Mullingar’s ‘Cavern Club’ The Stables closes down

On Wednes­day Octo­ber 1st Ire­land is to lose one of its longest-established music venues as The Sta­bles and Yukon Bar close. Own­ers Tommy and Miriam Mac­Manus have, after 43 years at the helm of their Dominick Street venue, decided to call it a day.

They pulled no punches when they said the clo­sure is down to a chang­ing envi­ron­ment in the music indus­try and licens­ing trade. Pubs through­out the coun­try are suf­fer­ing, and that is acutely felt in West­meath where 20% of pubs have closed in a decade. In the past eight years alone 47 locals have called time — that’s one every two months.

Changes to the trade, changes to the music busi­ness and chang­ing pat­terns of cus­tomers since the reces­sion has lead to a dif­fi­cult trad­ing envi­ron­ment, and hav­ing enjoyed many years as the fore­most live music venue in West­meath and the Mid­lands the cou­ple have decided to take retire­ment from the pub business.

The pub game has changed utterly,” says Tommy. “Music is also no longer what it used to be. Peo­ple expect it to be free and don’t want to sup­port the artists, either at gigs or by buy­ing their albums, so the time was right for us to step back.”

We need a life for our­selves and now is the time to do it,” remarked Miriam.

But sad­ness at the clo­sure is off­set by a life­time of happy mem­o­ries for the Mac­Manus fam­ily, whose venue has been the epi­cen­ter of music in the mid­lands for a long time. Tommy and Miriam raised three chil­dren above the venue, and a vari­ety of pro­mot­ers — includ­ing this writer — booked gigs there for lit­tle or no reward, just the sheer thrill of see­ing artists you admired and giv­ing up-and-coming tal­ent a leg up.

In 43 years we can safely say we were never bored,” joked Tommy. “We met a lot of friends and we have had great cus­tomers, amaz­ing staff, incred­i­ble musi­cians and pro­mot­ers along the way. We have noth­ing but happy memories.”

(more after the pictures)

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Tommy Mac­Manus (right) retir­ing after 43 years of The Yukon and Sta­bles with two pro­mot­ers from back in the day — Ronan Casey and Noel O’Farrell

6. Tommy & duke special

Back­stage at The Sta­bles was Tommy and Miriam’s sit­ting room or kitchen — but only if you were nice! Here’s Duke Spe­cial, a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor even when he was fill­ing the National Con­cert Hall, he’d make time for a Sta­bles gig

5 Jimmy Carl Black Terry O'Neill_1

Sta­bles reg­u­lar Terry O’Neill meets Jimmy Carl Black of Frank Zappa’s Moth­ers of Inven­tion Band. Thanks to a love for Zappa, I got to book sev­eral of these guys over the years to play in Mullingar

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The late Mic Christo­pher in action on stage at the Sta­bles in 2000. It’s safe to say he was one of music’s true gen­tle­men and what a plea­sure it was to book him for The Sta­bles dozens of times, includ­ing Sep­tem­ber 11, 2001!

4. Damien Rice_Lisa Hannigan_1

Lisa Han­ni­gan and Damien Rice made The Sta­bles their ‘home’ venue for a few years. Every show we’d do up the stage, or change the lay­out of the room. Every show was sold out. They were mag­i­cal days!

3 Cani on bass_1

There have been sev­eral ver­sions of The Blues Band over the years. Here’s one with the late, great Cani Bru­ton on bass and Vince Hughes on sax. I think these guys have played with more bands than any other musi­cian. Vince is still going strong, a class brass man.

2 Glen Hansard_1

Glen Hansard dur­ing one of his solo shows at the Sta­bles in 1999/2000. He didn’t do solo shows at the time as The Frames were his thing but we con­vinced him one night over a bag of chips to try one out. He did sev­eral for us before bring The Frames down to close their For The Birds tour with us.

7. Tommy and Anthony Hughes_1 IMAG4586

We finally made it! Declan Murray and I on stage at The Stables last night, remembering years of gigs.

We finally made it! Declan Mur­ray and I on stage at The Sta­bles last night, remem­ber­ing years of gigs.

MUSIC CENTRE STAGE

From day one, music has been at cen­tre stage for Tommy and Miriam, both big music fans. Indeed Tommy peo­moted one of the first ever open air fes­ti­vals in Ire­land when he brought a selec­tion of UK prog and folk acts to play open air at Mullingar Race­course, itself long-since closed.

