Ahead of the world premiere of Tales from the Holywell, Damien Dempsey’s life story directed by Conor McPherson in the Abbey at the end of this month, we revisit our cover story from October 2021 when we brought him and David Balfe (For Those I Love) together to interview each other. They grew up in the same estate but had never met properly.
Whilst viewing Love Yourself Today, Ross Killeen’s tremendous new documentary on Damien Dempsey and the power his music and message exerts over his fans, We started thinking about David Balfe (For Those I Love) and the transformative impact his debut album has also had on people. What if we could bring these two together? They are both from Donaghmede and there’s an overlap in their upbringing, their message, their outlook on life and the profound resonance their deeply personal experiences has on their devoted fans. They exude passion and integrity.
What if they spoke to each other and we merely facilitated it, gently steering proceedings, silently observing? They agreed. And it happened on a Saturday morning in Marsh’s Library. It turns out they are even both from the same estate in Donaghmede. And this was the first time they had met in person. From the warm embrace upon first meeting to the exchange of mobile numbers at the end, we know that, though this may be the first we hear of these two together, it won’t be the last.
What follows is an edited transcript of the wide-ranging conversations they had and the questions they came armed with for each other. We’ll steer you through proceedings, so pull up a chair.
Whilst we are arranging interior shots in Marsh’s Library, Dempsey and Balfe swap tales of local characters and places familiar to them both. Then we get on to how Damien first came across Ross Killeen. It was through 99 Problems, his short on an ice cream van man named Pinky.
DB: “I remember Pinky as a kid and he’d always be telling me, ‘All of the other icers are a load of bollocks and I’ll show you why.’ And he’d take the ice cream and fill it up and then he’d turn it upside down and say, ‘If it doesn’t stick, it’s a load of bollocks,’ And every other icer we’d go to, we’d turn it and just loose it.”
Then Dempsey informs Balfe that Killeen’s grandad was a famous billiards player and he lights up.
DB: “I’m a big pool fan. The biggest thing I’m looking forward to all is year is I have tickets to the Mosconi Cup in London.”
This is an annual nine-ball pool tournament and if you want to hear more about this and his sporting pursuits listen in to David’s chat with Second Captains.
DB: “I’ll have to talk to Ross about this. Snooker fans would laugh at it in terms of it being a joke.”
David talks about still kickboxing in Donaghmede and Damien wonders if it was in The Ryano. We never establish whether it is.
DB: “You boxed?”
DD: “Yeah, it was more a hobby to me. I had the guitar, writing songs and a way of keeping the bullies away.”
DB: “Do you still train at all?”
DD: “I still do a bit with the brothers, bleedin’ giants.”
There’s a laugh over this given Dempsey’s stature and how he towers over Balfe. They briefly chat about their favourite pubs – The Raheny Inn for Dempsey and Peadar Browne’s for Balfe, mostly because they are family-run. Then we get back to Donaghmede.
DB: “2005, Chanel College, Mick Phelan, English teacher had you in.”
DD: “Were you in the class?”
DB: “I would have been.”
DD: “I know Mick, Jaysus Christ.”
DB: “I don’t remember a whole lot.”
DD: “I was too nervous back then. None of the kids would have known who I was. I think the teacher was more of a fan.”
DB: “You had an evangelist in him because he used to print out the lyrics and hand them out around the class. I specifically remember Mick having a print out of Negative Vibes and handling it around and breaking that down under the same guise that you would try and break down Sylvia Plath or whatever you had in Chrysalis, the English book. He understood at an early age that in order to get through to a bunch of lads in Coolock you needed to speak to them in their language, in a way that they felt connected to. That would have been the idea of bringing you in in the first place.”
DD: “I remember I wasn’t ready for that. I was really nervous…Lack of self esteem and not much confidence in meself at the time. Mick was brilliant really wanted to show the kids that you can be an artist from these places, a working artist.”
This brings us around to talking about how bringing the world they came from is something intrinsic to both of them. Demspey still lives in Donaghmede while Balfe is currently in Rialto.
DD: “We have a great community in Donaghmede, if you go to Dunnes Stores all the girls on the check-outs will talk to you. That’s why I’ve come back to there. It’s like a womb for me. I think David nailed it. You’ll never hear a better song about Donaghmede than Brendan. There were tears in my eyes when I heard that song. He nailed the beauty of it and the other side of it.
