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Keeping The Legend alive

By David Hennessy

The definitive Luke Kelly tribute act is on it’s way to the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith.

Chris Kavanagh, the man behind the Legend of Luke Kelly show, told The Irish World: “It’s long overdue.

“The last time we were to play there was when COVID first started back in March of 2020 so we had to cancel the gig. So we’ve been looking forward to getting back over.

“We were there six months before that, long before the trouble started.

“It was a fantastic night with lovely people.

“The Irish in London certainly love singing along and getting involved. They’re a great bunch of people.

“And I remember after the show the last time, we stayed awake half the night having a session down the road in a little pub. It was fantastic.

“We were dying to get back, so delighted to be returning.”

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Having started in 2001, Chris has now been performing his special tribute show for two whole decades. How does that feel? “It’s fantastic. The band is as strong as ever.

“Luke’s music will be living on through the next 20 million generations.

“I don’t think it’s music that’s going to go away and I’ve noticed there’s a lot of other bands kind of starting to take up the music.

“There’s a show in England called Seven Drunken Nights.

“And there’s another one in Dublin doing a tribute to the Dubliners.

“The music will definitely, certainly live on.”

When Chris Kavanagh started his tribute to the late Dubliners singer Luke Kelly in 2001, he could not have expected it would lead to him playing Dublin’s iconic venues of Vicar Street and the Olympia, touring with John Sheahan and the Dubliners and as far as Australia. His performance also gets the endorsement of Luke’s own family.

“It’s one surprise after another.  I felt like I won the musical lottery when John (Sheahan) asked me to go on tour with the Dubliners. We played for two weeks in Germany. Luke, in Germany, is a major icon, the German people absolutely adore him.

Chris joined The Dubliners on tour in 2011. Left to right: Eamonn Campbell, John Sheahan, Sean Cannon, Barney McKenna and Chris.

“And unfortunately then a few months later, poor Barney died and three years ago poor Eamonn Campbell died.

“I feel very lucky and blessed to have worked with them, you know?

Dubliners singer and founding member Luke Kelly passed away in 1984 at the age of 43. Known for his distinctive singing style and sometimes political messages, he continues to inspire generations of Irish singers.

“He certainly left his mark.

“There’s a lot of younger people at the shows.

“He’s an icon. America has their Elvis, Ireland has Luke. the songs he chose too, some of them are very touching and deep and it takes a certain type of singer to put those songs across and Luke had that in spades. He had a way of connecting people through songs.

“I think the music just goes from generation to generation, people that grew up with their mothers and fathers listening to the Dubliners.

“And that’s exactly the way it kind of got into my blood, every Sunday my grandmother put on the Dubliners’ records, and when I was only three, I was singing the songs.

“So I think it kind of affects everybody like that. There’s a magic about the music. A lot of younger singers now are kind of learning all these songs, and they’re gonna pass them forward too.

“It’s just wonderful that the Dubliners had such a long career span and there’s so much material there, especially Luke’s material. Nobody’s going to top it.

“I never got to meet Luke because I was only 14 when he died but I certainly would have been going to a lot of their concerts had he stayed around.

“But I suppose, having such a lovely friendship with his family, you kind of feel close to him anyway.

“I’ve noticed even on Facebook, they have groups of Luke Kelly fans with thousands and thousands of people that are posting photographs and footage and stuff that hadn’t been released and it’s great to see.”

Luke will be 38 years gone next month. Chris is planning a special concert to mark the event but the worrying new Covid variant throws that into some doubt.

“30th January will be his 38th anniversary and we’re playing in Vicar Street, as we do every year apart from the last year obviously because of COVID.

“We normally have Luke’s family getting up and performing with us, and the likes of John Sheahan.

“It’s always a very special night, it’s always a full house, so hopefully this year goes ahead.

“We don’t know, the way things are looking at the moment, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

“But certainly we’re looking forward to getting over to England next week.

“You have to get a COVID test by a private company and have a cert to show that you don’t have it before you get on the plane and the same coming back but it doesn’t matter, it’s still worth the hassle to get out and play to lovely people over in London.

“Some of the older generation that were at the last show were saying it kind of bought them back in time so that was lovely to hear too.”

Chris does not impersonate Luke but his voice does have a similar ragged style. Many have also commented on the resemblance.

Besides the endorsement of John Sheahan, the only remaining member of the definitive five member line-up of the Dubliners and the support of the Kelly family, Chris has received many accolades and compliments for keeping Luke’s music alive. Eamon Dunphy called the show, ‘a beautiful blast from our beautiful past.’ RTE’s Open House said, ‘you might find that you have to pinch yourself!’ while The Irish Times simply said it was ‘a must!’

Luke Kelly’s statues in Dublin have been vandalised numerous times. What’s this like for Chris to see his hero being disrespected so badly?

“I wouldn’t take it too personally.

“I think people probably have mental health issues or are just looking for something to do and looking for attention.

“Maybe they’re jealous of Luke Kelly’s legacy. I don’t know. I certainly felt for Luke’s family when it was happening.

“I think there’s something wrong with them in the ceann (head).

“I think they’re looking for someone to talk about what they’re doing and they’re just looking for attention.

“But I believe the last person that done it was caught, I don’t know what kind of what happened to him or what kind of punishment they gave, but it’s just really childish behaviour.

“I suppose that could happen to any statue really, or any monument, you know?”

Will Chris and The Legend be continuing for another 20 years? “I’ll give it a go. I’m getting a few grey hairs now. The beard is gone grey but I certainly will.”

The Legend of Luke Kelly is at the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith on Saturday 11 December.

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