Bap Kennedy

AmericaHowl On
Howl OnHowl On
Jimmy SanchezThe Sailor's Revenge
Long Time A Comin'Domestic Blues / Long Time A Comin'
Lost HighwayHillbilly Shakespeare / Long Time A Comin'’'
Milky WayThe Big Picture
Moonlight KissLonely Street / Long Time A Comin'
Please Return To JesusThe Sailor's Revenge
StreetwiseThe Big Picture
The Sweet Smell Of SuccessThe Big Picture


Bap Kennedy playlist



Contributor: Peter Viney

A quote from my review of a Bap Kennedy concert: “In some alternative reality, Bap Kennedy is deservedly … headlining at 3,000 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.”

He’s been produced by Steve Earle and Mark Knopfler. He’s co-written with fellow Belfast ‘cowboy’ Van Morrison. Like a lot of Van’s work, ‘Americana’ seems the nearest category for this other Northern Irishman’s songs. Let’s add that he’s an excellent acoustic guitarist too.

I’m ignoring his work with Energy Orchard (perhaps a future Toppermost) so going in with his first solo album, Domestic Blues from 1998, produced by Steve Earle and recorded in Nashville, with contributions from Nanci Griffiths, Peter Rowan, Larry Atamanuik (both ex-Seatrain) and Jerry Douglas. Long Time A Comin’ also gives its name to his 2002 compilation: Long Time A Comin’: The Story So Far. Other songs I’d include in a longer list are The Way I Love Her, Vampire and The Ghosts Of Belfast.

The next project was a full album Hank Williams tribute, Hillbilly Shakespeare which is deleted, but you can find my chosen track, Lost Highway, on the compilation Long Time A Comin’, which is a useful round up of the first three albums. Another hugely underrated British singer, James Hunter, joins him on Long Gone Daddy. It’s a case partly of which Hank Williams songs you like best. They’re all great versions. The Mansion On The Hill is my favourite Hank Williams song, but I’m choosing Lost Highway because Bap sings it so well and adds something new to the mood.

Lonely Street in 2000 contains Moonlight Kiss which may be his best-known song as it’s used in the movie Serendipity, and he references the death of Hank Williams on a road at night in the back of a Cadillac in the sleeve notes (though it works universally to me). The Hank Williams connection is there again in Elvis, Hank & Me and Hank’s Last Waltz. The sleeve says, All the songs on this album have been inspired by and are dedicated to Hank Williams and Elvis Presley.

After Long Time A Comin’ there was an EP set, Moriaty’s Blues, which is unavailable on his site, Lonely Street today and was the last time I looked, though the title track is on The Big Picture. This album was recorded at Van Morrison’s studio, and Milky Way is a rare Van Morrison co-write (and the first track of the ten Toppermost I selected). I really thought this album was going to be a major commercial breakthrough. The songs are so strong that I would have thought sufficient exposure to my four favourites: Milky Way, Fireworks, The Sweet Smell Of Success and Streetwise would have made it a major album. On The Mighty Ocean Of Alcohol features Shane MacGowan. The Sweet Smell Of Success is about being on the brink. It should have crossed that brink with just a tiny extra bit of exposure. Every track is first rate, the playing is superb, fluent and mellow. Streetwise starts out:

Blessed are the poor,
Well, that’s alright then
Baby you and me
Are going straight to heaven

Howl On from 2009 is an Americana concept album, with tracks connected by major points in 1960s American history: the death of JFK, the moon landings, the cold war, Jimi Hendrix (he covers Hey Joe).

America is an Irish-flavoured folk rock hymn to the concept of ‘America’. Cold War Country Blues runs it all down:

They took Hank Williams to the Moon
Well it seems to me, instead of World War Three
They took Hank Williams to the Moon.

Elvis, John Kennedy, Jim Lovell (steely-eyed missile man) all get in there too. The centre is the story of the Apollo Astronauts, starting with the Apollo 8 mission in Brave Captain. Then there’s The Right Stuff, Ballad Of Neil Armstrong, Irish Moon. The last is about Michael Collins at the controls of Apollo 11 circling the moon, while Armstrong and Aldrin made the moon landing. The story plays on the namesake, the Irish revolutionary leader, shot in 1922. The Blue One is the Earth seen from space. I’ve chosen the title track, Howl On, because it’s meditative and uplifting: Nothing is stronger in the universe than the human heart … Howl on, howl on, until the pain is gone.

Mark Knopfler produced and played on The Sailor’s Revenge in 2011 and it has by far the most Irish feel of his albums in its backing. It’s another album where you’re spoiled for choice. The album recycles new versions of The Right Stuff and Moriaty’s Blues. I wanted to squeeze in the Irish mist of Shimnavale, or Celtic Sea, but I’m limiting to two. Working Man is another I’d want but it’ll have to give way to the two selected. Jimmy Sanchez is about the youngest Chilean miner trapped underground from the point of view of a waiting loved one. Please Return To Jesus got the biggest applause of all when I saw him live, and it’s got humour, singalongability and a rousing tune:

Just above my heart
There’s a small tattoo
Please return to Jesus
Thank you

Let’s Start Again is due in February 2014, with Brenda Kennedy on bass and support vocals, and Gordy McAllister on guitar from his touring band. Revelation Blues is on his website as a sampler.


Sadly, Bap died on 1st November 2016 after bravely battling cancer. His final album, Reckless Heart, was released the following year.

Bap Kennedy (1962–2016)


Bap Kennedy website

Bap Kennedy facebook

Bap Kennedy biography (Apple Music)

Peter Viney has been an educational author and video scriptwriter since 1980. He has written articles on The Band, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan. He also writes novels under the name Dart Travis and writes on popular music, theatre and film at his website.

TopperPost #146


  1. Andrew Shields
    Jul 12, 2019

    Thanks for this great piece. Picked up a copy of “The Sailor’s Revenge’ a few weeks ago – what a lovely album it is. Bap was so underrated.

  2. Rob Millis
    Jul 27, 2019

    Nice one, Peter. Bap K was great; funny really because I’d seen Energy Orchard years ago on a Camden Lock live show that was a special edition of the old TV show Rock Steady (Nicky Horne) and really not liked them at all – they backed Steve Earle (no mean feat at the time, I’m sure!) but started with some of their own songs which I didn’t take to. But there – I was about 15 and Kim Wilde was also on the bill, not wearing a great deal. It was also the first time I set eyes on an ‘F-style’ mandolin (Earle’s), so a good evening for pleasing curves…

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