“It was part of the St Patrick’s Day celebrations. I sang ‘Colony’, a song about European colonisation,” he says. “People sang it back. I thought to myself, ‘This sounds really good’. I was going to dedicate it to Jeremy Clarkson. In the moment, I forgot.”
Dempsey has been in the UK for much of the past month. He’s built his British audience one gig at a time — and takes immense pride in the fact. “We have no big marketing budget, no media behind us,” he says. “It’s word-of-mouth. I’ve toured with The Levellers, with The Proclaimers. People see you, tell their friends. Word gets around,” he says.
Dempsey’s also working on his next record, at a studio in central London. So far, the process has been remarkably straightforward — a contrast to his most recent LP, Almighty Love, which was postponed endlessly due to writer’s block.
“It’s flowing well,” says the Dubliner. “I’ve played the material to people and the response is positive. I’m reading a book called The Artist’s Way [by Julia Cameron]. Declan O’Rourke tipped me off about it. It’s full of advice, such as taking yourself to a museum or movie once a week. Just to have some headspace. And to write down three pages of whatever comes to your mind, first thing in the morning. It has all been hugely useful.”
Last time out, he went into the studio with too rigid an idea of the record he wanted. But his muse doesn’t operate to order.
“I was trying to write ‘jump around’ festival songs. I’d done all the heavy stuff — I thought, maybe, I should come at it from a different angle. What I learned is that it wasn’t me. You should stick to what you are good at. My music moves people, gives them hope. Let other people write songs for jumping around to — that’s their niche,” he says.
Dempsey (39) grew up in Donaghmede, on Dublin’s north side. His parents would host post-pub singing sessions in the house, and it was here he was introduced to artists such as Christy Moore and Luke Kelly. Having studied music at Ballyfermot College of Further Education, he released his debut single, ‘Dublin Town’, in 1997. Soon afterwards, he came to the attention of Sinead O’Connor and Morrissey, both of whom championed him loudly.
Last summer, he had a peculiar brush with the spotlight, after rescuing two men in Wexford while on his morning swim. It was strange to be on the front cover of half a dozen national newspapers for reasons that had nothing to do with music. That said, the ever-humble Dempsey is inclined to brush off the experience.
“I got a lot of coverage,” he says. “I thought — ‘Jesus, I should have done this years ago’. When my new album comes out, I”ll be trawling the coast-line with a pair of binoculars [on the look out for swimmers to rescue].”
Though Dempsey is regarded as a quintessential Liffeysider, he has strong ties with Cork and is looking forward to playing the city at the weekend. Going south brings back warm memories.
“I used to come down on the train and play the Lobby bar,” he says. “That’s where I developed a lot of my stage craft. And I used to do some labouring work in Cork with a friend. We worked on sites around Douglas and Togher. When I’m down, I’m going to walk up Patrick’s Hill and enjoy the view. I love the hills, the river… the whole thing.”
- Damien Dempsey plays Cork Opera House on Saturday
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