“Everything in the universe has a rhythm, everything dances” are words from poet, writer and activist Maya Angelou but they could easily be the philosophy of Irish singer / songwriter Damien Dempsey; the belief system upon which he builds his own songs and stories. Every Christmas for the past number of years a pilgrimage of sorts takes place in a tightly packed Dublin venue where Dempsey’s disciples gather to hear him, to share in the sermon on stage and to try and find some healing and empathy in the crowded room while they are there.
Love Yourself Today is a concert film and documentary that tells not just Dempsey’s story, but that of a few of his fans and how his music, all music, has become intertwined in their lives, a coping mechanism for grief, trauma, addiction and loss. Ross Killeen’s film wisely chooses to parcel out Dempsey’s own story while also introducing us to Dubliners Nadia, Packy and Jonathan. Weaving all these separate narratives into the concert itself lends it a more reflective and soulful tone that frequently builds to a cathartic crescendo of emotions as we hear their stories and share their experiences.
Within the gorgeous monochrome palette of the movie Damien Dempsey, illustrating for us his own path, becomes this almost spectral figure touching the lives of his fans in various ways. He’s the brother who was taken too soon, the father who gave up on life, the friends who were lost along the way. His music means something to each and every person in the crowd. His stories are their stories.
Stunningly shot by cinematographer Narayan Van Maele, Love Yourself Today places as much emphasis on mental health and spiritual wellbeing as it does on music, something that’s no accident when you listen to the message in Dempsey’s songs. Though rooted in fireside family singsongs, the singer’s style has evolved to speak to his audience, to engage with them through his music and his gigs. For every crowd-pleasing folk rock number there’s a sorrowful spoken melody about life and pain and regret.
Through his music and his words Damien Dempsey has become a modern day musical Seanchaí, a storyteller and artist seeking at a most basic level some human connection. Love Yourself Today is a graceful and gripping celebration piece of film as uniquely Irish as Dempsey himself. As a study of music as a form of therapy and healing it’s uplifting, inspiring sudocrem for the soul.