Chris Kavanagh

As Luke would have it, Kelly legend lives on

Chris Kavanagh pays homage to Luke Kelly.

Chris Kavanagh pays homage to Luke Kelly.

The definitive Luke Kelly tribute act is on its way to Australia. 

Created and performed by Dubliner Chris Kavanagh, the show celebrates the talent and legacy of the iconic flame-haired singer and musician. 

When Kavanagh started his tribute show in 2001, he could not have expected it would lead to him playing iconic venues like Vicar Street and the Olympia or touring with John Sheahan and the Dubliners and playing gigs as far away as Australia. But his show is also endorsed by Kelly’s family. 

“It’s one surprise after another,” Chris told The Irish Echo. “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. 

“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.”

Having the support of Kelly’s family is important to Kavanagh.

“Luke’s family still come and see us all the time and Luke’s two brothers come up and sing with us. 

“They’re a lovely family and the talent is in the blood because they all sing. They love what we’re doing and they’re lovely people. I found out going away with the Dubliners, people have this idea that they’re wild men and I’m sure they were at one stage but they were pure gents when I was away with them, there was no mad behaviour.”

Kelly died 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. 

“Growing up every Sunday, my grandmother had the Dubliners on the record player when the dinner was on and it’s amazing how that music gets into your blood and stays there. I played all different kinds of music through the years but I think you go back to what you know best, I was singing those kind of songs when I was about three. I have returned home with the kind of music that I chose to sing and record,” Kavanagh said. Bringing Kelly’s music to a crowd far away from their home in Ireland provokes an overwhelming response, according to Kavanagh.

“I suppose it’s like a visit home for the Irish in Australia. 

“I remember the last time we were there, we were playing in the Enmore Theatre and it sold out but even the young people up the front, certain songs were stirring emotions; they were crying their eyes out. 

“I suppose when we play here at home, we take a lot for granted. It’s only when you go abroad and play that you see a completely different reaction, people really get into it and I suppose it is because they are away from home.

“It’s a great night out, especially that kind of music. Luke Kelly and the Dubliners, I suppose it’s music that even young people were brought up listening to when their parents were playing the tapes or CDs or records in the early days.” 

Luke Kelly died in 1984 at the age of 43. 

Luke Kelly died in 1984 at the age of 43. 

Besides the endorsement of 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 for keeping Kelly’s music alive. 

Broadcaster Eamon Dunphy said the show was “a beautiful blast from our beautiful past”. Kavanagh added: “I got one [a song] there recently off Shane Healy [songwriter of Johnny
Logan’s Eurovision winner What’s Another Year]. 

“We had him [Healy] do a spot at a gig and he grabbed the microphone … and he says: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is the best ballad singer in the country’. That was huge praise for me coming from him.”

Kavanagh said he does not try to impersonate Luke but his voice does have a similar ragged style. Many have also commented on the resemblance. 

He will be joined by his wife Hilary on bass and vocals and Joe Finn on uileann pipes.

“People shout out what they’re looking for and I love when they do because we don’t really use a set list as such, we just play the songs that we think should be next. A lot of people ask for Grace by Jim McCann or Seven Drunken Nights sung by Ronnie Drew. We’re always able to throw them in there if they’re called for.

“It does (make it a great night), especially if you haven’t played a song before. I love the challlenge, we’ve gotten away with murder up until now. Always up for a challenge. The audience love a bit of banter and craic and it brings them in.”

The Legend of Luke Kelly show kicks off a national tour at Anita’s Theatre in Thirroul on July 12. For complete dates and ticketing details, visit