For nearly any singer/songwriter on the planet, the idea of collaborating with Mark Knopfler would be the stuff of fantasy. But for Bap Kennedy, it was just the latest in a long line of projects with high profile, and highly respected, musical legends. For a man who has worked with Steve Earle and Van Morrison, to name just two, an offer to record an album in the Dire Straits frontman’s own studio was another musical milestone. The Sailor’s Revenge, the album that Kennedy wrote and Knopfler produced, features songwriting that grows stronger with every listen – assisted, of course, by Knopfler’s distinctive, delicious guitar and tasteful widescreen production.
Bap’s first encounters with the record business were as rhythm guitarist, lead singer and primary songwriter for Belfast rockers Energy Orchard, with whom he recorded 5 albums. When the band left Belfast, they established themselves as legends of London’s live music scene. It was while he was in Energy Orchard that Kennedy first worked with compatriot Van Morrison, who gave the band several support slots to supplement their own hectic touring schedule of both the USA and Europe.
When Energy Orchard split up, Bap had little time to rest, because alt-country superstar, and longtime Energy Orchard fan, Steve Earle soon contacted him, suggesting that he would produce Bap’s first solo album. Kennedy agreed, and soon found himself on the plane to Nashville, TN, where he would record Domestic Blues. Earle described Bap as “the best songwriter I ever heard,” and the album featured several of Nashville’s most highly regarded musicians, including Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan and Nanci Griffith. It was a real success, getting into the top ten of the Billboard Americana chart. Kennedy’s song, ‘Vampire’, appeared in the soundtrack for Hollywood film You Can Count On Me – which won two awards at the prestigious Sundance film festival and received two Oscar® nominations – and 3 songs from the album were used for cult classic Southie. More touring of the U.S.A. cemented the acclaim.
The follow-up album, Lonely Street, was an artistic project based on, and dedicated to, two of Bap’s childhood musical heroes, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley. In more ways than one, it was music that was made for the love of music, and this was reflected in the consistently positive responses from critics at respected music magazines including Q and Mojo. Bap’s next album, The Big Picture, was a return to working with Van Morrison, who had supported Kennedy since his Energy Orchard days. The Big Picture was recorded at Morrison’s studio, and included a Bap and Van co-write, ‘Milky Way.’
The time following the release of The Big Picture was to mark profound changes in Bap’s personal, as well as professional, life. Shortly after Kennedy had brought his hard-living ways to an end, he worked with Mark for the first time — appearing as a special guest for Knopfler’s tour of the USA and Europe, including five nights at the Royal Albert Hall.
His next album, Howl On, was followed by a successful tour of the UK and Europe, highlighted by a memorable performance at the Glastonbury festival. Bap continued his touring with several highly successful one off gigs, including work with the renowned Belfast/Nashville festival, and performing in the highly regarded South by Southwest festival in America. Bap was also honoured during this period to become patron of Autism NI, which he had become involved with through his wife Brenda.
The Sailor’s Revenge features Kennedy’s most mature and sophisticated songwriting to date – an achievement in itself when you consider his back catalogue — as well as the instantly recognisable guitar work of Mark, who also produced the album. Knopfler is joined by a collection of the most highly respected session musicians, such as Jerry Douglas and Glenn Worf, combining to ensure that the musicianship on The Sailor’s Revenge is every bit as good as the songwriting.