'This is a Christmas song,' announces Bap Kennedy, tongue firmly in cheek, before his opening tune at the Belfast Barge, the countrified ‘Domestic Blues’.
The audience get the joke – a Kennedy classic, 'Domestic Blues' doesn’t reference Christmas at all, but does contain lines like 'I’ve got to get out of this house before I hurt you', which strikes a chord with those who had but narrowly survived their Christmas family get-togethers.
The wit is typical, Kennedy being a warm and engaging performer who is tonight accompanied by a trio. A songwriter of unusual range, his songs are variously about astronauts and country music, Elvis Presley and Chilean miners, the cosmos, death and aging, and, perhaps more predictably, romance and the vicissitudes of love.
A partisan crowd cheers delightedly the announcement of every song, including the poignant ‘Jimmy Sanchez’, which Kennedy partly sings in the persona of a trapped miner, reflecting on his predicament and vowing to change his ways.
Kennedy’s guitar playing is bog-standard, but the song features an exquisite and perfectly apposite solo from the impressively versatile acoustic guitarist Gordon McAllister, whose playing throughout the gig is exceptional.
Other old favourites include the introspective ‘The Blue One’, which Kennedy explains was inspired by a photo of Planet Earth taken from outer space, and ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’, a song about Elvis, which Kennedy describes as 'a cautionary tale in three verses'.
But there are also several never before played songs from Kennedy’s upcoming album Let’s Start Again. On ‘If Things Don’t Change’ – apparently about a faltering relationship – Kennedy sings bleakly, 'If you could see the future, it would break your heart', with McAllister contributing an acerbic slide guitar solo, while ‘Under My Wing’ is sung tenderly, and ‘Heart Trouble’ sounding like an Elvis classic.
Kennedy also has, as he acknowledges, a couple of 'Hank moments', and his covers of the Hank Williams standards ‘Ramblin’ Man’ and ‘Cold, Cold Heart’ are compelling. The latter slides thrillingly into Van Morrison’s ‘Madame George’, which is here mesmerising. 'I wrote that!' declares Kennedy cheekily afterwards.
Bradso, from Kennedy’s early power pop band 10 Past 7, guests on mandolin on several songs, including the wittily agnostic, John Prine-like ‘Return To Jesus’ and new single ‘Revelation Blues’, the evening’s rockiest performance. 'One more song and then we’re going to eat chocolate,' Kennedy jokes, before a rousing cover of ‘Hey Joe’ concludes a wonderful gig.
Click here to view pix of the gig