Hitmaker Eliot Kennedy reflects on golden career ahead of star-studded 50th birthday charity gig

It was always Eliot Kennedy’s ambition to have a number one hit by the time he was 25.

By Ann Chadwick
Thursday, 28 March, 2019, 13:41
Eliot Kennedy celebrating 50th birthday with star studded golden hits concert

On his 25th birthday, the stars must have literally aligned. His song, Everything Changes with the young boy band Take That hit the number one slot.

“It makes it that little more special,” he said.

Twenty five years later, turning 50 on Friday, March 29, Eliot is marking his half century by inviting some of his famous friends including Gary Barlow, S Club 7 and Alfie Boe, for a charity concert in his hometown.

BUY TICKETS: Tickets are now limited for the Eliot Kennedy: 50th Birthday concert in aid of #ChallengeDerbyshire, featuring Gary Barlow, Alfie Boe, S Club 7, Heather Small and more at at Sheffield City Hall, on Friday, March 29, 2019. Call the Box office on 0114 2789 789 or visit www.sheffieldcityhall.co.ukIt’s remarkable that the boy who went to Dinnington High School in Rotherham, where he started his first band at school, ended up winning a Grammy, an Ivor Novello and performing (twice) at The Oscars.

“My dad was a singer in Australia, he was a cabaret singer, [the family emigrated to Sheffield] so it was just the standards I grew up learning – these classic old songs from Elvis to country music. I could listen to dad and play the melodies on a keyboard, I wasn’t taught. I developed an interest and understanding of music, through just watching my dad perform.”

Never forgetting his roots growing up in Sheffield, Eliot regularly hosts charity concerts in south Yorkshire, one even at his old school, complete with video messages to the audience in the ordinary assembly hall from Donny Osmond and Bryan Adams.

Eliot and best friend Gary Barlow who will be headlining the bill at his 50th birthday bash

“Performing at my old school and giving my old head teacher a platinum Spice Girls disc, was a way of saying without you this wouldn’t have happened. That’s my motivation. Being able to go back and see my old mates. That’s why this 50th concert is going to be wonderful because it’s going to be full of people who I know and love and want to celebrate my birthday with me. These are the gigs that I get to do that are just joyous, there’s no real pressure as an artist, I just go and tell stories and have fun.”

After his first number one hit, his career as songwriter to the stars, took off. He convinced Sony, who he just signed to, to help him buy his parent’s house so he could set up a home studio (they moved to a bungalow).

“Out of that studio I developed 911 and the Spice Girls. So it turned out to be the most significant point in my life, I was able to work all day every day in my own home, I lived on my own, and just really get an understanding of what I needed to do as a songwriter and producer. That stood me in good stead.”

The Spice Girls drove to Sheffield to find him, and ended up crashing at his house while they wrote songs together. Say You’ll Be There was his first global smash.

Challenge Derbyshire end of life care hospices to benefit from birthday charity gig

“Once the Spice Girls move into your house with you, you very quickly run out of space, and I felt that I needed a bigger studio, which is when I started Steelworks in Sheffield with two other artists,” he said.

What followed was hit after hit with the likes of S Club 7, Five, Billie Piper, and Boyzone.

Then he got a call in the supermarket from Bryan Adams, as you do, and the earth shifted again to line up a starry fate. “The funny thing is I’d gone to see Bryan the night before in Sheffield Arena, just because I was a fan.” Bryan was down the road in Manchester and invited him for a cuppa. Once Eliot realised it was really, actually him, he abandoned his trolley and jumped in his car.

They wrote the smash, (Baby) When You’re Gone, featuring Mel C on vocals.

Alfie Boe

“It’s interesting after knowing Bryan as long as I do now, 20 odd years, I remember him saying to me, El when you came in to the room in Manchester and we sat and had a cup of tea, when you walked out I thought to myself that’s a multi-million dollar meeting. I said did you really? He said I swear, I thought to myself, this guy! We’re going to write some songs together. And you know what, we did. We wrote a massive Celine Dion song together, the title of her album Let’s Talk About Love, that did 33m albums. We did the Aretha Franklin and Mary J Blige song that won a Grammy, alongside the hits we had together. We worked with Hans Zimmer together on an animated movie – it has been an incredible relationship. When You’re Gone and Bryan was a very significant time of my life, no doubt.”

Eliot has a knack of writing songs that are just too catchy; check out the Mark Owen single he co-wrote with Barlow, Four Minute Warning, when Take That were going through their separation phase. Like his music, Eliot is a positive life force.

His friend ‘Gaz’ hit rock bottom in his much publicised depression after Take That split, but Eliot played a crucial role turning him around. He ‘dragged’ him back into making songs, and moved down to his Cheshire studio to set up a production company. They wrote three albums for boy-band Blue, and the hits began to roll again.

Then the tables turned, Barlow was back. Something Eliot felt ‘proud’ about, but he suddenly found himself without his song-writing partner.

“Once Take That started again and we moved back to London, I was like, shit I’m back in the trenches again. It was a very odd time for me, I had a weird five years maybe before eventually I decided I couldn’t live in London anymore, and bought back the Steelworks from my old partners and moved back to Sheffield.”

Sheffield was salvation. He could ‘function’ in the north, where people ‘treat you as you treat them’.

Andy Abraham

“It felt like a rebirth, of going back home where I know I’m safe, in a studio I love and where I’ve had hits in and getting back into that zone and creating and developing artists, which is what I’ve always loved. And that’s what I’ve done since, so it’s been a fantastic albeit hard ten years of work since moving back to the studio and developing artists again.”

Going by his past record, his artists will be ones to watch. Two names he’s launching this year are Newcastle lad with his high energy pop, Will Jennison, and South Yorkshire’s answer to Ariana Grande, Charlotte Hannah.

Eliot’s renaissance also included living on and off in Hong Kong for an international music project that spanned the Far East, a spell as a Talent Developer on the X-Factor (where he mentored Little Mix, who won), a trip around the Commonwealth with Barlow to record the hit Queen’s Jubilee song, Sing, a stint in Afghanistan to entertain the troops with Gary (made into an ITV documentary), and the start of a new creative challenge: Broadway, baby.

Gary and Eliot wrote the musicals Finding Neverland, Around the World in 80 Days and, with Tim Firth, Calendar Girls. He’s currently writing another Broadway musical, inspired by New York. If you can make it there, Eliot proves you can make it anywhere, but particularly in Sheffield. “We’ve got a lot of great things happening,” he said. From performing at The Oscars back to Sheffield Town Hall.

All money raised at his 50th gig goes to #ChallengeDerbyshire which supports three hospices.

“I’ve always said, I consider a music to be the way in, the back stage pass to everybody’s soul, so if you can actually do something positive, rather than just ask them to donate money, but give them something they love like music, while you’re doing that you’ve got this access to their humanity, you can actually do incredible things with that. If it means that we can gather people in a room prepared to listen to me tell stories and sing songs and the result can raise enough money that is going to change someone’s life, why on earth wouldn’t I do that? There’s nothing but joy in it.”

Kenny Thomas