Home Lifestyle Entertainment Singing the cares away

Singing the cares away

Damien Dempsey told David Hennessy about his new documentary Love Yourself  Today, the healing power of music and why Ireland has lost something important by turning away from religion.

Acclaimed Donaghmede singer-songwriter Damien Dempsey is set to come to the UK with his new film.

Love Yourself Today is a documentary that centres around Damien and three of his fans who, just like Damien, have faced adversity and come out the other side of it.

Between them Nadia, Jonathan and Packy have struggled with drugs, physical abuse and mental health issues.

Damien also speaks about some ugly incidents from his own past.

The film has a powerful positive message as it shows just what people can endure to then enjoy better days than they ever thought was possible.

Irish Film London bring the film to The Kiln in Kilburn this week where a screening will be followed by a Q and A with Damien and the director Ross Killeen.

Damien told The Irish World: “I’m really looking forward to getting over.

“I’m hoping we don’t need subtitles for the movie,” he jokes as it features some strong Dublin accents.

- Advertisement -

So how did the idea for the film come about? “Ross (director) got some tickets for a show of mine.

“He had never seen me live.

“He came along and his mother was very sick at the time and hadn’t got long for the world.”

Every Christmas in Dublin, or at least before the pandemic, Damien Dempsey fans would gather for an annual concert at Vicar Street in Dublin.

The concert is a cathartic experience and a place where people don’t have to be scared to let go and show emotion.

Many find solace in Damo’s music as he is known for telling them to sing their ‘cares away’. Every Christmas in Dublin, the crowds gather for Damo’s Christmas gig at Vicar Street: it is a cathartic ritual, and a place where complex emotions can be laid bare.

Nadia gave up on life after her brother was brutally murdered.

Ross saw this and it inspired him.

“He saw this gig and he saw the fans hugging, crying, then jumping around. He saw me, the interaction.

“He just went out and talked to a friend about what the show was like and his friend said, ‘We should do a documentary about Damo’s fans’.

“That’s where it started.”

It is hard to not be moved by the stories of Nadia, Jonathan and Packy.

Nadia gave up on life after her brother was brutally murdered and turned to drugs as hard as heroin not caring if she lived or died.

Jonathan was left scarred by physical abuse he suffered in his school days. The trauma made him reach for the bottle despite only being a child.

Packy has had hard times as a victim of violence and with anxiety.

In the film we hear their stories, unravel their grief and find the light in the darkness through communal art.

The film explores themes of addiction and loss and also hope and positivity, in a celebration of the power of music to heal.

All three have turned their lives around.

“Ross asked to meet me and he told me the story and I just said to him, ‘If we do this, let’s make a movie that helps people’.

“So he got the ball rolling and he asked me then, ‘Would you know anybody?’

“Straight off the top of my head I said Jonathan and Packy. Because I knew the lads. I knew they had had a rough ride.

“I knew the music really helped them through their struggle, put them in a better place.

“And that’s what I found through all the years.

In Love Yourself Today Damien speaks of a serious beating he took many years ago. The attack was so severe, he bit off his tongue which had to be reattached.

However, this meant he could not talk and- even more devastatingly- sing for a month.

“A nightmare,” he says of that time.

Packy turned his life around to become a boxing coach.

“One of my biggest fears was that I wouldn’t be able to sing again.

“I couldn’t speak for a month. It really put things into perspective, how much I need to sing.

“It’s like oxygen.

“If I never got paid again, I would always, always sing.

“What I do now, if I didn’t get paid I would still do it. I would work in a crappy job with a terrible boss and take bullsh*t all day just to be able to go out at night and do what I do.

“I feel very privileged to be able to spread some healing and positivity. It feels amazing to be able to be able to spread it to people and see them how much they get from it.

“It’s a life saver, it really is a life saver.

“As Christy Moore says, ‘It comes from a good place through me’.

“It’s not me. It’s coming through me from somewhere and that’s why I’m spiritual as well.

“I knew when I was feeling down, I could get on my guitar and sit on the end of the bed and sing.

“Sing for 20 minutes: You just feel better after it.

“Scientists have realised now if you take a jug of water from the tap, and you sing to the water- This is incredible-  the molecular structure of the water changes and that is true. They discovered this under the microscope.

“It turns into beautiful crystals. Whereas when it comes out of the tap, it’s just kinda dead.

Jonathan reached for the bottle when he was as young as 14 to cope with the beating he took at school.

“If you sing to it, it brings it to life.

“And we’re mostly water, ya know?

“I sort of knew that all along. Singing puts people on different vibrations, different frequencies.

“It’s tradition. For me it’s spiritual.”

In the film, Damien is seen praying prior to going out onstage.

Damien believes spirituality is important. And it is something Ireland has lost.

However he sees a way back for the church if they could stop enforcing celibacy and excluding women among other things.

“For people who have been pushed away from spirituality by the scandals in the church, I sort of say, ‘This is a form of spirituality’.

“I think the church could bring people back if they let priests marry and let women be priests and brought Irish traditional music into the church on a Sunday, got a singsong going and made it a big celebration.

“And maybe get people up from the community to talk about good things they did during the week, or good things that were done for them, to make it more communal on a Sunday.

