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BAP KENNEDY TALKS TO LIVEBLUES.INFO ABOUT HIS NEW ALBUM CO-PRODUCED WITH MARK KNOPFLER



For lovers of  roots music and Irish rock Bap Kennedy is a bit of a legend, lead singer of renowned 90’s band Energy Orchard he’s a prolific songwriter with a track record that link s to Steve Earle, Van Morrison, Mark Knopfler and several other major names. He’s in London to promote his excellent new album ‘The Sailors Revenge’ (review  here) and as a part of a short UK tour.

It’s a really good and interesting album and the artwork is quite dark, what’s the story behind the album and, in particular that title song ‘The Sailors Revenge’

Well, Mark Knopfler suggested we should collaborate and make a record a couple of years ago. I’d been touring with him after he took a real interest in my albums and song writing – which is great for any writer who is under the radar.  I played him some demos, one of which was what eventually became the album title track ‘The Sailor’s Revenge’ Mark thought it was a good starting point, musically and thematically for an album. Not so much about the sea as such – but the Celtic melancholy that is evident in a lot of my songs. He thought I should make an album of songs that hung together as a piece. Not a concept album exactly but a mood that would run through the whole record. No bluesy shuffles on this one!

Do you have a thing about the sea – it seems to loom quite large on the album (also we Googled Energy Orchard and the first song that came up was ‘Sailortown’)

Belfast is a port with a ship building history, although it became better known around the world for the Troubles for decades. I grew up there vaguely aware that there was another Belfast, where the Titanic had been built and latterly a teenage Van Morrison had been the centre of a vital blues and RnB scene in the mid 1960’s. There was a mythical dreamlike Belfast that I longed to connect to that Van had written about – and when I found out there was a neighbourhood called Sailortown down by the docks, I knew I could create my own version. And when I left and went to London in the eighties I took that idea and ran with it. I was a migrant worker who had crossed the Irish Sea in search of a better life –with the idea I’d return across the sea someday after I’d made something of myself.

 

Energy Orchard is a new name to us (but some of us were off scene for a long while bringing up kids) when were they around in London and what places did they play?

We played everywhere and anywhere in the late 1980’s. Most of the gigs have gone. The Mean Fiddler was a favourite venue, as well as the Marquee Club and lots of other places, mostly Rock n Roll dives that have sadly bitten the dust. They’re probably car parks now.

 

You’ve got some heavyweight players on the album – tell what its like working with Mark Knopfler

I love working with tasty guitar players and Mark is top of the pile, although on this record he mainly had his producer’s hat on. He was more concerned with the overall sound and of course the musical arrangements and textures. His guitar contributions on this record are understated and sympathetic to the songs, but as soon as he plays a note you know it’s him, which is the mark of a great artist. We didn’t waste any time in the studio and got down to business right away, but in saying that it was a pretty relaxed, happy recording session. When you have first rate players and the songs are in good shape it should be straight forward…and it was!

 

…ditto the amazing Jerry Douglas

I’ve worked with Jerry before in Nashville when I was making my solo debut “Domestic Blues” produced by Steve Earle. He just plays that Dobro like nobody else. There’s a real soulfulness and authority in his playing that sets him apart. Again you know it’s him in just a few notes. Top Drawer!

 

Who is the fiddle player on the album?

John McCusker, who plays in Mark’s band; again he is a very accomplished player who also plays citern on the album. I should also mention Mike McGoldrick who played the low whistles. He and John do a lot together – it’s real quality musicianship that you don’t often come across.

 

Could you describe in what way you think your writing has developed over your solo albums?

I think it has got more personal as I get older. I’ve honed my craft for years and I can weed out weak ideas pretty quickly. It’s all about the editing, getting to the core of the subject I’m writing about and saying what you want to say in as few words as possible. Writing song lyrics is tricky as it doesn’t always read well without a melody to bring a line to life.

 

Just looking at your CV you’ve been around a fair bit – so where is home for you?

I came back to Belfast about five years ago. I’d been away for twenty five years, travelling quite a bit, touring in Europe and America, making records and living and breathing music.  I was going through a very bad patch and needed to change my lifestyle. I did and went home and met my wife Brenda. We live in Holywood which is just outside Belfast and close to the water. I love it and it has been the best move I ever made.

