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Ian Dempsey on Bowie: 'I was so captivated by his music I had to go back the next night'

On the fifth anniversary of the death of David Bowie, Ian Dempsey pays tribute to his musical hero and looks back at some of his gigs in Ireland.

Ian Dempsey

I WAS HOOKED on Bowie from an early age. Along with millions of TV viewers in 1972 (49 years ago, eek!) David Bowie pointed directly at me, looked down the lens and beckoned me to follow him. This was non-stodgy, new, futuristic. Like someone I had never seen before. I joined the cult.

In these last few months, imagine, just imagine, the idea of going to a concert with thousands of other sweaty people – indoors and all – and loving it so much that you spontaneously decide to go again the next night after making a call to the promoter’s office pleading, promising and plámásing.

Completely impossible to do now (only for the moment – those days WILL be back) but that’s how it was in 1990 when David Bowie played two consecutive nights at The Point in Dublin.


I was so captivated by the music and the sheer brilliance of the performance that I just had to witness it again.

david-bowie-death BOWIE died aged 69, after an 18-month battle with cancer. Pictured: DAVID BOWIE and CANDY CLARK in a scene from the 1976 movie 'The Man Who Fell To Earth'. Source: EMI

I’m not sure if I’m being forgetful or deluded here but as far as I can remember I went both nights on my own and just stood there looking at the thin white stardust chameleon in absolute awe.

Johnny No Mates had the time of his life I can assure you. My wife Ger was at home with our six-month-old (non-sleeping) first child Shane but she let me off on my little adventure without a word.

This concert was called The Sound & Vision Tour and was a slick ‘all the hits’ package which relentlessly went from one hit to a bigger hit to even more greatest hits.

Three years earlier I had seen Bowie in Slane on The Glass Spider Tour and, being my first time to see him live, I was a bit underwhelmed, to say the least.

00109705 Fans at the David Bowie concert at Slane. 1987 Source: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

It was piddling rain for a start and the concert was obviously choreographed as a theatrical event with lots of little touches and nuances which were impossible to take in during daylight hours and in such a big area.

Meeting your heroes

On the day, I was invited backstage by Marty Whelan who was filming an interview with Bowie but I stupidly declined, citing some ridiculous quote about ‘never meeting your heroes’ – having wised up a bit, I did meet him on two other occasions – in The Clarence Hotel and backstage at The Reality Tour in 2003.

He was, on both occasions, an absolute gentleman and the most normal person in the room. It was like he clocked in to go on stage as a superstar and was simply Mr Jones when the gig was over.

One of the urban myths about the 2003 gig, which is probably true knowing the Irish sense of humour, was that he asked somebody backstage for an Irish phrase to say after he greeted the crowd. Some mischievous ‘lad’ gave him a slogan that he guaranteed would raise a massive cheer.

So, David walked on stage to thunderous applause, stepped up to the microphone and shouted: “tiocfaidh ár lá” which obviously brought the house down!

So, that was four times I saw him and I missed some too, including the famous Baggot Inn appearance and the one at The Olympia Theatre.

The dream gig

But there was a fifth time I saw him in Dublin and that was in front of about only 300 people in the old HQ, Abbey Street, Dublin in 1999. Myself and Today FM buddy (more on that in a moment) Paul McLoone were invited to an ‘intimate’ secret performance of our common ‘god’ on a cold October night.

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pjimage McLoone and Dempsey have been friends and colleagues for several years. Source: PA & Rolling News

We made a night of it and went for dinner beforehand, a few swift ones on the way and straight into the venue (now called The Academy by the way) where we were given what can only be described as the best seats in the house, although I don’t remember sitting down very much.

To say that we were inches away from Bowie would be a slight exaggeration but we were as close as you could possibly be to the empty stage.

And then the lights went down, the piano struck a single chord and an unassuming man was slowly lit as he began to sing “It’s a God awful small affair, to the girl with the mousy hair ……” -

I looked at Paul. Paul looked at me. We may have kissed but we certainly hugged. It was the closest thing to heaven on earth (or Mars in this case) and I will never forget that night.

We sang along with all the songs and I’d say we were on the verge of being thrown out when we truly went for it on “Drive-In Saturday”:

His name was always Buddy (got got do ah aah aah)
And he’d shrug and ask to stay
She’d sigh like twig the wonder kid (got got do ah)
And turn her face away

Sadly, I’ll never get to see David Bowie on stage again but YouTube is awash with great performances (check out “Wake Up” with Arcade Fire for example) and brilliantly funny interviews so he’ll always be there and always part of my life.

Five Years, that’s all we’ve got.

Ian Dempsey is a radio broadcaster who presents the Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show weekdays on Today FM.


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