As Damien Dempsy rolled into town on St Patrick’s weekend, Getintothis Chris Flack limbered up with some stout and got his singing voice ready for a long night on the town.
My Dad was a Protestant, born on St Patrick’s day he was named after William of Orange, who, funded by the Pope of the time, defeated the United Irishmen in 1798 at Slane. Home of my greatest gig, as it happens.
My Mother is a typical Irish Catholic mother. To suggest that politics was a central theme of our lives, growing up in Belfast in the 70s and 80s, is kind of a given. An understatement really. We grew up in a house where all was welcome, apart from lunacy and fools. It was all Irish love, myth, lore and stew, there was always stew.
My father’s last words to me make me laugh every time I think of them, they’re unprintable here, but suffer fools he did not. Especially political fools, one of whom was the focus of his ire. He made special space for them and those stinging, brutal words were his last. I hope when I go I can get to half of that.
On top of the politics, our house was filled with all kinds of music, there was a lot of Irish music, bits of jazz, ska, rock and roll and a lot of 70’s and 80s soul. And the Inkspots, but the less said about them the better.
We had an annual tradition where we would call my Da Patrick on St Patrick’s day, given that in any other world that would have been his given name anyway. We filled the house with fiddles and jigs to mark the occasion. He took it surprisingly well for a Protestant from the Shankill Road.
The idea of a Damien Dempsey show to see in St Patrick’s Day, and my auld Da’s birthday was, to be frank, too good an offer to refuse. Soul, love, politics and history, and on my Da’s birthday too? Don’t mind if we do.
We’ve talked about Damo before and when his name appeared on a list in an email to the writing team our response may or may not have included the words ‘ non-negotiable’. A Happy St Patricks Day indeed.
We were warned before this evening not to make the review too ‘gushing’, though, given our love for Dempsey and his blend of traditional and other worldliness, that was a difficult promise to make. We decided that less was probably more, to avoid said love. So… After a few sociable pints in the Ship & Mitre with some old friends, the best stout in town btw, we headed the Academy2 way with a bit of a spring our step.
Ian Prowse started the evening off and turned the Irish up to ten, giving it both barrels of tin whistle and fiddle by way of musical accompaniment, so much for a non-traditional St Patrick’s.
After having flown back from Amsterdam after a night on the Shiine On cruise, Prowse managed to give it everything, playing some old favourites and a couple of new tracks from his forthcoming album.
His love for the Irish is marked, or more specifically, was actually marked, given that he wrote a Masters thesis on the place of Christy Moore in Irish music. We’ve read it, and quite the enlightening tome it is too. As a local, loved legend, he sang praises high on Dempsey, making our promise not to lose our shit, difficult to manage. Thanks for that, Ian. Thanks.
Dempsey describes himself as an oxytocin pusher. Oxytocin is a drug the brain creates through collective joy, when we dance together, when we sing together, our brains release it in spades. His ability to get a singalong going without uttering a single word is remarkable.
They start with Apple Of My Eye and he literally doesn’t even need to start it off. He barely has to sing throughout, to be honest, and the band frequently appears overwhelmed by the reaction. Do they call this work?
Dempsey has a lot of stories to tell, life as an addict, a life fighting, literally, to just get by, and experiences few of us would wish on our enemies. It all makes its way into his music, and into the audience, via a heart only a north Dubliner can bring to a stage.
As he says himself, if it wasn’t for those who come out on a miserable March night he’d still be hodding bricks around the building sites of the Celtic Tiger. Dempsey plays a set filled with all the hits, to mark the new record, no doubt. That new record, Union, is a remarkable set of tunes that he shares with some luminaries, including John Grant, Kate Tempest and Maverick Sabre is a remarkable thing.
Damo, as he is most commonly known, has a religious following, it’s a little unnerving in a way, they know every single word, note and break. His set includes Sing All Our Cares Away, Patience, Hold Me, and Party On, creating the perfect appetite for a proper St Patricks singalong.
It’s noted that while Dempsey may well appear with a four piece band, including the amazing Clare Kenny on Bass, and that he appears with a choir/audience of 300 odd, most of the people around him act as a kind of support group, there are people moving drinks towels and cables all around him. And one of the most attentive tour manager’s we’ve seen in a long time. People love this man, they adore him.
They’re also handy at pointing out when he makes a bum note, which is more frequent than you might imagine and more entertaining with each nudge. This is a set of musicians that are celarl.y very comfortable with each other, they’re friends, comrades in arms, and it shows.
The round their set off with an acapella version of the Auld Triangle, Rainy Night In Soho, Prowse even came back on to do a version of Does This Train Stop in Merseyside . For us though, the highlight had to be Colony, in the midst of it all we couldn’t even imagine what a song like Colony will do in Glasgow on St Patrick’s night, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house in Academy2.
It’s going to be a hell of a night in Scotland.
Happy St Patrick’s Day, and Happy Birthday to our old Da.
Pictures by Getintothhis Chris Flack