There’s something very likeable about Irish singer and songwriter Damien Dempsey, but the adulation he inspires is a little confusing. Shouts of ‘Damo’ punctuated the background tape of mournful cello music and on walked Dempsey and his partner tonight, John McLoughlin. Both dressed in dark jeans and black shirts, they picked up their guitars and we were off.
Top marks to whichever audience member injected some levity into the night when Dempsey asked ‘Where’s good to go after here?’ and he replied ‘Glasgow’.
Dempsey is a man with a strong social conscience and he seems to be on a mission to provide both entertainment and some sort of counselling service. Before embarking on ‘Sing All Our Cares Away’ he had this message for us: ‘When we sing we give our souls a cuddle’. This is singing as therapy and he belts out the refrain with alarming energy. Then we were on to ‘Negative Vibes’, a song about being strong and not letting people put you down. There is a spiritual aspect to the whole evening which isn’t particularly comfortable and a self-referentiality that’s rather tiresome. It’s no surprise that he counts U2 and Sinead O’Connor as big fans – all three take themselves a little too seriously. According to his website, after listening to his latest album, ‘Almighty Love’, ‘kids will still look to him as a Rocky-type figure and adults will still turn to him for his particular poeticism’. This is heavy stuff and instead of feeling healed I felt a sense of bewilderment and at times, boredom.
Other issues dealt with in the evening included: racism in ‘Almighty Love’, which name-checks Lennon, Marley, Gandhi and Tony Benn; suicidal tendencies in ‘Chris and Stevie’ with McLoughlin on mandolin; escaping where you’re from on ‘Canadian Geese’; Irish history in ‘Colony’ with a spoken, preachy section; everyone needs to be held on ‘Hold Me’; beating yourself up mentally on ‘Bustin’ Outta Here’; growing up, drinking, and taking drugs on ‘Factories’; ‘It’s All Good’ with the lyric ‘Grasp the wealth of yourself’. Before the final song he suggested that when we wake up in the morning, we should kiss the mirror, and say ‘I love you’.
Dempsey has an interesting singing voice – a broad Dublin accent, with the odd Geordie inflection that’s reminiscent of Sting. Apart from all the suggestions that we should like ourselves more, he has some nice patter. The story about meeting Bruce Springsteen is sweet, but the overall impression is one of relentless dreariness. Top marks to whichever audience member injected some levity into the night when Dempsey asked ‘Where’s good to go after here?’ and he replied ‘Glasgow’. That man deserves a drink.