Singer songwriter looking forward to show at St Joseph’s Community Hub
It’s a big week for Brian Kennedy, a new album being released and headlining The Gathering Festival at Belfast’s Sailortown’s St Joseph’s.
Brian will wrap up the four-day festival, on June 12, featuring music, theatre, choral performances, exhibitions, heritage, a market and even a pet pageant.
It is an event that the veteran performer relishes playing at, especially given the venue, St Joseph’s being a re-purposed church and now a community hub.
“Churches, over the centuries, are one of the most special places to sing,” Brian said.
“Architecturally they seem to be built for that reason. The sound quality and the height of the ceilings, lend themselves to performances.
“It’s like you’re singing to the saints and angels. Before you even look at the audience that might be here, already you have an angelic audience waiting for you.
“I think it’s really fitting that St. Joe’s is getting a brand-new breath of life, and part of the breath of life is playing music and singing back into the walls.”
Playing his hometown is equally important for the singer-songwriter. “Belfast made me,” he said. “It’s not lost on me whether I’m sitting in a fancy lovely hotel that didn’t exist when I was a kid, or I look at an old building that has lots of history for me. Belfast, like myself, is a survivor.”
And Brian speaks as a survivor of cancer and a heart attack. Not that any of that has diminished his appetite as a musician. His new album is the 17th in his 32-year career.
“It’s called ‘Folkey’ it’s a return to ‘form’,” he explained. “When I first started recording everything was completely acoustic. When you have hair down to here, a wee cardigan and a little acoustic guitar, people think you’re a folk singer.
“I didn’t really grow up with folk music, but now 17 records later, I’m fully embracing folk music.”
Brian’s career has seen him play pop, be involved in Eurovision, perform for the BBC’s On Song, and duet with Boy George.
“And now in 2022, I couldn’t be more acoustic and I love it,” he said. “In lockdown, I started watching a lot of things online on YouTube, and I discovered the song “I Wish I Had Somebody To Love Me” which is really a song meant for the lonely and lost.
“A lot of people were feeling that way during lockdown. And that started a real hunger for old tunes, a folk vibe.”
He is especially keen to be able to reward those that have supported him.
“Fans are everything, especially hometown fans,” Brian said. “It means so much that that loyalty is there. There are people that have been there since day one and they mean the world to me.”
The Gathering has been organised by the Sailortown Regeneration, which aims to breathe new life into the historic part of the city.
Terry McKeown, Project Manager of Sailortown Regeneration said: “The festival is an opportunity for old friends and new to gather together, relive old memories and make new ones as we recreate renowned Sailortown events such as the Blessing of the Pets, St Joseph’s Boxing Club and the lively social scene in Belfast Docks.
“We’re building on the past to create a future in this iconic waterfront location and bring this iconic urban village back to life.”
For those on Sunday night, Brian said that he has been preparing, but the setlist hasn’t been finalised.
“I never plan shows too much,” he said. “After 32 years of me doing this, I can dip into that well and see what is appropriate. I feel the building, what would be appropriate to sing.
“I let the audience sometimes guide the show. The thing about having 17 albums now is that that’s an awful lot of music and I can’t play it all. I’ll consider what might feel good on the night and see how it goes.”
Of course, there are some songs that will be guaranteed. “People get up in arms if I don’t do certain songs. The more commercial hits people want to hear – Crazy Love, Put the Message in the Box, You Raise Me Up will be ones that are in every set.”
Given those standards, Brian is very conscious that the music industry has changed massively over his career.
“The way in which records are made and heard by people has changed massively,” he explained. “The way whole albums have been deconstructed.
“If you look at old albums, you call it an album and that’s it. But nowadays people can release a track or two, or someone might download one song from a record when it’s a whole album and should be listened to as such.
“Music has been dissected too much. I think the conceptualisation of music has been overshadowed by the digital world. We’ve taken a lot of the mystery away from music with technology.”
Not that, to an extent, he hasn’t embraced the new norm, with his own website and a manager helping out with his presence online.
“Recently, I hired a management company and they’ve made sure Spotify was up and running and all the other digital platforms have my records.
“Without them, that wouldn’t have been done so easily so I recognise now I’m in my middle to late 50s that you have to lean on the younger generation to be like ‘How do you do that’?”
And Brian has no intention of slowing down.
”What’s next is more gigs, more tours, more records, books, creativity. Greater deeper health and longevity,” he said. “If I can last 17 albums, surely there’s another 17 waiting to happen.”
The Gathering is funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the National Lottery and is supported by Belfast City Council.
Most events at The Gathering are free but ticketed events can be found here: https://bit.ly/SailortownFestival.
Further details can be found here: https://www.sailortownregeneration.com/