“I think they could get a lot of people back.

“I think people miss the community aspect of church, going to mass on Sunday.

“They’ve been driven away.

“We were always a very spiritual people, the Irish. A lot of people have been driven away by the scandals but they shouldn’t be driven away from spirituality, I don’t think.

“It does (leave people lacking something important). There’s a spiritual vacuum there.

“I definitely really think it’s unhealthy for young people.

“I’m a spiritual person. So is my mother and her mother.

“And I’ve seen things and felt things I can’t explain.

“I would be a very spiritual man and I would encourage other people to be so as well.

“You don’t have to put a name or a face on it, just know it’s there.”

The film shows Damien telling his fans from the stage of how he once reached out to him mother. He goes on to say that had he not, he and as a consequence everyone else in that room might not be there.

“I encourage people to reach out and tell people if they’re not feeling great.

“I wasn’t brought up in that sort of environment, it was sort of a macho place. I had two brothers who were bouncers and a hard-working panel-beating father.

“You wouldn’t have been encouraged to say these things.

“But I just thought, ‘You know what? F**k it. If people don’t like it, they can call me a p**sy or whatever’.

“But people haven’t. No one has said, ‘What are you talking about your feelings for?’ Or, ‘Why are you telling people to open up?’ No one has said that. I suppose they have all felt a bit safer to come to the shows and cry and hug each other and I think that’s healthy.

“I think that’s healthy for people who have been brushing things under the carpet for so long.

“A lot of people in recovery come to the shows because I think the vibrations created is as good as any alcohol or drug.

“The vibrations created in the shows is a high, a natural high so a lot of people in recovery love a gig.”

Damien also says he does not know where he would be now had it not been for music.

In fact, he doesn’t like to think about it.

Planned and unplanned Fleadh Cheoil magic

“I don’t like to think about it.

“I really don’t.

“I don’t know where all the energy would have gone, hopefully into something positive.

“I don’t know where it could have gone. I could have been dead.

“I don’t think I would have been a bad person because I have a good heart.

“I think I could have just not been around anymore.”

Indeed, couldn’t that beating that saw him almost lose his tongue have seen him lose something else?

“I could have died that night.

“But that made me a bit cuter and to look after myself a bit better, stay out of situations that were dangerous.

“It put me on a better track. It really did.

“It was a good lesson. You either learn from these experiences or you don’t.

“You don’t make it if you don’t learn from these things.”

Its power to lift people has made live performance sorely missed throughout the pandemic.

Is it good to be back playing now? “It is. I compare to someone who has gone blind and then got their sight back.

“That’s what it’s like. I’ve done about seven gigs now and they’ve been incredible.

“People are so ecstatic. They hear live music, it’s better than ever.

“I knew when it came back, it would be better than ever. It is.

“You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone but if it comes back- Jesus Christ,” he chuckles.

Damien was due to play Camden’s Electric Ballroom and Trafalgar Square last year as part of the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

He made the trip over and the Camden gig could have taken place but it was decided it would be irresponsible.

“We could have gone ahead with the show but we just thought, ‘We can’t take the risk’.

“We didn’t know what the story was with the virus.

“We just said, ‘We can’t risk our fans getting this so we just pulled it and we had a big gig in Trafalgar Square, the St. Patrick’s festival there on the Sunday. We pulled that as well.

“We were all ready to go.

“Lockdown was tough but I just said to myself, If someone from a couple of centuries ago in Ireland going through starvation and oppression and the penal laws and genocide- If they had seen us in the lockdown complaining and saying that was terrible, they would have laughed at us.

“They would have said, ‘I would love to be in that lockdown with a fridge full of food and heating and a warm bed and a roof over my head and no empire oppressing me and genociding me’.

“I put things in perspective in that way.

“I also said, ‘Some people are getting a terminal diagnosis so how can I be here with all my health saying this lockdown is terrible?’

“I just had to put things in perspective and that’s how I got through it.

“And by going to the sea as well, getting in the sea and walking up hills, just getting back to nature a bit.”

Of course Damien has seen the film himself many times.

What effect does it have on him? “I can’t get through it without crying.

“I can’t get through the movie without shedding a tear.

“It always lifts me. It makes me cry and lifts me at the same time.

“I’ve watched it so many times now. Dozens of times.

“It never grows old.

“If it was just me doing a concert, I wouldn’t watch it, ya know?

“Because of Ross’ genius of bringing in the three characters and all the wisdom they impart- They’re heroes. They’ve laid themselves on the line.

“They’ve laid their lives open for people to dissect and it’s only because they knew it would help other people that they did it.

“And it will. It’s going to help so many people.

“They’re three heroes the guys: Nadia, Packy and Jonathan.

“He’s captured something magical and I was blown away.

“There’s a lot of healing in it.

“I could never thank him and his team enough because it will get this message that I’ve always wanted to put across to more people.

“To bring some healing, to spread some positivity to be able to do that is a dream come true. It really is.”

Irish Film London screen Love Yourself Today at the Kiln in London 6pm on Tuesday 15 February, followed by a Q and A with Damien and director Ross Killeen.

For more information and to book, click here.

For more information on Damien, click here.

- Advertisement -