Tuesday 19 March 2019

Dempsey's den

Tanya Sweeney met the singer who believes The Foggy Dew can compete with Britney Spears

Fresh from a 16-date US tour with Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, he explains: "They were mostly my favourite songs growing up as a youth, so it's a bit of a self-indulgent album. I told myself that I'd been working so hard for the last couple of years, I'd treat myself this year and do an album of songs I wanted to do."

Part of Dempsey's impetus to record the album was his desire to bring much-loved ballads, such as The Twang Man, Sullivan John and The Foggy Dew to a new generation of Celtic cubs. Besides, it's long been documented that young Damien's earliest music influences were the post-pub sing-songs his parents would regularly hold at their home in the northside suburb of Donaghmede.

"I've a young audience, and if they get a quarter of the joy I got out of these songs, I think it'll make them very happy and me very happy too," he says. "When I do [sing-song] sessions and there are younger kids there, they don't know what to sing," he adds. "I mean, are they going to sing a Britney Spears or Westlife song? Those songs don't stand up when you can't sing them unaccompanied at a house party."

If the papers are to be believed, Damien also has little time for another pop princess, Amy Winehouse; at a Meteor Awards after-show in Eamonn Doran's in 2007, Damien reportedly had some fisticuffs with her after refusing to let her play pool. Predictably, it's a wayward story on which he's only too happy to set the record straight.

"Load of lies," he scoffs. "I was on the dance-floor, saw her playing pool and that was the closest I got to her. I was thinking, 'Fair play to her', as she was this little girl playing pool with a load of big lads. I didn't even go near the pool table that night. But there goes me support slot with Amy Winehouse, I suppose."

Eamonn Doran's is where Damo enjoyed a fruitful rapport with Republic Of Loose frontman Mick Pyro. Theirs is a long-time kinship which culminated in Damien joining ROL onstage during their sell-out residency at the Academy.

"Twelve years ago there would be no-one there watching us, but we'd respect each other's stuff," he recalls. "Last month they got me to do Bad Time Garda and [Thin Lizzy's] Dancing In The Moonlight onstage with them. Republic Of Loose have that vibe that makes their music... just edgy. Ballsy. Brilliant."

Another new addition to this mutual-respect sect is Bono, whom Damien met while recording The Ballad of Ronnie Drew in January. A month later, Bono and The Edge turned up to see Damien play in the low-key surroundings of the Noggin Inn in Sallynoggin.

"It's rough and ready, but a great venue," observes Dempsey. "At the Ronnie Drew thing Bono just came over and was like, 'I love the way you're singing... you've a violent way of singing'. Later, he said, 'I believe you're playing in the Noggin Inn, so I might see you there'. I just thought, 'Yeah, f***ing right'. But fair play to them, it was pretty great to see them in the crowd. Although, when I went up to the dressing room afterwards, my bottle of brandy was gone..."

Nowadays, and with his career in spectacularly rude health, Damien splits his time between Dublin and London; perhaps not surprisingly, he ended up in the London suburb of Kilburn, roundly known as 'the 33rd county'.

"I was drawn there... I dunno why," he muses. "They don't know why the Irish went there in the first place. There's a lot of second-generation Irish there, and a lot of older ones who never came home scattered in the boozers along the High Road. I lived in Notting Hill when I got there but it went very up its own arse. Kilburn is still real, like Talbot Street."

Part of the joy of coming home to Dublin, he admits, is "flying in over Howth and Dublin Bay, nearly crying I would be."

In lieu of swimming at his beloved Howth -- something he famously and passionately does on a regular basis -- Damo makes do with the swimming ponds on Hampstead Heath while in London.

"It has a lifeguard, diving board, and they clean it regularly," he enthuses. "In summer it's beautiful, but Jesus in the winter you'd be freezing."

With plans for a small-venue Irish tour afoot for next month, Damien has -- true to character -- already got his eye on the next phase of his master plan.

"I'd love to be Number One in America," he confesses when asked of his ultimate goal. "I hope I keep having the gift of singing, and it will keep flowing through me. I have an idea for a song with a samba or Cuban beat too, so we'll see."

On a more personal basis, he says with a wry grin: "I want to lose a stone." Patting his stomach he adds: "You do need a bit of blubber for the sea or you'd be freezing. But I suppose you can't use that excuse in the summer..." HQ

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