Damien Dempsey (born in Donaghmede, Dublin) is an Irish singer and songwriter who mixes traditional Irish folk with contemporary lyrics to deliver social comment on the positive and negative aspects arising from Ireland's Celtic Tiger society. He sings in English, and to a lesser extent in Irish.
Dempsey was born and raised in Donaghmede, a Northside suburb of Dublin. His father was a panel-beater while his mother had a variety of jobs in the area. His earliest musical influences came from the post-pub musical sessions that were held in his parents house when he was a toddler. This developed into a love of artists such as Christy Moore, Luke Kelly, Shane MacGowan, Bob Marley and Elvis Presley.
Shy as a teenager, Dempsey retreated to his bedroom where he spent his time honing his singing and guitar playing. He soon started to pen his own songs, testing the water on his pleasantly surprised family with "a song about smog". His family encouraged him to enter a 2FM song contest, and he duly came second with "Cardboard City", a song of his own about homelessness.
Although hugely taken with the Irish folk tradition, it was Bob Marley who inspired Dempsey during some of his darker times:
"I was in my teens and I was going through a bit of a phase, drinking a lot and doing E tablets and getting into street fighting and getting depressed. Then I'd listen to Marley and it lifted me out of it. I'd like to try and do the same for kids, that my music would give them a bit of hope and strength, and they'd know that I was telling the truth and I wouldn't lie to them."
Growing up on the northside of Dublin, the six-foot two-inch Dempsey trained along with his older brothers (both over 6 foot 5), and competed for Dublin as an amateur boxer before committing himself to studying music.
Dempsey attended secondary school at Mount Temple Comprehensive School, sharing classes with model Amanda Brunker. He then went on to Ballyfermot College of Further Education - the "Rock School" - for 2 years before graduating in 1995. There he studied musical performance and management and his first EP, "The Contender" was released in 1995 on the school's record label.
Unemployed and on the dole for several years, Dempsey was a regular visitor to the library in Donaghmede where he read about Irish history and developed a lasting appreciation for the "seanchaí" - the Irish storyteller.
His first commercial single "Dublin Town" was released in 1997, and reached number 18 in the Irish music charts. The Irish music magazine "Hot Press" praised the single, remarking that it was "..an underground anthem for disaffected youth and closet balladeer alike". His first full-length album, titled "They Don't Teach This Shit in School" was released in 2000 and contained a re-recorded version of this song.
Dempsey's talent was beginning to get noticed, not least by Irish singer Sinéad O'Connor who invited him out on tour with her and championed him as one to watch - "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", she said. Dempsey would later joke onstage that when he got the call from O'Connor to join the tour, he assumed it would be on the door as a bouncer.
His next release, in 2002, the "Negative Vibes EP" featured Sinéad O'Connor on the title track and led to an invitation to support Sinéad on her 2002/2003 Irish, UK, and European tour.
Damien's second full-length album, "Seize the Day", was released in May 2003 in Ireland on Clear Records via Sony and entered the charts in its first week of release at No. 5. It has since achieved double-platinum sales.
In 2004 Dempsey toured extensively headlining his own shows as well as supporting Bob Dylan during the Irish leg of his European tour and making his debut appearances at The Fleadh and Womad.
He has earned the support of his peers, particularly Morrissey, who invited Damien to support him on various UK and Irish dates as well as his autumn 2004 US tour. Morrissey went on to sign Damien to his label (Attack), and "Seize the Day" had its US release in October 2004.
His third album, "Shots", simultaneously released in Ireland and the UK in March 2005 entered the Irish album charts at No. 1.
At Oxegen 2006, on the main stage on Saturday afternoon, the Dempsey said that Patrick Pearse would be "turning in his grave" at the state of modern Ireland. This sparked off controversy.
He supported English folk-rock band The Levellers on their UK tour in the spring of 2006 as well as playing at The Levellers' music festival Beautiful Days in August 2006.
Damien's first live album,"Live at The Olympia" was released June 2006 in Ireland and the UK. The album was recorded at Dublin's Olympia Theatre on 15 December 2005.
"Shots" was released in the US on the United For Opportunity label in June 2006 and Damien undertook a coast to coast tour.
On the Fleadh 2007 tour Damien, along with Sharon Shannon's Big Band, toured Ireland and the UK with Willie Nelson.
His fourth studio album, To Hell or Barbados, released in June 2007, entered the Irish album chart at No. 2. An extended version of the album, which included a bonus CD featuring previously unreleased and rare tracks, was released in Ireland via Sony BMG in November 2007.
Dempsey's fifth studio album, a covers album entitled The Rocky Road, was released on 6 June 2008 in Ireland via Sony BMG, with a UK release via IRL on 9 June 2008 and on 26 August via United for Opportunity. The lead single "A Rainy Night in Soho", a cover of the Pogues's track, was released on 30 May 2008.
His sixth studio album, Almighty Love, was released in October 2012 and entered the chart at No. 3, with the single of the same name released mid-October.
In 2014, Dempsey released a Best of album titled It's All Good which entered the chart at No. 1. During the Australian leg of his tour promoting this album, he appeared on an episode of the comedy-music panel show Spicks and Specks.
A myriad of artists have covered Damien Dempsey's work, including Sinead O'Connor, The Proclaimers and The Wonder Stuff's Miles Hunt. His songs have been featured is many TV shows including Sons Of Anarchy and the BAFTA winning Tyrannosaur.