When the Kelly Family rose to become a pop phenomenon in the 1990s, they anchored in a houseboat in Cologne. Actually, the ship was already in the museum – now the Kellys have surprisingly put it back on the water.
The way up to the former place of longing for thousands of teenagers is rather unadorned and dented. A caretaker gray ladder leans on the ship “Sean o’Kelley”, which is in a port in Cologne.
As an uninformed person, one is definitely tempted to look for another – somewhat less shaky – approach. Patricia Kelly, however, does not accept such concerns. «This is actually the start! Welcome to boating!” she says. “Come on, I’ll show you how to climb in there.” But she also warns: “You have to be careful.”
A legendary place
Patricia Kelly knows the boat, which is painted sky blue and comfortably furnished inside, well, because she lived on it. The “Sean o’Kelley” is the houseboat of the Kelly Family, which anchored in Cologne in the nineties and was considered the home of the family band when the big breakthrough came. Fans would come from far and wide to catch a glimpse of Paddy, Angelo, Patricia, John and all the others; the Cologne police are said to have received various missing person reports from concerned parents. In 1995 a three meter high wall was built. In 1998 the clan finally bought a moated castle near Bonn. In terms of pop culture, the houseboat remained a legendary place.
After a few ups and downs, not only is the Kelly Family on the road again – in 2017 they celebrated a comeback as a band – but surprisingly also the ship, which actually got a dignified place in the Technik Museum Speyer in 2004 and was therefore considered more or less decommissioned . A few weeks ago, the Kelly Family launched it again and brought it to the old anchorage in Cologne.
The reason: the band is working on a new album (autumn) and a new tour (autumn/winter). “It will be a family program,” says Patricia Kelly. “After this Corona period, we’re a bit like animals that were kept in a cage and are now allowed out again.” In addition, the Kellys are shooting a documentary series in which they travel to important career stations – including “Sean o’Kelley”. RTLzwei wants to broadcast it later this year.
The houseboat grounds the family
One could now consider the boat visit to be a somewhat constructed idea in order to shoot good TV pictures and feed the currently popular 90s nostalgia. But you can also see it as an interesting experiment in which a band, about which there are many stories, is confronted with its own history. For the Kellys themselves, the ship is: Inspiration.
“The idea is that we travel back to our roots,” says Kathy Kelly. “We instinctively sing the songs that shaped us in the past. The feeling comes back.” A “completely new team spirit” is created. John Kelly puts it this way: “I think for some it’s a bit of therapy when we revisit the places that shaped us.”
On this day in April, Kathy, Patricia, John, Joey and Paul are on board the ship. Jimmy is also said to be on the tour. Patricia in particular reminisces. She climbs up into the cab. “Dad used to sleep here all the time. He loved looking out.” Head of the family Dan Kelly, who died in 2002, once forged a band from his extended family on a kind of odyssey and guided them through pedestrian zones to stadium stages and countless “Bravo” covers. “He ruled the whole empire from this control room, let me put it that way,” says Patricia Kelly.
One floor below she peers into her old cabin. “Dad meant well with the girls, you have to say that. It was very classic there,” she says. They would always have gotten the best cabins. “The boys had to see how they got along.” A room away is an oven. “I cooked here every day,” reports Patricia. “Like bean soup.”
They were derided as a hippie family
It is not easy to decipher how many members of the large clan really lived at the same time on the 34 meter long and 6.30 meter wide ship, which the family renovated themselves after purchasing it in the late 1980s. Joey Kelly, for example, says he lived more on land, for example in caravans. “Everything important happened on the boat.” Here – in the rather inconspicuous port of Mülheim – the meetings were held, and visitors also came. He remembers Thomas Gottschalk, for example. “If you wanted to do business with the Kellys, you had to come here.”
The Kelly Family was considered a music phenomenon at the time. With the houseboat, hippie dress and soulful music, it was an alternative to the cold techno that was in fashion at the time. But that also polarized. Joking about the Kellys’ flea-market robes and long hair was part of the basics of a popular comedian. In addition, there was a constant supply of somewhat bizarre tabloid stories. For example, how the then Cologne district president Franz-Josef Antwerpes – a name like a thunder – with “Cologne’s most famous houseboat family” put on. The trigger was the question of whether the then 14-year-old Angelo was able to attend compulsory schooling.
On the ship, however, other memories come up first. «I once trained for a triathlon and swam here in the Rhine in a wetsuit. Up and down,” says Patricia. There was also flooding – a high-ranking record boss paddled a boat to the Kelly Kahn at the time because he wanted to sign a contract with father Dan. “The time on the ship was one of the best times of my life,” she says.
One could say that the «Sean o’Kelley» is itself a treasure today. It was a little different back then: the treasures were stored below deck. “When we played in the street, I walked around with the basket,” says Joey. The money collected was then stored in the hold, mostly in old postal boxes. It was real mountains. ‘It was piling up because it took some work to get the coins to the bank. They all had to be rolled beforehand,” he says. “But we often didn’t have time for that.”