Irish-born singer and songwriter Bap Kennedy has won a global audience for his music, which fuses elements of folk and rock with a decidedly Celtic world view. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on June 17, 1962, Martin "Bap" Kennedy got his start in music when he was 16, playing in a short-lived punk rock band called Sellout. Several years later, Kennedy joined a band called the Bankrobbers, and when he and a few of his bandmates teamed up with members of another Belfast outfit, Ten Past Seven, the group evolved into Energy Orchard, whose blend of lyrical folk and hard-driving rock earned them frequent comparisons to Van Morrison. After relocating to London, Energy Orchard won a following after playing a long-running residency at the New Pegasus, a pub in Hackney, which led to a record deal with MCA. Energy Orchard released five albums between 1990 and 1996, but despite critical praise and the endorsement of Van Morrison, who hired the band as his opening act for several tours, they never enjoyed a major commercial breakthrough. After Energy Orchard broke up, Kennedy got a call from American songwriter Steve Earle, who had been a fan of the group; Earle invited Kennedy to come to Nashville to record some music, which led to Earle producing Kennedy's solo debut, 1998's Domestic Blues, which featured guest appearances by Nancy Griffith and Jerry Douglas and was initially released on Earle's E-Squared label. One song from the album, "Vampire," appeared on the soundtrack of the critically acclaimed indie drama You Can Count on Me.
After cutting a handful of Hank Williams classics for the low-key, self-released album Hillbilly Shakespeare in 1999, Kennedy's next major project was 2000's Lonely Street, a set of originals in which he paid homage to two of his major influences, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley; a track from the album, "Moonlight Kiss," also landed in a movie, the John Cusack vehicle Serendipity. 2000 also saw the release of a live album, Rare, Live & Bladdered, but it would be five years before Kennedy would release another studio album. 2005's The Big Picture featured guest vocals by Shane MacGowan of the Pogues, as well as a songwriting collaboration with Van Morrison on "Milky Way." After the release of The Big Picture, Mark Knopfler invited Kennedy to tour with him as his opening act for a series of shows in the United States and the United Kingdom. That same year, Kennedy also met Brenda Boyd, an author and singer/songwriter; in time, they would marry, and she would join his road band as bassist and backing vocalist, while Bap would also produce her solo album, Banish the Blue Days (released under the name Brenda Kennedy). In 2009, Kennedy visited Ireland to record his album Howl On, which dealt with his youthful obsessions with American culture and featured a guest appearance by Henry McCullough, former guitarist with Joe Cocker's Grease Band. 2012's The Sailor's Revenge found Kennedy crossing paths with Mark Knopfler again; Knopfler produced the album, hosted the sessions at his recording studio, and played guitar on all 11 songs. Following the lush production of The Sailor's Revenge, Kennedy took a different approach for 2014's Let's Start Again, a lean and straightforward set recorded in Northern Ireland after Kennedy moved back to his homeland, featuring backing from his road band. In May, 2016 Kennedy announced via his blog that he had pancreatic cancer, and by August he had been told that the diagnosis was terminal. Kennedy died on November 1 in Belfast. His ninth full-length studio album, Reckless Heart, which was recorded during his battle with cancer, was released just three weeks after his passing. ~ Mark Deming