Dickie Felton crosses Lake District fell and folly to discover a legendary Irish singer in full flow.
Damien Dempsey live
Kendal Brewery Arts Centre
22 October 2016
“Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t sing,” urges Damien Dempsey early into his set at Kendal’s intimate Brewery Arts Centre.
The singer can't stress enough the restorative qualities of humans doing a most simple, but splendidly spiritual, act of singing.
The crowd who've come to see this former boxer turned folk music legend, need no excuse to let their lungs out.
And it is an angelic experience listening to 150 souls gently warble each line of the Irishman’s most starry and spirited songs.
At times Dempsey momentarily stops singing his powerful ballads to let the Cumbrian crowd fill-in the blanks.
The crowd make a right din considering this is a tiny venue. "Damo! Damo! Damo!" is the football-style chant from the stalls.
Liverpool musician Alan O’Hare this week described Dempsey as: “the greatest singer alive today".
At times during this gig I reflect on Alan’s rather heady claim, and realise his assessment is pretty much spot-on.
The only reason I scraped the pit of my piggy bank to pay a heady £75 to watch Morrissey recently was because Dempsey was the support act.
Tonight in a Cumbrian town, we didn't as much witness a concert, but an uplifting motivational tonic to the rigours of modern life.
His in-between-song-banter is truly an inspiration.
“Don’t let bullies get into your psyche,” urges Dempsey.
He could as much be referring to the spirit of Irish freedom fighters to end British rule in 1916 as he could to a schoolboy standing up to the playground tough in 2016.
Dempsey's latest album No Force On Earth pays tribute to the Irish women and men who took part in the Easter Rising.
He sings about his great grandaunt Jennie Shanahan who was a key figure in the Irish Citizen Army.
You almost feel that Jennie is in the room with us as her descendant sings: “Your gallant bravery gives me so much strength in this crazy world.”
Dempsey speaks glowingly of this legend in his family tree.
Jennie, is not only a rebel and saviour of a nation, according to new research by Liverpool singer (and Phd student) Ian Prowse, she was lesbian.
Prowse found that not only did she battle oppressors and tyrants, but she also questioned gender convention of the time.
Watching the Irishman deliver such songs of meaning is an emotional experience.
Dempsey is a spiritual soul. He likes to take his socks off to feel the earth below.
He takes gasps of water (and a whisky late on) to cope with the enormous strain on his vocal cords and the fact he's battling a chest infection.
Tonight, songs from his 20-year-career are spread over two hours and two sets.
And we each play just fourteen quid for the absolute privilege.
I have never witnessed any singer put as much effort into every single vowel and chord.
During songs his eyes remain closed as if he’s searching deep within for extra spit and spirit.
Real songs about real lives. Of addiction to drugs and drink, or love for family and country, of despair at the evils of the world.
Dempsey takes a swipe at at X-Factor culture. “Singing is not a competition. Someone once had a go at Shane MacGowan’s appearance and he said ‘I didn’t realise that life was a beauty contest’.”
Is this Irish folk, is it part-reggae (Bob Marley?), is Dempsey a protest singer? probably all of these things.
We are treated to several cover versions and A Rainy Night In Soho by the Pogues and The Rocky Road To Dublin are simply stunning.
Damien Dempsey at Kendal Arts Centre will go down as the most uplifting concert I’ve been to in my life.
If the singer ever branches out into motivational speaking I'm sure he'd work a treat.
We all need a dose of bottled Dempsey to combat fragility.
The power of this music as no limitations.
And I can't have been the only one stumbling out into the Kendal night thinking 'anything in life is possible'?
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t sing.
Gosh. I may pick up my guitar again, I might even try singing.
I could even take my socks off...
Damien Dempsey is on tour. He plays Liverpool Philharmonic Hall tonight (Sunday 23 October). It’s sold out. Other dates here.
Follow Damo on Twitter: @DamoDempsey
Dickie Felton writes about music and football.
His 2009 book The Day I Met Morrissey was a huge hit nowhere (apart from in Eccles and in Croatia).
It's still buyable. In fact buy the tome here and we'll also ship Dickie's second book free: Morrissey International Airport.