York where he was inspired to write some of his best songs as well as appearing in a version of Riverdance.

Somehow, you feel it is only just beginning for Brian Kennedy. 

Geoff Harden