The real voice of Ireland is back. After over four years of seeing the world and grappling with a ‘dark’ bout of creative uncertainty, Damien Dempsey returns to soothe the soul of a depressed nation...
Craig Fitzpatrick, 01 Nov 2012
If you’re in need of a pep talk, a stirring line or two to lift your head and raise your spirits, you could do worse than track down the gentle Dublin giant, Damien Dempsey. It’s 15 years since the Donaghmede man’s debut single ‘Dublin Town’, which set out the musical manifesto he’s championed ever since, and I’m wondering what he would tell his younger self if he had the chance. What wisdom he’d impart to a singer starting out, facing naysayers and a potential lifetime struggling for his art...
His brow furrows, as it often does; his hands clasp together, eyes downcast, searching for the truth. The Dubliner can take his time getting to an answer but when it arrives it is never less than unflinchingly honest. And then, gazing into the distance, he starts to murmur.
“Stay stubborn, Damo, just stay strong.” A nod as his voice gains certainty. “Fuck them all, don’t mind what they’re saying to you. The slagging and all. The abuse? One day you’ll be fucking laughing at them. They’ll be fucking sickened then. You’ll get to sing with all of your heroes. Your voice will improve, your songwriting will improve.”
A glance and a grin. “I think I was a late bloomer, y’know?”
Indeed, it wasn’t until 2003’s Seize The Day that Dempsey captured the heart of the island and took up the folk mantle once held by the likes of Luke Kelly and Ronnie Drew. Here was a singer with a voice that could both boom and simmer, a writer who knew the old standards off by heart and added his own tales of Celtic Tigers, overdoses and New York City to the canon, a man in the spotlight with real opinions on the state of the world. Shots followed in 2005, To Hell Or Barbados arrived after another two years and then... the songs seemed to stop.
During the past half a decade, there has been a covers album called The Rocky Road and even that was four years ago. As the country crumbled into the Irish Sea and the depths of recession, Damien Dempsey seemed oddly silent. The hangover after the good times, at the end of the party, didn’t seem to have a soundtrack.
“I was going in the wrong direction for a while, Craig, y’know?” he admits from his seat in the Gibson Hotel, backdropped by a panoramic view of Dublin’s Docklands. Partially complete, it now acts as a metaphor for both the renewal, confidence and wealth that the Celtic Tiger brought, and the subsequent collapse of the economy. Some of these structures didn’t even exist when Dempsey slipped out To Hell... For the longest time, as the days grew tougher on Irish shores, he just wanted to make people dance. Damo in ‘rave’ mode?