A music venue whether its in a city, regional town or village can have not only a great economic effect to that area but also a cultural and significant incubating space for artists and music fans to feel at home in.
Yesterday I opened my emails and it was with a heavy heart I read that in the IMRO (Irish Music Rights Organisation) Venue Of The Year Awards and in the category for Ulster Venue of The Year my home county of Donegal only had one finalist in the shortlist. This contrasts with the previous 4 years when we not only had several finalists in that category but also 2 venues from my hometown of Letterkenny and another venue in the north east of the county scooped the prize for Ulster Venue Of The Year. When you feel that the local music community is still as vibrant as it was in the past few years how did our local venues miss out on not only nominations but recognition of the work and efforts in supporting the music culture of our area? I know that the nominations for Venues comes from IMRO members therefore it appears Donegal songwriters are currently feeling the loss of a great musical hub.
Okay, so lets not take away from the one Donegal venue that did reach the shortlist of finalists in the provinces category, The Allingham Arms in Bundoran and congrats to them for that achievement. They have continuously been running country music events for many years and packing the function rooms with loyal music fans willing to spend money on live music and support their favourite artists. Someone once said to me that Donegal is the country music capital of Ireland and this nomination certainly verifies that opinion in some way. I hope that they too receive the top prize of Ulster Venue of The Year that has come our way to Voodoo Venue, An Grianan Theatre and many times McGrorys Backroom in Culdaff.
Earlier on this week while scrolling on my Facebook feed I saw a post in relation to a petition to save the Mandela Hall in Belfast and it surprised me at first..
‘The music venue in my hometown was shut down, and it took so much life out of the town.’
Then after considering it for a few moments I went from surprised to agreement with this comment. Because it was true. It did take so much life from the town. It also had a negative effect on the other pubs and clubs in the locality that presented live music. It started me thinking about the past few years and the many great bands and artists I’ve watched come through this north west regional town, isolated by its location that many feel is too far from a city to be important enough to drive an extra hour north to perform in. Now there are fewer reasons for touring bands to continue driving north or schedule Donegal into their schedule. Great new up and coming Irish bands like Walking On Cars, The Hot Sprockets and The Riptide Movement and established acts like Duke Special and The 4 of Us were regular visitors. Local superstars like In Their Thousands, The Wood Burning Savages, Color//Sound and clanns, Rainy Boy Sleep, Mojo Gogo and The Clameens, Our Native State, For Forresters, The Pox Men and Eve Belle (to name just a few) made it their home and were part of the life blood of our local music scene. There were open mic nights and alternative dj nights, album and Ep launches, charity fundraising events, after parties and great Saturday nights out amongst people that just loved music and had a place to express their individuality away from the hustle and bustle of stag parties, hen parties and booze fuelled revellers set on mission to destroy the town! However, that said everyone to their own and people have the right to enjoy themselves after a hard weeks work. But, in every way the music community and local musicians felt and are still feeling the loss of our local music venue. It did take the life out of the town. The comment had substance.
I now work with several bands that began life in that venue and in their different incarnations had a performance space that as young performers cutting their teeth they had an opportunity to get ready for that time when they travelled to the major cities to perform. They got opportunities to open or support some of their heroes and got the experience that would stand to them years into their futures. Bands with new recordings packed it out with their friends and families. In most cases they made great money from the door and sold enough Ep’s to recoup some of the costs of recording. It was a rehearsal space for those that wanted to get ready for the big world out there.
We as music fans are defined by music. From our early years if you have been bitten by that bug it can be an all consuming lifestyle that never leaves you and everyday visits you in multiples of ups and downs, highs and lows and like the best instagram photo album leaves you with memories that are associated with a time and a place and an interaction with another. And I’m sure there are many such stories of music venues the world over delivering to the cultural impact of the community and how eventually they had to close their doors for whatever reason leaving a gaping hole and a wound that takes time to heal.
If you feel so inclined please leave a comment and tell your story. I’d love to hear it. Thanks for reading.