Ahead of his acclaimed new record, Bap Kennedy on his punk past and jamming with his brother Brian
Joe Giltrapp's interview with Bap Kennedy in The Irish Post :
They were discovered by Steve Earle, who heard them at The Marquee and helped them secure a record deal with MCA. They ended up touring America and Canada with him. The band split in 1997 and Bap, who was the main songwriter in the band, decided to concentrate on a solo career.
Now older, and doubtlessly wiser, Bap has since returned to life in the North of Ireland. It is apt that his new album is titled Let's Start Again and it is around its forthcoming release that we spoke...
So Bap, let's start right at the beginning. Your real name is Martin; where did the nickname ‘Bap’ come from?
Well, it was cool to be called Bap when I was about nine. In Belfast there were a few bakeries and one of the well-known ones was Kennedy's Bakery, so there were a plethora of Baps about. The name kind of died; there are still a few Baps around though I think I'm the only one in the music business.
What first got you into music?
I have an uncle who is about 10 years older than me. When I was about 10 or 11 he was listening to The Rolling Stones and Van Morrison – the really good stuff – and he was my window into that world. I suppose punk-rock really got me going in so far as, not only being able to appreciate music, but to make music. That was a big revelation. I started off in a punk band when I was 16. That was the first time I realised you could just get a guitar, a couple of guys together and bash out a few songs and girls would be interested.
What was your first guitar?
I got an electric guitar. It was like it was made up of spare parts — cost me a tenner and was the worst-sounding thing you ever heard. I've never seen one since — they might have only made one and dumped the blueprint. It was a piece of rubbish, but it got me going.
Any memories of your first gig?
It was a punk band called Sellout. We knew some guys in a local band who'd had a support slot come up, so we decided to form a band the day before the gig — as you do. Our drummer had just bought a set of drums from someone and he didn't even know which ones to hit. It was like performance art more than music. We were terrible. I went back to the same club a few years later with a better band, but the guy wouldn't let me play because he remembered me from that first gig.
How did your previous band Energy Orchard come about?
There were a few bands before that, but there were guys from three different bands that all ended up in London at the same time (1985) looking for a band; six of us got together and formed Energy Orchard.
Famously the great Steve Earle discovered you. How did he enter the picture?
He had always been a great supporter of the band, but he disappeared off the scene and had his own problems. I actually thought he was dead. He ended up in prison and rehab. When he made his comeback l was just about finishing up with the band because we felt we had taken it as far as we could. A couple of people Steve knew got in touch with me and I ended up with him in Nashville making a record.
That was quite an experience I imagine?
It was fantastic. You don't realise how amazing it was until you look back on it. I didn't know half the guys there. People like Peter Rowan and Jerry Douglas — I had no idea who they were. Imagine if I was making that record again and trying to get those guys and all the other people who were involved.
How did you come to record with Mark Knopﬂer?
That's the music business. You are stumbling along and whenever you make a record you have no idea where it will end up. Mine ended up on Mark Knopfler's iPod. He wanted to find out about me so he got in touch. I ended up touring with him and made the album The Sailors Revenge, which he produced and played on. It was a brilliant experience and great validation from someone like him who is so well respected. He is very into the Celtic thing and when we made that record we were going for that Celtic melancholic vibe.
So what prompted your move back to Ireland?
l think l went to London to get the money to go to America, but ended up staying in London for a long time. I never thought I'd go back to Belfast, but I started thinking I'd had enough of London. It's a buzzing place and there is always something happening, but after 20 years I just wanted something else. I'd been back and forward to Belfast and seen the changes and I wanted to re-connect with family. I just wanted to go home. I've been back about eight years now and it just feels natural.
Do you see much of your brother Brian these days? I would love to hear you do a record together.
Any particular song in mind? I'm always looking for new ideas. We played in some bands together way back, but he does his own thing and I do mine.
What are your plans for the future?
I have a lot of stuff coming up, starting in March. We tend to go away a lot — Italy. Holland, Norway and so on and we are expecting to do a lot more of that. My wife Brenda is the bass player in the band, so it's our lifestyle with no worries about long separations. She is very enthusiastic so it rubs off on me and I'm really enjoying it.