The Voice of civic pride

I don’t know if I’m typical, but I keep forgetting just how good Derry singers are until I hear them perform in the presence of mere mortals.

Anyone who watched The Voice on BBC1 last weekend will have an idea what I’m talking about. Ben Kelly’s rendition of Rocket Man was so strong that he had four of the planet’s biggest names vying to sign him up. If it had been a boxing match, the ref would have stopped the Rest of the World.

Kelly, however, modestly told the producers at The Voice that he was only “one of many” fine singers to emanate from the banks of the Foyle.

“They kept asking me on the show, where did you get the music from – is it your parents?” he said. “But I told them that I came from a community that was built on music – whether it’s in the shape of choirs, feiseanna or pantos. Derry has such a rich and diverse range of musical talents. You feel humble when you come back home – you realise you are one of many.”

Not content with singing his city’s credentials as a musical capital, the young Culmore man has also written an anthem for Derry’s City of Culture year – called, appropriately enough, Home.

“The song came to me out of nowhere,” he explained. “I’d been listening to a lot of Bruce Springsteen, who writes so well about his roots in songs such as My Home Town.

“I was conscious that, in Derry terms, anything I did would be in the shadow of The Town I Loved So Well, but I wanted to write about the new city. It’s been such a long gap since Phil Coulter wrote his song, and Derry is a very different place now. It’s an optimistic place, a place to be reckoned with; a place that has to be visited and experienced.”

Despite the fact he now lives in London, Derry still has a major influence on Kelly’s rocketing career. Former D:Ream front man Peter Cunnah, who hails from the city, is currently co-producing his demo alongside Kelly’s old schoolmate Ryan McGroarty.

“I love to work with people from Derry – there’s great camaraderie. I learned to play piano with Emma-Jane Kelly, my first cousin – and I studied music with Stephen Gallagher, a woodwind wizard, and with Mark Bradley at Lumen Christi.”

Kelly has the self-belief to go all the way to the top and is determined to get signed to a major label. But he’s realistic enough to know that there’s a lot of hard work on the way.

“I’ve a long way to go until I’m the polished article,” he says. “But I really think I have a shot. I also want to make sure that whenever I go into meet the major labels that they’re competing to get me – that I’m completely ready. And if it takes me the rest of the year, or more, to do it, I’ll do it.

The recording schedules for The Voice are such that Kelly won’t next appear on the programme again until April 20. And, yes, he could tell me the name of the song he’ll be performing then, but he’d have to kill me afterwards.

In the meantime, given my aversion to violence (inflicted on me), why not check out Kelly’s rendition of Home on YouTube?

It’s a song we’ll certainly be hearing more of in the days ahead.