Ciara Kenny

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Aslan go the distance to reach Irish fans abroad

Aslan’s recent gig in Stockholm proved how Irish bands can provide an important link to home for Irish communities abroad, writes Philip O’Connor.

Mon, Apr 2, 2012, 19:18


Christy Dignam of Aslan performing in Stockholm

Aslan’s recent gig in Stockholm proved how Irish bands can provide an important link to home for Irish communities abroad, writes Philip O’Connor.

Christy climbs off the stage, covered in sweat, while behind him, Billy leads the crowd through a final chorus of “Hey Jude”. Rhythm firmly nailed to the floor by Alan and Rod, a flicker of a smile crosses Joe’s face – for the best part of thirty years, Aslan’s Friday nights have looked like this.

Except tonight, they’re not in some sprawling pub in an Irish suburban town; instead, one of Ireland’s most popular live acts find themselves in the cellar at the Liffey Irish bar in Stockholm, playing to a mixture of fanatical ex-pat fans and equally fanatical Swedes.

The recession means that Aslan’s audience are moving away from Ireland, and the band have to travel an awful lot further to play for them.

“I don’t think we’ve ever travelled more than we’ve done in the last year – Australia, Prague, Dubai,” says guitarist Joe Jewell.

Band-mate Billy McGuinness agrees. “The simple fact is that our audience – mostly working class people – have been hit hardest by the recession and they are leaving the country.”

Aslan have long had a reputation as being one of the hardest-working bands in the country, touring almost non-stop to cater for fans who can’t get enough of the charismatic Christy Dignam and the band’s back catalogue.

But between recession, austerity and the smoking ban, the Irish pub trade is on its knees and gigs are getting fewer and fewer. Publicans are loath to take risks, and working bands like Aslan are forced to look abroad to fill their calendars.

And with its ever-growing Irish population, Stockholm might well become a regular destination. Before, during and after the gig, there is a massive outpouring of love and gratitude from the local Irish, who have turned out in force to see “their” band.

Even on his way to the dressing room before the gig, Christy was mobbed, like a prizefighter on his way to the ring.

An hour later, the diminutive singer holds the audience in the palm of his hand as they dance ecstatically to one of the bands first hits. “Life is not a pretty thing,” sings Christy. Right now, the audience doesn’t agree.

Everyone here has their story and their memories, and after a knockout show the band listen avidly to them. There are even old friends and neighbours from Finglas or the Navan Road, or the pubs and clubs where the band made their name in the eighties. There are handshakes and hugs, smiles and autographs for all.

Wexford-born promoter Eoin O’Connor breathes a sigh of relief at the end of the night. The former Cousin Bill guitarist now books all the acts that play at The Liffey, and the expense involved in getting in a big act like Aslan represents a considerable risk on his part. Happily, the venue – “it’s like the Cavern Club in Liverpool,” says Christy – is stuffed with thirsty fans, and Eoin is already planning to have them back.

“I’m delighted. You can see what this means to the people here – not just the Irish people, but even the Swedes who have been introduced to Aslan’s music by the Irish coming over here. Up by the front of the stage there was about a dozen of them bouncing around for the whole show.”

In the narrow dressing-room afte the show, the talk is of more gigs abroad, and how Stockholm might be used as a springboard to other shows in Sweden. The news that 200 Irish construction workers will soon break ground on a project in Sundsvall, four hours north of Stockholm, only increases the likelihood that the finest Finglas band ever will soon be back.

Judging by the Saturday morning response on Facebook – currently our greatest social barometer – the Stockholm show is a resounding success. My timeline is filled with pictures of the band with the Irish boys and girls living in Sweden, and comments like “magic!” and “better than St Patrick’s Day!” abound.

For the Irish communities abroad, the band provide an important link to home. For the band, that community represents a gateway to new cities, new experiences and new fans. Like Gaelic football and Barry’s Tea, Aslan are about to become our next great export.


Philip O’Connor is author of A Parish Far From Home. He is a freelance writer/journalist/producer, and MD of Eblana Communications. He blogs as ourmaninstockholm and tweets @philipoconnor.