BlackBook Premiere: David Keenan’s ‘Peter O’Toole’s Drinking Stories’ Live at the Olympia, Dublin

Image by Eli Penya

Though he first came to attention via a charming 2015 performance of his track ‘El Paso’ in the front seat of a Dundalk taxi (the video has been viewed more than 90,000 times), 2021 finds burgeoning Irish singer-songwriter-honest-to-god-poet David Keenan prepped for significantly bigger things. He’d spent most of the six years in between working determinedly, releasing four EPs on his own Barrack Street label; but by autumn of 2019 he was signed to Rubyworks Records, and was soon touring with nu-folk sensation and labelmate Hozier. His 2020 debut album A Beginner’s Guide to Bravery – delivered just two months before the universal quarantines were declared – went to #6 on the charts in Ireland.

This October (the 15th, specifically) will see the arrival of his follow up, the inquisitively titled WHAT THEN?. It’s not at all hyperbole to say there are almost too many highlights to count; but particularly striking are the haunting, deeply reflective ‘Me Myself and Lunacy’ (“It’s hard to inspect / Whether you’re mind’s still fried or wrecked”), and ‘The Grave of Johnny Filth’, which bears out his remarkable gift as an evocative storyteller (“Walking a limestone road / You look shaken man / I’ve been shook / This is my first mouthful of clean air in eighteen months”).

But song titles don’t come any more intriguing than his ‘Peter O’Toole’s Drinking Stories,’ which features the pointedly confessional lyric, “I wept on the unmade bed of existential crises / And came to believe that all you needed to be a writer was a coat.” It seems to be telling us something important about the fragile nature of the creative self.

While we wait for the album to arrive, however, BlackBook premieres here an utterly exhilarating live version of the track, recorded at Dublin’s 3Olympia Theatre during the lockdowns. So yes, they are indeed playing to an empty venue. But you’d never know it by the fiery, tearing-up-the-stage performances of Keenan and his band – who seem as close to a “gang” as we’ve seen in music for a very long time.

Keenan explains of the song and the production, “’Peter O Toole’s Drinking Stories’ is an unravelling of memory, a hallucinatory dreamscape from which clarity and self acceptance are found. Playing it in an empty theatre is an invocation of what’s so near, as live medicine returns. The narrator and audience will be reunited soon.”

And with that he most definitely speaks the truth, as they’ll be playing fifteen live dates in the UK and Europe this fall, kicking off in Belfast October 13, and ending up back in Dublin at, naturally, the 3Olympia Theatre on December 12.

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