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Róisín Dubh: A Love Story

Myself, playing The Róisín Dubh last summer. Photo Credit Vincent Hughes

My first gig in the Róisín Dubh was late November 2005. Back when the Róisín Dubh was still a ground floor only musical abode, not the imposing three and half storey stacked westend behemoth that Eoghan MacNamara AKA Gugai, Kevin Healy, Simon Heaslip & co. present it as today.

That gig was Giveamanakick with Redneck Manifesto.

I had seen Redneck Manifesto in The Chapel at IADT a few weeks earlier and was blown away by what I’d witnessed. So when my quirky friend Shaw mentioned their upcoming gig in Galway, I jumped at the chance to catch the show again. It’s also worth mentioning Shaw guaranteed the presence of a girl I was hugely enamoured with.

We headed in at 8pm, in order to get in before the bouncer’s shifts started, as one or two of our party may have been a little shy of the required age (or maybe not; no way of proving it now anyway). In order to quell the suspicion that our band of merry youths had stoked, we hung, hide, and loitered in the half snug just off the tiny interior lane way that lead to the jacks, at least until the lights were down and the gig started.

When the gig started, all of our fears, thoughts, and cognitive abilities evaporated, and certainly didn’t matter, as we hopped and sweated like all of the nights would end if we didn’t. Those fears did return at certain particular times. None more so then when one of us braved going out the back door by the canal for a cigarette… passing the ominous doormen on each occasion as paranoid wrecks.

It was a fantastic gig. Myself and Shaw got Redneck Manifesto t-shirts that night. I still have mine. Not a chance it fits me more than a hefty decade later. But there is no reality where I am ever tossing that t-shirt out. The t-shirt will always serve as a reminder of that night. A night which completely opened up my, and my peers, expectations and perceptions of what “Julius” Gugai’s colosseum of sound was able to provide folk like us in the west.

I began frequenting the place as often as I could from then on. From those early days of Jape’s ‘Floating’, to the summers like the one we’re are experiencing with Oh Boland’s ‘Where’s The Beach’. Indeed these nights on Dominick Street have introduced me to the best music, friends and experiences I reckon I’ll ever have.

Fun fact: It was almost exactly a year later that I severely damaged the relationship I conjured up that first night in the Róisín. I re-arranged our year anniversary dinner in order to see Dinosaur Jr. in the Warwick, set up by. . . the Róisín Dubh. She made sure for my troubles that I’d ‘Feel The Pain’. I’ll get my coat.

My first gig in there performing was in July 2009. It was supporting local rhythm & blues rock group Lexington 125. The group I was in was, tragically, called Jaded Strings. Which I am delighted to say, after a quick Google, seems to have almost zero web presence or evidence of existence left. The gig was the soundtrack to mediocrity, but the whole experience was massive for me. As silly as it seems to some, I am unashamed in admitting it was a dream come true, and that’s how I’ll always remember it.

Every bit of it is etched in my memory with a romance that still makes me feel honest. From coming in through the curtain before the place opened to the public like a conceited prodigal son, having Seán, on sound, hit the roof with me over my juxtaposing monitor requirements, the free beer, etc. And I certainly haven’t forgot that the whole band got the shift that night. Winners all round!

It was on the same stage 5 years later I played there to a paying crowd with a capacity well into triple digits. As myopic as it may seem to some, it is my proudest moment ever, in my favourite aspect of my life. Honestly, if I could have my wedding, funeral, unconceived kid’s christening, everything in that hallowed hall I would.

My own personal achievements and gigs in the Róisín pale however to some of the spectacular things I have seen there, even in the past year or two alone. And So I Watch You From Afar’s Christmas 2014 psuedo-residency, Girl Band the past few times, Sonic Youth second coming Parquet Courts a few months back (frontman Andrew Savage pilfered my lighter) Choice Award winner SOAK during the summer, and what has probably been my favourite show ever in the Róisín, Father John Misty around last Halloween.

With this in mind, I thought I would ask a number of regulars to The Thin Air, who regularly play the Róisín Dubh, which has been their favourite gig down at the old black rose:

David Boland (New Pope)

“I have enjoyed myself immensely on many occasions in the Róisín Dubh and, honestly, most of my favourite gigs there have been by local bands – like only recently when Rural Savage nailed it at the Citóg Records CD Launch or when Oh Boland did a 15 minute version of ‘Only In Dreams’ at a Weezer tribute night.

I’ll always remember my first Róisín gig though and that was catching the amazing HAL back in 2006, I think, when the Róisín was slightly smuttier and you could smoke out the back. It was a smaller venue in those days and the place was packed. I was up the front singing my little heart out and probably ended up puking on the way home with the excitement of it all.

I was to catch HAL some years later in the same venue. They covered ‘Mind Games’ by John Lennon and played perfectly. A really great band. Later that evening I approached lead singer Dave Allen and kissed his hand like he were a princess and I some dashing prince ready to swoop him away from his mundane life. Live music and substance use will make you do these things sometimes.”

