The Stables celebrates twenty years

EDIT: SEPTEMBER 30, 2014 — Below was a piece I wrote for a music mag­a­zine in 2009 about 20 years of The Sta­bles music venue in Mullingar, a venue I booked bands in for almost a decade with my good pal Declan Mur­ray. Sadly, Wednes­day Octo­ber 1 2014 marks the end of the venue after 25 years and its front bar ‘The Yukon’ after 43 years as own­ers Tommy and Miriam Mac­Manus are clos­ing for­ever. HERE is an updated piece, an obit­u­ary if you will of a music venue and the peo­ple and bands that made it. Chang­ing licenc­ing laws, a sea-change in how peo­ple value music and the fact they were los­ing money meant they had to close up. It’s a sad day not just for Mullingar and County West­meath, but for Irish music in gen­eral. It was a venue and bar where music always came first. It’s TV only had one chan­nel and even before the Sta­bles was opened in 1989, gigs hap­pened 7 nights a week in the Yukon. The era of music really mean­ing some­thing is over, at least in Mullingar.…

So, for a bet­ter read click HERE!

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Twenty years of The Stables

Twenty years has been a long time in rock’n’roll. Bands have come and gone; gen­res have changed, rearranged, and enlight­ened us how; there’s been dif­fer­ent names, dif­fer­ent games, and man­i­festos that change; we’ve sang through the worst of times, the best of times and, once again, the worst of times. The way we bought music, lis­tened to it and shared it has changed irrev­o­ca­bly. It’s fair to say that when it comes to the music busi­ness very lit­tle is the way it once was and our vinyl, cas­settes and cds now seem like relics of a bygone musi­cal era. Even the iPod in your pocket is yesterday’s news. But through it all, live music has some­how sur­vived, almost unscathed, and one of the great­est sur­vivors of them all is the ven­er­a­ble, award-winning music venue that is The Sta­bles in Mullingar.

On Sun­day, Decem­ber 20, this mid­lands insti­tu­tion will com­mence its 20th birth­day cel­e­bra­tions as only it can, with a full day and a long night of music. Dozens of acts drawn from The Sta­bles illus­tri­ous back cat­a­logue are set to return to the stage for this musi­cal marathon, which is the first in a series of anniver­sary con­certs to be held Christ­mas (and next year).

Estab­lished in 1989 by Tommy and Miriam Mac­Manus, The Sta­bles is one of the longest-surviving venues in a coun­try which thrives and pitches itself as a great lover of music. But it’s a fickle coun­try, and count­less venues have come and gone since Tommy and Miriam decided to turn their unused horse sta­bles at the back of their pub, The Yukon Bar, into a live music venue. Tommy had pro­moted a cou­ple of big out­door gigs, and was a mas­sive music fan. It was with ease and with gra­cious­ness that he chan­nelled that love into The Sta­bles. Since day one, he has wel­comed pro­mot­ers and book­ers with open arms, and he handed the night-to-night run­ning of the venue to a small num­ber of promoters.

There were more than a few arched eye­brows when the first band was booked to play – a Cajun out­fit called The Big Mistake.

We had a few in,” recalls Tommy of that first night. “Not as many as we thought we’d get; in fact there was very few. I remem­ber stand­ing there with Noel O’Farrell (one of the orig­i­nal book­ers) and we kind of looked at each other. And then Miriam looked at me. And we scratched our heads and won­dered if the name of the band was prophetic! But thank­fully it wasn’t. Miriam and I haven’t looked back since.”

From the first night, the inti­mate and friendly vibe of the venue was appar­ent, and the deci­sion to stray slightly to the left of cen­tre in terms of musi­cal ‘pol­icy’ was deemed to be the right way. And twenty years later the vibe is still evi­dent the moment you walk into the place. This is a musi­cal room.

