Damien Dempsey announces new album

Damien Dempsey

Damien Dempsey’s debut album in 2000, They Don’t Teach This Shit In School, set him apart as a unique and important voice, championed from an early stage in his career by Sinéad O’Connor. The follow-up, Seize The Day, marked the beginning of his relationship with producer John Reynolds, picking up many awards and leading to extensive international tours. Commercial and critical success continued with the release of the No. 1 album, Shots (2005), backed by Brian Eno, and To Hell Or Barbados (2007), which debuted at No.2 in the Irish charts.

An award-winning artist in his home country of Ireland – he has several prestigious Irish Meteor Awards to his name including Best Irish Male and Best Traditional Folk Award – and seventeen years into an astonishing career, Damien Dempsey releases his seventh studio album, Soulsun, possibly his most exciting work to date.

The record features a stellar cast of female guest vocalists, referred to in the sleeve notes as ‘the mighty Celtic Warrior High Queens’. Dido joins Damien on a tender love song, ‘Beside The Sea’ and fellow Dubliner, Imelda May, appears on ‘Big Big Love’, an anthemic mid-tempo rock love song, showing a bolder, more contemporary sound that Dempsey explores on the album. Finally, ‘Pretty Bird Tree’ features Dingle singer Pauline Scanlon, a regular collaborator over the years.

Soulsun was recorded with long-term producer and collaborator, John Reynolds in north London. Damien lived in the English capital for months, immersing himself in writing songs and soaking up inspiration from London’s rich tapestry of all human life.

‘This might sound strange but London is a real retreat for me” he explains. “I don’t know too many people in London, so I don’t go out raving or partying. When I go to the pub, it will usually be somewhere around Kilburn, sitting on my own with a notebook.”

The striking cover art was created by renowned Dublin graphic artist Maser, who Dempsey worked with on large-scale mural works and the title track is accompanied by a colourful and life-affirming video directed by legendary rock photographer Steve Gullick, who has shot iconic images of Nirvana, Beck and Nick Cave over the years.

Amidst all the plaudits Damien Demsey has won over the years, one of the most notable is contained in Morrissey’s Autobiography where he describes Dempsey performing at a session in Dublin’s Four Seasons Hotel : ‘Damien captivates and enchants with all the love of one blessed and unselfish’ Morrissey writes, ‘I see myself crying at his funeral, missing him already.’

‘I’m not sure exactly what I did to deserve such praise,’ Dempsey says. ‘I had absolutely no idea I was in it until the book was published, but it’s nice to be appreciated by such an incredible artist and writer who’s unquestionably an absolute genius …. When you think of something like that, it can really help if I’m getting a bad time off someone.”

Perseverance and not allowing oneself to be consumed by negativity are consistent themes of Dempsey’s songwriting. At the beginning of his career, he said that making music was about saving his own life ….. healing himself. These themes are even more pertinent in 2017

“There’s music for everything; getting up and dancing having a good time, music to think deeply to…you name it, absolutely everything under the sun. There’s music for all situations, but my music is about healing and hope”.

Artist’s website: http://damiendempsey.com


Big MachineFrom her debut solo album back in 1996, Carthy has never been predictable in her constant determination to both celebrate and reinvent the folk tradition and, while that may not have always endeared her to purists, it has produced a remarkable – and sometimes challenging – back catalogue. Her latest is no exception, here working with the big-band set up on her festival appearances, a 12-piece line –up that includes, among others, Beth Porter on cello, melodeonist Saul Rose, Mawkin’s David Delarre on guitar, bassist Barnaby Stradling from Blowzabella and former Bellowhead fiddler Sam Sweeney.

Aptly titled to reflect the sound, Carthy appearing on the front cover like some kind of folk Boudica leading her tooled-up army into battle, the material follows a similar pattern of self-penned originals, traditional reworks and covers, kicking off with a strident metronomic rhythm arrangement of one of ‘Fade & Fall (Love Not)’ complete with plucked cello and soaring brassy flourishes. It’s one of three Manchester Ballads, the others being equally strident shanty ‘The Sea’ with its martial beat and sweeping fiddle and, introduced with a cosmic keyboards whoosh, stumbling domestic violence number ‘Devil in the Woman’ with its repeated refrain chant ‘charming little woman”.

