Just recently I had the pleasure of speaking with a man who is keeping the music scene alight in the west of Ireland, his name is Finbar Hoban. Ask any band who have cut their teeth on the Irish scene in the past couple of years about Finbar and most if not all will greet you with a thumbs up. Finbar has had a huge hand in putting Castlebar on the map for many touring bands in Ireland. His passion and commitment are second to none and his policies are to be admired. Castlebar has become a regular lay over for many bands who are touring in support of new releases or for bands who want to pay their dues. The Castlebar audience is a million miles away from the cliques and chin strokers that spend more time sussing out their fellow attendees than the band they’ve paid to see. Maybe that is why it has become such a success. From experience, all barriers are broken down and if anything respect is payed to any act that graces Finbar’s stage. Be it an established act like The Beat or a bunch of 16 year olds opening for Delorentos. Either way the Castlebar crowd aren’t interested in judging and labelling, if anything they want you (much like them) to have a good time. Isn’t that what music is really about? Enjoyment? I took some time out from eating a slapdash burger (it’s all over my hands) to speak to Finbar about being the booker.
How do you find the Irish scene, healthy?
Yeah I think it’s very healthy at the moment, even considering where the country is at with its financial situation but I think there are some fantastic acts coming out of the country right now with the likes of Adebisi Shank, Cast of Cheers and Bouts. It’s a good time to be in the music business I think. It’s a very interesting time.
Tell me a little bit about your involvement with the scene in Castlebar?
I’m based in Castlebar Co Mayo. Basically we run shows once every five or six weeks here in a venue called The Clubhouse.
Is there much of a comparison between the scene there now and the scene there 10-15 years ago?
It mainly consisted of cover bands as far as I could see. When I was growing up it was just those acts, covering the likes of Thin Lizzy, Metallica, Nirvana, that kind of thing. Over the past five or six years I’ve noticed a lot kids, we’ll say between the age of 16 and 20, are writing their own material and picking up the guitar again. It’s great to see it evolving again.
Would you agree the bands you’ve put on have inspired the kids in Castlebar?
Yeah, I think so. I mean there’s always been one or two original acts that hung around the Mayo scene but now I’ve seen it more over the past 5 or 6 years. There is a lot more original music coming out of Mayo. It’s fantastic to see kids picking up a guitar and throwing down their Xbox or Playstation (and so say all of us – ed.).
The booking side of the business, did you fall into that from being in a band or otherwise?
I had never played in a band ever. Basically what I had done for 10 years previous to booking bands was DJ. I always pushed and supported an alternative scene in Castlebar and Mayo. I always believed in it and that there was room for it. I more or less started running the shows in a venue called Bar Ritz in July of 2008. The reason being, a lot of the pubs and venues around Castlebar that were known for throwing on bands from Thursday to Sunday, were closing down. I just thought something has to be done. I just thought to myself, as a county town we’re much better than this.
From my experience there it strikes me as a very vibey town considering it’s size, would I be right in saying a lot of people from the neighbouring towns travel in for shows?
They do, even over the last few shows we’ve actually moved venues from Bar Ritz to a new venue called The Clubhouse. We moved there last October. I was kind of sceptical about moving there as it wasn’t exactly in the middle of town, it was slightly outside of Castlebar, just a little bit ya know? But to a lot of people it’s another town. It’s in their mentality to say “that’s a bit of a trek to go up there”. That kind of worried me at the very beginning when we moved there but I knew by going there I’d have my own independence running shows there. So yeah, we’ve done about five or six shows there since October and actually it’s doing a lot better than I thought it would ya know? It’s really taken off now and I’m very happy with it.
The pictures of the new venue look great…
Yeah it is, the room itself can hold about 250 people which is a nice size. we got a stage built in there about five or six weeks ago and yeah…it’s really coming together now.
So, I take it this weeks Delorentos show wasn’t the first, you mentioned it had been open since October?
What we actually did was, you know the way you run test runs in a new venue we’ll say? You won’t have an official launch night per se, you just do two or three show to see how things go, I suppose these are kind of known as..ah…..
