Love is in the air
In just a few short weeks love will be in the air once more as St Valentine’s Day works its magic on couples across the province.
Keen to get into the spirit of things, one of Belfast’s most celebrated singers, Brian Kennedy, has announced that he will kick-off a three night residency at the Grand Opera House on February 14 and there will be plenty of romance on the cards — if the 40-something star has his way.
“I’ve always been a romantic,” he confesses. “I think in many ways it’s not cool or trendy to say that these days, but I don’t care.
"I didn’t get to this part of my life worrying what other people think of me.
"Love and music go hand in hand and when I was offered the opportunity of playing the Opera House on Valentine’s Night, I jumped at the chance.
"A lot of my songs are love songs anyway, but I’ll make sure to tailor my set towards the night.”
Although Ulster’s most eligible bachelor is keeping schtum about his own lovelife, Sunday Life did notice that the Claddagh ring he wears on his right hand is pointing outwards, meaning that for now, he's flying solo.
“My personal life inspires everything that I write,” says Brian. “I don’t write about characters or create worlds, I write from the heart, so at times it can be quite traumatic singing some of my songs as I relive certain feelings.
"I have this one song called the 'Ballad of Killaloe' which can be a harrowing experience to perform sometimes.
"It’s about unrequited love and an attempt at a love affair, so every time I sing it always brings me back to that point in my life.
"It’s one of those songs where every night when I perform there’s always someone there who shouts out for it and I have to play it. But that’s art for you, you can’t hold back on anything.”
“Not holding back” is an apt phrase
when it comes to Brian Kennedy. Since he released his first album, Great War of Words in 1990, he has never stopped to take a breather at any stage in his career and now, nearly two decades later, he’s made 10 albums, written two novels, presented television programmes for the BBC and RTE and even entering the Eurovision Song Contest representing Ireland in 2006.
In today’s climate Brian’s prolific output is Herculean, but the singer sees it all as just another day at the office.
“I absolutely love my work and I love the fact that I’ve got the opportunity to make a living as a singer,” he says. “As most people know, I grew up in a working class environment on the Falls Road in Belfast.
"We didn’t have much growing up and I think it’s made me appreciate what I’ve got now. It certainly taught me that in order to be a success, you have to work at it.
"Even to this day I play everywhere I can. I’ve never been one of those guys who only play gigs in Belfast and Dublin. I’ll perform wherever there is an audience and I still do a signing after every show.
"Sometimes the signings go on longer than the concert actually, but I think it’s important to meet with the people that bought your records and put you were you are.”
At the moment, Brian is preparing to release his 10th album entitled 'Interpretations'.
It features the singer backed by a live orchestra and sees him breathe life into some old classics.
“I loved making this album,” he smiles. “I really wanted to take songs that haven’t been heard in a while or that people wouldn’t associate with me and put them out there. It also helped keep things fresh for me too.”
Of course, at this stage in his career, Brian has worked with all the greats.
With everyone from our own Van Morrison to Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell all singing his praises (literally in some cases), Mr Kennedy has becomes something of a national institution.
“I owe a lot to Van,” reflects Brian.
“If he hadn’t been so generous I wouldn’t have had all of those opportunities to appear with greats like Dylan. As for me being a national institution — I don’t know about that.
"I try to avoid the Press as much as I can to be honest. I don’t like to know what they’re writing about me.
"Most times they are fair, but every now and again they can print some utter rubbish about me and that’s when I have to get the lawyers involved. But on the whole I’m grateful for everything in my life.”
As Brian prepares for yet another busy year ahead, our talk turns to his past and more importantly the subject of regrets.
It’s pretty clear from our interview that Kennedy’s not the kind of guy to dwell on the past, but a chance meeting with the late, great Jeff Buckley will always live on in his mind as a moment he’ll forever remember.
“I met Jeff a lifetime ago in the early 90s,” recalls Brain. “I had left my record label, cut my hair off and spent my time travelling around America.
"It was there that I stumbled upon the coffee shop Sin E in New York where Jeff used to play. I asked them could I perform there and as it turned out they were fans of my album.
"So anyway, I ended up talking to Jeff and his girlfriend at the time and they thought that our two voices would compliment each other perfectly.
"They asked me to appear on his new album Grace (which of course went on to become one of the biggest records of the decade), but I had to fly back home the following week.
“I’ve always wondered what would happen if I had stayed in America to work with Jeff. His death was such a tragedy and he got gobbled up by the music business. Still, that was then and this is now and I guess things didn’t turn out too bad for me, did they?”
Brian Kennedy performs for three dates at the Grand Opera House in Belfast on Feb 14, 15 and 16. Tickets are priced £28/£25 and are available from the Grand Opera House box office (90241919) or online at www.goh.co.uk and www.wonderlandpromotions.co.uk