Staying in the traditional arena, the album’s longest and arguably most striking number sees her joined by Damien Dempsey for the eight-minute ‘I Wish That The Wars Were All Over’ (performed live onstage in the studio), a Roud ballad sung from the perspective of a soldier’s love, stemming from the American Revolution and referencing the Seven Years War, collected by the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould, from Dartmoor miner Sam Fone. Featuring a tinkling repeated piano pattern, melodeon, fiddle it has Carthy in tender vocal form, counterpointed by Dempsey’s keening longing. Interestingly, it has also been recorded by American folk artist Tim Eriksen with whom she made 2015’s Bottle album.

Ewan MacColl’s cabaret-like lurching shanty ‘The Fitter’s Song’ provides the title source, the melody a variation on ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’, with the third cover seeing her joined by the scion of another folk family dynasty, Teddy Thompson lending his voice to a rousing gospel-blues shaded treatment of Rory McLeod’s ‘Hug You Like A Mountain’ providing a showcase fiddle spotlight.

The remaining numbers are all Carthy originals, indeed the whale-themed shanty ‘Great Grey Back’ is a new treatment of a song that originally featured on Wayward Daughter, here with massed vocal backing rather than just one voice. One is an instrumental, the rousing part vocalised but wordless ‘Jack Warrell’s (Exerpt) – Love Lane’, while, another big sound, ‘Mrs. Dyer the Baby Farmer’, with its fiddle lament intro, is essentially a murder ballad concerning Victorian serial killer Amelia Elizabeth Dyer who took in babies that were unwanted or could not be cared for, ostensibly to be adopted, and despatched them to Jesus. ‘Epitaph’ closes the album on another murder ballad, here a cabaret-like tale of death by custard poisoning, Willy Molleson providing the thundering drums. The remaining track again underlines Carthy’s willingness and thirst to experiment and push the folk envelope, ‘You Know Me’ a commentary on hospitality and the refugee crisis (“the door is always open and the fires are blazing, no one ever turned away, the fruit in our garden is always good”) that, with a scratch intro and set against a dub-styled rhythm, features a rap by MC Dizraeli. Arguably her best work since 2008’s Dreams of Breathing Underwater, it further confirms her as one of the fiercest and most striking voices in contemporary folk music.

The album also comes as a deluxe edition that includes ‘Aleppo in the Sun As It Was’ from last year’s English Electric EP as well as the demo of ‘The Fitter’s Song’ and five extra tracks, including both a fiddle and vocal version of ‘Three Day Millionaire’.

Mike Davies

Artist website: www.eliza-carthy.com

‘Fade And Fall (Love Not)’ – official video:


PAULINE SCANLON – Gossamer (own label)

GossamerIt doesn’t happen so much in England but there were singers, such as Gordon Hall, who considered that the only criterion for singing a song was “is it a good song?”.  The Irish seem to have stuck by that tenet which goes some way to explaining Pauline Scanlon’s album, Gossamer. Pauline has been featured vocalist with Sharon Shannon’s band as well as a soloist but this album seems to be the apotheosis of the blend of old and new.

The set opens with ‘The Poorest Company’ by John McCusker, Roddy Woomble and Kris Drever and epitomises the album’s approach. If you didn’t know better you might place it any time in the last couple of centuries although the setting is modern as are all the arrangements here. Next is the Scottish traditional ‘False False’ and ‘The Old Churchyard’, a hymn that may, in this version at least, originate in Arkansas. The title of the album begins to make sense now: the false love and the departed spirits are both intangibles.

Pauline now switches back to contemporary writers. L J Hill’s ‘Pretty Bird Tree’ is new to me but Leonard Cohen’s ‘Joan Of Arc’ – a superb version – is very familiar. There are songs from Lucy Kaplansky and James Keelaghan before Pauline returns to the tradition. I found ‘I Wonder What’s Keeping My Love This Night?’ a bit overdone but the story of Waterloo has a suitably military texture. That said, I would have been happier if ‘The Lover’s Ghost’ had been throttled back a bit.

Pauline has a fine band including producer John Reynolds, Donal O’Connor and Tim Edey. The powerful voice of Damien Dempsey duets on ‘Pretty Bird Tree’, making this one of the record’s strongest tracks. I have a couple of reservations as you can tell but this is an album that delivers a lot of pleasure.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://www.paulinescanlon.net/

‘False False’:

DAMIEN DEMPSEY – No Force On Earth (Clear Records CLEARCD01)

no force on earthTo mark the centenary of the 1916 uprising Damien Dempsey has recorded a short album of songs from and about the period. It’s probably just as well that No Force On Earth is only eight tracks because I can guarantee that you’ll be wrung out by the end. The power of these performances is palpable. I don’t believe that the English can fully understand the strength of feeling that surrounds the uprising but listen to this album and you might get a clue.

