by Paul Chai (Moving Pictures)
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK, the story of Irish musician Tommy Barton, started life as an advertisement in The Irish Post looking for a documentary narrator. Director/producer Jaap Mees was searching for a voice for his as-yet-unspecified documentary, but when he met Tommy’s son Billy, he found both a narrator and a story.
Billy Barton is himself the lead singer of Traditional Irish band The Dublin Rogues, but it was the exploits of Tommy which captured Mees’ imagination for the film. A Dublin banjo player known as “The Gentleman Busker”, the elder Barton was a strong influence on prominent local musicians, who went on to found pioneering Traditional Irish bands such as The Dubliners and The Fureys.
Mees, a graduate from the London International Film School, had already produced music based shorts about a reggae singing bus conductor and a sitar player, and he already had a love of Traditional Irish music.
This was cemented during his nine-day Dublin shoot, where he captured the story of Tommy Barton and translated to film a homage to the style of music, that van Morrison once said “has the ability to express the spiritual character of the human psyche.”
The Gentleman Busker’s life story is told through the remembrances of his three sons, Billy, Tommy Jr and John, as well as family friend Finbar Furey, leader of The Fureys.
There is powerful archive footage from this time in Ireland’s history as well as a clip of Tommy Barton’s one big screen appearance in a film called ‘O’ Donoghue’s Opera’ (1965).
With a current resurgence of interest in Ireland’s darker times fuelled by Frank McCourt’s novel ‘Angela’s Ashes’ and Alan Parker’s resulting film(’99), the documentary is timely.
But unlike Mc Court’s more sombre outing, Mees’ documentary never gets mired in self pity. Tommy Barton simply comes across as an unassuming yet influential figure in the world of Irish music. There are plenty of live performances peppered throughout the film as well as footage of the quiet achiever’s family and friends.
“It is a posthumous tribute to Tommy Barton, because he was never recognised by people outside his field”, says Mees. “He really was a very accomplished musician.”
“Off The Beaten Track” screens today (Thursday 26 October) 2pm, at the Green Room at Creative Partnership.