Brian Kennedy | Review
Soma Festival • Wednesday 12 July 2017
By Tracey Hanby • Photography: Tremaine Gregg
Have you ever visited a church for anything other than mass? Well if I’m not mistaken and it wasn’t a dream then I think I just saw Brian Kennedy perform in St Malachy’s church, Castlewellan, as part of the ‘Soma Festival’ on Wednesday 12 July. Taking an hour and a half to drive to from Dublin, with some of the most scenic views on route via Newry, it was well worth the distance.
Celebrating its fifth year, the festival describes itself as ‘an intoxicating infusion of live music, theatre, visual arts, and street life’ taking place from the 12 – 16 July set amongst a variety of venues in Castlewellan and its surrounds.
Some venues can bring an added sparkle of magic more so than others. Be it the fusion of music with spirituality or the mere fact that it was slightly rebellious to host an intimate concert upon the alter of a church usually restricted for the use of a priest only. It also has to be said that the acoustic nature of this venue was always going to suit the powerful vocal of a seasoned musician such as this professional Brian Kennedy.
Raised in Belfast during the difficult times his voice brought him to London at just 18yrs old. Discovered by Simon Fuller and working as Van Morrison’s backing singer, he quickly established himself as a solo artist in his own right with the release of his debut album ‘The Great War of Words’ in 1990. Generating numerous albums since and having many professional highlights over the years such representing Ireland at the Eurovision in 2006 and more recently for being a judge on the Irish ‘Voice’ in 2012.
The night was launched by the organisers welcoming a full congregation of mixed generations and inviting the warm up act onto the alter to get the audience ready for the night’s proceedings.
Brendan Cleary, an English singer-songwriter with an Irish name, thanks to his Irish dad, told me he is based in London and happened to be over recording new music in Bettystown so he was delighted to be asked to support Brian Kennedy. He gave a confident & mature performance with the help of his loop pedal. Introducing the audience to his original music, which at times reminded me of ‘Passenger’. Nerves were never an issue despite the audience’s anticipation to hear Brian. He was endearing and definitely won over a few new followers in the process.
Then Brian took over by opening his show with his well known power ballad ‘A Better Man’. As he said himself with the help of his orchestra & choir live streaming from another town and definitely not a backing track. This was the start of a lot of humour and music. I could go as far to say that Brian could easily make a great stand up comedian too. He thanked Brendan for his performance by saying ‘now my support acts are younger than my first single’. At one point there were tears of laughter rolling especially with the audience interaction ‘it’s not easy to sing holding your stomach in you know’ and ‘I can sing all night, I have 15 albums’
He is also a great story teller talking about his childhood, his career & personal life to introduce each of the songs he selected for the night. I do feel a sneaky suspicion that each song was selected for its aptness to this venue for example ‘Raise Me Up’ and ‘Different God’ in particular. Maybe I’m wrong. But Brian does strikes me as someone quietly rebellious in personality.
The show was a mix of music, stories, humour & audience participation. He even sung ‘Happy Birthday’ to two of his guests. He thanked everyone for supporting his career and festivals like ‘Soma’ and even manned his own merchandising stand after the show. This is a humble, seasoned professional who really knows how to run his music business. There is no show like a ‘Brian Kennedy’ show and I would highly recommend any of his upcoming performances.
Written by: Tracey Hanby Music Promoter ‘Gigs Ireland’ & Dundalk FM broadcaster ‘100% Irish’ & ‘Gigs Ireland presents The Takeover’