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'I'm lucky to be alive' says singer-songwriter Brian Kennedy as he releases new album

Kennedy has suffered from rectal cancer as well as having a cardiac arrest

ATHENS - MAY 18: Singer Brian Kennedy of Ireland performs at the semi-finals of the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest May 18, 2006 in Athens, Greece. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Eddie Rowley

TO be releasing a new album and entertaining audiences with spine-tingling live performances is a remarkable achievement for any singer after more than 30 years.

But for Brian Kennedy it pales into insignificance compared to his triumph over the devastating health issues that have afflicted him.

He has endured a litany of horrors, from the effects of rectal cancer to cardiac arrest and Covid.

The rectal cancer has left him with colostomy and urostomy bags. He's had to learn how to walk again three times.

If he was a character in a novel you'd say his story was too far-fetched to be believable.

Musician Brian Kennedy at his home. Photo by Steve Humphreys 11th October 2021.

"I know, it's so crazy isn't it?" Brian acknowledges as he chats with the Sunday World, sounding as upbeat as ever.

"And to survive it!" he adds, "because I know people that only had one of the things I had and they didn't recover, ever. You just think, well there's work to be done yet, there's more music to be made, and after all of that I managed to make another record. Fair play to me."

I tell Kennedy he's the most positive man in the world I've ever met. "I'll take that title, that sounds very good," he laughs.

"As I always say to my mates, 'what's the alternative?' I'm lucky to be alive. My phone is full of people who are no longer here. I have little bits of art around the house from people who were very close to me and are gone.

"So I think it's helpful to make the decision to get up every morning and go, 'Right, what is the best I can do today?'"

He's acutely aware of how close he came to death, particularly the night he had a heart attack in June last year. Feeling unwell in the early hours of the morning he walked to the nearby St James's Hospital.

"That was flying pretty close to the sky alright, that one," Brian says as he recalls the moment he was told he was having a heart attack. "Luckily I'd had the sense to take myself over to A&E when I felt the most peculiar I've ever felt in my life. And I was lucky to get the right treatment from the right surgeon at the right time and the surgery worked.

"I never saw any of these things coming and then to survive them because Covid could have been the end of me really, given that my immune system was lower than normal. I was still recovering from having my rib cage cut in half, I was wearing a brace to keep that all knitted together. And just when I was kind of getting over that the Covid hit and one of the worst things about Covid is you cannot stop coughing and if you've got any kind of stitches or anything like that it's a nightmare."

Today, Brian is philosophical about all of his experiences. "Yes I've had to learn to walk again not once, not twice, but three times and I've had the cancer and the heart attack and all those things, but it could always be worse. Look what is going on in Ukraine, look what is going on anywhere. Up and down the road, somebody is being shot or knifed and killed, or somebody has got really terrible news from the hospital. I just accentuate the positive."

Looking back, Kennedy says his traumatic experiences growing up as a gay teenager on the Falls Road in Belfast and being constantly picked on and beaten up gave him survival instincts.

"If you stuck out in any way, shape or form you got a smack in the mouth," Brian says.

"If you spoke a certain way, if you were a little bit feminine, if you were a little bit anything other than an archetypal kind of Falls Road hard boy and you stuck your head above the parapet you'd get a smack in the mouth, a punch in the head. If you weren't good at fighting and football then good luck, and I was all of that.

"I was sensitive and I suppose a classic gay child in that I really gravitated towards girls, not for the reasons the other boys did but because I was fascinated by them and they made me laugh and I made them laugh.

"Being gay back then was illegal, it was frowned upon and it was screamed from the pulpit every Sunday about homosexuals burning in hell. I don't know why they even brought it up, but they did.

"Thank God I managed to get away to England when I did, and that's when my music adventure really started. Singing was my key out of Northern Ireland and into the rest of the world.

"Singing for me is absolutely my identity and my vocation more than anything else in the world. What has got me through the last three or four years of real difficulty has been able to get up on stage and sing a few songs. My voice has been my absolute saviour."

  • BRIAN Kennedy's new single, John Condon, is out now. His new folk album, Folkie, will be released on May 27

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