Dickie Felton

I write about music and football

The night after Saint Patrick’s Day can feel a bit like after the Lord Mayor’s show.

Coupled with this being a school-night Sunday, you’d forgive Damien Dempsey for taking things easy.

Twenty four hours earlier he’d headlined DamoFleadh at London’s Roundhouse with a packed pumped-up partying crowd.

Dempsey then headed north to appear at Warrington’s Parr Hall, bringing an altogether different dynamic.

The large backing band had gone, as had the hordes of fans who sung, stood and swayed during the frenzied Camden night before.

“Which way is the Irish night?” queried one confused elderly lady a street away from the Parr Hall.

Once inside the Grade II listed building, the pensioner had her pick of seats.

There were only around 250 people present for the penultimate night of Damo’s Great Irish Songbook UK tour.

And one must query the world we live in when the greatest living Irishman comes to town and people are busy doing other things.

It’s their loss. For us lucky ones in the presence of Gaelic greatness, this night was super-special.

Just the sight of Dempsey’s guitar propped up on stage was enough to set pulses racing and a handful of “Damo” chants broke a library-like silence moments before the main main entered.

As much of a history lesson as a live concert, Dempsey took us through some of the most recognised songs from legends such as The Dubliners and The Pogues.

First off Poor Paddy on the Railway - its opening lines deal with displacement in the 1840s when the Irish Diaspora was at its historic peak.

Then it was into Seven Drunken Nights and Pogues classic Body of an American as the crowd joined Damo in taking the tempo higher.

Whether he sings his own songs or those from ancient past, the sentiment is the same.

Dempsey’s singing and guitar playing is about heart, soul, Dublin streets on autumn days, and eyes that shine like diamonds.

Beautifully accompanied by Éamonn de Barra on flute, vocals and bodhran, this was Damo at his absolute best.

Of the first set of eight songs - only one was from his own rich back-catalogue.

And it was the emotion charged Chris and Stevie - a tale of friendship, loss, suicide and pain, which sent the Warrington crowd into orbit.

I've watched Dempsey on this own, I’ve seen him with full band, but this was the first time with one other musician. And the double act with de Barra worked a treat.

During the half-time half-hour chin-wag everyone was in agreement that we were watching something sensational.

This was followed by amazement that there not more people here to witness it with us.

More magic after the interval as Dempsey sang Emerald Isle classics including Rocky Road to Dublin, The Galway Shawl/The Auld Triangle, Dirty Old Town and Sally McLennane.

There were to be just two more of Dempsey’s own songs: Sing All Our Cares Away and Apple of My Eye.

And the greatest moments during this epic night of verse were when he played his own stuff.

But will Damien Dempsey’s solo work stand the test of time like the old Irish masters he passionately pays homage to?

For me, his saint-like status is already in the bag.

 

Damien Dempsey plays some big shows this summer.

Check out my Spotify playlist of Damo's Great Irish Songbook set.

Dicke Felton has written two books about Morrissey fan culture. 

 

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