DB: “I don’t know how to reflect anything else. I’m not a gifted enough storyteller to write fiction so I don’t know how to reflect anything other than the life that I’ve been very lucky to be born into. And when it comes down to that reflection of beauty against that reflection of violence and poverty which we more often see on a headline basis, I think both of those narratives play against each other, certainly in my music and listening to Damo’s music I would say it’s there also.
“Part of the reason why we associate certain areas with these terrible tragedies is it is very rare that you can write a positive headline, it doesn’t grab attention. It’s very difficult to find a way to concisely describe the beauty and the collective worth and the connection between communities, neighbours, families and friends but it’s very easy to say this thing happened.
“It’s very difficult to find a way to concisely describe the beauty and the collective worth and the connection between communities, neighbours, families and friends but it’s very easy to say this thing happened.”
“Reflecting that beauty comes naturally, maybe when I was younger I tried to do it a bit more defiantly, but that’s because when I was younger with the music my friends and I were trying to make, we were trying to rally against that media narrative. We were younger, we had a lot more anti-authoritative thread to our personalities and that was coming out as a reflection of love and beauty. What we were seeing and being told was violence, limitations and you’re not going anywhere so it’s a very strange trend of anti-authoritarian behaviour to go down the avenue of love and beauty.”
At this stage Dempsey reaches for his sheet of questions. He was going to write them down the pub “but I said don’t, be fresh, write them at your fucking writing table ya prick!”
DD: Did you ever think or feel when younger that poetry was the domain of people not where you were from?
DB: “No, and I’m very lucky that’s that the case. When I first got interested in the written word and what it could do and communicate, it was encouraged by my uncle Darren, he gave me a lot of access to Irish songwriters who spoke in the same colloquialism, spoke stories about the same world that I lived in – Seán Millar, for example, he gave me The Bitter Lie on CD when I was very young and that came at the exact same time that I was first feeling enthralled with the written word. That alone allowed me to accept that this was something that could be representative of my life and done in a manner that didn’t shy away from colloquialism, slang and the way that I have learned to communicate in all of its black humour and pacing. When I got older I got exposed to a wider poetic vocabulary. Darren used the local word to convince me that this was a path to communicate.”
DD: “That’s great, just that one person in your life can change everything.”
Now it’s time for Balfe to reach for his notebook and drop his first question.
DB: “I’ve watched the film a few times now and one of the things I was struck by is how people seem to have these spiritual moments at your shows. And when I look at it, I am trying to draw parallels between that live music experience and a more traditional religious experience where you can walk into somewhere, where there is a group of people standing in one direction, speaking in one direction, orating together in this swell. Everybody is going to that whether it is a religious experience or a music one, they are going to that carrying their own baggage, their own trauma and looking for a way to exorcise that. I was wondering what you can say about the spiritual experience of music and how that even fits into a broader history of Irish spiritualism and how music always fits into that from drum circles on to where we are at now?”
DD: “Music is like when you meditate. When you meditate you feel the spirit inside you, you focus, you drop all the crazy thoughts. You have to focus. If you’re singing you have to remember the next line and try and stay in time and nearly in key. Music and singing are two of the few spiritual entities in the physical world. Scientists have realised now that if you sing to water and put it under a microscope, there are changes in the molecular structure. It becomes all crystallised and beautiful. I sing to the water at home (he chuckles) and we’re mostly made up of water. Communal singing is really good for people and goes way back into our history, singsongs, it’s on Brendan. Sing all your troubles away, singsongs in all the houses in Donaghmede is what I remember as a child. I always felt safe at these, there was never any trouble. You were happy, it was magic. I grew up in a singsong house and I just wanted to carry that on to the venues, get everyone singing together. The vibration is just incredible, it puts everyone on a good frequency and you’re still high the next day, still buzzing. That’s what I try to do with the music.”
“Singsongs in all the houses in Donaghmede is what I remember as a child. I always felt safe at these, there was never any trouble. You were happy, it was magic.”
This brings us on to the live experience, something which Balfe has yet to encounter under For Those I Love. In spite of the acclaimed album being released in March, the pandemic put paid to live shows around it. Finally they are looming on the horizon with a tour and a Dublin date in the Olympia in November.
DB: “I parked it until a week and a half ago and I haven’t been able to sleep for the past week and a half thinking about it. I’m a bit worried knowing that I am going to go into that room and the songs I am going to sing have that emotional weight and resonance and knowing that everyone else in the room is bringing own history and relating to those songs with their own lost people in their minds and in their hearts. I’m nervous and worried about what that could do to me and do to them, understanding that there is this responsibility there and it was something I tried to take on board when I was making the music, but that changes a little bit when it comes to playing it in a live setting, to make sure that the people who leave that room don’t leave with a greater weight than they came in with. I think that’s something that feels very evident in the documentary, the cycle that it goes through very much hit that harsh middle crescendo and there’s a lot of pain in that room but when you finish things off and you’re gone and everybody is still singing Love Yourself Today, I feel you understood that sense of responsibility and left them lighter.”
DD: “Just get them all crying in the middle of the gig and then uplift it at the end.”
DB: “That’s the formula?”
DD: “Get them crying and singing at the end. I love crying, you get a great release after crying. It must be the endorphins released after it.”
This brings us on to the damage inflicted by not being in touch with your emotions and the legacy of it for generations of men.
DD: “A lot of the men in Donaghmede would have been beaten by their fathers or the Christian Brothers, the cycle of violence…There was so much fighting around Donaghmede when I was younger, so many scraps. By the time David came on the scene, cocaine had burst on the scene and it became murders then. There were no killings when I was growing up, you’d get your nose or jaw broken or your teeth knocked in, but nobody died. Cocaine brought the guns and so much violence. You can do terrible things on cocaine.”
He wonders if Balfe was aware of this growing up.
DB: “The first one (murder) I specifically remember when I was seven, on my road. When I asked my parents they just said someone owed money, it was never related back to tangible things. Someone was killed and left on my road. I don’t think I understood it was coming from the same cycle of violence and death and despair, it took me until I was a lot older. The first time I ever left my road, Keith Cox lived at the end of the road, we had bikes and he brought me around the corner because two nights earlier a chap had hung himself with a school tie, that was my first time leaving the house. I went back and told my ma, god bless my ma and da, they’re amazing, but they didn’t respond to me faced with the idea of a suicide, but said, ‘You’re not supposed to go off the fucking road, what were you doing going off the road?’ One of the first experiences of my geography opening up was not a positive one.
“Over the years, that grew a little bit more and I got to see more peripheral deaths, it became a bit more apparent. When I was in school, maybe fourth year, when a friend from class was killed in a drugs related death, that was the first time we had a verbal acceptance of the cause. And then it took years again then for us to understand what it could have been that pushed him or sent him down that avenue in the first place. Again, that cycle of despair that he lived with for years and the lack of hope, the lack of economic stability. It took me a long time to see the drugs issue in the first place and it took me longer again to try and make sense of what brought people down that path, whether it was building an addiction or trying to build a life from the sale and distribution of drugs, all extremely tragic.
“I wouldn’t be a big crier and when I lost my best mate, I went very cold and I think the meds that I take probably quell it a bit. The first time I watched the doc, I did cry and cried a lot because when I was watching it I saw one of my best friends in the crowd singing his heart out and that show would have been end of December 2019 and end of November his younger brother was shot.”
Balfe goes on to talk about some personal details concerning this which are best kept off the record. He does relate how seeing his mate with his “arm around a pal, feeling freedom and ecstasy, made me not worry about him for the first time in a long time.” He even put on some Jackson C Frank that night such was the power of the documentary.
DD: “The ‘80s were tougher than now but there was fuck all suicides. I wonder if there was still a bit of faith there? It all broke down in the ‘90s with the church scandals and people went atheist. I can’t remember any suicides in the ‘80s even if it was dog rough. Maybe the drugs weren’t around then.”
We talk about the importance of community and getting kids into sports and the arts before Dempsey crumples the paper and asks his next question.
DD: “You’re obviously an emphatic, sensitive, ‘aul soul brother, but I have a hunch that you feel the pain of the world more than most of those around you. Have you ever tried to dull that pain with the dangerous tools that people use to do this? Or was writing the songs enough?”
DB: “I’d have the on-and-off pains of the drink that gets its claws into me sometimes. I’m on a current self-imposed sabbatical at the moment. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve been able to spot when it’s getting a bit much, but there was a strong long period, after I lost me best mate (the mate he refers to is Paul Curran, the poet who died in 2018 and to whom the album is dedicated to). There was two to three months where I didn’t drink at all because I know that this formula doesn’t work.”
Dempsey talks about self-preservation, the “survival mechanism kicking in” and how the worst thing you can do is “go on the bottle.”
DB: “I thought it was grand, because it was at first, but I did turn the tap on then and I felt relief, I felt total relief. I felt better but that didn’t last and that continued, maybe it took a higher and higher level and ultimately I was seeking total oblivion day in and day out and was going to work drunk on the bus.
“It drained me of everything else, it numbs you. I definitely wasn’t very creative at that time. Maybe I had sparks and wrote a few little bits but there was no excitement and no sense of honesty. I knew I was lying to myself going, ‘This is great, I’m out every night talking to girls.’
“It was because there was an unbelievable weight of pain and if you settle into it, it can eat you alive. I’ll be also quite honest and say there’s a part of me that thinks I wouldn’t do it different again, because there’s a part of me that thinks I needed to seek that oblivion, I needed to numb myself. I know that there’s much, much, better ways to deal and cope with that pain. I was still training and kick-boxing. Sometimes I think I don’t know how I’d have been able to survive if I didn’t numb myself for that long…it got very dangerous towards the end and relationships fell apart, the terror of getting up and knowing it’s got its claws into you. And it took me a long time to be able to break away from that and it was very traditional methods that did let me break away from that. It wasn’t the singing and making music because I was still several steps away from that. It was traditional therapy, it was trying to break away from the alcohol and reestablish the connection of love in my relationships and all of those things freed up whatever it was that I needed inside me to get the creative activity flowing again. And it wasn’t until that happened that I actually started to exorcise and loose some of that pain instead of just pushing it down and pushing it down, and it gets harder to push down each day, so you need more to push it down.
“You’re obviously an emphatic sensitive ‘aul soul brother, but I have a hunch that you feel the pain of the world more than most of those around you? “
DD: “When my mate took his own life. I went on the spirits, the early houses and all. I fucked off to London for a year. Like Dave was saying (in terms of fooling oneself), ‘This is great, I’m grand now. That’s what happens in life, people die and you just move on,’ whilst lashing brandy into you and loads of e tablets. I’d be losing half the week from the sessions. I wouldn’t be able to write and was drowning my creativity.”
We move on to discussing the creative process and how they approach it. Damien does it during the week when he’s fresh. David is reluctant to turn it into “a thing of labour” and risk “falling out of love with this thing which has given me so much hope and space.” We the discuss the importance of who you surround yourself and get advice from.
DB: “I only really deal with two people. I had no interest in doing music professionally, I liked doing music in my shed and that was it. They (his managers Ash Houghton and Theo Lalic) pressed me and started coming over and spending time here. I took a level of trust in these two young guys who, I would say, have had a similar life to me and a lot of parallels. I think they have a similar sense of reverence and responsibility around music and what it can be and mean to people. I feel at this stage there’s an understanding between us. But really, it’s friends and family where proper counsel comes from, it’s ringing me ma…My ma doesn’t have the first clue about music or business, but she has a gut feeling about things. It was my ma who encouraged me in the first place saying, you should give this a shot, you should see how it goes. She’s got the intuition.”
Damien is back on his questions.
DD: “Were you ever told much about our vibrant bardic history in this land and how important poetry and the poet was to our ancestors and how esteemed the bards were in our society?”
DB: “No, and I didn’t know what a bard was until I was about 20. In fact, I do have the word ‘bard’ written on my page when I was thinking about you. It never came up in school and if it did it wasn’t brought up in a memorable fashion. It never came up in my external music history even from the likes of my uncle, there was no exposure to an Irish music history beyond the 20th century. When I was writing this album, at first I was reading a lot about Sydney Owenson, who is a very interesting figure in Irish music and one of the great Irish harpists. And from there, I read a lot more about the history of Irish music, particularly about harpists because I was trying to teach myself the harp at that time.
“Even still, in those books they were almost struggling to draw on references. It seems like the history may not have been properly explored or archived. I know I have missed out massively on that part of my musical understanding. Likewise with storytelling, how little I know about the seanchaí. My favourite thing about going to see any trad acts over the years has been the history lesson before they played the song, this capsule of history.”
DD: I was lucky, the ballad boom was still going when I was young. We had The Furies and The Dubliners, Christy Moore and the Dublin City Ramblers.”
DB: “You grew up in a singing house and it was all ballad focused?”
DD: “No, there was all sorts – Sinatra, Country and Western, Ella Fitzgerald…”
DB: “I got a bit of Sinatra in me nanny’s house. My grandad would have been singing a bit of that.”
DD: “Do you think that hip hop has awakened the old poetic soul of Ireland in the youth here cause there’s so much more kids doing spoken word now?”
DB: “Yeah, I think that’s fairly certain, but I think there’s a few things at play. It’s not just the popularity of hip hop alone because, I mean maybe I’m very ignorant to the history of Irish rap, but my knowledge is there wasn’t the same boom in terms of hip hop in the days of Scary Éire as there is now. They were almost a misnomer, a stand out, an excellent stand out. (‘incredible’ intersects Dempsey.) “I’d love to trace more of the genesis of musical storytelling. I do think there is a very clear historical thread between the seanchaí and vocal storytelling today.
“On hip hop alone, I do think there’s a lot going on and I don’t think it gets talked about enough is the access to making music in the first place. People cracking software, getting cheap laptops and USB microphones, any of these things that broke down the barriers between you and the massive studio set-up, you and the financial barrier of going inside somewhere to make music. I think opening that up has allowed for so many more voices to come forward and once you have one friend with the microphone, the speakers and a couple of very basic boom bap beats, I think that can be enough to encourage you to follow the path.”
DD: “Did you ever hear Lisdoonvarna? Sure Christy was doing hip hop a long time before others.”
Balfe laughs in agreement. We’re about an hour into the conversation.
DB: “You were talking about Lethal Dialect earlier and I know Paulie but I don’t know the rest of the lads well and I hold GI in a spot of reverence as the best Irish producer of all time. I can’t explain how enthralled I am by his production. I see the collective and the group encouragement that all evolves around house to house and bedroom to bedroom with access to laptops, speaker and microphone and that was the exact same experience I had with my friends, everyone coming to my shed with a 200 quid laptop and a microphone. I don’t think Paul (Curran) would have done the spoken word if we hadn’t been fumbling our way through then world making music as teenagers together and I don’t think we’d have been doing that unless my uncle gave me an old computer that his job was throwing out with a piece of cracked software on it.”
Dempsey references a track he recently recorded in a bedroom in Balgriffin with God Creative, Teddy Darling and Chris Kabs about the link with Ireland and Jamaica. We chat about how the route to exposure is easier these days, but the challenge is staying focused.
DD: “It depends how stubborn you are and if you want to see the people who told you were shite and you’ll never do nothing and what are you doing and your wasting your time. It depends if you want to just look at them someday and smile at them and see them shrivel…the look of certain people, they won’t look at you.”
Damien is back on his list. This is his first time doing one. He’s a pro.
DD: “Did you ever think that the impassioned words that flow from your soul forging the pain and joy of life would end up being digested by millions on the biggest, most important, show in the UK? (he’s referring to David’s appearance on Jools Holland)”
DB: “No, I didn’t and I’ve been very open and honest about this. When I made this, it was for my friends and my family and that was it. I never imagined it. When I was young working on other projects, I would have allowed myself fantasise – to create that world in my head where I am standing with my friends and we’re playing and there’s that public response. And you’re awake in bed as a 16-year-old playing it all out and the glory of it all…And you go through the whole thing, you shun it, you cast the media away but with this project I’d never thought about a public response. And I didn’t really engage with it until the lads wanted to put it out at a bigger level…to put some platform behind it and that’s when I was forced to reckon with it. That’s when you talk to the ma and you try and get that wisdom and it’s when you talk to your friends and you ask them how they feel about that, because there’s that sense of responsibility, these songs are about my friends, but I’m still not trying to put people’s business in the street. I had to battle with that responsibility and make peace with the idea of making this public.
The only thing that has allowed me to break with some of the guilt around that is the public response to it, reading the messages and they come so fast and they are so rich with detail and pain and trauma but understanding that people are reaching out because this piece of music that’s been made in a shed has somehow allowed them to uncover something about themselves or allowed them to take steps in making peace with some pain that they have, it’s a tremendous weight…
David trails off before switching focus back to Damien.
DB: “Watching your film and seeing in the crowd all of these people having such an undoing of who they are in public, I wonder what sort of weight you feel looking at that and whether it is a cleansing thing or something that makes you feel more of a sense of responsibility, or whether there’s an indifference?”
DD: “The travellers in Coolock call me the crying man so I’m just chuffed that I can make people cry. It’s not me, it’s coming through me from somewhere, a good place.
DB: “What do you think that is? that place?”
DD: “A great spirit, somewhere good anyway. That takes the responsibility off.”
DB: “I’m going to have to start thinking about it that way (laughs)
DD: “Listen to aul fucking master, listen to the elders…”
We start talking about the pandemic and how it affected them.
DD: “I tried to be philosophical about it. I was asked to write a one-man show for the Abbey so I just threw meself into that…The money thing, I was screwed. I was getting threatening letters off banks and stuff but me mother used to say if you owe a big financial institution money, let them worry about it, don’t destroy yourself…Me head was wrecked as well but I threw myself into the sea and walked up Howth Head a lot. You could see the mountains of Mourne, the Wicklow mountains and Tara hill.
“My ancestors would fucking laugh at you if you were talking about this lockdown compared to what they went through. Some people are getting a terrible diagnosis today, struggling with money and going a bit mad but as long as you have your health. There were these little things that would snap me out of it and give me some headspace when I was getting a bit down. I’ve learned over the years.”
DB: “I’ve been super lucky, I don’t know any different. This is my first time at the circus and I kept my job during all of it so have been hyper busy. I’ve even very very privileged in that I haven’t had to worry so much and I also haven’t had something taken away from me in terms of the performance because this is new to me. I don’t feel I can speak accurately to the difficulties a lot of artists are facing.”
At this stage Damien realises he’s late for a lunch appointment and so stands up to make a call. I ask David about his relationship with the city at the moment.
DB: “I feel like because I have spent so much time underground that Dublin’s become a little bit of a stranger to me and that breaks my heart a little bit because I had such a close relationship with Dublin beforehand. With that said, I have no urge whatsoever to leave. I never have. I have gone once before to Norway for six months…I missed Dublin every single day that I was there. I live with my partner who was in the high risk category so we were in…It was like Fort Knox and now I am starting to rediscover it…and the city is strange at the moment, it really is, the whole vibe of it is odd. I’m just excited to rebuild that relationship and it doesn’t go in one direction. I’m excited for Dublin to feel my presence in it again.
“The city is strange at the moment, It really is, the whole vibe of it is odd. I’m just excited to rebuild that relationship and it doesn’t go in one direction. I’m excited for Dublin to feel my presence in it again.“
Damien returns to the scene.
DD: “The Olympia is going to be some gig.”
DB: “Let’s see, yeah, let’s see…”
DD: “What do you mean let’s fucking see.”
It turns out that while Dublin was intended to be the first gig of his long-awaited tour, it will be Glasgow now with the date moving to November. It also turns out that Damien’s cousin Caroline will be doing the stage design for the show. She’s dropping over to David’s the following day to go through it.
It’s time for David’s final question.
DB: What do you want for young people now?
DD: “I supposed I’d like them to be able get a roof over their head…If they hadn’t built those big corporation estates back in the day, my parents even though they were all working, they’d have all been fucking homeless. We had very little money, and massive depressions and all, but we were able to build so much social housing. I wish that for them. And I suppose to get back to nature a bit, touching the land. Even getting your bare feet into a river or a lake or the sea or the sand or the land, getting back to nature a bit would be great and meditation and stuff like that…I think they should sing every day, everyone should sing a few songs, it’s really good for you, even if you can’t sing just go to a quiet room. Stillness is good, I get it from singing.”
DB: “I fully back you on the bare feet on the grass. I don’t have a garden now and it breaks me heart.”
DD: “The church divorced us from nature whereas before that it was about the land and the earth and we knew so much about it and we looked after it and respected it. But when the Abrahamic religions came in, it cut us off all that and said it was all up here in the sky, we need to get back to the land. We lived in harmony with it for a couple of hundred thousand years, we can learn a lot from the indigenous people if you look back. we need to be a little like them.”
“When the Abrahamic religions came in, it cut us off all that and said it was all up here in the sky, we need to get back to the land.”
DD: “I think we need to vote the civil war parties out. I don’t think they are going to change. They’ve never been voted out. We need a left-wing coalition in my view. We need a change. And someone who actually cares about workers, frontline workers who can’t afford to live, it’s a fucking joke…Top Scheme – what a fucking song, it lifted my heart to no end.”
