The National: a decade of Irish gigs to remember
Where were you when The National played the Cobblestone? As the US band gear up for their Irish tour this month, we look back at their gigs here down the years, with the help of the folks who organised them
Later this month, The National embark on a short tour of Ireland with shows in Cork, Dublin and Galway. Over the course of their career, the band have played Ireland on many occasions. Here’s a potted history of the band’s Irish gigs, with recollections from some key players along the way.
IRISH VIRGINS In December 2002, the band played their debut Irish shows in Auntie Annie’s in Belfast, the Cobblestone in Dublin and the Triskel in Cork as part of their first ever European tour.
Brian Bradley and Simon Johnston from Import Productions promoted the Dublin show. “The booking came about through Howard Monk, who played drums for Billy Mahonie who were signed to Southern,” recalls Bradley. “He had an agency called Knom that set up their European tour. Import had promoted Billy Mahonie in Dublin, hence the connection.”
Gary Sheehan, now head of programming at the National Concert Hall, looked after the Cork show. “I was aware of both Clogs and The National as their label, Brassland, had come across my radar. At the time, I think Clogs had interested me more with their neo-classical first album, which was great.” COBBLING IT TOGETHER There wasn’t much interest in the band before the tour. “The band were promoting their debut album and I was aware of it through my time at Tower Records and later Vital, which became PIAS Distribution,” says Bradley.
“If I’m honest, there wasn’t much pre-gig awareness. I recall it was approximately 38 out of a maximum capacity of 80. Jeff Martin supported. I think the owners of the Cobblestone were concerned about fire exits due to the amount of backline the band brought.”
The Cobblestone was and is primarily associated with trad, bluegrass and folk and seems an unlikely venue for The National. “We booked it as a last resort as we couldn’t get any availability in the other venues we used at the time. I wasn’t in favour of it, but we wanted to do the gig.”
“It was definitely a case of bringing a band only few had heard about,” says Sheehan of the Cork show. “There is something of a Cork mythology about the show which is amusing with distance. People have mentioned there were five people at the show though lots of people claim to have been there.
“In the end, I think the show sold 60 or 70 tickets. The irony is that this was the old Triskel venue, which was essentially a cinema space with nice comfy seats accommodating 90 people, so it was a great show in a very small room. Shirts weren’t lost, but profits weren’t made.”
PLEASURE PRINCIPLE Both promoters recall the band as a pleasure to deal with. “No egos, just a band who wrote great songs,” says Bradley. “They were absolute gentlemen. Knowing we lost heavily on the gig, they offered to crash on somebody’s floor to save us money. It certainly seemed at the time like they were in this for the long haul, but I didn’t think they’d reach the heights they did. I’m delighted they have.”