Dundalk singer songwriter and storyteller David Keenan’s debut album ‘A Beginner’s Guide To Bravery’ comes out this Friday 10 January through Rubyworks.
First single, ‘Tin Pan Alley’, was released on September 13, accompanied by a video shot in Hellfire Studios, in the Dublin Mountains.
Speaking of the song, Keenan said,
“‘Tin Pan Alley’ came to me many moons ago. In a foreign flat, the thoughts of my daily reprieves flooding my head. Namely, walking the streets of London in the pissings of rain, absorbed by the narrow cobbled streets whose only purpose it seemed to me was to lead a man to another point of bewildered fascination.
The atmosphere thickened at night and from the cigarette smoke and fog came wordsmiths and melody men whose names had long since been lost, save for a yellowed newspaper article I’d found in a drawer of my digs, interminably waiting for a God or a Godot or a lost lover to dance that last slow dance before the sun woke up. That’s what I was seeing as the song revealed itself. That’s what I see now, except the faces have changed. I was alone in reality, but in the song I was not.”
The above quote should give the prospective listener an idea of what to expect from Keenan: he’s got this uncanny ability to fit 50 words in a sentence which might easily accommodate 10; and his singing style has a poetic cadence that loses nothing of his Irish accent, a technique which gives his voice a genuine earnestness that is sometimes lacking in contemporary artists, and goes part of the way to explaining Keenan’s loyal ever-growing following.
Self-releasing EPs over the past few years, David has managed to craft around himself a virtual world of songs and characters, which served as the foundation for his debut album, and will no doubt pull in fans new and old, siren-like.
Rubyworks has likewise been growing at a rate of knots in Ireland, developing a reputation for supporting quality Irish artists. This hasn’t gone beyond David’s notice, who in speaking of the signing said,
“I’d like to share the news with you all that I have signed with the Independent Irish label Rubyworks. I’ve always trusted my gut, listening to whispered advice stirred up from the subconscious. The songs are the self, the soil of the soul and the decision to allow them more time to breathe as an album came first with the decision to collaborate with Rubyworks coming shortly after.”
For many of us who’ve taken the train between Dublin and Belfast, Dundalk is a stop along the way – the last stop in the Republic before crossing over into Northern Ireland. But David Keenan turns the everyday, the average, into something extraordinary. An excellent example from ‘A Beginner’s Guide To Bravery’ is his song, ‘Good Old Days’, where he writes about Barrack Street, an unassuming place with rows of terraced houses either side. The two pubs which had formerly given the residents a sanctuary have closed down, set to give way to flats. To the untrained eye it’s a street where nothing ever happens, but in the hands of storyteller Keenan it comes alive, becoming a place “where the sailors all come in to greet their families”, where people gather in “the picture house where the navies and the banshees roam”. Just like in Keenan’s music, past and present and future join as one.
Keenan himself is like a man out of time – a modern day Samuel Beckett or even James Joyce; his lyrics are sheer poetry, and to find a modern equivalent you still have to go back 50 or so years to the music of Van Morrison.
“I’ve always understood that music, language, prose and poetry transcend modernity or any kind of time,” Keenan says. “I don’t attach myself to this period, or any past, present or future. Through the relationship with art and language I grew closer to my true self.” That true self is expressed on his remarkable debut album A Beginner’s Guide to Bravery. “The album is an embodiment of all that. Just trying to, through creative catharsis, self-educate and sculpt an inner world that become your outer world.”
‘A Beginner’s Guide To Bravery’ sees Keenan put all his life experience into the one record. The evocative ‘Subliminal Dublinia’, came to him while he was despairing of his surroundings, in a hotel in Hollywood. ‘Love In A Snug’ is pure Barrack Street, coming after,
“I saved up for two weeks to buy a suit when I was living with my grandfather. I got dressed up with nowhere to go in my best clothes, and walked from one end of the town to the other. I ended up on Barrack Street and there was a snug bar there, and the story just came, after weeks of binge drinking.”
Keenan’s Dundalk rings loudly throughout the album – the sounds and the smells of the town are vividly portrayed as are the mottled grey terraces. The changes he’s undergone in his life, and the people he’s met along the way, provide ample fodder for his writing.
“I get an image in my head of what their take on life is. What prejudices they have, what cigarettes they smoke, what they’re wearing. They create their own mythologies, these characters. They’re giving me clues. All the beautiful and demented parts of my own psyche, the extremities of other peoples’. Everything is absorbed and put into this petri dish and you watch it grow.”
Taking a mere week to record, split between 5 days in May and 2 in August, ‘A Beginner’s Guide To Bravery’ was produced by Gavin Glass, at Hellfire Studio, housed in a 200 year old building at the foot of the Dublin Mountains. There’s still more to come from Keenan, who having poured his life into his first album is still performing new songs live, with even more being jotted down in his ever-present notebook.
‘A Beginner’s Guide To Bravery’ is out this Friday, January 10, and to commemorate the release, Keenan will be perform songs and meet fans of all ages at a short run of in-store appearances. Entry is free, on a first come first served basis, at the following venues:
Friday 10th January – Tower Records, Dawson Street, Dublin (5.30pm)
Tuesday 14th January – OMG @ Zhivago, Shop Street, Galway (1pm)
Wednesday 15th January – Steamboat, Unit 4, Steamboat Quay, Limerick (4.30pm)
Thursday 16th January – Classified Records, McMahon Buildings, The Demesne, Dundalk (5pm)
In addition to these appearances, David will be sitting down with writer Tony Clayton-Lea for ‘David Keenan: Words And Music’, presented by Culture Vulture. The unique, intimate event is not to be missed, as he discusses the music, lyrical themes, and background to the songs from ‘A Beginner’s Guide To Bravery’. He’ll also be playing some tracks live and acoustic. Fans are invited to come to Bloody Mary’s, 7 William Street South, Dublin, at 8.3opm on Thursday 16 January. Tickets priced at €10 are available here.
Fans can see David Keenan live in concert on tour across Ireland and the UK at the following:
11th January -The Empire, Belfast, NI
13th January – The Olympia, Dublin, NI
5th March – Edinburgh, Mash House, Edinburgh, UK
6th March – Glasgow, King Tut’s
7th March – Surf Cafe, Newcastle, UK
8th March – Yes, Manchester, UK
10th March – The Cookie Jar, Leicester, UK
11th March – Cafe Totem, Sheffield, UK
12th March – Sunflower Lounge, Birmingham, UK
13th March – Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff, UK
15th March – Portland Arms, Cambridge, UK
16th March – The Joiners, Southampton, UK
17th March – Moth Club, London, UK