Take a look at your iTunes playlists. Nestling in there is a preset one called Top 25 Most Played. I glanced at mine yesterday. Four Bap Kennedy titles (Sweet Smell of Success, Milky Way, Streetwise and America from Howl On.) Last time I peeped in, a year ago, The Sweet Smell of Success was number one, though it’s slipped to number four. (OK, number one is Shaky by The Duke & The King, then Quicksilver Girl by Steve Miller Band, then Shoo-Rah Shooh-Rah by Betty Wright. I’m playing Sweet Dancer by The Waterboys so much nowadays that it’s going to be joining them soon, as will Jimmy Sanchez from Bap Kennedy) iTunes is not the sum of my listening, I mainly play CDs and 45s, but it is what gets played in the car and on the computer.
So on my playlist, he’s with The Band, Paul Simon, Van Morrison, Robbie Robertson, The Duke & The King, The Decemberists and Rolf Harris. Oops. I should explain that when I take my 6-year old grandson to school, his personalized Playlist is exclusively Rolf Harris, which gives Rolf a boost into unexpected company.
In some alternative reality, Bap Kennedy is deservedly rubbing shoulders with the same crowd and headlining at 3000 seaters as one of the great singer-songwriters, which indeed he is. He has that rare commodity, the instant signature voice. Whatever he touches, you know it’s him as soon as he starts.
I’ve never got to see him play until tonight, and it was one of those outstanding musical experiences. First off the venue, the Folly Wine Bar in Petersfield, between Portsmouth and Guildford.The tickets advertised “with dinner”. At £20 for dinner and concert, we were expecting a scrawny chicken leg in a basket with chips. Not so. You arrive at seven, for the show at eight. There’s four choice menu, table service, free water (always a plus), a welcoming and friendly atmosphere, and if I’d just gone there to have dinner for the whole price of the evening, I’d have come home delighted. Great tempura prawns and salad, nicely cooked salmon. Great sight lines, an intimate atmosphere and we even got to hear the soundcheck (The Right Stuff) while we were waiting. The venue runs a series called The Square Sessions, and we’ll be back for more, even given a 65-mile drive. It was a sell-out well in advance. However, the audience size was even smaller than Simone Felice at Winchester last year, and like Simone, Bap was so good, in such a relaxed, intimate setting, that I’m going to start checking these smaller venues a lot more carefully.
I’ve put the album titles on the set list. I had a problem with that. I stopped writing down titles a while ago, but it was so relaxed, I was sitting at a table, I had a flier and a pencil, that I tried. When I got back, I can’t read the title of the last song of the first set, and it’s a nagging toothache trying to remember it. It looks like three words. I had a feeling he’d played Working Man, but that’s so familiar because I’ve been playing the Sailor’s Revenge album so much, that I don’t know. He told such a good anecdote about working on building sites, and mentioned building sites elsewhere, that it may be false memory. On which, part of the live experience is hearing stuff between the songs, and something about the subject matter. It brings everything to life. So many don’t bother at all (Dylan, Van Morrison) that I really appreciate those who communicate directly with the audience, as Bap Kennedy did, and tell us something about themselves and their music and lyrics.
I have everything I’ve been able to get my hands on by Bap Kennedy (includingHillbilly Shakespeare which took some finding, though it’s now on Bap Kennedy’s website as a downloadable), so I wasn’t able to buy a CD and get it signed. A tip from the Simone Felice show, is that the fans are so dedicated, that it’s worth having a limited edition live album on sale only at gigs. A lot have almost everything else anyway.
The second surprise was one I’ve only had at Van Morrison concerts. You walk in with five songs you’re longing to hear (in this case, Milky Way, Sweet Smell of Success, Streetwise, Lost Highway, The Sailor’s Revenge title track) and he plays not one of them, and you still come away totally satisfied with what you’ve heard. In fact, The Big Picture, which I thought his best-known album, didn’t get visited at all.
The sound was excellent. Brenda Kennedy plays bass guitar and does backing vocals, and Gordon McAllister is a superb, empathetic guitarist. His fluid mellow lines replaced the range of instruments on the records. At times I thought it jazzy, then folk inspired, then I heard touches of Mark Knopfler, then in one song, Robbie Robertson. He’s an astonishingly good player. A drummerless three piece works with good bass (I’m thinking Rick Danko solo, or early Hot Tuna) and it did with Brenda Kennedy. I like it, as I liked John Mayall’s drummerless band. In all these acoustic guitars (amplified) blend with bass guitar and no one thinks about the drums. I wondered if the set list was geared towards having a three piece. The Sailor’s Revenge title track has so much else on it, that it would be a reason to avoid it live, but I was listening to the song driving home, and it’d work fine with just this three piece. Why no The Big Picture tracks? I don’t know. When we write these things we look for motives and reasons, which is why people like Van Morrison get annoyed with reviewers. I suspect it’s simply finding space for The Sailor’s Revenge songs (five, or six if the illegible note was Working Man) so trying to form a new setlist when there are so many ‘must play’ songs. It usually takes a while to settle what comes in on a regular basis, and what becomes less frequently visited.
Both Steve Earle and Mark Knopfler, his stellar producers got namechecked more than once. It was Knopfler who persuaded him to re-do The Right Stuff onThe Sailor’s Revenge. There were a couple of surprises. Someone had requested the old Energy Orchard song Sailortown (which I only have on the Rare, Live & Bladdered CD).
Judging audience reaction, which was always enthusiastic, it rose a definite notch on Please Return to Jesus. Maybe that’s partly audience self congratulation because it’s a semi-singalong, but I suspect it’s going to work as a live staple for him for a long time. In some ways, artistes never discover their most popular live stuff until they take the songs on the road, then they become essentials. Please Return to Jesus is going to do that.
I look forward to the next time I see him. If you’re doing those star ratings, five.
(To read the full review, set list,comments etc click here)