David Keenan: “Art can change your life, and create a movement

by James Hendicott

David Keenan is your quintessential live performer, so naturally lockdown has been hard on the Louth man, a character who mixes poetry and music in a style somewhat reminiscent of classic troubadours like Bob Dylan, focusing his tracks heavily on building an intense live show.

Like many of us, then, Keenan has spent part of lockdown reminiscing about what used to be. S

pecifically, he’s been looking back at his live efforts, and tying together years worth of tour films – clips dating back to when he started out promoting his work by sticking posters on city walls – with footage from his Olympia Theatre date earlier this year.

“The inability to express yourself live, and just to have contact with each other, it’s been hard,” Keenan tells me when I ask about how he’s spent his time in recent months.

“What I’ve made in the film is condensed from three years, from Rob Benson, including open mic lights at the start though to the Olympia Theatre. It’s about the positive impact that music brings to a life, and the musical community in Ireland.”

“It’s also about finding a tribe, self acceptance and realising a dream, which is what the Olympia show was for me. It was finding a band, kicking up some dust around Dublin, and the collective encouragement of my tribe, and facing fear face on.”

“I was on tour in March. All summer was obviously cancelled, but the film bookends the story of this chapter of my life. The passing of Gar Kane, by bandmate, features heavily in the film, and I’m still reeling from that.

“I think it will help to keep my spirit of live music alive, and the story shows the collective graft from everyone involved. There was no big management company or label or anything, it was just word of mouth. People helped me a lot along the way.”

Keenan has been one of the rising stars of Irish music in recent years, and his profound, connected approach to lyrics and performance lends him a natural link with many Irish songwriters that came before him.

He talks a lot about hope, togetherness and support for each other, and feels he has found connections that have meant everything to him during his time in Dublin in recent years.

“I had this wild fire to start with. People like Gar Kane and Gavin Glass really helped me with that, and I felt like I’d found a purpose with these people,” he says. “Trying to get a foothold, kick up some dust and so on… these people encouraged me and accepted me and I grew to accept myself, too, as a result.”

“Art can change your life, and create a movement, and people might sneer – I get that, it’s valid – but when you get a group of people around you who feel the same way, there’s a real sense that you can achieve things together, with love and laughter.”

“It’s strange looking at the footage from the Olympia, now that you can’t even touch somebody. But I feel like for the last few years have shown for me that I didn’t need to sign my life away as a 15 year old to a management company; that I could do things my own way and still make an impact.”

The footage is half live show, and half Keenan’s wider musical life, making for a broad angle on what his rise has been like.

“I think I become more myself as the film goes on, and you see the way that things are born, my Irish comes out, and so on. I call it ‘the end of the beginning’. I’m working on the second album now, pouring everything into it. That’ll come out next year, and it’s definitely another evolution.”

David Keenan’s live documentary ‘Alchemy and Prose’, filmed in the Olympia Theatre before lockdown, can be seen on his YouTube channel now.

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