This interview was originally published for, and appeared in, the Metro Herald.
As he enters the plush confines of Dublin’s Westbury Hotel, it’s fair to say that Damien Dempsey is easily spotted. At 6’ 2” and with the physique of a pedigree boxer, he arrives with two guitar cases in hand, immediately towering those enjoying a quiet spot of lunch. But then the man known as ‘Damo’ has always stood out.
Reared in 1970s Donaghmede, his creative streak – though encouraged at home – immediately put him at odds with many in his working class locale. ‘Ah, I got slagged a lot,’ he reflects.
‘They thought I was a soft touch because my hair was a bit long and I had a guitar. People were telling me to just give up but I couldn’t. No matter what anyone said, I was never going to.’
Such resolve was to hold Dempsey in good stead for a career that has attracted some derision along with the plaudits. Certainly, it hasn’t been an easy route to the top. His thick Dublin brogue and raw lyricism marked him out as a unique, if potentially abrasive talent, and though highly regarded at the prestigious Ballyfermot ‘Rock School’, a number of false starts followed.
When his debut album ‘They Don’t Teach This Shit In School’ finally arrived in 2000 it was a rough and ready collection – the fledgling steps of an urban poet. It struggled commercially but its originality caught the eye of many. Chief among them was Sinéad O’Connor, who featured on its follow up, the powerful Seize The Day. From here, Dempsey has been the real deal – a modern troubadour for a troubled age. Across several albums he’s grappled tough, often obscure issues head on; chastising the corrupt and the greedy, championing the bravery of the neglected.
His latest release and first in five years, Almighty Love, brought a more reflective and positive Dempsey. The album arrived at the height of our economic meltdown and for a man so previously outspoken on the topic, many were surprised by his silence on this occasion. ‘I would have just been repeating myself,’ he explains. ‘I got slagged off by people for saying it before so maybe it was a kind of a ‘I told you so.’ It’s in the media every day and pushed down people’s throats, I think people are just sick of it.’