10 May 2018

“Dad would have loved it, but it can still be so hard to think he’ll never hear me play,” says musician Jack Kelly.

“There are so many things I’d like to do and show him.”

Aged just 14 when his dad, John, died, Jack turned to making music to express the emotions that for many years, he kept bottled up.

He’s been influenced by the sounds of the Sixties that were his dad’s favourites, and the soundtrack to his life growing up.

“It’s a weird one,” he says. “I really enjoy writing songs, but I’ve never really talked to people about what I went through with my dad.

“For a quiet person, music is a really good outlet.”

Artwork by Jack KellyPicture: jackkellymusic.co.uk

Jack’s won an army of fans for his live shows and first album, The Carnival and has been among the hot new talent to feature on BBC Introducing.

The 27 year-old, is proud to say he writes “old-fashioned” songs, allowing listeners to hear every word of his beautiful lyrics over bittersweet guitar melodies. BBC Introducing describes it as a “rustic, timeless sound.”

“It’s just my guitar and me,” he says.

“A lot of people say that when I’m playing, you can hear a pin drop. My songs are quite personal to me, but people often say they identify with the lyrics – which is nice to hear.”

jack kelly featured on BBC IntroducingPicture: jackkellymusic.co.uk

Jack’s family had just come back from the holiday of a lifetime in Florida, when John was diagnosed with cancer in December 2004.

“It happened quite quickly,” he says. “It was just before Christmas that we found out, and he died in February.

Cancer can be so cruel

“When someone’s got cancer, you see disturbing things. He got really ill in such as short space of time and started to lose his memory.

"He’d have killed to see us grow up. He loved us so much and didn’t want to leave. Cancer can be so cruel.”

Jack Kelly, his brother and dad John A young Jack, left, and his older brother with their dear dad, John. Picture: jackkellymusic.co.uk

Jack adored his charismatic and loving dad: “He was the best,” he smiles.

“So funny, caring and lighthearted. He’d always have time to play football and joke around with me.”

John loved music and the traditional Irish Fields of Athenry was a favourite, while he would also play Bob Dylan and Beatles records, which Jack dismissed as “mum and dad” music at the time.

jack kelly's mum and dadHappy days - Jack's mum and dad. Picture: jackkellymusic.co.uk

Numbed with grief when John died, Jack’s world became a lot quieter and he repressed emotions too difficult to bear: “I completely blocked things out,” he says.

Yet as he grew older, he also felt guilty for having ‘good’ days.

“The happier I got as a person, the worse the grief hit me,” explains Jack, who missed his dad’s grounding influence, too.

“A kid looks to their father for guidance and you need a lot of it when you’re 14.”

old guitarPicture: Kari Shea on Unsplash

When Jack was 17, his much-loved grandad died. After the funeral, he spotted an old guitar in his grandad’s house. It was a puzzle – as he’d never heard his grandad play – and no-one else in the family was musical.

Asking his mum if he could keep the guitar, she joked: “Do you want to be the next John Lennon?”

“Who?” said Jack blankly.

He had a bit of a learning curve to conquer, to say the least.

Looking back, Jack reckons his mum could be in line for a sainthood, as he twanged and strummed his guitar, completely unaware of what a chord was.

Unable to afford guitar lessons, Jack bought a £5 teach-yourself book and practiced and practiced.

“I was truly, truly awful,” he laughs. “The amount my mum had to put up with!”

Then, going up into his mum’s loft one day, he found the old vinyl records she and John used to play. And for the first time, he really listened to them.

old vinylPicture:Wesley Gibbs on Unsplash

“I’m obsessed with it now,” he says of the Sixties music scene.

Jack’s been particularly influenced by Bob Dylan, who became a kind of mentor on vinyl, as he played and played. Eventually he felt competent enough to buy a brand new acoustic guitar.

“I started properly making music around five years ago, but only got good in the past two or three,” says Jack, whose favourite song on his album is the soulful Sing Your Blues.

I said turn away from the rain poor boy

Just turn, turn, turn away

Let the music take you away poor boy

And sing your blues.

“It’s about how music helped a really lost boy,” he smiles.

“I didn’t think much of it when I wrote it, I didn’t think much of it, but it’s grown on me.”

In fact, a playwright has even based a stage drama on another of his songs, Keep Flying With the Music.

Jack, who now runs marathons, says his lost-boy years saw him lose his direction and neglect his health during a difficult time in his life.

“Aged 18 or 20, there were things I could have processed a lot better,” he says.

“I even forgot about Dad for a bit – it was strange time. Now I think about him every day.

“I’ve let the feelings in.”