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Friday, March 14, 2008

A Better Man

My interview with Brian Kennedy in today's Irish Daily Mail

When a man spends twenty years in the music business, recording 9 successful studio albums, touring the globe with Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and Tina Turner, singing numerous times for the US president, performing at the George Best funeral, holding down respected side careers in publishing and broadcasting, and representing his country in the Eurovision (okay, maybe not so much that one), he should be accustomed to star-struck fans stopping him in the street to gush about how amazing he is.

Not so with Brian Kennedy, despite all those achievements in his career to date. “The first thing I think of when someone stops me on the street is, ‘I hope they’re not looking for directions because I’m f***ing hopeless!’” the Belfast-born singer laughs. “I really don’t think of myself as being famous. Besides, people don’t lose their life when they meet me. I’m not George Michael!”

Be that as it may, the balladeer, who discovered his voice by harmonising with the noise of sirens and ambulance wails on his native Falls Road, has built up a devoted fan base ever since the release of his debut album The Great War of Words in 1990. Right now Kennedy is in the midst of a promotional tour for his tenth record, Interpretations, a collection of cover versions of classics such as Night and Day and You Are So Beautiful, as well as takes on songs by fellow Irish artists U2, Declan O’Rourke, and Kennedy’s friend and mentor Van Morrison.

“With this record, I chose two or three of the songs, and I let the producers pick the rest, so they would get me out of my comfort zone,” he explains over coffee in Dublin’s Morrison Hotel. “There’s nothing we all like more than a boundary. I didn’t want to go in and have had a long history with a song.

“We had 18 tracks on the list of potential covers whittled down from about 50. It was kind of obvious what was going to work and what wasn’t. If anything got too hard, it was obviously too hard for a reason, so it was just best to leave it alone.

“I really just wanted to be a torch singer with an old mic. I’m in my 40s now. I wanted to do something dignified and not try to be a young pop singer. I had my fun in my 20s and 30s. It has to be all about the music now, and singing with a full 48-piece orchestra poses no greater challenge for a singer.”

Kennedy is a star who seems to thrive on challenges. Throughout his career he has consistently sought new outlets for his creativity, be it onstage in New York as the lead singer in Riverdance on Broadway, as a TV presenter on RTE, or through his short stories and well-received novels, The Arrival of Fergal Flynn and Roman Song (a third work of fiction is on the way).

At the same time, the 41-year-old had to endure persistent media intrusion into his private life and probing of his sexuality (a byproduct of which was a scurrilous showbiz rumour that enjoyed a long life throughout the late 1990s). Despite – or perhaps because of – all these experiences, Kennedy today is a more relaxed figure who has evidently settled more comfortably into his own skin. Looking trim and healthy, with his hair cut short, the singer reveals that passing the 40 mark helped put a lot of his life into perspective.

“I’m certainly become bit more relaxed with age,” he says. “I’m a wee bit less uptight about things and I’m giving myself a bit of a break. I’m having a lot more fun let me tell you. I’m just a bit more realistic about things and a little less harsh on myself. I’m so afraid of being lazy that I see now that I tend to overdo it a bit sometimes. So I’ve calmed down a wee bit.”

But being in the public eye, and being so busy with different projects, must take its toll on his private life, and his ability to meet potential partners? “I’ve had my fair share of weird attention,” he states. “But what happens to me when I’m out is that, even though I’ll be off stage, and I think I’m in my private world, if someone knows my face, then I’m still on stage. It took me a while to get that. I’d be chatting away to someone, thinking, ‘This is all going terribly well’, and then it dawns on me that it’s like a fan thing. It’s very weird. People say, ‘But you’re so normal’, and I’m like [suspiciously] ‘Thanks. Why wouldn’t I be?’”

Is he involved with anyone at the moment? Kennedy smiles slyly. “No, I’m currently single, and quietly…adventurous,” he replies.

Finally, as a past Irish Eurovision hopeful (he represented us in 2006 with Every Song is a Cry For Love, which finished 10th), what does Kennedy make of Dustin the Turkey’s entry on behalf of Ireland in this year’s contest?

“Look it’s amazing how things have changed,” he says. “I think that ever since the dawn of text voting, it’s become incredibly impersonal. Therefore the intention is just not very serious; it’s just a quick text for the comic value, which is what happened with Lordi [the Finnish rockers in monster costumes who won the 2006 Eurovision].

“So here we are in a situation where we’re sending a turkey – every pun intended – and it will
either be a really big hit with the little kids who are the texters or, like last year, it will be something we end up deeply embarrassed about. It’s hard to know which way it will go.”

*Interpretations is out now on Curb Records. Brian Kennedy plays the Limerick Concert Hall on April10, the Cork Opera House on April13, and the National Concert Hall Dublin on April 15-16. Tickets are on sale now.

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