Yes, exactly…and they went really, really well. Our first show in the venue was with Adebisi Shank back in October and since then it’s been doing really well.
What lessons did you find yourself learning the hard way in regards to booking?
I suppose the amount of money you put into advertising a show, you learn how much a band should get paid on the night and so on. What’s happened me in the past is that I’ve had to cancel shows the day beforehand, that has happened two or three times. That to me is losing money because you’re putting so much advertising into it. Let’s say you’re doing up posters, putting ads in the papers, I mean if a show is cancelled the day beforehand you still have to pay for your advertising so that’s a lot of money that’s going nowhere.
I remember from experience doing the ‘walk of shame’, that trip to the bank to pull out your last €50 to pay a band, have you been down that street?
It’s happened a few times yeah, ha ha! You have to be prepared in situations like that. You have to say to yourself “right, if I go down tonight, if I lose tonight, how much am I willing to go down? But…ya know, it’s happened a couple of times.
It’s worth taking a gamble on then?
It is, I mean I wouldn’t advise anybody to get involved in the whole process of booking bands unless their heart is in it ya know?
I’ve always found that there is something unique within every good booker, a real passion. Not to just book a great head-liner with some dodgy supports but a star studded line up.
I knew once I got into this, ya know? I thought to myself…let’s do this for a couple of months. If it goes well we’ll keep going. I believed in it from day one. I believed I could make it happen. I pretty much follow the Irish music on a daily basis right now. I always check to see what’s happening around the country. Who’s creating a buzz etc. I’m still very confident that I can do that. If I have a bad night I’ll always pull myself up off the ground and say “right, how can we do things better the next night?”. You learn from those experiences. It’s a learning game all the time. I’m only involved with this for the past four or five years, I mean I know guys who have been involved with this for 20 to 25 years ya know? And I’m still learning, learning all the time.
If you mention Castlebar to most bands on the independent circuit in Ireland, they always have something great to say. Even if they haven’t they are aware of the name and the venue and more importantly you’re going to get looked after right?
Exactly, I mean the likes of anyone who is travelling from let’s say Cork, Waterford, Donegal, Belfast…I mean these people are travelling to play a gig, they have to be treated fairly. It’s a long distance to come to play a gig. It’s costing these bands money to travel to these gigs and at the end of the day everybody has to get looked after. They have to be shown a good night.
Tell me about some of the Irish artists and tracks that have caught your attention as of late.
Well Mia Sparrow, who were originally called ‘Story of Hair’ and although based in Dublin are originally from Castlebar, they just released their self titled album for download on bandcamp a couple of weeks ago. It’s a lovely piece of work, a really great album. They’re gonna go places, even though I know that sounds like some sort of pun.
(Read Barry’s notes on the Mia Sparrow album
I want to see bands go places, that’s my thing going forward. Looking at the current list of movers and shakers on the Irish scene, they’re on tour in Europe, they’re on tour in the UK, they’re doing the CMJ’s and Canadian Indie Weeks, they’re bashing on doors in an increasingly difficult business.
Isn’t it great that these bands are getting up off their arses and doing it. It’s not an easy task to say “ya know what, we’re gonna go on tour in Europe for a month. You might not get paid every night, ya know? It’s a risk you’re taking but it’s great that these acts are getting involved and doing it. It’s nice to see bands playing so many gigs, getting out there and doing it. That’s my advice to any upcoming band. Get out there and play as many gigs as you can get. There’s not as many venues around Ireland as there was let’s say seven or eight years ago.
A lot of the bands have to pay their dues – although many Dublin bands like to get out and around the country there are plenty who don’t. I don’t see the point in playing the same venue in the same city every second week?
I’ve noticed that. I’ve always tried to get the word out in Dublin by saying “look, there is a place for ye to come and play outside of Dublin”. They should be more aware of that. When they think of the west the first thing that comes to mind is the Roisin Dubh in Galway. It’s a fine venue and Gugai is doing a great job of the booking there but I want to let people know that “hey, there is further west, there are venues there taking on bands and original ones at that.
Off the top of your head, what’s the most memorable show you’ve put on?
