Staying Live

Sat, Dec 5, 2009, 00:00

The nights are long and the money is tight, but music venues all over the country are managing to draw regular crowds for live music. LAURENCE MACKINhighlights eight of the current faves

Midnight at Whelan’s, Dublin

Long after most venues have packed up for the night and are kicking punters out onto the streets, the Upstairs venue in Whelan’s in Dublin is just getting warmed up. The illustrious venue hosts regular midnight gigs in the cosy environs of its Upstairs bar, offering a more rough and ready forum for bands – local and foreign – away from its larger main venue.

“There was a lack of entertainment in live music from 11pm onwards in the city and we had that venue sitting there,” says Darren Craig, one of the promoters of the Upstairs gigs. “It’s a way of giving the more poppy, crowd-pleasing alternative bands an opportunity to play a gig that’s free for anyone who is already in the bar.

“The Amazing Few are a brilliant live band; they really get the crowd going. We’ve had The Minutes fairly regularly, The Funeral Suit have done a few and Audio have appeared regularly as well. On Monday nights it also hosts the Hefty Horse Club, where a where a band plays and then DJs for the night, so they control the whole evening.

“You definitely need a band that’s going to enjoy a bit of crowd participation,” says Craig. “Everyone’s a little bit drunk and up for a good time; some of the more musical bands who take themselves a bit seriously – I know because I play in one myself – don’t really work.”

Whelan’s late shows are on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Wexford Street, Dublin; whelanslive.com

Cellar, International Bar, Dublin

Pass the venerable International Bar on Wicklow Street of an evening and if you’re in luck you’ll hear some sweet jazz sounds making their way up from the basement and out on to the Dublin streets. The bar has long had a reputation as being something of a cosy home for comedy, thanks to its Cellar and upstairs bars, but lately it’s been getting a more musical feel.

Jazz saxophonist Alex Mathias and his various bands and guest players have been playing standards and originals to respectable crowds for several weeks now.

Performances are typically on Tuesdays and Thursdays, featuring musicians such as Damian Evans, Dominic Millar, James Little, Johnny Taylor, Mick Cody and David Lyttle.

“I discovered the Cellar about two months ago while looking for a venue for my groups to play in,” says Mathias. “Live jazz needs an intimate setting for it to take full effect on the listener and the Cellar provides just that. No microphones or PA system is required so the authenticity and integrity of the music stands strong. Acoustically, the room works very well for jazz. It’s a small room, so with just 20 attentive listeners in the audience you can really get a nice vibe happening.”

The cost is whatever you care to throw in Mathias’s hat during the interval, making this a little bit of a special jazz hideaway for those who like their music to swing.

Cellar at the International Bar, Wicklow Street, Dublin; international-bar.com; myspace.com/alexmathias

McPhail’s, Drogheda

On Monday nights in Louth, it’s hard to find any local musicians hanging around, because most of them beat a path to the Monday club in McPhail’s bar in Drogheda.

Finding it can be a bit tricky – despite the fact it is universally called McPhail’s, the name Peter Matthews is still what’s over the door. The front bar is one of those pubs every town should have, beautiful dark wood and delicious pints, in a room that is never quiet and always full of people and chat. But wind your way out the back and up the side entrance and you’ll find the back-room venue, a rough and ready space that’s packed most weekends with a raucous crowd dancing the night away to covers bands.

Mondays, though, are a little bit different, with Baz Leahy, Marc Oliver, Dave McCune and Darren Rooney holding court from the stage for a night of blues and rock, along with a few occasional guests and friends who’ll sit in if they’ve got the chops to hack it.

“It’s a really chilled-out night; it’s an easy-going kind of gig for me, a great one to work,” says Ciarán Grennan, who runs the bar. “People come in and join in but it’s not like a karaoke session. It’s full of musicians who are all there to enjoy the music. It’s not like other nights where you’d get loads of people talking over the songs and all that: if there’s anyone acting the eejit they’d stick out like a sore thumb.

“At the moment, with the economics of the times, it’s tough, you know? Mondays are struggling but it’s the last one we would ever want to pull. It’s the similar heads that arrive: they either are musicians or want to be musicians, there’s no heckling or messing or anything like that.”

McPhail’s (Peter Matthews), 9 Laurence Street, Drogheda, Co Louth; Tel: 041-9837371

Hideaway House, Deansgrange

A leafy Dublin suburb is probably the last place you would expect to find a venue but that’s what makes the Hideaway House so special. Dylan Haskins might now be more famous for other musical activities (his record label Hideaway Records, the new Exchange centre on Pudding Row in Dublin and his DIY music documentary Roll Up Your Sleeves) but it was the Hideaway that seems to have started the whole show.

