The Sailor's Revenge

Belfast's Bap Kennedy prepares to launch new album, produced by Mark Knopfler

For nearly any singer/songwriter on the planet, the idea of collaborating with Mark Knopfler would be the stuff of fantasy. But for Belfast's Bap Kennedy, it was just the latest in a long line of projects with high profile, and highly respected, musical legends.

For a man who has worked with Steve Earle and Van Morrison, to name just two, an offer to record an album in the Dire Straits frontman's own studio was another musical milestone. The Sailor's Revenge, Kennedy's forthcoming album, features songwriting that grows stronger with every listen, assisted, of course, by Knopfler's distinctive delicious guitar and tasteful widescreen production.

Kennedy's first encounters with the record business were as rhythm guitarist, lead singer and primary songwriter for Belfast rockers Energy Orchard, with whom he recorded five albums. When the band left Belfast, they established themselves as legends of London’s live music scene.

It was while he was in Energy Orchard that Kennedy first worked with compatriot Van Morrison, who gave the band several support slots to supplement their own hectic touring schedule of both the USA and Europe.

When Energy Orchard split up, Kennedy had little time to rest, because alt-country superstar, and longtime Energy Orchard fan, Steve Earle soon contacted him, suggesting that he would produce Kennedy’s first solo album. Kennedy agreed, and soon found himself on the plane to Nashville, TN, where he would record Domestic Blues.

Earle described Kennedy as 'the best songwriter I ever saw', and the album featured several of Nashville’s most highly regarded musicians, including Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan and Nanci Griffith. It was a real success, getting into the top ten of the Billboard Americana chart.

Kennedy’s song 'Vampire' appeared in the soundtrack for Hollywood film You Can Count On Me, which won two awards at the prestigious Sundance film festival and received two Oscar nominations, and three songs from the album were used for cult classic Southie. More touring of the USA cemented the acclaim.

The follow-up album, Lonely Street, was an artistic project based on, and dedicated to, two of Kennedy’s childhood musical heroes, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley. In more ways than one, it was music that was made for the love of music, and this was reflected in the consistently positive responses from critics at respected music magazines including Q and Mojo.

Once again, Kennedy’s work was used in a Hollywood soundtrack – this time it was ballad 'Moonlight Kiss', used for one of the key scenes in hit rom-com Serendipity (starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale), which is now a modern-day Christmas classic.

Kennedy’s next album, The Big Picture, was a return to working with Van Morrison. The Big Picture was recorded at Morrison’s studio, and included a Kennedy and Morrison co-write, 'Milky Way'. The album also featured guest vocals from Shane Magowan, lead singer of the Pogues, on the song 'On the Mighty Ocean Alcohol', and a reading from Carolyn Cassady, one of the leading figures from the Beat generation of American writers, at the end of the beautiful 'Moriarty’s Blues'.

The time following the release of The Big Picture was to mark profound changes in Bap’s personal, as well as professional, life. Shortly after Kennedy had brought his hard-living ways to an end, he worked with Mark Knopfler for the first time – appearing as a special guest for Knopfler’s tour of the USA and Europe, including five nights at the Royal Albert Hall.

It was during this period that Kennedy met his future wife, Brenda Kennedy, an artist and songwriter herself who had also written several bestselling books on Autism and Asperger Syndrome under her previous name, Brenda Boyd. Kennedy also produced Brenda’s album Banish the Blue Days.

For Howl On, released in 2009, Kennedy recorded in his native Northern Ireland for the first time in his solo career and, much like with Lonely Street, returned to writing a series of songs on a subject that had fascinated him in childhood.

This time, it was a look at his youthful love for all things American, and the story of the moon landings, not portrayed as a technological feat, but as a moment in the lives of the real people who worked on the Apollo program. This was a collection of human stories held together by the shared thread of Apollo, and told beautifully by Kennedy.

This was followed by a successful tour of the UK and Europe, highlighted by a memorable performance at the Glastonbury festival. Kennedy continued his touring with several highly successful one off gigs, including work with the renowned Belfast/Nashville festival, and performing in the highly regarded South by Southwest festival in America.

The Sailor’s Revenge features Kennedy’s most mature and sophisticated songwriting to date, as well as the instantly recognisable guitar work of Mark Knopfler. Knopfler is joined by a collection of respected session musicians, such as Jerry Douglas and Glenn Worf, combining to ensure that the musicianship on The Sailor’s Revenge is every bit as good as the songwriting.

The Sailor's Revenge is due for release on January 30. Kennedy will officially launch the album at the Empire Music Hall in Belfast on February 23, 2012, as part of the Pan Arts Belfast Nashville Songwriter's Festival.