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“Blues is quite a deep genre of music. That’s one of the reasons why we wanted to create the blues album, because we could talk about our beliefs and it wouldn’t seem out of place.”
The Simon Kennedy Band, on the back of the success of its debut album, Make Up Your Mind, is making fans of blues music sit up and take notice. Solas recently caught up for a chat with two members of the band, Scotsman Simon Kennedy and Polish-born Mirek Hodun
Solas: The Simon Kennedy Band, how long has that been on the go?
Simon: Well, the project has probably been about two years and the album has taken all that time.
Solas: How has the album been doing? I saw a tweet from you that it had made it into the mainstream British blues chart?
Simon: Yes, it’s been in there. There’s also the British Blues Broadcasters Association and they vote for an album of the month. They voted for us, which was great, and then the album made it into the top 10 of their chart as well. It’s been good from a secular perspective - lots of good reviews in magazines - and it’s been good from the Christian perspective as well. We’re getting 10 out of 10 from some magazines.
Solas: What intrigues me about the album is that it is a real band. Simon, you’re a superb guitarist and Mirek, you’re a superb good keyboard player, but you’ve got a brass section too.
Simon: We decided right from the start that if this was to be the only album that we made, then we were going to go all out. So we decided to have a brass section and I think it’s really added something to the album.
Solas: You’re not exactly singing scripture on the album but the Christian themes come through phenomenally. Were you worried about doing that?
Simon: I was worried about getting it right. I knew that was the path that we had to go down. I wanted to create an album that would cross over; where the music would be good but also the message would be there as well - we wanted to have the balance. The only thing I was worried about was trying to get that message across in a way that wasn’t “preachy” as such. I wanted something that I could give to friends and family that still had the message there but wasn’t in your face; that would maybe start conversations. And I’ve heard that so far that’s what’s been happening.
Solas: Maybe you won’t like the comparison, but it reminds me a little of early U2, where I think three members of the band were Christians and one wasn’t. They would stand up at their concerts and sing Psalm 40. Their Christianity came through in things like The Joshua Tree and albums like that, and I think your Christianity comes through and I think it’s worked. Mirek, I wasn’t assuming that all the band members are Christians, but you are?
Mirek: Yes, I’ve been a Christian since I was 14 or 15. I’ve had different experiences since then but I would say I committed my life to God at that time.
Solas: And can you tell us a little about your background?
Well, for a start I come from Poland, but I’ve been living in Scotland for about eight years now. I grew up in a musical family and I’m excited about music, about playing. It’s my thing; it is in my soul. My whole family are musicians - most of them are either professional musicians or self-taught musicians so I was very lucky to be surrounded by all of them. I have learned different instruments over the years but my main instruments are the organ and piano.
Solas: Blues is a genre in which I have heard the organ used, but you feature it quite a lot in the band; it’s quite a key instrument for you.
Mirek: Yes, but I think specifically in blues music and the kind of music that we do, it’s very hard to say that one instrument is more important than any other. As a band, we are all together making something that sounds good.
Solas: What about you, Simon, where are you from?
Simon: I was born and bred in Dundee, Scotland. I grew up in Coldside, which is in central Dundee, and I’ve been here all my life.
Solas: And you’re a blues guitarist, that’s how you would describe yourself?
Simon: Yeah, that’s where my musical tastes lie. I have always felt I have been drawn back to blues music. My dad’s collection of music has had a big influence on me. He’s a child of the ‘60s; he grew up through all of that so he has this huge collection of vinyl and I would always run through it and try to get influences from there. Hearing Cream, hearing Hendrix, those sort of guys, but then when the Eric Clapton Unplugged album came out, that’s when I really started to get into blues music.
Solas: Blues is really popular in Europe. Why do you think that is?
Simon: Blues, unlike, say, pop, is quite a deep genre of music. You can talk and sing about anything. You can talk about being happy, being sad, losing your wife, someone dying, getting married. You can talk about anything and all the themes are universal. I think people can relate to it. That’s one of the reasons why we wanted to create the blues album, because then we could talk about faith, we could talk about our beliefs and it wouldn’t seem out of place compared to if we’d done a pop song.
Solas: Is blues music popular in Poland, Mirek?
Mirek: Yes, definitely. I love blues music because, in terms of how you play it, how you perform, it’s very flexible. There’s a lot of freedom in it. Pop music is very structured; you’ve got the verse, you’ve got the chorus, you’ve got a specific part to play, and once you’ve recorded it you have to repeat it exactly the same way every time.
Solas: In the music world there are some aspects of lifestyle that can be really difficult for Christians. How have you been able to cope with that, because both of you are full-time musicians. Have you felt that you’ve had to make compromises, or at least been tempted to?
Simon: There are elements that come along every now and again, where you have to stand back and assess how you are going to deal with it. For example, within a function [weddings, parties, etc.] band, now that the law has changed in the UK to allow same-sex marriage, do we take those [wedding] gigs? Are we endorsing what they are doing by playing and celebrating with them? Also, if you’re going to be a professional musician you have to play in pubs and bars. People are drinking, people are doing whatever, so are we endorsing what they are doing? There is that whole element that you are providing a service, but are you providing a service that encourages people to get into things they shouldn’t?
Solas: What about people who feel that to make it in the music business they have to be so committed that other things – like family or church - get pushed aside? Is that a temptation?
Mirek: I think that as Christians we should be open people and that’s one of the main things we should understand, that we are for people - we shouldn’t be separated from people. We need to understand that the people that surround us, they see our lives, what we do and how we deal with others. And that says a lot, sometimes more than words.
Solas: Simon, you’ve got a young family. How do you achieve this work/life/family/church balance?
Simon: It is difficult because being a musician is not a 9-to-5 job. You’re working weekends where you’re coming home at three or four in the morning, so it does eat into family time. You have to be disciplined and make sure that you are giving time to your family and the things that are a priority in your life, things that should be cultivated and taken care of. It can be difficult, but no more difficult than anybody else who is a professional.
Solas: We started this interview talking about the album and that’s where I’d like to finish. So tell us, across Europe, where can people get the album?
Simon: They can go to our website and get it from there. It’s also available to download on iTunes and Amazon.
To watch a video of the interview with Simon and Mirek, go to solas-cpc.org
This article was first published in Solas magazine. Solas is published quarterly in the U.K. Click here to learn more or subscribe.