Features - Interviews

Two’s Company: Meet Cork’s Alliance Promotions


A pair doing stellar work on the live gig front Leeside, Gordon O’Keeffe and Arlene Murray of Cork based Alliance Promotions sit down with Eimear Hurley to talk about their work in the Cork music scene

First off: how did you guys get into music promotion?

Gordon: I’ve been doing this for nine or ten years altogether. I started off in the punk scene. More and more people started coming until there wasn’t enough room in Fred Zeppelin’s anymore.  So we looked for bigger venues and it progressed from there. Alliance as it is now started about five years ago, and Arlene has been part of it for four years now.

How do you think the music scene in Cork changed during that time?

G: Music kind of stays the same and does its thing, but one major change is the venue situation, and the crowds that go –

Arlene: Or don’t go, as the case may be.

G: Yeah, exactly. We understand that it’s not affordable to go to gigs. Any gig that we do is always very cheap, mainly free or about €5.

A: The most we’ve ever charged was a tenner. In the Kino before Christmas we had The Orange Kyte over from Vancouver and we charged a tenner because it was a great lineup and it was the Christmas special. We’re extremely lucky with Crane Lane because we can have free entry gigs and be able to pay the bands.

G: And that’s all we’re doing it for at the minute.

A: We struggle to get ourselves a pint at the end of the night. But we never got into it for the money. We’re in the wrong game for that! But we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t love doing it. The day it stops being fun is the day we’ll stop doing it.

Cork has had a number of live, late venues close over the last number of years. The venue situation must make it difficult when you’re trying to bring bands to Cork…

G: It’s tricky because you get caught for dates. Bands come at us all the time because they want to do the gigs, but when you have fewer venues, you have fewer dates.  People don’t seem to think of that.

A: When you’re a band coming form a bigger city like Dublin, you tend to forget that Cork is a small place and it doesn’t have as much to offer as Dublin would.

G: In Dublin, you have the population for a lot more different things. But in Cork, you tend to have one music crowd.

A: And because there are only so many venues in Cork, people get sick of the same places. […] We’re trying, as promoters, to get people to go to the gigs, but then it has to be more or less free to get people to come listen to a new, strange band. Although, we feel that we’re guaranteeing people a good gig because we love the band ourselves.

G: Look, even if there are only ten people at our gig, we’re all gonna love it anyway. But the whole point is to help bands get out there. And the only way for them to do that is to have people come to hear them.

A: There’ll always be a few people who’ll always go to live shows because they’re really into the music scene. But you’re battling with people who won’t cos if their mates aren’t going, or people who think “why would I bother going out to see a band when I can listen to them online?” […] But that’s the thing – with most bands, you have to see them live to get a sense of them.

Them and countless others who they can listen to all in the space of one evening! A lot of DIY-style gigs have been happening here in response to the lack of suitable venues. What are your thoughts on that type of event?

G: They’re very interesting […] If you can create a B.Y.O.B. situation, you’re going to definitely get the crowds, even for a band no-one’s ever heard of.

A: But those nights are expensive too. You have to fill the venue with sound and bring in all your own equipment. Then you have to charge on the door and make sure what you charge is going to be worth what you’re offering.

G: It’s all to do with cost, and age on doors – that’s a big thing in Cork [a lot live music venues are Over 21’s]. If everyone could come together and start sorting out those problems it’d open up for everyone else.

A: Cork is too small a city for people not to help each other out. There are a lot of different promoters in Cork doing a lot of different things. We could all easily help promote each other.

How do you find new music? And what makes a band a good candidate for an Alliance gig?

A: Once a month, I sit down at the computer and trawl through the internet and see what I can find. I used to work at an indie label in Dublin, and it was my job was to listen to music and know within 30 seconds if I should pass a track on to the record label. So I had to train my ear.  […] Sometimes Gordy and I have completely different taste in bands. And sometimes, if a band is good, we both instantly like them.

G: Being a promoter on your own can make you develop tunnel vision with music. So as much as we kill each other sometimes, we iron it out. It wouldn’t be any good if I got onto Arls about a band and she just said “yeah, great” all the time. You don’t need a yes man in band promotion. You’re five or six weeks trying to sell something. If you don’t personally like it, it’s a waste of time.

A: We promote bands because we love them and we want people to hear them. Humouring a band and just giving them a gig for the sake of it is not doing anyone any favours. We’d rather send them on to someone who would appreciate them more than us.

G: I like bands that come down with a good attitude. It’s a stressful day anyway so you don’t need a primadonna (or five primadonnas) coming in the door. In a nice Corkonian way, they would be told where to go!

What do you think sells a band from Dublin or somewhere else to a Cork crowd?

G: Newness. The whole experimental side of things has to really take off now. More stuff like Girl Band – sharp, intelligent rock and roll. I can see a huge surge in live electronica coming in the next few years. It’ll be outrageous! Cork crowds are tough to please. It’s not a negative thing. Some bands come down from Dublin where they’re used to playing to big crowds. But they soon realise they’re not in Dublin anymore! Galway, then, is a very special place in the Irish music scene at the minute. We did gigs there with the Sunshine Factory last year and the crowd attention was wonderful. We were at the Róisín Dubh and I’ve never seen another venue to fill at 8.30 and be full until 1.30am. It’s such a different vibe to Cork and to Dublin.

How has the response to your gigs been so far this year?

A: It’s been really good! We started out with Carried By Waves. We’ve also had the Urges from Dublin with support from Goosefat. Next is The Dijon Babes and Slyrydes from Galway, so that will be a great night.

What’s next for Alliance Promotions?

G: At the end of next month we’ll have our meetings and see what bands have sent their stuff to us, and we’ll see what ones we like. Then we’ll plan our next phase. You can’t plan too far ahead because what’s popular right now, no one might want to listen to six months down the line.

A: We’re always encouraging bands to get onto us, no matter what sound they have. We’re looking at breaking into Waterford and putting on a few gigs there too.

G: Our dream is to have our own venue. Not a big place, but somewhere with a sound system that would blow the brain off you.

I don’t think I’m alone when I say I look forward to experiencing that!

The Dijon Babes with Slyrydes play Crane Lane in Cork tonight

Note: Alliance Promotion’s Hot Cops/Junk Drawer gig, scheduled for Saturday 22nd April has been postponed due to unforeseen circumstances. Watch this space for a new date.