The Job of Songs

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writers: Lila Schmitz and Anika Kan Grevstad

Director: Lila Schmitz

Ireland’s music traditions have been in decline ever since the British first annexed territory in the 16th century but perhaps it is this perpetual waning that makes the music so precious; it is always on the edge of vanishing, not helped by the waves of emigration of young people to Britain or America. However, in one corner of Ireland, music is thriving as this 70-minute documentary makes plain.

Doolin, in County Clare, has been attracting musicians since the hippies visited in the 1970s. Local performers like tin whistler Micho Russell became world famous although they were more at home in O’Connor’s pub. And over 50 years later the bar still has live music every night, the bands playing to a mix of tourists and locals. Some of these musicians are old like the octogenarian Ted McCormac, who appears most nights to sing a song, his powerful voice belying his years.

But others are younger, keen to keep alive the tradition of live music like the man who moved to the coastal village from South Africa or the woman from London. They play the old trad songs but they also write new ones for the future canon like Luka Bloom’s City of Chicago, a song a younger musician grew up singing.

The musicians talk openly to the camera, sometimes resorting to clichés about the power of music, but the tradition’s perseverance along with its focus on hardship and grief invites such hyperboles. Director Lila Schmitz provides clips of various singers performing but it’s a shame that we don’t see and hear a full song. Her film also lacks a solid narrative and it’s a surprise when The Job of Songs takes a more melancholy turn towards the end.

Musicians talk about the alcoholism that sometimes accompanies a life performing in bars while others ponder why the suicide rate is so high. The Cliffs of Moher are one of the biggest tourist attractions in Ireland, but it’s there that some people choose to end their lives. DJ and musician Eoin O’Neill reveals that despite the close community that they have forged in the village, the majority of musicians are loners. The music they play makes more sense than ever.

It’s a sombre way to end the film especially as The Job of Songs begins as a celebration. It’s not just the music that draws people to Doolin, but the landscape and the solitude. It’s a place seemingly forever on the cusp of disappearing.

TheJobofSongswill be available on Digital Download from 25th September

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The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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