Songs of home

Irish singer Enda Kenny, a guest at the fifth biennial Dunedin Celtic Arts Festival, explains to Shane Gilchrist the difference between a song and a tune.

Enda Kenny.
Enda Kenny.
Enda Kenny knows a bit about songs.

The Irish-born singer and guitarist, who has made Melbourne his home since 1987, has plenty of them, many of which describe various characters in his adoptive land. Songs, in Kenny's hands, are also stories.

And songs are not to be mistaken with tunes which, in the realms of Irish music at least, refer to instrumental jigs, reels and so forth, Kenny says.

Still, he enjoys both. On a week night, he sometimes pops along to a Melbourne bar where diehard instrumentalists tolerate him interrupting their often frenetic playing with an occasional ballad.

Having spent a decade or so juggling performance with a career working in public housing, Kenny returned to full-time music earlier this year and is completing his seventh studio album, Heart Tattoo with Wollongong fiddler Lindsay Martin.

''We've been itching to play the new songs and New Zealand audiences will get to hear them first,'' Kenny says of a forthcoming tour that includes a performance at Knox Church on Friday, a key event of the fifth biennial Dunedin Celtic Arts Festival.

Organised by The New Edinburgh Folk Club, the nine-day festival opens tomorrow with variety performances at the New Edinburgh Folk Club at the Pioneer Women's Hall and features a diverse range of workshops, art exhibitions, dance displays, theatre, academic lectures and ecumenical services, all of which celebrate some aspect of Dunedin's Celtic heritage.

Of note is the Globe Theatre's season of Shakespeare's Macbeth and a public lecture by Professor Peter Kuch, the Eamon Cleary Chair of Irish Studies at the University of Otago, titled ''The Irish and the Dunedin Stage in 1862''.

As well as the concert at Knox Church, the other feature event is the return of the Town Hall Ceilidh, a barn dance featuring dance callers and New Zealand's biggest ceilidh orchestra.

Kenny's long-time partner in music, Martin will also present a fiddle workshop at the North East Valley Baptist Church hall next Saturday at 10am.

Having met Martin at a folk music festival in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, 22 years ago, Kenny describes him as both a ''great mate'' and a fine musician.

''When you work with such lovely fiddle and mandolin, you can almost hear the instruments when you write a song. Lindsay also plays beautifully underneath the lines. He never gets in the way of the song.''

Lindsay Martin. Photos supplied.
Lindsay Martin. Photos supplied.
The Celtic Arts Festival performance will be the fourth time Kenny has played in Dunedin, a place he recalls with a mixture of affection and apprehension.

''This is my first visit to Dunedin for quite a few years. I love how you always turn the weather on for us. We flew down under the clouds from Christchurch to Whare Flat a few years back and I still remember busking in minus-eight degrees in the Octagon, with my fingerless gloves on.

''Dunedin was the coldest place I have ever played. It makes me fear Invercargill. But I love coming over. New Zealand is so strikingly different to here. New Zealand audiences are great listeners but are also good at joining in,'' Kenny (53) says via phone from Melbourne.

Possessing a strong Irish accent seemingly barely affected by decades away from his homeland, Kenny says that although he's happy to acknowledge where he comes from, he prefers to sing and write about where he lives rather than where he left. Indeed, one of his songs, Streets of Joyce, includes the lyric, ''home is where you make it''.

''That's says it in a line, really. Going back to Dublin, it's not the city I grew up in as a kid. It's been sandblasted to within an inch of its life. For a lot of my generation, it was a case of getting overseas as quick as you could.

''I come from a very proud tradition of Irish music. I grew up with it all around me in Dublin. But there is a strong Australian element to what I do,'' Kenny says.

''I have lived more of my life here than in Ireland. But it's an interesting perspective ... when I visit my family in Dublin and Galway, they are really interested in hearing stories of Irish emigration.

''For me, the best song subject matter comes from when I talk to people and get their stories. Some people are quite happy to just sit around a campfire and sing, but it's another matter entirely to sing them on stage, to get the story across when you are out on the road.''

See them, hear them
Enda Kenny and Lindsay Martin will perform at Knox Church on Friday (8pm) as part of the fifth biennial Dunedin Celtic Arts Festival.

Martin will also present a fiddle workshop at the North East Valley Baptist Church hall next Saturday at 10am.

For more information on the Dunedin Celtic Arts Festival, visit:

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