Take me to the river
CHANGE. That is the common theme when Limerick people speak about their city’s music scene. Though it has spawned acts as diverse as The Cranberries and The Rubberbandits, in the past few years the closure of the High Stool, the Boat Club and more has robbed the city of quality venues.
But despite this, and the fact that mooted projects such as the Opera Centre have not come to fruition, and that a number of city-centre shops are closing down, there is still a hunger for progress. It seems that no matter what is thrown their way, Limerick’s musicians, DJs, venues and promoters will keep on keeping on. Less than a decade ago, the volunteer-led Aspersion Music Collective (AMC) had a transformative effect on Limerick’s live music scene. And out of its ashes came individuals who took AMC’s DIY spirit to heart.
Now, big events planned in the coming months, such as the Siege of Limerick festival this weekend, and the Make a Move hip hop and street art festival in July, show that Limerick is neither down, nor out.
One word that almost always crops up in the same sentence as Limerick and music is Dolan’s, the venue that opened on the Dock Road in 1998.
When it opened its upstairs floor, Sean Harrold stepped in to look after sound, production and booking. What was initially meant to be an acoustic room evolved once it became clear how many bands wanted to play there, says Harrold. “I started here back when there were lots of tribute bands and that whole kind of thing.”
Harrold wanted to get the venue on the same circuit as Whelan’s, and succeeded. Today, it caters for everyone from trad fans to jazz clubs, and acts such as Will Oldham have also played there.
“There are lots of good young bands here,” says Harrold. “When I played in bands 10 or 12 years ago, they just didn’t have the same confidence as they have now. Limerick seems much more self-assured. Maybe it’s because of bands like giveamanakick that are up there with the best of them.”
Actor and musician Mark O’Connor has been active on the city’s music scene for more than a decade. He is a solo musician and member of Dolan’s fun Quentin Tarantino House Band. “In a blink of an eye lots of new things can open up or close down,” he says . “At the moment things are good,” he said. “Economically Limerick is hurting; everyone will tell you it’s hurting quite a bit. But the creative [side] is blossoming.”
Since John Hennessy’s return to Limerick after years as a booker for Dublin venue Whelan’s, he has brought the likes of Tieranniesaur and Jape to Bourke’s pub at 72 Catherine St.
Hennessy was encouraged to book bands by pub owner Lorcan Bourke. “If you want to do this, we’ll do it properly,” Hennessy told Bourke, and the first show was held in November 2011.
“The whole idea was that we’d do free shows, we’d pay bands but we’d pay them less than other places pay because the space is limited. It would be free, it would sound really good, we’d treat them with respect, just make sure everybody has a good night,” says Hennessy.
At first, he was reluctant to put on any Limerick acts for fear they wouldn’t really make the grade but stellar sets by the likes of Moscow Metro showed him that there were quality bands out there, and the reaction to the nights has been “really positive”. Hennessy describes it as an exciting time for Irish bands.
Sean Hurson and John Slattery of Economics Bookings used to think nothing of travelling miles to a gig – but now they bring bands to Limerick themselves. “Dublin-centred stuff doesn’t always make its way out of there, so we’re trying to drag them out, the ones that we really want to see,” says Hurson.
They work with Baker Place, putting on gigs on by bands such as Alarmist and Eaten by Bears.
“We thought it would be like hunting people down, and dragging them to Limerick, but everybody always seems really up for it,” says Slattery. Limerick’s music scene is “very personal”, says Hurson.
“If you’re at some gig it feels like you’re watching a band in a room with friends, rather than going to this big event that’s organised by some faceless thing.”
Out On A Limb Records was founded in 2003 by Richard Bourke and Albert Twomey, with Ciarán Ryan coming on board soon after it released giveamanakick’s debut, Is It OK To Be Loud, Jesus?
There wasn’t a master plan, but the fast-growing label went on to sign bands such as Waiting Room, Ten Past Seven, Crayonsmith, windings, and, most recently, Elk. However, after a two-year period without any releases, the label questioned its future.
A meeting in 2009 showed that there were good reasons to keep going. “The bands were very supportive,” remembers Bourke. Ryan nods: “They were just like, ‘no, no we need to keep this going’, and they started generating ideas.” These included the successful split 7” singles the label has since released. Bourke and Ryan say that the enterprise “is like a family”, and they have a busy year ahead of them, including making the most of what Ryan terms the “positive turn” of the Limerick music scene.
There wouldn’t be an OOALR without Steve Ryan and Keith Lawler of abrasive rock duo giveamanakick. Windings is now Ryan’s focus – they will release their third album on OOAL this year.
Giveamanakick formed in 2001, when the Limerick music scene was “as vibrant as it has ever been”.
“I took it for granted at the time that that was just the way it is. It was insane. But Limerick is cyclical,” says Steve Ryan, who also notes that Dolan’s has been a constant support to bands.
“Bands are much more clued in than I was when we started off,” adds Ryan. “There are just so many things going on now [in Limerick] that it makes it enticing to come into town.”
A shared love of vinyl and a yearning for a place to unwind with friends on Sundays led John Lillis, Peter Curtin, Ursula Decampos and Liam D’Arcy to start A Love Supreme at Leddin’s Pub on Hartstonge St every fortnight.
A Love Supreme began in October 2011, running from 4pm to 8pm. And you’re as likely to come across jubilant Jenga players and families as you are vinyl aficionados.
