To 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.
Artist’s website: www.damiendempsey.com
‘James Connolly’ – live (different version):