It’s hard to classify Damien Dempsey’s music, although many have tried. He’s the northside Dylan. The new Luke Kelly. An old-school singer-songwriter, the former boxing hopeful from Donaghmede – Damo to his chums and acolytes – has long raised the rafters with robust street anthems.
His lyrics are humorous (“It’s a bad time Garda, the house is an awful sight. It’s a bad time Garda, come back tomorrow night!”), honest and authentic (“No muns, no fun in the Foggy Dew, I be signing on, off Gardiner Street”).
Dempsey’s work is deeply meaningful for many, as his annual Christmas gigs at Vicar Street – events that are not unlike fevered occasions at a 19th century revival tent – and this heartfelt new documentary can attest.
Arriving with celebrity endorsements from Brian Eno and Christy Moore, Love Yourself Today finds focus in the cathartic power of song. The seasonal Vicar Street performances form the spine of this inspirational project, which chronicles the experiences of Dempsey’s fans.
It is typical of this unassuming singer that he has shifted focus away from the glorification of the artist that characterises most musical biopics.
Director Ross Killeen is as sensitive as he is illuminating in his interviews with Damo fans.
Three Dubliners feature heavily, including Jonathan, a recovering alcoholic who was abused by a teacher; glamorous reformed heroin addict Nadia, who “gave up on life” following the murder of her brother; and boxing coach Packy, a witness to a friend’s murder who is struggling with PTSD.
Narayan van Maele’s monochrome cinematography adds to the soulfulness. The magic of Killeen’s documentary is not only does it capture the release afforded by the Vicar Street gigs, but the film in itself becomes a safe space for its participants and an inspirational experience that will leave the viewer wanting to punch the air.