How it’s New York: Damien Dempsey worked as a barback in New York once upon a time, and he’s inspired by New Jersey’s Bruce Springsteen.
How it’s Irish: Damien is from Dublin and writes about the people he knows.
This article was originally published in Speakeasy, the culture blog of the Wall Street Journal, on Sept. 14. Read it in full there!
In July, the singer-songwriter sometimes called “The Irish Lion,” from the working class neighborhood of Donaghmeade, North Dublin, opened for Bruce Springsteen in Kilkenny, Ireland. Dempsey writes about issues and ideas, delivering them in a powerful voice, with a reggae beat. Sinead O’Connor and London poet Kate Tempest both appear on “Almighty Love.”
Speakeasy caught up with Dempsey before his U.S. tour in the small town of Scariff, Ireland, where he was headlining a Harbor Festival in the Village Green—just a few days after playing a huge stadium.
When did you write your first song? What was it about?
I started writing songs at 14. Smog. It was about smog where we lived. All the houses had chimneys and the smog in the winter… If you went down in a white T-shirt it would be black. The city was chokin’ you know so. I write about things that I feel strongly about and try to put a bit of hope. There’s always a chink of hope, no matter how heavy the song is. And light in the song, because there always hope.
What was it like playing for Bruce?
Before the gig I was nervous. I didn’t know what his crowd were going to be like. Some audiences just stand there, not letting you in. They’re all there to see their man. Bruce’s audience was just listening. They were clapping along.
We did get to meet him. We had a sing-song. After the show we got a call of a friend of Glen’s [Hansard. who also opened for Springsteen] who said go down to Mount Juliet. It’s where the band was staying, a golf club. We went to the bar and we started singing. We were well oiled. Bruce just came out. He got the guitar and sang a lovely song. Bruce missed his flight.