Opened in 1971 The Yukon Bar was orig­i­nally called O’Briens Bar when Tommy first stepped in behind the counter. Tommy, who had mined in the Yukon in Canada as a young­ster, re-named it The Yukon  in 1976 after he and Miriam got mar­ried and made upstairs their fam­ily home. They did up the new fam­ily busi­ness, extend­ing and ren­o­vat­ing it and in the process adding a pop­u­lar music lounge which for years hosted live music seven nights a week. But the biggest change occurred in in 1989, when The Sta­bles was born after they con­verted the back yard and the rem­nants of old horse sta­bles into a purpose-built music venue.

Twenty five years has been a long time in rock’n’roll at The Sta­bles, and in that time the award-winning venue has hosted a who’s who of local, national and inter­na­tional music. Acts from all over the world have played there, drawn by an appre­cia­tive audi­ence and gen­uine music lovers pro­mot­ing the gigs, work­ing at the gigs, work­ing in the bar. Music was king and it was only the fact that Ire­land qual­i­fied for a World Cup that a TV was installed — and even at that it only could get one channel!

As Tommy looked back on a life­time in music this week, he laughed when he recalled that the first band was booked to play was a Cajun out­fit called The Big Mistake!

With a small crowd there, Tommy and Miriam and orig­i­nal pro­moter Noel O’Farrell won­dered if the name was prophetic, but thank­fully things went from strength to strength almost imme­di­ately with their venue and they never looked back.

THE BLUES

In its early days, the venue earned a rep­u­ta­tion as being one of the fore­most blues clubs in Ire­land with all the great rhythm and blues play­ers from home and abroad drawn to play there. Scouts from the major record labels were reg­u­lars as the venue became a Blues hub.

Soon there was live music most nights of the week, with the week­end end­ing (or the week start­ing) on a Mon­day night when the orig­i­nal Blues Band held court for many years. Noel and Declan O’Farrell, main­stays of the Mullingar music scene, hosted a Sun­day night club, whilst bands of all gen­res played on Thurs­days, Fri­days and Saturdays.

As gen­res came and went dur­ing the 1990s, The Sta­bles remained con­stant with bands still per­form­ing every week­end. In the front bar, weekly res­i­den­cies from tal­is­manic tal­ents such as Marc and the late Jeremy Oliver, Declan Byrne, Dec Mur­ray and the late Cani Bru­ton, as well as the O’Farrell broth­ers ensured there was music front and back at the venue. Come­di­ans such as Jon Kenny and Pat Shortt were reg­u­lars as stand-ups and with their band The Cat­tledeal­ers Lament. Local tal­ent flour­ished and in its wake a whole town started to have live music on mul­ti­ple nights. If there was a ‘Seat­tle scene’ in Ire­land it was in Mullingar in the 1990’s.

National Awards from IMRO and Hot Press fol­lowed a decade of hard graft by pro­mot­ers Ronan Casey and Declan Mur­ray, together with engi­neer Frank Byrne, and dance music pro­moter Andrew Mac­Manus. On any given Fri­day there could be 300 peo­ple ramed into the 150 capac­ity venue to dance to a lead­ing DJ and on the Sat­ur­day another 300 to hear a singer/songwriter. Oth­ers who helped out in this time were Marty Mul­li­gan, Justin Mof­fat and David McGlynn. Family mem­bers did the door and no band left unpaid.

At the end of the 1990’s acts such as The Frames, Damien Rice, Mundy, Paddy Casey, David Kitt, Damien Dempsey and oth­ers started to bub­ble in Dublin and this trans­ferred to Mullingar where they were drawn by an appre­cia­tive crowd, a pay­ing gig and music-loving promoters.

