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Farewell, Cellar Bar


Featuring the thoughts of different people associated with local music or indebted to the establishment in various ways, our reviews editor and PigsAsPeople axeman Stevie Lennox gives his thoughts on and pays tribute to legendary hub of Mid-Ulster/Northern Irish music culture, Draperstown’s Cellar Bar.


Well, it’s been a rough few months. With Auntie Annie’s having closed house with no sign of a return, Glasgowbury announcing that this year’s was the final one and now Draperstown’s Cellar Bar – the only decent refuge for anyone seeking original music anywhere near Mid-Ulster. Having dealt with Ryan Lagan and the staff in the Cellar over the last few years, I’ve not had one negative interaction with those folks, be it as promoter, musician or fan. Here Comes The Landed Gentry wrote ‘Whiskeytown’ about the place. Whether it was my (or anyone’s) lowly first band’s first show in the Cellar or trying to run a full two-stage weekend, the folks in the Cellar made us and everyone present feel welcome – it was the only place I’d call my ‘local’ despite living about 15 miles away – and it’s going to be emotional when those doors close. We don’t know what the future holds for it and if a future is there, but we can only hope.

“Maybe if local music was better supported it would be a different story, not just at The Cellar but all round – then again maybe not. After 13 years of involvement for me its time for a Saturday morning lie in. I just hope that whoever takes over still keeps some element of support for the many good local bands that are out there.” – Ryan Lagan, Cellar Bar Manager

“It’s almost too easy to get bogged down in the the whys and what fors when something so innately important as the Cellar Bar, Glasgowbury or Auntie Annie’s effectively disappears off the face of the earth. What interests me most is at what point do the general – one-time regularly gig-going – public begin to collectively realise that, eventually, there will very few platforms left if we continue in this way? The pattern is palpable – undeniable even. If the titans have fallen, how can we possibly expect the smaller venues and festivals to survive? A lot of people aren’t trying hard enough.”- Brian Coney, The Thin Air & Glasgowbury

We have to face facts – we’re letting local music burn out. Sure, there are some well-attended gigs, but we’ve got possibly the strongest music scene in terms of bands per capita than anywhere around these isles and unfortunately that means we can only spread ourselves thinly as gig attendees. That’s more a lenient way to say it though; people are getting lazy. They’d rather line the pockets of some DJ with an smart-crossfade application on their Mac than pay a fiver or less to see some artists who’ve sat in their rooms or slugged away in a dingy rehearsal space for hours on end, trying to refine their craft and write some music that someone out there might in some way be affected by. But how can someone be affected when they aren’t there for the experience? How can an artist progress or be inspired when there’s no motivation there?

I’d love to be able to solely blame the recession, but the unfortunate underlying issue seems to be that the passion and effort people continue to put into creating music isn’t being matched by those on the other side of the stage, so we’re left with a void. People aren’t thinking for themselves and would rather take the ‘easy’ option of a night in a club to hear songs they already know. The Cellar Bar is right, they’ve fought the good fight for a long time. They really have. Who knows? Maybe whoever takes over the helm after current management finishes will actually do an excellent job, but it’ll be hard to match a bar that people could genuinely call home.

Conchobhar Ó Dochartaigh, The Institute*, The Last Generation“I’ve been going to the Cellar since I was 14 years old, and playing in it for nearly as long. For the people of MU the Cellar was the focal point of the local scene, as it was the only genuine venue around. Although the bar was renovated some time in the 2000’s it always retained the atmosphere that helped give it the character of authenticity which was missing from so many other places in the area which have attempted to brand themselves as ‘live’ venues in the area.

This scene really grew in the past few years, and it was impossible to go out in the Cellar without meeting up with several friends and characters – catching up with who was playing what gigs, who was recording, who was on the rip. When playing there, there was always a great vibe during set up, fostered in no small part by the staff who really tried hard to make gigs run as smoothly and as enjoyably as possible, both for the bands and for the customers (not the punters). Placed in the wider view of Northern Ireland as a whole, it was a key stop on any bands explorations out of their own territory, or when branching out of Belfast. Despite numbers dropping at gigs recently, there were an increasing number of young people at the shows. Although this bodes well for the region in the long run, without a regular place to facilitate gigs it may be hard for this to be further developed. Hopefully the new owners will continue to showcase live music from the area and beyond, as without this the Cellar will probably just turn into another brightly lit, TV-covered bar with weak cocktails and  acoustic singers playing to backing track – and we don’t need another one of those.

To give you a taste of what makes The Cellar is no way an easy endeavour unless you’ve been there yourself, but we’ve gathered some words from locals who’ve seen it all there in the hope that we can get a glimpse of the bigger picture and remember it as it was – a hub, a refuge, a welcoming collective, a state of mind.”

“The Cellar Bar was the realisation of one of the central aims of the Glasgowbury Music Festival, to show that there was thriving musical talent existing outside the hubs of Belfast and Derry. Somehow my local located an hour away from the capital in the middle of mid-Ulster became famed for the most enthusiastic crowds, quality of music on display and moments that just didn’t happen anywhere else. It deserved the respect it gained throughout the music scene of Northern Ireland” – Mark McAllister, Pretty Child Backfire 

“The Cellar Bar is the proverbial diamond in the rough for mid-ulster. In a place where natural beauty is abundant but there isn’t a whole lot to do, the cellar offered a safe haven and an alternative to those who just wanted to get blind drunk at the weekends. Everyone was welcome to join the family community of the bar and it has forged many defining characters in the area. The news of its loss has not only hindered the development of the local music scene, but has also ripped out the hearts of many of those who have ever set foot in it. I am in mourning.” – William Sloss

“If I had anything to say, it’s that I’m glad they maintained what they had during the time that they did, toppling any doubt of continuity in the music scene; maintaining a hub, outside the usual spheres where contemporary music in Ireland has been associated. Each town has their local but so many musical outfits made the Cellar & Draperstown theirs.” – Andrew McCloskey, The Institute*

“The Cellar. Where I was introduced to Paddy Glasgow, to a proper PA (sound system, for the punters) to real music, to the true honesty of country folk, to people who didn’t judge, to the greatest bands I’ve ever seen and to people that wherever they are, or I am, I know I can rely on for the various tenets of life we as a social species crave to survive and excel. When all the clichés are tethered, it was a home from home. The most inviting, pulsating hub of all that was good. They, and we, were doing something right. Ask any of the headlining acts from Ireland that’ve played, it’s their favourite gig. Cashier No 9, ASIWYFA, Ard Ri, Here Comes The Landed Gentry … ask them. Now all that’s left is the song. Goodnight sweet prince. You were a darling.” – Junior Johnson

A massive testament to Cellar Bar’s legacy, it can’t be stressed just how easy it was to get people to come forward and share their experiences about the bar. Stevie Lennox

is Gig Guide Editor & guitarist/vocalist with Junk Drawer, PigsAsPeople & Sister Ghost. Appreciator of Neil Young, vinyl, black coffee, Richard Linklater, light & shade.