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Brian Kennedy: I had an interest in anything to do with music, even harmonising with ambulances on the Falls Road

 

Born performer: Brian Kennedy
Born performer: Brian Kennedy
Landmark moment: Brian and Van Morrison performing on stage for Bill Clinton in 1995
Simon Fuller
Political ideas: Brian outside Stormont
Centre stage: Brian performing
Brian with his grandmother
Seamus Heaney
Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City

In the latest interview Rachel Dean talks to singer-songwriter Brian Kennedy (52), who is originally from Belfast but now lives in Dublin.

Q. Tell us about your childhood.

A. I grew up on the Falls Road in west Belfast. I'm one of six children. We came from a very working class background.

My mother was a cleaner and my dad was a postman. He had times of unemployment but mostly he worked for the Post Office in Tomb Street in the city centre.

My mother was looking after loads of people and of course, a mother of six kids - what a mad job that must have been. I can only imagine.

I seemed to be interested in all things melodic. You know, I often tell the story about harmonising with ambulances, when they came down the street, as they often did during my childhood on the Falls Road. I seemed to have a natural interest in anything to do with music.

I was just completely distracted by it.

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I was absolutely hopeless at sports. I would be the one holding the uniforms or running around trying to find the ball or something. I was never picked for the team and people just knew I couldn't kick the ball straight.

I also had really bad asthma as a kid, so I had to be kind of careful with that.

From the get-go, I was never like my siblings. I was pretty sensitive, really. It was clearly the beginnings of what became, you know, turning into a young gay person.

It was clear I wasn't like the other children. I was sensitive, smart and cheeky, and the mixture didn't bode that well in the house!

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Brian with his grandmother

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. Surviving the Falls Road. It was a really difficult, life-threatening situation and so, I'm proud that I was able to survive that childhood, and not only that, I was able to turn my life around into something positive.

Q. The one regret you wish you could amend?

A. I honestly don't have any regrets. It's all a learning curve. I look back and I think, "The mistakes I made, I made them for a reason". There was always a lesson to be learned, so I don't regret anything.

Q. Have you any phobias?

A. I have a slight fear of really, really deep water. If I'm in the middle of nowhere and the water is so deep that you can't see the bottom, that feels a bit odd and eerie to me.

Q. The temptation you cannot resist?

A. Very, very cold Champagne, please! And vintage rose.

Ever since I got the all clear from cancer this year, people keep saying to me, "Brian, I want to buy you a drink, this is great".

So, I've been doing quite a bit of that recently to celebrate, but I'm trying to pull back a little!

Q. Your number one prized possession?

A. I'm super attached to my Lowden guitar. It has been around the world with me and I've written some of my best songs on it.

Q. The book that's most impacted your life?

A. As a young gay person, who was living in London at the time, when I started reading Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, it was really nice to read something by an author like that. It presents a calmness about being a young gay person in the world.

Q. If you had the power or authority, what would you do?

A. It's always tempting to say we should get rid of horrible people in politics, people who are homophobic or don't like otherness.

I would start with Northern Ireland. I know we've just got potential legislation on gay marriage, but I would do very helpful things like that. I would say at least let people have the choice for abortion, and I would try to eradicate homelessness, things like that.

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Political ideas: Brian outside Stormont

Q. What makes your blood boil every time without fail?

A. Ignorance, in terms of race, sexuality, or anything like that. Some people are terrifyingly ignorant about the world around them.

Q. Who has most influenced you?

A. Certainly, one of my greatest influences would be Van Morrison. I've been lucky enough to be able to be under his wing, because he's such a master at what he does. I spent six years with him, touring and singing around the world.

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Landmark moment: Brian and Van Morrison performing on stage for Bill Clinton in 1995

Q. Your top three dinner party guests, dead or alive, and why?

A. Oprah Winfrey - please - because I find her endlessly fascinating and I think she'd be brilliant company. Aretha Franklin, because I'm excited by her music and I'd love to talk to her about music back in the day. And George Michael, because I never got to meet him properly.

Q. The best piece of advice you ever received?

A. A piece of advice I gave myself, which is, "Get on with your short life".

Q. The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?

A. I love interior design. I'm always upgrading parts of the house. I love putting things together or changing the colour of a room. The last room I redecorated was my kitchen.

Q. The poem that touches your heart?

A. Probably Seamus Heaney's Digging. It really looks at the relationship between a son and a father and how tricky that can be, and the legacy of what that can be if it's a good relationship.

And so often, people, especially men, don't really write about that subject and I love that Seamus Heaney was able to talk about the relationship between him and his father and liken it to the relationship between his hand and his pen.

Q. The happiest moment of your life?

A. When they gave me the all-clear in the hospital. I had a three-year journey with cancer - I got diagnosed in July 2016 and then in June this year, I got the all-clear. Honestly, at first, I was in shock. I left the hospital and I walked home. It was nearly like when they first tell you that you have cancer. You don't really know what to do with it and you're like, "Really? Are you sure?" It was the same sort of thing. I was looking at my oncologist, saying, "Really? Are you sure I don't have it?" It's bittersweet in a way, because, once I got that news and I started to let people know, then a very close friend of mine, Barry McGuigan, his daughter Danika died of cancer very suddenly. I knew her since she was a little child and I was absolutely knocked for six when she died in July only five weeks after being diagnosed with a tumour.

It was very sobering to, on one hand, have the great news of beating cancer, but on the other hand, singing at the funeral of a 33-year-old young woman who shouldn't be dead.

Q. And the saddest?

A. Just losing really close friends. Last year I lost an old friend - actually an old lover of mine from 30 years ago - called Keith. He died very suddenly of brain cancer. I've had a lot of loss in the last year, it's been horrible.

Q. The one event that made a difference in your life?

A. The first time I met Simon Fuller, the extraordinary manager. When I met him, my life changed for good.

Q. What's the ambition that keeps driving you onwards?

A. To keep getting better at my craft and to progress as an artist.

Q. What's the philosophy you live by?

A. Treat other people the way you would like to be treated.

Q. How do you want to be remembered?

A. Kindly.

Brian's new EP, which is entitled 'Recovery', was released in Ireland on September 13 and will be available to download from September 27. He will perform at The Ballygally Castle Hotel on December 19 and 20. For tickets, visit www.ticketsource.co.uk. He'll also perform at the Slieve Donard Hotel on January 4, the Europa Hotel on January 10 and 11 and the Stormont Hotel on January 18. Visit www.ticketmaster.co.uk/brian-kennedy-tickets/artist/941480

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