Acts such as Des Bishop, Oscar-winner Glen Hansard, Jon Kenny and Pat Shortt, Paddy Casey, The Walls, Mundy, The Frames, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Hay­seed Dixie, Eric Bell, Sharon Shan­non, 808 State, Lisa Han­ni­gan, Bell X1, David Kitt, Saxon, Ricky War­wick, The Saw Doc­tors, Joseph Arthur, Luka Bloom, Mary Cough­lan, Duffy, Duke Spe­cial, Sack, The Jimmy Cake, Ten Speed Racer, Water­cress, Ther­apy?, Hot­house Flow­ers, Turn, National Prayer Break­fast, 4 Of Us, Hand­some Fam­ily, Raw Novembre, Ronnie Drew, Josh Rit­ter, PJ Gal­lagher, Tommy Tier­nan, Kíla, Pete Court­ney, Hand­some Fam­ily, Bren­dan Ben­son, Vil­lagers, The Imme­di­ate, The Pale, Dun­can Pat­ter­son, Rob Strong, Joe Rooney, Steve Wick­ham, Kieran Goss, Juliet Turner and even a few moon­lighting mem­bers of Dire Straits as well as mem­bers of Frank Zappa’s Moth­ers of Inven­tion and The Smiths have all played storm­ing shows in the Dominick Street strong­hold. Mem­bers of U2 and Sinead O’Connor were in the audi­ence for gigs. Christy Moore and Joe Dolan also vis­ited. No one both­ered them. They were all there for the same thing. Niall Horan went there under­age to see local bands play to sell-out crowds. Bloc Party, Snow Patrol, and count­less oth­ers went in un-noticed. TV shows used the venue and the good times looked like they would last for­ever. Thou­sands of bands and singer-songwriters played there, too many to list, too many to remember!

For Declan and I we started to book the venue because we kept meet­ing each other at gigs in Dublin. We had been in bands in Mullingar (he a gui­tarist, I a heavy metal drum­mer) and both had a soft spot for local heroes Raw Novembre. We thought it mad to be always meet­ing at the same gigs in Whe­lans or wher­ever so after a few weeks of putting things together and get­ting a PA we booked Sack for our first gig at The Sta­bles. We then enjoyed nearly a decade book­ing bands. Some got it, oth­ers didn’t it. We were all a fam­ily, a music lov­ing fam­ily. We tried to be decent and feed bands, pay for diesel and give them most of the door. There was no chang­ing rooms, and a band had to pass the man­ners test so they could be accepted into Tommy and Miriam’s sit­ting room and kitchen, which served as the back­stage area.

There was no VIP area, The near­est thing we had to one was a snug where five nights a week for­tune teller Billy Mar­tin read cards and palms. Bands were often shocked to arrive on a Fri­day to see a queue for a for­tune teller and not them! But soon, queues became a reg­u­lar thing. We had a 150 capac­ity which we broke most nights as peo­ple flocked from all over the mid­lands and north west to see acts that usu­ally only played the big venues in Dublin and maybe the Roisin Dubh in Gal­way or Connolly’s of Leap.

It was a labour of love. Dec did the sound on the nights and I did a mix of the door, the lights and the gen­eral run­ning around. Fam­ily mem­bers (usu­ally Dec’s younger broth­ers) were drafted in to help with the fly­ers and posters on the night and we used guer­rilla mar­ket­ing to full effect. Our friend Justin Mof­fat made us stick­ers and ended up doing the door. Marty Mul­li­gan came back to a venue he used to book to do the lights. I became a reluc­tant MC and we smoked thou­sands of cig­a­rettes. It’s hard to remem­ber the smoke, but we never needed a smoke machine in the Sta­bles. Roy Cas­tle would have sued the shite out of us.

They were magic days. A par­tic­u­lar high­light was a gig attended by about a dozen fea­tur­ing a new band formed by Whip­ping Boy’s Fearghal McKee. I met him at a metal gig in Dublin and we both fan­cied this band that was a cross between Slayer, Hawk­wind and Neu!. Fearghal drafted them in and we staged a gig at The Sta­bles with the new project rechris­tened Shadow Cab­i­net. It was men­tal. The band dropped E’s before they took to the stage and played the same sone for nearly two hours with McKee mak­ing up the lyrics before strip­ping and storm­ing out of the venue. He slept in the Town Park that night and declared the gig one of the best he ever did!