The first song, ‘Aunt Jenny’, is written by Damien and harks back three generations but to listen to it you’d think she was sitting with him, nodding in approval. Jinny Shanahan’s story is an incredible one but I suspect it isn’t so uncommon. She ran the women’s section of the Irish Citizen’s Army and fought in both the uprising and the War Of Independence.

Damien isn’t slavish about sources of these songs so ‘The King’s Shilling’ is Scottish but Damien uses it the remind us that eighty thousand Irish volunteers fought for the British in the Great War and were betrayed as the next song, ‘Paddy Ward’ explains. Ward was an Irish traveller who fought for the King and was murdered by an English landowner for poaching rabbits after the war was over. I can’t help thinking of ‘The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll’ when I listen to it.

‘Banna Strand’ and ‘James Connolly’ are both famous songs about the period and ‘The Death Of Cuchulain’ is the poem by William Butler Yeats set to music by Dempsey but then he casts his gaze further afield. ‘Wave Hill Walk Off’ celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Aboriginal land rights movement, something that we’re only just beginning to learn about in the UK and the parallels with the Irish situation are obvious. Finally, Damien returns to Ireland with Ewan MacColl’s ‘The Island’.

The songs are deliberately “rough-hewn” as Damien describes them. He’s accompanied by Tim Edey and Eamonn de Barra with Clare Kenny and producer John Reynolds adding bass and drums to Damien’s voice, guitar and keyboards. Rough-hewn they might be and some listeners might find Damien’s approach strident but the force of history behind these songs can’t be denied.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.damiendempsey.com

‘James Connolly’ – live (different version):

Damien Dempsey – new album

Damien Dempsey

Damien Dempsey Ireland’s preeminent singer songwriter is bringing a very special set to some very special venues in England and Scotland in 2016.

He has recorded a unique album, No Force On Earth as a celebration and commemoration of the Easter uprising of 1916 that saw the birth of the Irish Republic. In his homeland Damien is held in the highest regard by peers and audiences and as well as a string of number 1 albums he has a haul of Meteor Awards.

Damien is already known for his searing live shows with his band after several tours across the UK, however the close up intensity of his acoustic performance has, until now, only been a pleasure that Irish audiences have witnessed.

This is a one off opportunity to see Damien in an intimate setting sharing his story of this centenary year, a golden opportunity to hear the man regarded by many as the next wave of Irish musical heritage.

Many of the tracks he wrote himself for the album and some are classic covers of the period, all arranged by Damien and producer John Reynolds.

Opening track Aunt Jenny is a Damien original, ” About my great aunt Jenny (or Jinny as she was known)” says Damien. Aunt Jinny, a woman at the heart of the uprising and who’s story must be heard.

Damien will launch a new studio album in 2017 and return to touring with his band, in the meantime this is your chance to hear a very personal performance of this album along with some of Damien’s finest tunes.

Artist’s website: www.damiendempsey.com

‘James Connolly’ courtesy of Trade Union TV:

SEAMUS BEGLEY – The Bold Kerryman (IRL IRL093)

SEAMUS BEGLEY The Bold KerrymanI frequently have to remind myself that there is more music out there than any of us can ever listen to – which is my excuse for not having come across Seamus Begley before.

Seamus is well known as half of the Irish/Australian duo Ceolas and for his ongoing partnership with Jim Murray as singer and accordion player. I’ve tracked down about six albums of his work but he probably recorded many others over his forty year career. He’s also worked with Tim Edey who is his principal instrumental supporter on this set of mostly traditional material. The album opens with ‘Táimse Im Chodladh’ and ‘The Lough Tae Boat Song’, both unfamiliar to me. They are followed by a stately version of ‘The Banks Of The Sweet Primroses’ featuring a shared vocal by Damien Dempsey as the material becomes more familiar.

Seamus has a warm voice that brings an intimacy to his performances and the album is so very restful. Like many Irish singers, he seems to consider that a song worth singing should be sung no matter its source. So we have an old Fenian song ‘Wrap The Green Flag Around Me Boys’ followed by ‘Portland Town’ (nothing to do with Derroll Adams) and Annie Laurie. The album closes with John Denver’s ‘Today’ and Paul Metzer’s greatest hit ‘Farewell To The Gold’. In his hands ‘Today’ sounds like a traditional love song.

The Bold Kerryman is a sweet, gentle album which might have benefited from an instrumental interlude to give it a change of pace. It is, nevertheless, a splendid set of songs in both Irish and English that might just lull you into untroubled dreams.

Dai Jeffries

An air and a song performed live by Seamus Begley and Tim Edey: