Dermot Kennedy recently told an American website that he didn’t relish being the centre of attention. But there is little indication of big night jitters as the Dubliner delivers an emotive headline performance at the end of day one of Electric Picnic.
Kennedy, a former busker who splices acoustic pop with hip hop beats and dependable boyfriend vibes, comes across as thumpingly at home on the main stage (no surprise, given he already graced it in 2019). And with a chill descending on Stradbally, he does his best to warm the crowd with a set that draws on the cracked-throat emotion that is his trademark.
A boy-next-door type with an ear for a singalong, Kennedy has inevitably been compared to Ed Sheeran. But it is more accurate to place him in the tradition of heartfelt Celtic rockers such as Damien Rice, Hozier and Snow Patrol (who play the same stage on Sunday).
He could certainly never be accused of hiding his feelings. Better Days, the lead single from forthcoming second album, Yonder, booms out as a celebration of togetherness and optimism. With storm clouds gathering — literally, if the forecast is to be believed — it lands as the perfect post-pandemic pick-me-up. Soul-baring is likewise the register of Power Over Me, a big-hearted valentine that surfs fraught lyrics (“Everything I hold dear resides in those eyes/You got that power over me”) and a melody that falls and rises like a log canoe in a deluge.
“How are ya?” he declares humbly early in the evening. “I don’t know what to say. I absolutely definitely don’t know what ti say ...” It would be a mistake to think of Kennedy simply as another troubadour tumbling off the production line. Having come of age in the streaming era, his music has a magpie quality, with Coldplay’s anthemic instincts, open mic balladry and R’n’B all stirred through.
If he has anything in common with Sheeran it is that willingness to draw from many genres at once (the other is, of course, that both have graced the Late Late Toy Show). And so, while he sings in his own Rathcoole accent, that croon arrives with a chart-friendly gloss. This confirms that his music is intended not for a darkened folk club but to echo out from the rooftops — or the main stage at Stradbally, where some 70,000 are set to descend over the weekend.
This year’s headliners also include Arctic Monkeys and Megan Thee Stallion. Those artists arrive with big reputations and a lot of roof-raising hits. Kennedy, sporting an incongruous 1970s dad moustache, is different in that his music seeks to connect at an intimate level rather than blow the listener away. It all goes down a teary, chugging treat.
And as a mass singalong breaks out during Giants, there is confirmation that Kennedy is a confessional superstar with that crucial common touch.