Celebrated Belfast-born singer Brian Kennedy grew up in the Troubles and in recent years due to a cancer battle he successfully fought, he's faced some troubles of his own
Recently given the all-clear, Kennedy will return to the New York stage in triumph next month for a singing date at Carnegie Hall (and a new U.S. tour in 2020).
Kennedy, 53, will be back on the New York stage as part of Andy Cooney's Christmas Celebration at Carnegie Hall on December 9. (Boston based fans will want to know he'll be performing there a night earlier on December 8 alongside The New York Tenors in The Spirit of Christmas concert at John Hancock Hall).
Broadway fans will remember Kennedy's star-making turn as the featured vocalist in Riverdance on Broadway, but his Irish fans will also remember his groundbreaking solo albums in the 1990s when he sang and literally embodied the changes that were coming to the North and Ireland generally.
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But let's start with Carnegie Hall. “I mean, don't you love that sentence?” Kennedy tells IrishCentral's sister publication the Irish Voice. “When you're on the phone with someone and you say you've got Carnegie Hall coming up next, that's pretty good, isn't it?”
Kennedy's set will feature some of his best-known songs he promises. “Andy heard the Christmas record I'd made and thought it would fit in beautifully to the show he's putting on. I'll certainly do 'You Raise Me Up' (Kennedy's signature song) of course. We have yet to decide exactly what Christmas songs to sing but don't worry I have the red suit ready to go. At least the suits ready. That's a good thing,” he laughs.
Growing up a discreetly closeted gay kid in war-torn Belfast, Christmas cheer was sometimes in short supply back then Kennedy admits. “It's interesting, you know, because for a long time I really wasn't a huge fan of Christmas. I would say, certainly truthfully as a gay man of my generation, that for the longest time it wasn't really possible to go home at Christmas. And it was just kind of, it was tricky, you know, it's all very complicated stuff and it was very religious and it was all about going to mass. I was always facing the question did you get a girlfriend yet?”
That's a pretty layered take on the Yuletide spirit and Kennedy is habitually forthright about the challenges that he faced at this time of year. But he also remembers the beauty of it too.
“I mean, here we are, you know, it's 2019 and I would say one of the most wonderful things about Christmas now is that everything has changed (marriage equality finally came to the North last week) and now I've kind of fallen back in love with Christmas because of these changes and because of the great music.
“Irish people, you know, are among the most enthusiastic countries when it comes to Christmas.” he continues.
“I mean I started seeing Christmas decorations in shops a month ago. It's unbelievable. So yes, my feeling now is I've got one leg in the past and one in the present. I also know it's a difficult time for some people that don't have family or a loved one. Or they might be miles away from home. So sometimes Christmas is the only time to really reconnect with home and feel really good about it. And it's an excuse to get together with your friends regardless of your faith. And I like to celebrate its gorgeous music, which is what I'm going to be doing in New York.”
Boston is also included in Kennedy's December return and he couldn't be happier about it. “That's going to be interesting because I haven't played in Boston for a long time. I used to sing there a lot so I'll be fully focusing on the Christmas music and trying to bring as much joy as I can for the time of year.”
A U.S. tour for 2020 is also being planned? Is he thrilled to be getting back in the game? “Yeah, of course, I mean I've been on this journey with cancer obviously and now that I have officially got the all-clear just eight weeks ago it's wonderful to think about the freedom of being able to just kind of leave that chapter behind.”
Kennedy's latest album is called "Recovery" and the title couldn't be more apt. He's faced down cancer, he's faced down the Troubles, he's faced down homophobia and strife on the Falls Road and here is he is. Still standing, still singing. There's nothing the Irish admire more than a fighter.
So what's his message to New York and Carnegie Hall?
“I mean, I just want to get up there and sing my head off in my red suit! I'm very thankful to be alive, to be recovered from the cancer journey. I love that every time I go to New York, something extraordinary happens that's unforgettable, you know? That's what this trip will be all about too!”
Brian Kennedy will perform at Andy Cooney's Christmas Celebration at Carnegie Hall. For tickets call 212-247-7800.