Gathered in the majestic Bush Hall, in West London, a crowd has come together to capture the magic and charm of Paul Dempsey.
He walks out on stage, but returns back stage for a couple of minutes as the batteries in his guitar pedals need replacing. “I’ll be back in a minute. I’m a total professional”, he says and the comfortable crowd have no fear, they know he will deliver the goods.
We kick off with Fast Friends from his 2009 release, Everything Is True. As he stands on stage, just him strumming and plucking his guitar, it surely is a good way to start. A crowd favourite obviously as the sing-a-long gets underway. If there was anyone that could disagree, it’s that Dempsey‘s vocals carry the perfect balance, like a fine wine he has only gotten better with age.
It’s a Wednesday night, as he reminds the crowd. “Let’s hear it for Wednesday night!” A little disoriented, he continues to share stories about his time spent in India just a few days ago. ‘A pit stop’ along the way of a long journey from Australia. His equipment took quite a beating but he seems unscathed, he asks: “Why does everyone come back from India a spiritual guru?” as we lead into the title track of his latest release, Strange Loop, released earlier this year.
“As Alanis Morrisette said, Thank you India” he adds.
Dempsey is in a quite a chatty mood this evening, as you can probably tell, which makes the evening even better, catching an insight and some of his wisdom. On the current book list, he is reading a Donald Trump biography, then quite wittingly leads into The Great Optimist – “A pre Trump song”. As the guitars come in, we can hear the raspiness of his vocals and as we lead into the chorus he leads in the perfect direction. The layered arrangement in the recorded track is captured on stage with just an acoustic guitar and thumping foot.
Besides all the chat, the connection with the audience, with his thought provoking and sometimes tongue twisting lyrics is truly magnetic. You can hear the glasses clinking at the bar in the entrance, the silence from the crowd is quite a rarity and a special moment these days. People loving a chat, and it’s the norm these days. But the attention on Dempsey just shows his finely crafted songs and presence are truly transfixing.
“Something for Kate fans?” the crowd lets out a big cheer. “Hang on, it might be the one that you press skip on”. But of course not, we hear an acoustic and raw version of Deja Vu from the band he has fronted since forming it in 1994.
Dempsey who isn’t afraid to put his spin on a cover song, without any effort jumps into a cover of Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes. Uses the crowd for little practice. “Weird things that happen in life; Playing with Bowie, India and playing with David Bowie’s band in Australia.’ He will sing with them back in Australia early next year, not something someone gets to do everyday.
“Worst pick up line ever, lets fall in love and disappoint each other”, explained as we head into a song off this year’s release Strange Loop, Be Somebody. A stand out in his performance, as if it’s the moment we have been waiting for. As the strings bounce so daintily, vocal spills over the crowd with its emotive lyrics. Leaving no one disappointing. What a cold Wednesday night needs.
And as we continue this journey together, get carried away with how any topic can be turned into something engaging that you can’t help to sing along to. He shares stories of writing about a simple topic, History. “History being a friend who needs a kick up the ass, a pre Trump song.”
Another cover, this time from Queen, in the form of Break Free and then it seems that our time together is coming to an end. An hour and forty five minutes with Dempsey could of easily been doubled, but I guess all good things need to come to an end with Bird In a Basement.
And like that we are left catching a glimpse of something special. He promises he will be back sooner, early next year to play us some more. With such a big catalogue, I doubt the time will be filled with nothing but greatness.
Words and Photos for Giggoer
Copyright Elizabeth Stephens