Adebisi Shank. I’ve done about three shows with them. I’m doing another one with them this summer. It’s one of only three Irish shows the band will play this year. They’ve always put on a great show no matter what. They work really really hard ya know, for their audience. I’d say the first time I had them in was July of 2009 and they were just incredible.
You can see that the work with them as you say is above and beyond, it’s great to see bands going that extra step to really deliver the goods.
Yeah they do, each night they put on a show they always push it that little bit further. It’s nice to see that.
They don’t take it for granted.
They don’t and more importantly the appreciate their audience. That’s why I’ve worked with them on so many occasions in the past and they’ve always put on a great show. I’m really looking forward to working with them again this summer.
Another thing I admire about your booking is the theme nights. From movie nights to superhero fancy dress nights.
We did the Marvel Comics theme night recently, it’s another theme you can tie in with a show. It adds a little more interest, more so for folks who don’t follow bands and music so much but yet again say why not, let’s go and see some people make fools of themselves. That’s what it’s all about.
You’re laying on as many ingredients as you can for a great night.
How do you feel about the Irish press/Bloggers. Do you think it’s very much geared towards the Dublin scene?
It can be yeah. Sometimes it’s a little too much geared towards the Dublin scene. I’d like to see certain bloggers making a name for themselves outside of Dublin. Let’s say Limerick or Athlone. There are always one or two Dublin writers that people revert back to. It would be nice to see them space stuff out a little bit.
Although the rest of the country is somewhat represented, it frustrates me to see end of year ‘best of’ lists over saturated with Dublin bands. Even more so now that a lot of them have international audiences made up of taste-makers, bloggers, labels, bookers, etc… Your thoughts?
Yeah, people look at it and go “Dublin, Ireland…that’s where it’s all happening” (side-note, Ireland has been chosen as the ‘Spotlight Country’ for this year’s Eurosonic 2012). There is a lot of great stuff happening in Galway, Waterford, even Donegal, Limerick and Cork. There are a lot of bands that don’t make those lists when it comes to the end of the year. You’re left thinking “well, hold on here a minute, your top 10 bands are all Dublin bands”. Don’t get me wrong, there are some fantastic Dublin bands, it would just be nice to say “hey, these guys down in Limerick or these guys over in Mayo are really taking off, they’ve a great sound, I’ve seen them live once or twice and I’m gonna put these guys in my top ten today. It would be nice to see that ya know? It gets a bit repetitive over time and would be nice to see it freshen up a little bit every once in a while.
You must have plenty of Spinal Tap stories by now?
I know you’re a fan of this question and I was banging my head trying to think of one last night. I don’t have many surprisingly but I suppose one that comes to mind, and I don’t even know if it is a Spinal Tap story but it made me laugh. We had a band down a few years back and they came into Bar Ritz and they said “Hello Westport” even though they were in Castlebar. They had about 30 or 40 people shouting back “you’re in Castlebar”, ha ha!….the old classic. To be honest most bands have been well behaved, I’ve never had much hassle.
Even if they didn’t behave, what goes on the road stays on the road right?
Exactly, exactly. It’s like Eminem or The Black Eyed Peas with their “hello Dublin” when they were at the Oxegen Festival in Kildare. I’d rather they said “hello Oxegen” or “hello Kildare”, I’d feel cheated otherwise.
What can we look forward to on the booking sheets into the summer?
Actually Blaze Bailey of Iron Maiden on May 12th should be a good one. He actually did two albums with them in the 90′s so I’m really looking forward to that one. I’m a fan of Iron Maiden and a fan of his work with Wolfsbane and so on, so that should be a good show. Then we have the return of Adebisi Shank and Bats in July, I’m really looking forward to that one too. Then we’re doing a show with The Answer from Belfast. Rock n’ Roll all the way! We’ve also just announced Kerbdog for the end of October.
Where can we find more?
Just Google or Facebook the Clubhouse Castlebar or if you want to contact me directly at email@example.com. I’ll do my best to respond to you if you do email me. I receive a lot on a daily basis and it’s hard to keep on top of everything but aside from that I’ll be sure to do my best.