DB: “Thank you. I didn’t grow up in a particularly political family. My younger sister drove me, from an early age, into politics more than anyone else. My younger sister is a true powerhouse, probably the most inspiring person I know. I would have been politicised at a young age, probably 14 or 15. I wouldn’t say it’s waned, but I’ve had bouts of feeling, at times, almost indifferent to the traditional political routes. Then I warmed myself back around to it, I don’t know how much I am fooling myself or not though.”
Damien asks his final question.
DD: “Do you believe that you have a role in the tribe, you have a role in this land?”
DB: “I think I probably do but I am struggling to accept that I do out of some typically Irish sense of self-deprecation. I’ve been learning over the past couple of years how to accept a compliment, very hard to do that and then you realise when you don’t accept somebody’s compliment you are just telling them that they are wrong. I am starting to accept the wider role and sense of responsibility, but all of that collective sense comes from my understanding of my role in my personal tribe to start with first and foremost – what my role is in my family and my friends and being able to accept and understand that and then I can accept it in a wider sense.”
I ask them if they have a wish for each other, or any advice, before they leave. It feels kind of clunky and a dreaded sidebar of an interjection, a resort to humour is the way they acknowledge that.
DB: “I saw the chipper van for Fat John’s was up for sale on Done Deal recently so my advice is for you to buy that and get it going.”
DD: “Ah nice, so I’ll be like Fat John now in five years. Ya fucking cunt ya. Fat Damo.”
DB: “I’ll go in with you 100%. I don’t feel I can give any man advice at times.”
DD: “I realise there’s a guilt ingrained in us from centuries, we need to cast off that fucking Abrahamic guilt.”
DB: “I’ve been trying, it’s tough.”
DD: “I find myself going through old memories looking for something to feel bad or guilty about.
My advice is do some mushrooms the odd time!”
I suggest people need to let it go to install some calmness in their lives.
DD: “I have a new song called Let it Go. So many people could be doing great things but they’re fucked with guilt. I see them in Coolmine there, I do some work there and people are so guilty about what they done when they were using. It’s stopping them from doing good things. Sometimes you have to let things go. It’s not easy.”
DB: “People find it very hard to let go of guilt especially because we live in a world that compounds guilt on top of people as well and doesn’t allow them to repent for past mistakes, especially past mistakes that were made out of total trauma. It’s very, very, hard for people to let go of that guilt. It worries me.”
“Sometimes you have to let things go. it’s not easy”
We get ready to wrap things up having spent three hours in each other’s company. Damien confides this is the first interview he’s ever done. I ask him if he’s feeling all Tommy Tiernan?
DD: “He’s great, he goes deep very quickly like five seconds in, ‘do you cry a lot?’ Straight in.”
DB: “You had the audience there, I had none so I got lucky.”
DD: “How did it go?”
DB: “It was heavy, heavy but it was great cause after it finished and the cameras had gone away he was like, ‘How you doing? Are you ok to drive home?’ He had no fucking clue who I was. To be honest, I was freaked afterwards because I couldn’t remember it and was terrified of what I said. It was my first experience being in a big studio on that side of the camera. I was just sort of a bit freaked out and blasted though the whole thing. Afterwards, I was petrified. He’s very (David does a the deep stare at Damien).
DD: “The hypnotist.”
DB: “Yeah, you fall into a pub conversation where I’m telling stuff about my life that I don’t want public. The night it came out I was in the gaff by myself alone. I put the phone underneath the couch and turned it off so I couldn’t get to it.”
Needless to say, David made the mistake of looking at his phone and the reaction later that night, “It was the worst mistake. All the voices in me head going, ‘Don’t do that. don’t do that,’ you’ve told everyone in your life not to do that and then that one little voice going, ‘Just see what they say and Jesus Christ I was devastated. I felt like I was ready to set up an account on boards.ie and give out me address and say, ‘C’mon down if you want to say that. The trolls were seriously on one.” To which Damien responds, “If you didn’t look at them, they’d bleedin’ die.”
It feels like a weirdly fitting note to end on with the master imparting more wisdom to a budding apprentice. We stand up and there’s a genuine sense of calm in the air, it feels like a special moment has just occurred for everyone.
Words: Michael McDermott
Love Yourself Today is released on November 5.
We would like to extend our sincere thanks to the staff of Marsh’s Library for being so facilitating, at short notice, of our request to use their hallowed halls for this special occasion. We would also like to thank Open House Dublin for trying to help us in this respect.
Tales from the Holywell previews in the Abbey Theatre on January 30 and runs until February 18.