 

So do you write at home or on the road or somewhere else?

I write all the time. Not finished songs but ideas and themes. That’s the bit that makes a song work for me. Coming up with a melody is easy so I leave that until I have a deadline to make a record.

 

Could you describe your musical influences / favourite writers?

Van Morrison is a huge influence. I think he’ll be regarded as a major artist in the distant future – in the same way the Classical composers are regarded today.

Hank Williams is my favourite songwriter. His lyrics are a master class in simplicity and poetic understatement.

And then there’s Elvis…as a performer and just the greatest singer that ever lived in my book.

I suppose I’ll have to mention the Beatles who were the best AND the most popular band of their era. It was a difficult trick to pull off- three genius song writers and a brilliant drummer who was more charismatic than most front men in other bands. Their music is still fresh and vital.

Also there is Bob Dylan.  He wrote the book on literary rock music and effortless cool when he was at the top of his game…and he can still surprise with outstanding material every once in a while.

Finally there’s the man himself Mark Knopfler, who is a great songwriter and very respected as such in Nashville. I think his guitar playing is what people think of first but he really is very accomplished in the songwriting department.

 

I’m assuming that you are of Irish descent – Ireland is noted for its rich literary tradition – how do you think that impinges on your song-writing

Ireland does seem to be held in high regard as a source of great literature and music for such a small place.  I suppose that can only be a good thing and if I was to be considered to have contributed to the great Irish songbook I would be delighted.

 

We won’t ask to much about individual  album tracks as we’ll cover that in our review,  but on first listen  a couple of tracks particularly appealed – firstly ‘Please return to  Jesus’ that’s so illustrative of the sort of faith that people actually have – what’s the tale behind  the song . There’s a current of spirituality running through the album –what’s your take on that – is that colored much by the Irish background?

Religion is becoming more and more difficult to tackle. There’s a lot of fear in the world about upsetting people about their beliefs no matter how bizarre. I come from an Irish Catholic background and today I would class myself as vaguely spiritual but not connected to any organized religion. I have, to a minor extent investigated various religions out of curiosity, but really the song is simply saying I haven’t a clue what happens when you die but just in case I’ve got a tattoo that says  “Please return to Jesus”

 

The closing track ‘Celtic Sea’ – tell us about that one

There is a Celtic Sea that runs between Ireland and France ( La Mer Celtique ). I liked the title and was surprised it hadn’t been used before. The song is about trying to escape to a better place, dreaming about it and for some people knowing it would only ever be a dream and having to live with it. Also my last record was looking to America and the West. This one is I think much more Celtic and European in musical vision and is sort of looking in the other direction for inspiration.

We noticed listening to the album that harmonically and melodically its quite influenced by traditional tunes – as an example we  got a feel of ‘Will Ye Go Lassie Go’ in ‘Celtic Sea’ – what part does that music have in your background and are there traditional tunes that you still sing?

I got heavily involved in the Irish traditional scene in London in my twenties. Even though I was in a rock band, I also immersed myself in Celtic music that was mostly instrumental Jigs and Reels.  I sat in with my acoustic guitar in many sessions many times. Those ancient melodies are still swirling around in my head and every now and then they seep out of the songs.

You’re going to be touring the UK in March – what’ s the band line-up going to be?

At this point it will be an acoustic trio with a bass. It sounds great and I’m looking forward to the gigs immensely. I haven’t toured for a couple of years and I’m itching to get out on the road.

Venues?

 

Repertoire?

There’ll be quite a few new songs and a good trawl through my back catalogue of 5 solo albums.

…and after the tour?

More gigs! I’m part of the Belfast Titanic 100 year anniversary that happens in April and “The Sailor’s Revenge” comes out in America in June so more tours. Great!

Latest album or your back catalogue which is your favorite of your songs and which would you like to be most remembered for?

That’s a tough one. As I said before if one of my songs became a standard Irish song I’d be very proud. That will have to wait a while

Your songs have been covered quite a bit – have you preferred cover version

A couple of Australian bands have covered my songs. I quite like a band called Dog Trumpet who did “On the Mighty Ocean Alcohol”

Thanks for taking the time to respond to this and thank you for giving us a superb album – good luck for the future.

Thank you too

 

Interviewed by Vicky Martin

 

 

 

 

 

 

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