For Damien Dempsey, people and place are King. His voice is Dublin yet wholly distinctive, almost clichéd to say it, but he is part of a rich bloodline of Irish singers from Luke Kelly to Ronnie Drew, Christy Moore to Andy Irvine. Their kin outside Ireland are Springsteen and Guthrie, Dylan and Marley.
In his new album ALMIGHTY LOVE, Dempsey’s sense of place reaches out beyond Donaghmede and North Bull Island, where he first performed in public as a teenager, across the Irish Sea and further afield. The locale is still in the lyrics. It’s there in the hauntingly poetical Chris and Stevie, a tribute to male bonding and grief. You can hear it in Canadian Geese – large migratory birds whose flight path took them past Dempsey’s boyhood window. It’s there also in the references to railway tracks and waves, visible from the rooftops of Dempsey’s childhood home. Those railway tracks took Dempsey and his boyhood friends out into their own imaginations and he hasn’t forgotten. ALMIGHTY LOVE goes on a journey of a different kind. Dempsey, at 37 years old, has already said so much about self and state that trying to plough over old ground wouldn’t have been artistically challenging or fresh. So instead, he has given us an album of confidence and maturity, which has a more global sound to it and a broader scope. It is at once bigger and quieter, still rallying against injustice, yet with a more reflective and thoughtful tone, communicated more widely. It’s not that ALMIGHTY LOVE is a radical departure. It’s more an evolution on previous themes and concepts. The anthems are still there: Bustin Outta Here, The Good and the Great, Community and Almighty Love. His generosity of spirit, affiliation with those in need and the downtrodden, and recognition of their suffering, remains. It prevails even when that preoccupation may shine a spotlight on aspects of modern society that are uncomfortable to face.
Glorious revolutions can breed terrible evil and rage. Bob Marley understood that and London based poet and rapper Kate Tempest understands it too. She collaborates with rhythmical focus and fury on Born Without Hate, adding to the internationally grounded feel of the album. Of the 100 or so songs earmarked for the album, nine originals and just one cover were chosen– Andy Stewart’s Fire in the Glen, which Damien was singing in the kitchen late one night and it stayed in the air and drifted into the studio. Sinéad O’Connor, one of the greatest voices of her generation, adds backing vocals, but gives without taking. Her voice alongside Damien’s makes sense in their mutual authenticity and authority. Making ALMIGHTY LOVE was a long and careful process. Damien worked with long-term collaborator John Reynolds, who is an internationally recognised producer. This is their fifth album together, and theirs is an instinctive and homely artistic relationship, and it shows.
Damien’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 and others. The follow-up, SEIZE THE DAY, released in 2003, 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 in 2005, backed by Brian Eno, and TO HELL OR BARBADOS in 2007, which debuted at No.2 in the Irish charts.
Damien is an award-winning artist, having won several prestigious Irish Meteor Awards including Best Irish Male and Best Traditional Folk Award. His albums have topped the charts and gone Platinum, and he has been lauded by, among others, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, Billboard, MOJO and The Sunday Times. Since the release of his last album, Damien’s creativity has found other outlets also. One notable project was with Irish graffiti artist Maser, on a project entitled ‘They Are Us’. This was sparked by Dempsey’s lyrics, and involved the painting of his words on derelict buildings in Dublin. Sales of the limited edition prints raised funds for The Simon Community, which was a charity set up to help the homeless and disenfranchised in Dublin and elsewhere. Dempsey’s charitable work continued in December 2010, when he and Oscar winning songwriter Glen Hansard recorded and performed the Irish folk classic, ‘The Auld Triangle’. Monies raised went towards the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul (SVP) ‘Keep The Lights On’ Campaign.
Since his first live outings in the mid-1990s, Damien’s gigs have seen him wow audiences across the globe, and his performances have taken on a spiritual and soulful quality. October/November 2012 will see Damien touring throughout the UK and Ireland, for more information and the latest tour dates visit www.damiendempsey.com
“Dempsey’s musical heroes are now his admirers. And this is an Irish classic.” The Guardian
“The Dublin folk hero is a stirring mixture of grit and grace and tenderly soulful” MOJO