Mickey McCullagh (Son Of The Hound):

“My favourite gig? Duke Special touring the songs of Harry Nilsson, with Master & Dog supporting. The Róisín can be a beautiful sweatbox or an intimate candlelit venue like something from a Leonard Cohen song. This was the latter and Duke Special’s interpretation of the songs along with the attentive crowd made for a charming evening.”

Simon McDonagh (Oh Boland):

“I’ve been going to the Róisín Dubh at least three times a week for the last seven years. I’ve seen countless acts, both national and international but the one performance that sticks out for me is Steven Sharpe’s show at Citóg in mid-July last year.

It was absolutely packed! Sharpie’s music presents a mixed bag of personal experiences and worldwide issues, smoothed out with sheer wit and incredible melody.

Halfway through the set, he started a song with a full suit on, and finished it wearing a saucy blue sequence number. A costume change onstage, while still giving the perfect vocal performance!

The best Irish entertainer I’ve seen to date.”

Jay Burke AKA Hob Junker (Rural Savage, Crank Face):

“Ara I’ve seen a feckin’ million gigs here at this stage bhoy”. (N.B. Jay works sound at the Róisín).

Giveamanakick, with support from ASIWYFA, who were playing for the first time here. I can’t remember a fuckin’ thing from the night except that it was class and an unreal bit of craic. Yea… that’s the one that always comes to mind. More so than the rest.”

Steven Sharpe (Steven Sharpe & The Broke Straight Boys):

“My favourite was. . . well, I was going to go do my shopping in July of 2014 at 7 o’clock and I got a call on the way to Tesco’s from friend Tracy Bruen offering me a free ticket to go see Owen Pallett. She said if I missed it I’d be incredibly disappointed, if not just for him but for the support act who is amazing. Turns out the support act was Cathy Davey.

I was a huge fan of Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy, Arcade Fire), so I was sold already on that, but I am a massive, massive, massive fan of Cathy Davey.

Anyway she got up on stage, just her and a guitarist. She played all new songs, which was great as she hadn’t released anything in 3 or 4 years. It was really great. And then Mr. Pallett went up and he was awesome. But the highlight was Cathy Davey.

We stayed for a lock in afterwards, and during it we went out to the smoking area. . . and down sits Cathy Davey herself next to me!

But I didn’t talk to her. I was too scared… like… she’s my hero. Y’know?

So I ran downstairs to get a pint and her guitarist was at the bar, we talked and eventually he got Cathy to come over and talk to me as I was, how did he describe it? “Pure mad and he loves ya!”.

So she came over and I got flustered. Then I began. Essentially saying how much I adored her and how many times I’d actually talked to her before gigs over the years. These gigs included the first gig I ever went to, which was in Dolan’s in Limerick, the first date I ever went on with a boy, which was her residency gigs in Cyprus Avenue in Cork, and the first gig I went to when I returned from a time in Australia, around the release of the album Nameless’

It was all coming out as word vomit and it was embarrassing, but the thing about all of this that was so special was that it was so typical Galway, and it was so typical Róisín Dubh. Like, I went to do my shopping one evening and I ended up chatting with Cathy Davey.

I think I only got home at 11am. Haha! And that’s it. . . that’s the great thing about the Róisín: you may not know it but in one way or another it will introduce you to your heroes.

You never know what’ll happen there.

P.S. I later found out Cathy Davey wasn’t meant to play that night. She had asked Gugai for some tickets to Owen Pallett as she was in Galway, and he said no problem. . . if she played support.”

The last person I asked about the Róisín Dubh was a lad called Liam (Silke? Sice? Sorry Liam, I’ve forgot). Liam is not a musician, or involved in the arts in Ireland. I came across Liam in an unusual manner. I waited outside the front of the Róisín on a recent Wednesday afternoon just after 2pm and decided to talk to the first 3 or 4 people who stopped at the Róisín (in order to look at the gig listing in the window). I asked them their thoughts on the venue, and what they thought made it so special. The first 2 or 3 weren’t the most loquacious folk, but then Liam came along. He put it simply and efficiently in saying:

“Well like, I’m just back from a few years away working in the UK, and a bit around Europe, and in my opinion it’s the best music venue I’ve ever been in. Hands down.

It’s not the biggest or anything or the most spectacular. But it’s that it comfortably provides for the people it’s here to entertain and serve. And better, far better than any other place I’ve been to or experienced. It’s Goldielocks porridge. You get me?

Like, you could list all the cities and towns in the world with populations similar to the Róisín’s (catchment) area and I’ll give you a hundred quid if you can show me one with anything near the Róisín’s deserved reputation or quality.

To have that and its character is unheard of.”

I can tell you right now, Liam will never lose that hundred quid. David Hickey

Top photo of David Hickey