Belfast Telegraph

Family and friends say emotional farewell to Belfast music legend Bap Kennedy

Poignant tributes paid at service to 'one-in-a-million' step-father and perhaps the greatest songwriter of his generation

By Ivan Little

Belfast singer Bap Kennedy, who died on Tuesday after a courageous five-month battle against cancer, sang the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack at his own funeral service yesterday.

The six emotional recordings he chose to be played at Roselawn perfectly underscored the spoken tributes from friends, family and admirers, some of whom called him the greatest songwriter of his generation.

Bap's parents, Jim and Lily, clung to each other for support at the crematorium as their 54-year-old son's coffin was slowly lowered out of sight to the strains of his emotional song The Right Stuff with its poignant lyrics, "So farewell my friends, 'til we meet again".

Bap's wife, Brenda, who played bass guitar in his band, was comforted by her children, Christine and Kenneth. They had earlier talked movingly at the service of their "one-in-a-million" step-father and listened as the song he wrote specially for them - Under My Wing - echoed through the church.

There were tears too as the song Bap penned for Brenda - The Beauty of You - was relayed to the mourners. The singer's sister, Marian, thanked Brenda for giving her brother "10 fantastically beautiful years" and for the strength she had shown throughout his illness.

Mourners who had earlier carried Bap's coffin from O'Kane's funeral parlour in Donegall Street and walked with it for a short distance brought him into Roselawn to the accompaniment of his song Howl On .

It was a private service, but among the invited guests were local musicians including Nicky Scott, Seamus O'Neill, Duke Special, Anthony Toner and Rab McCullough. Veteran Belfast music shop and record label owner Terri Hooley, who inspired the film Good Vibrations, was also there along with Holywood film-maker John T Davis.

Bap's brother, the singer Brian Kennedy who was himself diagnosed with cancer during the summer, was not present, but he has been dedicating concerts this week to his brother, who was told his pancreatic cancer was terminal in August.

Brian, who was reunited with Bap for the first time in years in the hospice, said on Twitter yesterday that he was proud to sing Bap's song Moonlight Kiss "for the passing of my eldest brother". He added the hashtag "musicheals".

A family friend, Paul Betts, who is a team leader in Holywood's Christian Fellowship Church, welcomed mourners to the Roselawn service, which was called a Celebration of Bap's life in Music.

He said that thousands of Bap's fans around the world were grieving for the loss of a star who sang about the heart, wrote from the heart and touched many hearts.

Bap's step-daughter, Christine, said the singer was "an unbelievably gifted and incredibly special person" who would have gone to the moon and back for her and her brother.

She added: "It may sound like a cliche, but he was one in a million. When he came into our lives 10 years ago mum really started to live."

Christine said the health blog Bap started to write after his cancer diagnosis had been read by hundreds of thousands of people around the globe who had been inspired by him

She said that Bap's manager and close friend, Willie Richardson, had got it right when he called the singer "the best man he'd ever met".

Choking back tears, Christine added: "Bap is the greatest man I have ever known. He fought his illness with great dignity and courage. He really astounded us with how he managed over the past number of months. And he had also been living with undiagnosed Asperger's syndrome for 50 years."

She went on: "We will love Bap for ever and we will never forget him."

In his tribute, Coleraine-born singer Anthony Toner said that he had been afraid to meet Bap for the first time because he had written a song called Sailortown some time after the Belfast man had come up with a similarly titled composition. "But he was absolutely fine about it," added Anthony, who travelled to Nashville with Bap as part of a songwriter's trip.

And on the morning after they arrived, while everyone else talked excitedly about possible record deals and co-writing appointments with American stars, Bap said to Anthony: "Do you notice how everything in America comes with extra bacon?"

Anthony said most people in the music business needed attention, money or fame, "but Bap gave the appearance that he had seen everything and needed nothing outside of making good music and outside of his own circle of family and friends". "He was incredibly cool to be around," he added. "In a business that was famous for its cliques and its bitchiness, he was universally loved and respected by his peers. I envied the integrity that he had."

He said Bap's music hit the heart every time: "He was the most honest and direct songwriter I have ever met, and it is my genuine belief that the body of work that he has left behind will be timeless. His songs are already classics."

Bap worked with some of the world's finest musicians, including Van Morrison, who sent his condolences to the Kennedy family, American country rock star Steve Earle, Shane McGowan from the Pogues and most recently Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. Anthony Toner recalled how Bap said people often asked what it was like to work with a living legend and he replied: "I think they handled it quite well".

In his closing address, Paul Betts talked of Bap's talent for writing positive and profound songs, which he shared with the world.

He said that at the Marie Curie hospice in Belfast in recent weeks he had read psalms with Bap -whose real name was Martin - and he described him as a poet, a psalmist and a prophet who brought challenge and hope in life and death.

"His life was well-lived and his songs were well-written," he added.

Mr Betts said that while Bap did not claim to be religious in the "man-made sense" it was clear that he did have a deep sense of values, common decency, respect and spirituality.

"Like all of us he was trying to find out who he was," added Mr Betts, who read a few lines from Bap's song Please Return to Jesus. In the song he agonises that he has heard of so many gods that he doesn't know if there is anyone there at all. He said the song continued:

"To be on the safe side

When I've had my final day

I have left instructions

To help me on my way.

Just above my heart

There's a small tattoo

Please return to Jesus

Thank you"

After the service, friends and former colleagues of Bap gathered at the Glenowen Inn in west Belfast to give him a remarkable musical send-off.

Members of Bap's old band, Energy Orchard, including Joby Fox and Kevin Breslin, were on stage along with Terry Sharpe and Pat Gribben, who were founder members of the Adventures group.

Other musicians from bands like the Starjets, the Bank Robbers, Tiberius Minnows and Silent Running were also there for the impromptu gig, which was attended by Bap's family.

Belfast actor Paddy Jenkins, who starred in the George Best musical Dancing Shoes, also sang Moonlight Kiss, which was featured in the hit John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale movie Serendipity.

It is expected that a major memorial concert for Bap will be held in Belfast in the coming months.

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