Shape I'm In: Damien Dempsey, singer/songwriter

LIKE a continuous loop, Damien Dempsey can’t separate his song-writing from singing. “Both come quite naturally. I can’t image one without the other,” he says in his hallmark Dublin accent.

Shape I'm In: Damien Dempsey, singer/songwriter

His direct, political, but heartfelt songs have won him audiences worldwide. “That’s what people like — they know it’s honest. I’m not doing music for financial gain or to be famous. I’m doing it as a form of expression to help me. It has really helped me through life. Writing and singing songs is like oxygen for me,” he says.

From Donaghmede and the youngest of three boys, Dempsey’s comes from a political family. “We would have always been opinionated about politics — more than other families. If we were going for a pint, we’d talk about what’s going on in the country they’d be fairly heated discussions,” he says.

Dempsey turns 40 next year and has yet to settle down. “I’m in an on-off relationship. I’m going away for three months to Australia and England — it’s tough. Maybe when I get a bit older, and do less travel, I’ll be able to have a proper relationship,” he says.

* Dempsey performs at Cork Opera House, Friday, February 14, at 8pm. The album, It’s all Good: The Best of Damien Dempsey, is released on the same day.

What shape are you in?

In good shape. I’m doing a bit of boxing in my local club, in Ballymede, sparring with my two giant brothers — one is 6’ 4”, the other is 6’ 7”. I’m the runt of the litter, at 6’ 2”. I like sparring, because nobody gets hurt. It’s a great way to keep fit and get a bit of anger out of you. Also, I do a bit of swimming off the cliffs in Howth. I go all year round.

Do you have any health concerns?

I’ve allergies — pollen, dust mites and cat hair, grass, hay, and stuff like that. It’s not easy to sing when you’ve allergies.

What are your healthiest eating habits?

I always have fruit in the morning. I also eat tuna and drink lots of water — I’m drinking wheat grass now. When I’m not on the road, I try to eat healthily. I get free-range, organic meat, rashers and chicken. It’s a nightmare on the road.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

Pepperoni pizza, Tayto or King crisp sandwiches — and it has to be Brennan’s white bread and Kerrygold butter.

What would keep you awake at night?

Coffee, tea and chocolate. I drink herbal tea after six.

How do you relax?

Going to the cinema. I also like to watch good documentaries, like on indigenous tribes from around the world.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Michael D Higgins, James Connolly, Boudica — a Celtic warrior queen who took on the Roman Empire — Nina Simone, Luke Kelly and Bob Marley.

What’s your favourite smell?

The sea — especially in the summer. You think, you’re going to be in the sea soon, floating free of your clothes, free of your gravity, just freedom. You’re back in nature, you’re in the moment. It clears your head.

What would you change about your appearance?

You are what you are — there’s not much point in trying to change what you can’t change. Maybe, I’d like to be a little slimmer around the waist.

When did you last cry?

After I watched 12 Years A Slave. I came back here to the house and listened to Marvin Gaye: Live in Montreux. From the slave trade... they turned it into something incredible — beautiful soul music.

What trait do you least like in others?

Lack of empathy.

What trait do you least like in yourself?

Lack of confidence. It’s an old colonial hangover. But you can face your fears and get over it. I’ve kind of proved it.

Do you pray?

I do. I give thanks for everything good in my life — my family, my health, the roof over my head and enough to eat.

What would cheer up your day?

Writing a song.

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