Leave Fear at the Door

David Keenan (Photo: Rich Gilligan)

Leave Fear at the Door

In her second review for our Galway City and County Music Writer Mentoring Scheme, Kerri Haberlin reviews a performance by songwriter David Keenan at the Róisín Dubh, ahead of the release of his debut album.

The rain has stopped momentarily in Galway and a crowd has gathered in the Róisín Dubh. Irish singer-sonneteer David Keenan from Dundalk is nearing the end of his Irish tour ahead of the release of his debut album A Beginner’s Guide to Bravery in January.

The opening act is Stephen Murphy, a poet from Leitrim now based in Limerick. His rendition of ‘Before You Push the Chair’ reminds us of the stark reality of modern Ireland. People are struggling. The audience applaud in agreement. He then introduces another critical national topic of discussion, our love for pets, with ‘Email from Dog to Man’ and ‘A Letter from the Right Honourable Cat’. He closes with ‘The Healing’, a reminder that in time all things can mend. 

Captivating compositions
Two candles have been lit at either side of the stage. David Keenan arrives onto it alone. He asks that any fears and judgements be left at the door, declaring that tonight we must be present in the moment. He commences with ‘Big Boys Must Cry’. One word springs to mind after a few minutes: bard. Keenan is a storyteller, a poet delivering epics set to captivating compositions. Lyrically, he strips himself bare during ‘Full Stop’: ‘Pour your tears into my mouth, Take this gift of quiet love’. While he wants the audience to feel at ease, he doesn’t let us get too comfortable. We need to be more involved. His band of drums, violin, keys, bass and rhythm guitar join him for ‘Unholy Ghosts’. The crowd demands quiet as they begin ‘Altar Wine’. Mid-way through, Keenan hushes us and comes down from the stage, candle in hand, instructing the audience to get down on the floor with him. The crowd follow him down, hanging on his every word. 

The band lead into the ‘Good Old Days’. The sound is so balanced, the lilt and softness of Keenan’s voice never drowned out. In ‘Origin of the World’, he laments falling in love again: ‘Wish me luck, I’m in trouble again, I’m in love with a woman friend.’ He discloses how difficult crossing this terrain can be: ‘Being chased by this beast‚ how many young fellas died? Poets digging their trenches have been buried, buried alive, by this clandestine creature with the kill in her eyes’. His lyrics are raw and complex. 

Brought back in time
Winding the evening down with ‘Evidence of Living’, Keenan compels us to put down our phones and be more present. ‘Is there any evidence of living left in this town? Would I find any evidence of living amongst you saddening crowds?’ This evening has felt like we were brought back in time, to when things were simpler and modern accessories didn’t intrude on our daily lives; people just gathered around and exchanged stories and moments. 

Keenan and his band close out their last song and before they have the time to leave, the audience have already expressed their need for more. The last song of the evening is to be ‘Subliminal Dublinia’. He thanks us all for joining him but reminds us to ‘Fuck the fear’. 

As the band and Keenan exit, the crowd are in no rush to leave. We have all witnessed an extraordinary artist narrate his sharp and melodic fables, which enabled us to be present in the moment and to forget about fears, for just a few hours. 

David Keenan’s new album, A Beginner’s Guide to Bravery, will be released on Rubyworks records on 10 January. Visit www.davidkeenan.ie

This is the ninth review published as part of the Journal of Music/Galway City and County Music Writer Mentoring Scheme 2019 and is supported by Galway City Council and Galway County Council Arts Offices. Over the course of a year the editorial team of the Journal of Music work with six new writers – Rachel DeckardMassimo CattaneoJake Tiernan and Kerri Haberlin (Galway City), and James Fleming and Tara Broderick (County Galway) – and publish their reviews of music in Galway.

Read more about our previous Music Writer Mentoring Schemes here.


Published on 19 December 2019

Kerri Haberlin is an arts practitioner currently working in Dublin but based in Galway. Having studied Music Technology and Production at Limerick Institute of Technology followed by an MA in Festive Arts from the University of Limerick, Kerri has pursued her love for music and the arts, whether it be behind the scenes as an organiser at festivals such as Spraoi in Waterford or performing on stage as a singer. Kerri is always keen to hear new talent and support local musicians.

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