'Damien Dempsey Gives Me Hope' Graffiti up by Busaras
Howth Junction could take you away
And in the hayfields we’d squander the day
And from the corner of Holywell road.
See the sunset over Saint Donaghs,
See the sunset over us all,
See the sunset over Saint Donaghs.
I’ve seen Damien Dempsey a number of times now, the first time at a free summer concert in Farmleigh, in 2007. Of course, being Ireland, it bucketed down the whole time. The massive crowd that assembled to see Dempsey knew each and every word, sporadically burst into ‘THE NORTHSIDE!’ in song and, once he left the stage- took off home. Seeing as Dempsey lists Morrissey amongst his celebrity fans, the adoring nature of his fans seemed more than fitting.
Fresh from touring internationally, Dempsey has taken to an off the cuff tour of Dublin, taking in mainly community centres in ordinary parts of Dublin that don’t see chart-toppers roll through too often. Amongst these shows are Blanchardstown, Ballymun, Tallaght and others. They are ’solo’ shows, although a friend or two assist along the way. They are all a long way from supporting U2 in Croke Park to say the least.
I remember seeing Damien Dempsey open for Willie Nelson in the old Point, and cringing my way through it all. Dempsey wasn’t bad on the night, not by a long shot. I remember he was giving his normal talk before bursting into ‘Colony’, a song about global imperialist history. He began by dedicating the song to the people of Palestine, Afghanistan,Iraq and other war ravaged parts of the world, and told the audience that war is always carried out by the ruling class. It wasn’t the setting really, and the shameless Willie Nelson ‘BUY TWO T-SHIRTS AND A THIRD ONE FOR A RELATIVE’ tour machine was so loud he could hardly be heard over it.
These shows however, are completely different affairs. Opening up with Negative Vibes, the sing song nature of the night is clear straight away. He has the audience (seemingly well oiled, thanks to the bar thats part of the community venue) right in his hand, and its now obvious to me the Farmleigh experience was a pretty standard Dempsey concert. The audience are right in this. Sing All Our Cares Away continues the pattern. Dempsey can almost leave the chorus to his audience.
He tells the crowd this is his first headlining gig in Tallaght, and his only performance before was between two boybands in a youth talent show in the (clearly not actually a Square) shopping centre across the road from us. The Northside/Southside banter from the crowd brings every comedian in the place to his vocal best, and it takes a few minutes until things get back on course.
Colony hits the place like a bag of bricks.
Katie she came from down Townsend street
Ten in a bed and no shoes on their feet
They played The Patriot Game
Dempseys microphone cuts out, but you wouldn’t even notice. The audience know every word.
Dempseys latest effort, The Rocky Road,was an effort to take traditional classics and bring them to a new audience. As he remarked in numerous interviews at the time of the albums launch, many of these songs are punker/dirtier and more aggresive or the opposite than anything recorded today. Over the course of the night The Rocky Road To Dublin, Schooldays Over, Kelly The Boy From Killane, A Rainy Night In Soho and The Night Visiting Song get a go. The amount of young faces singing along indicates that the albums aim was a success. That, or to many young Dubs, these songs are already known word for word.
A new song, dealing with the feelings of a young solder trapped serving in Iraq and the horrors of war is performed too, with Dempsey remarking that ‘War is the rich mans terrorism’. Dempsey can get his politics across in a way that is not annoyingly forced or pointlessly tokenistic. The fact his musical catalogue deals mainly with working class Dublin youth means that unlike a few characters he may have shared a stage with at the o2, people are willing to listen. The song goes down a treat.
Its almost 11PM when Dempsey wraps up, joking that he’s offering people the chance to make the short-run to the bar. The lyrical development of Dempsey is obvious, in fact the first time I heard Dempsey about 3 years back I remember being quite on the fence. He’s come a long, long way.
He ends on Patience. Once more, the audience sing every word back to him. The energy in the room is fantastic. When people spill out into the carpark, or in some cases back into the bar, the talk of the town is the strength of the performance just seen. The tour of Dublin continues over the next few days, and then- it’s back to larger venues no doubt for Damien Dempsey. There’s no paddywhackery with Dempsey, just Dublin spirit.
Sadly, Eoghan Harris is a fan too.
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