There were thou­sands of oth­ers: Bands such as Water­cress would fill the venue every Christ­mas and leave you smil­ing for weeks. 808 State was nuts. Mic Christo­pher was a gent. Kila always amaz­ing. Joseph Arthur break­ing a gui­tar string, tak­ing a time then then find­ing his gig taken over by Liam O’Maonlai who hap­pened to be in the audi­ence: “Who the fuck is this guy?” he asked a capac­ity crowd. Ten Speed Racer rocked the venue like few other bands could. Local bands like Innate on a good night were unstop­pable. Turn were majes­tic. A Pink Floyd trib­ute band blow­ing the power on the entire street with their light­ing rig. The night the staff from Whe­lans came down for a staff do. Metal nights which always had the most man­nerly, decent audi­ences. Dance nights were gen­er­ally demented, won­der­ful occa­sions of love, hugs and shite talk. The best nights of all ususally ended up in Tommy and Miriam’s kitchen upstairs where bands truly became part of the fam­ily and we ate, drank, sang and smoked into the next day. John Ill­s­ley from Dire Straits — a multi-millionaire musi­cian - was so smit­ten with the place he moved to Mullingar for a spell, and recruited a local band, Cunla, to back him. His sax player Mel Collins wanted to bring the kitchen home, piece by piece. Adam Clay­ton even babysat for the MacManuses!

LEGACY

But the great­est legacy of the venue was that it served as a breed­ing ground for thou­sands of local and national acts. Up-and-coming local acts had few oppor­tu­ni­ties to play any­where, and no mat­ter who the vis­it­ing artist was, a local act had to be on the bill. Bands could rehearse there, jam there and run their own gigs there. The Bliz­zards were famously signed on the strength of a Sta­bles show in front of Oasis man­ager Mar­cus Russell. The After­math went Top 20. Many more were inspired by what they saw there, includ­ing the afore­men­tioned Niall Horan.

In more recent times, Damien Rice, Paddy Casey, Damien Dempsey, Repub­lic of Loose and Mick Flan­nery used the Sta­bles to hone their craft when they lit­er­ally couldn’t get a pay­ing gig any­where else. Rice’s first ever solo gig there attracted a good crowd,. As word spread, his next one two weeks later sold out. That same week he was play­ing to 20 peo­ple in a café in Dublin.

Rice made The Sta­bles his ‘home’ venue for two years, before he went on to achieve mas­sive world­wide suc­cess with his “O” album. Even when he started to fill Vicar Street he would still return to the Sta­bles. Oscar win­ner Glen Hansard, now a global star, once played there for a bag of chips with the late Mic Christopher. He returned with The Frames on the ‘For The Birds’ tour, fin­ish­ing it off with a leg­endary May Bank Hol­i­day show with sup­port from Damien Rice, Mic Christo­pher and local heroes Innate.

The rec­tan­gu­lar music room was hailed on Face­book this week as “Mullingar’s Cav­ern Club”, a candle-lit shel­ter from lux­u­ri­ous pubs that always rev­elled in its dirty, rock’n’roll roots, serv­ing music in its proper envi­ron­ment. When I was run­ning gigs there we never tried to tart the place up. The crowds were there for the music. Can­dles on the tables, park benches and thou­sands of old posters was as fancy as it got. You can read the walls and the ceil­ing there.

Sadly, these were the days when music really meant some­thing. As Tommy says, peo­ple don’t want to pay for music any­more. And that’s true in the regional live music venues. Declan and I first started to notice a slide in 2007 and we began to with­draw, ulti­mately leav­ing the busi­ness. We were glad that at the time, The Bliz­zards were mas­sive. They were a band we both had a say in in their early days and it was great to see a local act do the busi­ness. Sadly, in Mullingar the live scene has changed. Pubs will gladly pay old sta­bles acts like Damien Dempsey, The Walls, Paddy Casey and more a cou­ple of thou­sand to per­form at the bot­tom of a stair­case in the cor­ner of a lounge. There may be a few hun­dred peo­ple there, but only a hand­ful will be lis­ten­ing. Music is a dis­trac­tion, a loss-leader. New acts com­ing to Mullingar find them­selves play­ing in a pub. The ones who charge at the door have few takers.

There is one final night at The Sta­bles and Yukon Bar this Wednes­day, Octo­ber 1st, before Tommy and Miriam retire. They have left a huge legacy and with­out them, the mid­lands would cer­tainly be a cul­tur­ally poorer place.

Tommy MacManus ironically pulled the last pint at Hughes Corner House in Mullingar with its owner Anthony Hughes beside. It was another landmark venue now closed. How sad that Tommy will be pulling his last pint at The Stables and Yukon on Wednesday Oct 1

Tommy Mac­Manus iron­i­cally pulled the last pint at Hughes Cor­ner House in Mullingar with its owner Anthony Hughes beside. It was another land­mark venue now closed. How sad that Tommy will be pulling his last pint at The Sta­bles and Yukon on Wednes­day Oct 1

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