Haskins was involved in putting on all-ages shows in the city, inspired by the nascent punk scene he came across in Kilcoole, Co Wicklow. He was also part of the Basta Youth Collective which took over Paddy’s Hall in Greystones, Co Wicklow and began holding all-ages shows, movies and events for teenagers.

After inheriting the house in Deansgrange, he brought the party close to home and held the first Hideaway House gig in October 2006, featuring Defiance Ohio, and since then it has gone from strength to strength. Gigs take place every two months or so and tickets are on a first come, first served basis, with shows generally kicking off early to make them accessible for all ages – and probably to keep the neighbours onside.

Bands such as Hooray for Humans and Heathers have found their feet in Haskins’ homegrown venue and thanks to his ambitious rock and roll attitude.

Hideaway House, Deansgrange Road, Co Dublin; myspace.com/hideawayhouse

Crane Lane, Cork

Crane Lane is a self-professed “house of jazz, blues and burlesque since 1897” that has built its home in a former gentleman’s club. Now the entertainment on offer is from all-comers, but it has lost none of its elegantly sleazy, decadent 1920s-era charm. This is a place of velvet lampshades, low lighting and straight bourbon – there are no glitter balls lighting up its darker corners. A firm favourite among touring musicians in Cork, perhaps the most unusual aspect of the venue is that acts typically don’t take to the stage until after midnight, regardless of the day of the week.

“From Sunday to Thursday there is free music and on Fridays and Saturdays there are DJs. The main attraction is that it is free entertainment for all ages from roughly 21 to 51, with just a few ticketed events,” says Kate O’Shea, who runs the theatre venue. “We try to give young, up-and-coming bands a spot on the Thursday. At the start people didn’t know what to expect, but now they know. A lot of people coming in are musicians themselves.

“Alabama 3 have been back an awful lot, we’ve had members of the Bad Seeds and Niwel Tsumbu has been playing with us . . . generally he plays acoustic but every so often he will play with a full band. The Inner City Blues Band are another bunch of really good regulars. We try to mix it up, with a blues band, then a singer-songwriter, an indie band and then maybe some jazz.”

Another reason for Cork people to harp on about how their city is the best, then.

Crane Lane Theatre, Phoenix Street, Cork; Tel: 021-4278487, cranelanetheatre.com

Vine, Wexford

Vine restaurant has been cooking up a storm in Wexford, bringing a funky edge to the town’s culinary options. But the handsome room, with its lofty ceilings and period decor, mixed with candlelight and dark wooden floorboards, is offering more than just an elegant backdrop for an evening meal. Owner David Kavanagh has also been promoting gigs in the venue. Mainly acoustic acts perform while people are still tucking into the Thai menu, with larger acts reserved for later, when tables and chairs are pushed back to unleash the space’s inner music venue.

“It’s a beautiful big room with really high ceilings – it’s a real treat,” says Kavanagh. “We don’t do it to make money: we don’t get out much so we enjoy bringing the acts into the restaurant and making the most of the really special place we have here.”

The focus is on local Irish acts, and among those to have graced its stage are Stewart Agnew, Rosie, Declan O’Rourke, Fred, John Spillane and Duke Special, as well local talent, including ODi. According to Kavanagh, this helps keep ticket prices low or, in some cases, free. “People don’t mind paying €15/€16 but anything more at the moment can be difficult,” he says.

Vine restaurant, 109 North Main Street, Wexford; Tel: 053-9122388

Set Theatre, Kilkenny

Is this the newest venue in Ireland? Tucked in behind the sprawl of Langton’s bar in Kilkenny is the Set Theatre, an opulent new venue that brings a touch of luxury to the live music experience of the Marble City.

The theatre had its debut during this year’s Kilkenny Arts Festival, playing host to some of the showpiece gigs. It was also home to the festival club, which had many of the artists, organisers and punters at the festival rocking until the small hours for a large chunk of August. Among the acts to have played here in the past few months are local man Jeremy Hickey, or RSAG as he’s known to musos, Colin Devlin, Clive Barnes, Hazmar Modine and Ibrahim Electric.

It might be lush but it is also quite small, meaning you’re never more than a short shout from the stage, and the venue feels like a cross between the Olympia in Dublin and Carlito Brigante’s nightclub. Intrigued? You should be.

Set Theatre, Langton House Hotel, John Street, Kilkenny; langtons.ie/entertainment/

Killarney Grand

The Killarney Grand is, by its own boast, “a pure party hotel” and is gaining a reputation as having some of the most regular rock’n’roll nights out. With live bands seven nights a week, this is a bar that wears its hedonistic heart on its sleeve. “It’s a great gig, every night is fairly wild,” says one regular musician. “The crowd get really into it, going nuts, and there’s usually plenty of drink flowing. It’s not exactly a spot for singer-songwriters and their acoustic guitars.”

Killarney Grand, Main Street, Killarney. 064-6631159, killarneygrand.com