Its organisers were inspired by events such as Cork’s Sunday Times and the Hobo Convention, but wanted to give things their own spin, so guests have included Cork’s Shape Note Singers.
“In Limerick, one year it might be electronic music that is exploding and the next year it’s live music,” enthuses Lillis. He says that though the consistency may not always be dependable, “there’s loads of stuff happening”.
So, overall, for people involved in music it seems Limerick is a supportive place to be.
“I think everyone actually wants everyone else to do well,” says Curtin. “It literally is people [saying], ‘Limerick is not the most beautiful city in the world, but let’s try and create a good, positive atmosphere about the place’.” alovesupremesunday.wordpress.com
Electronic music is buzzing in Limerick, and one of the many events that is part of the scene is Macronite at Dolan’s.
It brings together promoters Dan Sykes, Nikki Kiely, Ruan Flood, Eoin Aherne, Eanna Byrt, Adrian Flynn, Eoin Greaney, Don Simms and others including Sol Barnes, Matty Organ, Tristian Greaney and Dawn Clery.
Sykes explains that in January 2011, like-minded promoters came together after some found themselves without venues, and decided to combine forces under the name Macronite. “It gave us a lot more freedom in terms of who to book,” he explains.
Their music policy runs the gamut from techno to jungle to drum and bass. “The scene down here at the moment is very good, very interesting,” says Sykes. “There are a lot of young people into it.”
Sykes started running gigs in 2000. “Since 2004 things have picked up a bit,” he notes. “You often find that in times of economic downturn people have more time and [they can] chase their dreams a small bit more.”
Another venue getting a new lease of life in Limerick is The Wicked Chicken in Tait Square, which is run by gig promoter Dave O’Donovan of the company Eightball.
O’Donovan describes running the three-room venue as a “constant project”. Its music policy includes soul, funk, hip hop, house, techno and breaks, and it works with as many local groups as possible.“There’s a lot of people around doing different things , which is great,” says O’Donovan.
“It’s always been a really, really creative scene in terms of live music but the DJ thing in particular in the past two or three years has really come to the fore.”
For those about to rock, Niall Dempsey and Rocky O’Shea have created a new home for Limerick rock and metal fans in the Blind Pig, located on Foxes Bow. O’Shea – who says “creativity is just bouncing off everyone” in Limerick – felt he and Dempsey could take a niche and give it a commercial edge. They aim to “do everything different”, so you can sup on craft beers while checking out the regular live gigs.
“The support we’ve gotten has shown how much Limerick and the Munster area needs this,” says O’Shea. “The bands have supported each other and in turn they have really supported the venue.”
Shardborne are one of Limerick’s prominent metal bands. Ciaran Culhane, who formed the band with his brother Eoin, Cormac O’Farrell and Ben Wanders, say Limerick was a “no-man’s land” after certain venues closed, but now things are looking good.
“You see the same faces at rock gigs as at metal shows,” says Culhane. “Lately the people are starting to see there’s something cool happening, but it wasn’t always that way.”
The Siege of Limerick began as an accidental over-booking and soon became a biannual festival, run by Bad Reputation promotions and catering to hundreds of metal fans at Dolan’s. The next Siege takes place on April 8th and includes Ireland’s Altar of Plagues.
One metal fan who has seen things change is Trevor Meehan, who founded the now defunct fanzine Unfit for Consumption in 1999. “It’s always in fits and starts in Limerick,” says Meehan. “No matter what kind of music you’re into now, there seems to be someone catering for it, even if it’s in a small way.”
Softly-spoken Limerick man Peter Delaney crafts his own delicate yet punchy songs on the ukulele, so it’s fitting that he is bringing folk bands to play in his hometown.
The musician and filmmaker is behind Wireless Folk, which since May has brought folk artists to strum in venues such as second-hand bookshops, galleries and cafés.
“It’s really intimate, you’re up close to the audience and just sitting around, and you’re hearing [acoustic] music the way it’s naturally supposed to be heard,” explains Delaney.
Delaney started the event partly “because there weren’t really many places for that kind of music in Limerick”. So far, he has utilised venues such as Sean’s Bookstore, the Raggle Taggle Consortium gallery and even the Franciscan Church (run by Limerick City Rehearsal Studios) to host gigs by performers including Robert Sarzin Blake, Yawning Chasm and Sharon Krauss.
The idea harks back to the folk revival in the 1950s, when café gigs were common in New York, Delaney says. He plays vinyl records between artists, and keeps the atmosphere relaxed.
“It’s as much about providing some place for people to play, who are on tour, as it is about introducing music to people who wouldn’t normally get to hear it.”
Delaney says the scene in Limerick “ebbs and flows”, and as for the future, things are looking up. “
The great thing about the Limerick scene is even when things were quiet, there’s always been a great sense of community.” peter-delaney.com
What else is on in Limerick?
Ormston House – this venue brings unusual events to an unused former office in the city centre
Wav Mastering – this city centre recording studio has been open for five years
Limerick City Rehearsal Studios – based in a former Franciscan church, this is another space for musicians and gigs
Flip It TV – based in Limerick and focusing on local and national music
Raggle Taggle Consortium Studios – gallery and exhibition space
Occupy Space – an artist-led, non-profit gallery and project space