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Hume asked, ‘Brian do you think anybody will remember me? I just said, ‘John are you kidding me? Says Brian Kennedy


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Belfast singer song writer Brian Kennedy

Belfast singer song writer Brian Kennedy

Brian speaks exclusively to Roisin about getting back on the road

Brian speaks exclusively to Roisin about getting back on the road

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Belfast singer song writer Brian Kennedy

Brian Kennedy has revealed he once had to reassure John Hume that he would be remembered.

The Belfast singer says the extraordinary moment came during a soundcheck in Derry when the Nobel laureate and former SDLP leader arrived with a gift for him.

And the encounter led to an even more memorable meeting with another Nobel prize winner, Seamus Heaney.

Brian, who is about to go back on the road after months of Covid shielding following his battle with cancer, recalled his meeting with John Hume as the architect of the Good Friday Agreement was laid to rest in his home town last week, lauded for his peace work by world leaders.

"He just appeared at my sound check before a gig in Derry and someone said,' 'John Hume is here, and he wants to talk to you,'" says the singer.

"I went out and he had a bottle of whiskey from the House of Commons he wanted to give to me as a gift. He went quiet and he said, 'Brian, do you think anybody will remember me? I said, 'John are you kidding me?'

"I said to him, 'didn't Seamus Heaney write a poem about you? It goes something like 'there was one amongst us who stood taller than the rest.'"

Years later the Life, Love and Happiness singer got the chance to talk about the poem with Heaney.

And he came away feeling ten feet tall when the world-famous poet from Co. Derry gave Brian's writing skills the seal of approval, and said he could include the Hume poem in his book if he shared the first lines.

"Imagine me sitting with Seamus Heaney thinking, 'oh Jesus, here we go.' The first two lines are, 'the first time I ever saw the word singer was on my mother's sewing machine.'

And he just said, 'that's great.' And I thought, 'Seamus Heaney thinks it's great. Oh my god.'"

Lockdown

The 53-year-old admits he enjoyed his time in lockdown in Dublin, but the lowest point was the anniversary of family friend Danika McGuigan, daughter of boxer Barry, who died in July last year after a short battle with cancer.

He met Barry and wife Sandra through their shared love of music and was a regular visitor at their Kent home in England.

Danika had lived with Brian in Dublin as she pursued her acting career and news of her death at just 33 came as he was recovering from rectal cancer.

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Brian speaks exclusively to Roisin about getting back on the road

Brian speaks exclusively to Roisin about getting back on the road

Brian speaks exclusively to Roisin about getting back on the road

He had to have extensive surgery and go through six months of chemo and radiotherapy.

He says marking the year since her death, on July 24, was a poignant moment, and after watching the pain endured by her parents it made him grateful that he's never had children.

"Last year I had just gotten my first all clear of my own journey and her eldest brother Blain called me out of the blue," he says.

"He was crying, and my immediate thought was there was something wrong with Barry.

"He said, 'Danika is not going to last the weekend.' I didn't even know she was sick because it was so quick. She got five weeks from diagnosis to death.

"I met Danika when she was four and it was an extraordinary thing to stand in the hallway of that house and see her coffin being carried out by her brothers and her dad. I will never forget it. It was heart-breaking...honestly I'm very glad that I never had children myself because I cannot imagine their pain.

"I remember Brian D'Arcy, the priest said a beautiful thing at her funeral. He looked right at the McGuigans from the altar and said, 'I have never brought a child home from the hospital. I don't know what that feels like and I certainly don't know what it feels like to bring that child to a graveyard.' That really hit me hard."

Brian is hoping for a gradual return to normality after lockdown, which he initially thought would only last a few weeks.

In the meantime he has found solace in writing, cooking and Netflix as his schedule of weekly gigs vanished overnight.

The former Eurovision singer believes he had a brush with Covid in March but made a quick recovery, despite being in a high-risk category.

"In the middle of March I had a terrible fever and a really painful headache for about four days and then suddenly I felt a million times better."

"I think I had something, but it went away pretty quickly."

He's ready to get back on stage for the Younique Festival of Love later next month and is confident the rest of the industry will bounce back.

The singer has kept in touch with fans with fortnightly Facebook performances, but says there's nothing like the thrill of being on a stage.

"I really discovered through Covid that the thing I love the most is performing live, and that's what I miss the most.

"There is nothing like the buzz before you go on and you walk out and there's a crowd of people right there and they're asking you questions and singing along and there's a buzz in the room, and a smell and the heat of the lights. You can't replace any of that.

"I think we will reconfigure what we are doing and come up with interesting ideas about how do you do a live performance.

"The antidote to lifting people's spirits is through live music," believes Brian.

Brian is playing at the Stormont Hotel on September 25 and the Slieve Donard Hotel on September 26.

roisin.gorman@sundayworld.com