Now I have to hold my hand up and admit that at that point I had no idea who Brian Kennedy was. I googled him and discovered it was that bloke who sang You Raise Me Up so movingly at George Best’s funeral. He also rather famously chucked a glass of wine at a fellow contestant on Ireland’s version of Come Dine With Me when told that one of his songs was “shoite”. So that was the sum total of my knowledge when I went along to see him last night at the Epstein.
What I discovered pretty quickly is that Brian Kennedy fans are like those of, say, Chris de Burgh or Barry Manilow; many and extraordinarily dedicated. At first I felt that I’d been sneaked into a club where you need to know some kind of secret handshake or something to gain admittance. But I didn’t actually feel like an interloper at all. Brian himself was chatty and engaging and very self-deprecating and I soon settled in to his unstructured acoustic set, where he seemed to just play whatever he felt like playing.
There was a woman in front of me, let’s call her Brenda (she looked like a Brenda) who was by turns enraptured and thrilled the whole way through the show. At one point she was openly and quite loudly weeping as Brian sung one of his more famous songs.
The evening felt a bit like one of those great house parties that’s a bit unplanned, where someone brings along a guitar and starts to play to the delight of everyone else. As Brian went through some highlights of his eleven-album repertoire, everyone had a little drink and joined in.
In the tradition of great Irish singers, Brian Kennedy does the kind of good old fashioned songs that tell a proper story; love of a girl or a boy, love of your city or your country. And he delivers them with a strong, pure voice. He’s also a very accomplished guitarist. It’s no wonder Brenda was moved to tears.
After doing the time-honoured “let’s pretend this is my last song and I’m not coming back” thing, he came back with a rather jaunty version of Best Days before ditching the backing track and microphone and belting out You Raise Me Up to a silence that was so palpable it actually had texture.
I should also take some time to give huge credit to Brian’s support act, the massively talented Hannah Berney, who delivered an extremely likeable set and who the whole audience seemed to fall in love with over a too-short half hour. Well worth watching out for.
All in all, a jolly enjoyable evening. I’m just waiting for the envelope to arrive with my secret handshake instructions in it.