Every now and then you come across an artist who totally rattles your cage, someone who makes music that you know is going to be with you for a lifetime, someone making music not just of great beauty but of great importance too. Damien Dempsey is that guy.
It’s another debt I owe to my brother who gave me a copy of this album on CD and urged me to listen. I did, while I was doing the washing up or some other such mundane task. It was OK I thought. When I told my brother this he was incredulous, “No, LISTEN to it, preferably with headphones on and lyric book in hand!” he practically ordered me. So I did and…holy shit it slammed as hard as a hammer.
Damien Dempsey is from in Donaghmede on the north side of Dublin. He’s the youngest of 3 brothers, all the brothers at one time have boxed. He grew up in a household where his parents would come home from the pub with a group of friends and a session would break out at their house which gave him a grounding in traditional Irish music, Sean-nós (old syle) singing and particularly the Dubliners and Luke Kelly. He was also taken with the music of Bob Marley, John Lennon and Hip Hop and you can hear every one of these influences in Damien’s (or Damo’s, as he’s known to his fans) music.
“Seize the Day” was his second album (the first “They Don’t Teach This Shit In School” was recorded while he was still at college) and came about after he was approached by Sinead O’Connor’s drummer/producer John Reynolds. O’Connor supplied some vocals and invited Damo to tour with her saying of him "I don't think there's ever been anyone like him. I think he represents the sort of voice in Ireland that is not allowed to be heard”.
Damo’s songs are rooted in his Dublin home and upbringing and tell of the problems kids like him suffered in deprived areas where drugs, alcohol, sectarian attitudes and violence were everyday things for them. The astonishing solo performance of “Factories” distills it into one song with it’s poetic telling of youthful violence “Some boys want to get me because I hit one back, I still can hear the crack of his head on the concrete” tempered with memories of getting away from it all “Howth Junction could take you away, And in the hayfields we'd squander the day”
For all the songs telling of the the difficulties and problems it is the songs of pure positivity that shine brightest “Negative Vibes” (“I'm never going to let your negative vibes and comments, Get through to my psyche and cripple me”), “It’s All Good” (“Love yourself today, OK ?”) and ”Seize The Day” (“Seize the day, hey, Sure you don't want no regrets when you look back, Seize the day, hey, Sure at least you'll know, you gave this life a crack”) are a trio that refuse to see Damo ground down by circumstances not of his making, if he has one message for us all it’s love yourself.
In 2003 we travelled to Dublin to see Damo play a New Year show at Vicar Street. Live his songs take on another persona as the seething crowd sing every word back at him, sometimes louder than he is onstage. The nearest thing I could liken it to was being on the terraces at a football match or the atmosphere at certain gigs by The Jam I saw, absolutely electric and life affirming.
“Seize The Day” was finally issued on lovely gold vinyl earlier this year to celebrate its 20th birthday which is how it manages to appear here (I know you were all thinking about that CD comment earlier). I’m also now lucky to count Damo as a friend and this music that he makes really will stay with me for a lifetime.
It’s All Good - https://youtu.be/uy6NQrIsyxU