In its early days, the venue earned a rep­u­ta­tion as being one of the fore­most blues clubs out­side of the cap­i­tal. If there was a great rhythm and blues player in Dublin, then chances were that he (or she) would also be show­ing up at The Sta­bles. Soon there was live music most nights of the week. Mon­day nights at the venue became leg­endary as a thriv­ing local blues scene began to evolve. Sev­eral bands spun off from a core Sta­bles Blues Band to achieve suc­cess all over the world. Thurs­days gave song­writ­ers a chance to air their lat­est cre­ations, whilst the week­ends were packed tight with vis­it­ing bands, come­di­ans, and solo acts. Sun­day nights were the pre­serve of Noel O’Farrell and his brother Declan.

A cou­ple of years ago, we’d be out play­ing five or six nights a week, but we always looked for­ward to Sun­day night. Even though it was still a gig, it was unlike any other gig. It’s such a great room to play,” recalls Noel.

As gen­res came and went dur­ing the 1990s, The Sta­bles remained con­stant. Every musi­cal act was wel­come, no mat­ter if they were a metal act turn­ing the amps up to eleven, a folk act who wanted the bar closed so they whis­per their way through a set, or a major label indie act wor­ried about how the red stage lights would affect their hair. In the late 1990’s a boom in Irish music saw the venue cement its rep­u­ta­tion as being one of Ireland’s great­est. National Awards from IMRO and Hot Press fol­lowed sev­eral years of hard graft at the coal­face of the Irish scene for pro­mot­ers Ronan Casey and Declan Mur­ray and engi­neer Frank Byrne.

There was a seri­ous scene begin­ning to bub­ble up at the end of the 90s,” recalls Byrne. “But it seemed to be cen­tred on Whe­lans in Dublin and no place else. The boys just helped that lit­tle scene explode nation­ally. You name any act of that era, and they played The Stables.”

Breed­ing ground

For every tour­ing act since the 90s, a gig at The Sta­bles was essen­tial. There was no audi­ence in the coun­try like a Sta­bles audi­ence and there was cer­tainly no venue in Ire­land like it.

But as it evolved from blues shack to an award-winning multi-genre venue one thing has remained con­stant – The Sta­bles is a place where fos­ter­ing tal­ent is as impor­tant, if not more impor­tant, than try­ing to attract the big names in.

The venue has served as a breed­ing ground for hun­dreds of acts. As well as giv­ing estab­lished and up-and-coming acts a chance to gig to an appre­cia­tive audi­ence out­side of the main cities, many of the gigs give local acts a chance to play sup­port, thus encour­ag­ing and grow­ing the local music scene. The Bliz­zards played their first gigs there, and were signed on the strength of a Sta­bles show. The After­math honed their live show here, before going on to grab three Top 20 sin­gles in a year, Paddy Casey used the venue early in his career as did Damien Dempsey, who returned time and again to try out mate­r­ial in his early days; Repub­lic of Loose couldn’t get a gig out­side of Doran’s, but they could fill the Sta­bles; Mick Flannery’s first gigs out­side Cork were in Mullingar; Duffy even played her first Irish gig there! But it was the part the venue played in the rise of Damien Rice that most reg­u­lars will remember.

When the now multi-multi-Platinum sell­ing artist was start­ing his solo career upon leav­ing Juniper (the band that went onto become Bell X1) Rice made The Sta­bles his ‘home’ venue, and he was imme­di­ately made feel at home by the appre­cia­tive Sta­bles crowd. He couldn’t get more than a hand­ful of peo­ple into any venue in Ire­land, but he was sell­ing out The Sta­bles month-in, month-out. For over a year he was The Sta­bles’ best-kept secret, and when he did hit the big time he didn’t for­get the venue where it all began, return­ing to play even when his new port of call was the great con­cert halls and the­atres of Amer­ica and the UK.

For a good while, it seemed that no-one out­side of Mullingar had heard of Rice, he wouldn’t fill a toi­let, but here he was play­ing multiple-night stands at The Sta­bles, with the venue set up dif­fer­ently each time. They were amaz­ing gigs,” recalls Tommy MacManus.

