There’s an Australian saying that suggests that ‘it takes 10 years to become a local’. In Damien Leith’s case he’s now well qualified, as his 10th Anniversary since winning Australian Idol has come. Eight successful studio albums later, a string of hits, and a legion of adoring fans, Leith is on the road and due to play to South Australian audiences in December.
It’s impossible not to like Leith given his abundance of Irish optimism and charm. There’s a constant smile in his voice and a genuine humility that makes you feel as if he’s an old friend, and of course he’s bloody talented!
Straight off the bat, Leith is positive and warm as I get through the initial small talk to get the interview going. It’s a lovely, sunny day in Adelaide and I describe looking out of my home-office window at a gorgeous clear sky.
“We’ve finally got out of that long winter, and it’s blue skies all around in Sydney too, it’s always a good sign,’ Leith replies.
I congratulate him on his 10 year milestone since he burst onto Australian audiences with his distinctive voice and perpetual smile, asking if it seems surreal that he has taken an alternate route to self-made success. Coming to Australia from Ireland 14 years ago to work as a Chemist, he did have some interest in music but says that he almost let it go to focus on his profession. “I was always into music back in Ireland, always trying it but was resigned to the fact that Chemistry was my career. I thought as I started to get older that I should let go of the whole music dream that I had for so long- then it actually happened- unexpectedly.”
That’s often how it goes for those seeking stardom, there’s a constant struggle to be recognised, and a near giving up phase, but for those who stick it out there’s always that chance that the stars might align for you. In Leith’s case, this is fortunately how it turned out.
He’s very aware of the Irish influence in Australian culture, and not just the drinking culture. “Definitely I see influences of Ireland in some older parts of Australia, the Stonewalls in the country for example. They’re strange to come across, when I see them I feel like I’m in Ireland. Every time I do a Celtic Festival I notice it, as so many Australians have an Irish heritage. They’re proud of it too.”
Our folk music is another acknowledgement of the Irish influence, and Leith for one recognises this. His version of ‘The Green Fields of France’ is one of the best I’ve heard, even the songwriter Eric Bogle couldn’t disagree with that. “Interesting you mention that song. I did that cover because I always loved it back in Ireland. I’ve had uncles that sing that song regularly, it would always hush the whole room. There’s a personal connection for me & I’ve recorded it again for a new album. Eric Bogle is an incredible writer, and I’ve covered ‘And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ too. That cuts straight to the core- incredibly written with a great melody.”
Already in the midst of a 37 show tour around the country, Leith has boundless energy and loves each moment on stage with his fans. “I’m well past the half-way point & it’s been going well. The response has been great so I feel wonderful now. I have a bit more time to relax now that it’s underway. I do a lot of my own promotion etc for it so it’s hard work.”
You have to admire an artist that carries their own weight- showbiz is a tough game and there is so much ‘behind the scenes’ stuff that goes with it. Such is the appeal of a young artist like Leith whose diverse fan base share an adoration for him. “They’re quite broad, (my audience), I see grandparents with their grandkids, young folk…it varies from place to place. It’s about 60% women though.” Hardly surprising, the man is a charmer in every aspect!
His cover of Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’ will leave you doing just that for the pure emotion and intensity that Leith commits to each song, and you can understand why he’s seen as a down to earth talent. On that song, Leith was given possibly the best endorsement for his version by none other than Roy Orbison’s wife Barbara herself. “I did Crying on Idol, and Barbara Orbison got in touch to say how great it was. Fast forward a few years and I ended up recording an album with her of all Roy’s songs. Barbara always wanted Roy’s songs to live in and was quite aware of what was going on in terms of cover versions. When I did Crying, it got a great response on YouTube & she saw it. It’s been a huge influence, and I’m now writing with his co-writer & we have an album coming out next year.” You can’t get a much better thumbs up than that!
There can be no doubt that Damien Leith is a talented, fine performer with a genuine heart of gold. He’s even been generous enough in letting his fans choose his set lists via his Facebook page. “This concert is as much for me as it is to those coming. Sometimes you’re touring to promote a new album so there’s an agenda. This concert is all about fans hearing the songs they want to hear. I just want people to have a good night, and to go home with a bit of a smile.”
And no doubt you will!
By Dazz Hassan
DECEMBER 2016 TOUR DATES
Thursday 1st Dec 2016 Chaffey Theatre, RENMARK SA (08) 5886 1800 www.countryarts.org.au
Friday 2nd Dec 2016 Middleback Theatre, WHYALLA SA (08) 8644 7300 www.countryarts.org.au
Saturday 3rd Dec 2016 Dunstan Playhouse, ADELAIDE SA 131 246 www.bass.net.au
Sunday 4th Dec 2016 Sir Robert Helpmann Theatre, MOUNT GAMBIER SA (08) 8723 8741 www.countryarts.org.au
Friday 9th Dec 2016 GPAC, GEELONG VIC (03) 5225 1200 www.gpac.org.au
Saturday 10th Dec 2016 Swan Hill Town Hall, SWAN HILL VIC (03) 5036 2444 www.swanhillonline.com