There seems to be a running joke between Irish-born, singer-songwriter, Damien Leith and I, because whenever we chat, it’s due to one of his shows being brought back by popular demand. This time around he revisits his cabaret, The Parting Glass – An Irish Journey.
“It’s my favourite show of anything I do! I treat it like a trip to Ireland – you come to the show, forget about the world for two hours, and get involved in what’s going on in this Irish setting. It’s not like a musical. [There’s] clear separation between the acting and the band parts.”
Describing it as a play and concert combined; the story centers on the relationship of an Irish father and his son who have grown apart, as they get to the bottom of a deep secret that has haunted them both. Filled with both humour and emotion, Damien says he was inspired by the characters he used to serve when he worked at an old-fashioned pub in Dublin, as well as various other pubs around Ireland. After an acclaimed run in 2015; a live DVD of the show was later released, which you can buy off his website.
“There were a couple of characters that would come into the pub every day. They would come in, hardly even drink – they’d probably have the one Guinness – and sit on it for hours. But they loved to chat to anyone who even came within inches of their path, or if you weren’t up for a chat you needed to avoid them,” Damien laughs.
“They were great characters and that’s what I based the father on. I want the audience to feel like they’re there and they happen to be a part of this guy’s conversation.”
Set in an Irish pub, sees the ARIA-award winner take on the roles of father and son, as well as lead singer in the band. He says, overall the idea of the story is exactly the same as last time but the script is now slicker having made minor adjustments to the pace and flow of the story. As well as featuring a repertoire of rousing and touching Irish songs (Danny Boy, Raglan Road, Toss the Feathers, Rocky Road to Dublin…), he’s added some new songs people have requested.
He wrote the show as two distinct characters each with a different accent. One of the most demanding things of the show, he says, is going between the father and then back to being the singer in the band. Although he sings as himself, going from the coarse nature of the father’s voice to his softer singing voice is a nightly challenge.
“The father has got quite a rasp in his voice. Then there’s his son [who has] a younger [sounding] voice. He’s also got an [different] accent; even though they’re from the same part of Ireland, they didn’t grow up in the same part in Ireland. The father’s got more of a western Ireland accent; the son’s got a Dublin accent. It’s something I’ve got to be conscious of the whole way through.”
“The band part of the show is like coming to a concert. We’re all playing as we would normally do – there’s still banter, sing-alongs [and] trying to get the audience involved in the show. There’s a bit of ad-lib there, but as far as the script is concerned, I’ve really narrowed it down on what’s being said. The script has some really funny and really emotional moments in it and because they’re very specific, I have to deliver them properly. Those lines are really precise.”
It may surprise many to know that Damien started off wanting to be an actor. He wrote plays as a child and only started singing so he could audition for his school’s musical. From there he became obsessed with singing and went on to play the roles of Fagin from Oliver! and Teyve from Fiddler on the Roof. Two roles he says he’d jump at the chance to play again!
“In the past when I was doing musicals, I’d always get weird roles. I never got the nice guy. I always got those roles that are very character-based. If I’m auditioning for something, I like those roles where they’re very different to who I am. I’d rather be the baddie!” he laughs.
The Parting Glass certainly continues to Damien’s versatility as a performer. He wraps up his Roy – A Tribute to Roy Orbison tour next month following a special one-night-only anniversary concert to Elvis Presley in Melbourne on August 16. Earlier in the year, we spoke of two albums he had in the works – a Celtic album, which is currently on hold due to his busy schedule; and a second one he started writing four years in collaboration with Joe Melson – singer and songwriter, best known for penning Crying, Only the Lonely and other hits for Roy Orbison.
“The album is nearly done. It is very, very close. We’ve got a few little things that we want to do over in Nashville to finish it off, so that’s what’s delaying it at the moment. [It would] be nice to do some duets together as well, but it is sounding great. I’m loving the way it’s come together! I think it’s pretty special album [that has] a unique sound as well. We’ve changed a lot. What we were writing four years ago to what we’re writing now, it’s really evolved. We found each other’s style.”
He wrote most of the songs on piano, which he says attitudes to the album’s alternative sound, with dramatic and romantic ballads throughout. The songs are more mainstream, but some are quite dark with a lot of mood in the production of them as well.
With all this in the works, it’s hard to believe the multi-faceted father of three has any spare time. He’s also written two novels – One More Time and Remembering June – and is currently doing final edits on a children’s adventure story and hinted at other upcoming works as well.
“Sometimes deadlines can get a bit pretty crazy. I always set deadlines for myself; I find sometimes, I might have a few completely different things deadlined at the same time, but it’s still over a long period of time. It’s all spread out a little bit.”
Furthermore, the Australian Idol winner has a boutique recording space StudioFour – specialising in solo artist productions, mentoring and development – and recently wrote with country artists Amber Lawrence, Missy Lancaster and Alan Caswell. Earlier this year, he and Travis Collins won “APRA AMCOS Song of the Year” for Call Me Crazy at the 45th Country Music Awards of Australia, colloquially known as the Golden Guitars.