Hun­dreds of other acts who have plugged into the Sta­bles stage before going onto greater things owe a lit­tle some­thing to the Mullingar venue. “We’ve met a few of them on the way back down again!” laughs MacManus.

But, as the case of Rice illus­trated, for those who have hit the big time, the inti­mate venue still holds a cer­tain magic. Even though there could be big­ger pay-days in big­ger venues on the table, a show in The Sta­bles was often the only deci­sion. Acts such as Des Bishop, Glen Hansard (both as a solo act and with The Frames), Duffy, The D’Unbelievables, Mundy, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Hay­seed Dixie, Eric Bell, Sharon Shan­non, 808 State, Lisa Han­ni­gan, Bell X1, David Kitt, The Walls, Saxon, The Saw Doc­tors, Joseph Arthur, Luka Bloom, Mary Cough­lan, Ther­apy?, Hot­house Flow­ers, Ron­nie Drew, John Mar­tyn, Josh Rit­ter, PJ Gal­lagher, Tommy Tier­nan, Sta­bles favourites Kíla, and even a few moon­light­ing mem­bers of Dire Straits have all played storm­ing shows in the Dominick Street strong­hold. Most of them have made return vis­its. REM, U2’s Adam Clay­ton, Sinead O’Connor, Bloc Party, J.P. Don­leavy, Joe Dolan, Edi­tors and Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary have been just some of the famil­iar faces who have enjoyed watch­ing a gig there over the past twenty years.

But for Tommy and the guys who have pro­moted gigs, it’s the ordi­nary music fan that mat­ters most. There’s no VIP room, no spe­cial treat­ment, just plain old musi­cal ser­vice from the stage.

The Sta­bles rock’n’roll cre­den­tials were seem­ingly set in stone from night one, as the venue has under­gone only minor phys­i­cal changes over the past twenty years. It is still a per­fect musi­cal room – rec­tan­gu­lar, straight and nar­row. Candle-lit and fancy-free its benches and tables are in – even when tak­ing them out would increase the capac­ity. Inti­macy is – and always has been – the name of the game for those who have ran gigs here.

The venue has been booked and man­aged by just a few ded­i­cated peo­ple over the years. The cur­rent man tak­ing phone calls from prac­ti­cally every band, guitar-slinger and impre­sario in Ire­land is David McG­lynn, and he fol­lows in the foot­steps of Andrew Mac­Manus, Noel O’Farrell, Marty Mul­li­gan and, steer­ing the venue through the mil­len­nium, Declan Mur­ray and Ronan Casey. A con­stant for over a decade has been sound engi­neer Frank Byrne.

All the staff who have served there — on the door, on stage or behind the bar — have their own spe­cial mem­o­ries of mag­i­cal nights. Stop any of them for a moment, and you’ll be chat­ting for hours about who has played there. You’ll be pointed to the walls and the ceil­ing, both adorned with decades of musi­cal history.

When asked what gig stands out the most, the man behind the sound-desk Frank Byrne mod­estly replies: “They’ve all been good.”

It’s answers like that which have ensured The Sta­bles has stood the test of time, and although it’s a cliché to raise a toast to another twenty years at the end of an anniver­sary piece, there can be absolutely no deny­ing that The Sta­bles will be around for another twenty years.

*The Sta­bles Anniver­sary Jam takes place this Sun­day, Decem­ber 20th. Due to the amount of con­firmed acts and spe­cial guests there will be two stages – the main one being in The Sta­bles itself, with a sec­ond, infor­mal stage in The Yukon Bar. The music kicks off at 4pm. Admis­sion is free, and com­pli­men­tary food and drink will be served all night. A series of anniver­sary gigs includes a wel­come return by Mick Flan­nery on Decem­ber 19th, Innate with spe­cial guests Aut­ofly on Decem­ber 23rd and a host of spe­cial gigs all next year. Log onto www.stableslive.com for more info and http://www.stableslive.com/stables_gallery/index.html for some pics*

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