Born into poverty-stricken Dublin in the mid-'70s, Damien Dempsey has a musical outlook profoundly shaped by the traditional working-class music he was exposed to as a child, as well as other artists who share his egalitarian social outlook: Bob Marley, Christy Moore, Luke Kelly, Shane MacGowan, and Elvis Presley.
Since emerging as an exciting young talent in the mid-'90s, Dempsey steadily learned to control his wide variety of influences (which also included hip-hop and electronic music) while crafting an extremely original and personal style of folk music, attracting a myriad of all-star admirers including Morrissey, Sinéad O'Connor, and Bob Dylan. He graduated in 1995 from the highly competitive "Rock School" at Dublin's Ballyfermot College of Further Education, and -- as a testament to his craft -- was chosen as one of the acts to represent the graduating class with a formal release on the college's label. That album, the Contender EP, arrived in in 1995. Dempsey's first commercial single, "Dublin Town," followed two years later, and its immediate underground success was followed by a brief spell in the mainstream spotlight.
It took three years, however, before Dempsey put issued his first solo album. They Don't Teach This Shit in School, released in March of 2000, was a commendable but self-conscious effort that featured a smoother, less visceral recording of "Dublin Town." Despite its relative lack of commercial success, They Don't Teach This Shit in School earned Dempsey a number of admirers within the industry. Sinéad O'Connor agreed to collaborate with Dempsey for the title track of the Negative Vibes EP in October 2002, prompting the renowned singer to include him as the opening act on her subsequent European tour. Released in May of 2003, Seize the Day was produced by former O'Connor collaborator John Reynolds, and featured a guest guitar spot by the legendary Brian Eno, but the album's most striking feature was the performance of its central figure: Dempsey had matured immeasurably as a songwriter and as an individual, better able to articulate his strong sense of morality and no longer apprehensive to sing in his natural, earthy tone. The album was released in the U.K. in May 2004 on the expatriate label IRL, and earned the artist two Meteor Ireland Music Awards.
Arriving in 2005, Shots became Dempsey's first album to be simultaneously released in Ireland and the U.K. Shots debuted at the top of the Irish Albums chart and achieved platinum status before the year was up, and Dempsey was accordingly honored as Best Irish Male at 2006's Meteor Awards. In fact, 2006 proved to be a banner year for Dempsey: the New York-based label United for Opportunity began releasing each of Dempsey's albums in America, Sing All Our Cares Away (a compilation of tracks from Seize the Day and Shots) became Dempsey's first release in Germany, and the singer's first live album, Live at the Olympia, arrived in June. All of this activity resulted in Dempsey winning the Best Irish Male award in 2007, marking his second consecutive win at the awards ceremony. 2007 also saw the release of Dempsey's fourth studio album, To Hell or Barbados, which debuted at number one in the Irish album charts. An all-covers album entitled Rocky Road followed in 2008. ~ Dave Donnelly, Rovi