Photographer John JohnsonDamien Dempsey

The Picket, Jordan Street
31st October 2008

Reviewed by Sue Hunter

Damien Dempsey was supported by Ian Prowse and members of the group Amsterdam, who gave the evening a flying start with some good solid Celtic rock.

Coming from a Dublin working class background, Damien Dempsey has written songs about Irish life and history, and universal themes of everyday life, injustice and poverty. He was voted Best British Male and Best Traditional/Folk Singer at Ireland’s prestigious Meteor Awards.

His lyrics are infused with anger, passion and humour, all accompanied by his pounding guitar, which he plays ferociously. On the night other musicians playing flute, whistle, guitar, banjo and drums, added to the powerful music.

‘Sing All Our Cares Away’ was a poignant song about a family with all its heavy unexpressed problems, who get together and sing their hearts out: “we sing, sing all our cares away. We’ll live, to love another day, we grow strong, from it all, we grow strong or we fall.”

‘Colony’ started with the sufferings of Irish people colonised by the British, and built up to the murder and pillage of poor peoples all over the world by European nations. As he railed against the destruction of whole cultures by the greed and cruelty of Western ‘Christian’ empires, he insisted it was not the fault of ordinary people from these countries, who are also used and abused: “it’s a class thing, not a people thing!” At the climax of this song Damien repeated: “You’ll never kill our will to be free, to be free.”

“Patience” started with a thundering rap against the music industry pushing “McDonalds music”: “Corporations pumpin’ all this money into pop, to keep the real singers far away from the top: so folks are never told what these corporations do, fuckin’ up the planet, exploiting me and you.” Then he switched to a calmer, melodious voice calling for “patience, give me some of that patience, Lord, I will keep my eye on my goal…” Then back to the fierce shout…”I’m about to kick all your asses, stick your pink champagne and fuck your backstage passes, a warrior comin’ down the mountain at ya…”

Amongst overtly political songs like this were threaded joyful Irish jigs and songs of lyrical beauty.

Much of the audience knew all the words, sang along, and were obviously devoted fans. I could feel why. Damien Dempsey deals with all the big emotions and big stuff in life, and expresses what many cannot put into words. He has the gift of making people feel understood and loved. Although he did not pull any punches about the horrors of the times we live in, his music, words, honesty and humour inspired courage and confidence, an antidote to fear and pessimism.

Finally, the night was full of wild enjoyment, with a long generous encore and lots of people dancing their legs off.

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