IT’S safe to say Irish singer-songwriter Brian Kennedy will be the first Eurovision competitor to perform at St Brigid’s Hall in Crossley.
The little church hall might be a long way from the 2006 international song contest final in Athens, but it’s just one more step on the musical journey of Kennedy.
That journey has encompassed working with Van Morrison, meeting Bob Dylan and Ray Charles, and singing with Jeff Buckley, as well as releasing 11 solo albums and scoring four top-40 singles in the UK.
His first visit to Australia since 2010 is to promote his new album Voice and the tour features Kennedy doing intimate acoustic shows that are a mix of songs and stories.
He’s certainly got some stories to tell, such as the night he shared a singalong with the late Jeff Buckley.
“It was just the right place at the right time,” he explained. “I happened to know about (New York cafe) Sin-ê, and a friend knew the owner. They said, ‘oh there’s this guy playing, he’s the son of Tim Buckley’, so I thought I’d go along.
“We showed up and there was 50 people at the show, it was this tiny room, you couldn’t get any more in.
“We hung out (with Jeff after the show). We had a big sing around the piano. He was about to go make his first record, Grace. It was one of those memorable nights.
“I was at a festival with Van (Morrison) years later and (Canadian singer-songwriter) Ron Sexsmith was there, he’d gone to meet Van and he said to me ‘have you heard what happened to Jeff Buckley?’, and I thought, oh he’s going to say his album’s number 1 or something, and he said ‘no, he just drowned’.
“It all goes into the myth and the legend, doesn’t it? It’s like Eva Cassidy — it’s only when they die way too young that we realise what we had was a gem.”
Working with Van Morrison as a featured singer also gave Kennedy the chance to meet other big names, such as Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and Ray Charles, but more importantly it was a great learning experience for Kennedy.
“He taught me not to be afraid of taking risks and that you’re only as good as your last gig,” Kennedy said.
“It was sink or swim with Van, I was thrown in the deep end. You don’t have time to think ‘can I do this?’. I did six years and five albums with Van. We were so busy working, recording and touring that it’s only later you think, ‘that was amazing’.
“At the time it was a mix of joy, tension, a bit of fear, and excitement.
“He was unpredictable — he’d get me to sing songs I’d never sung before ... or he’d call a song we’d never played before.
“We’d soundcheck and do a load of stuff we’d never play ... until a month or two later.
“It was to challenge himself and he was challenging us. He was never messing with us — he was just reacting to the moment and the crowd.”
Kennedy said he loved people asking him questions between songs on his current tour, and said one of the more common questions was, “Is Van Morrison as bad-tempered as he looks?”.
“You think ‘oh god’,” Kennedy laughed.
“But it will trigger a conversation about Van and I might do a Van song.”
He’ll also be playing new songs from Voice, but admitted that if someone asked for his Eurovision song Every Song Is A Cry For Love — the 1000th song performed in Eurovision contests — he might just play it.
“(With Eurovision) I stopped being Brian Kennedy and I became ‘Ireland’,” he recalled with a laugh.
“When you entered a room, everyone would be ‘here comes Ireland’. I became very aware that I represented my country.”