Simon Dowling of Hefty Horse sits on our couch to answer some questions
1. Who are you?
My name is Simon Dowling. Before running Hefty Horse I was working for Lazybird. I have been doing sound engineering for the last eight years. I have been playing music for most of my life. I play in a couple of different bands at the moment, You Kiss By The Book, I Heart The Monster Hero and Drunken Boat.
2. When was Hefty Horse set up? And why?
Hefty Horse was set up in 2007. I had been doing some work with Lazybird for about a year, I was running the odd gig for them, helping them at the gigs and doing a radio show every once in a while. Lazybird starting booking gigs up in Anseo and I fell in love with the room. We were booking gigs less and less and I wanted to do it more so I decided to splinter off and do my own thing, this was about May 2007. That’s when Hefty began.
3. What was the first event?
The idea behind Hefty Horse was to book bands that we liked. It was never a money venture, we wanted to make enough to keep it going. We always made sure bands got money, even if it was only ten euro to cover a taxi. I think the first proper Hefty Horse gig was Jenny Lindfors, Drunken Boat, Sing Song and Manana up in Anseo. It was mostly Anseo back then with a couple in the Boom Boom Room. We were booking the likes of The Terribles, Green Lights, The Truro Syndicate, My First Tooth, Christian Radich, Peter Delaney, Elsworth Cambs and The Hollows in the early days. Lots of bands that don’t even exist anymore or have moved onto other projects. I met so many wonderful people and made some great friends. The more gigs we did the more bands we found and the momentum kept building. It was usually Sunday nights in Anseo. The venue was perfect for what we were doing, it was like a sitting room and even had a fire place. The crowd were always very respectful and I did all the sound myself. Our expenses were low which meant bands got sorted and we didn’t go bankrupt. Anseo were very kind to us in letting us use the room and they really took care of us. Stephen Banville started lending a hand with the booking and the two of us did all the posters ourselves.
4. How would you describe your music policy?
The most important thing for us was to book bands that we liked. We were not booking bands on the basis of how many people they could bring into a venue. Obviously we wanted to get as many people into the venue as possible, but we didn’t want to book bands we didn’t like only on the basis that they would fill a room. Sometimes Stephen would be more into a band than me and vice versa, but as long as we were not sitting at the back of the room with ear plugs counting the cash we were happy. We wanted to build a good solid regular night, have people come to a gig because we were booking it. Build up a reputation. This was important for when we booked international bands who might not have a fan base over here but who we thought needed to be heard, bands like Tiger Saw, Kramies, Real Live Tigers, Mariee Sioux, Rozi Plain and Johan Brannstrom who are all absolutely fantastic but would be relatively unknown in Ireland.
5. Name two/three favourite/notable events and say why.
Bringing David Dondero over was a really big thing for us. I am a huge fan of his and it was such a great moment when I realised that we could send him an email and bring him over to play, and he said yes. We had been booking mostly local bands at that point so it was bit of a big deal and made us feel like we had been doing something right.
Another big one was Viking Moses, I think he actually got in touch with us. He was absolutely fantastic and he is one of the nicest people I have ever met. It was a really special gig.
One of my favourite and most memorable Hefty Horse gigs was our first all day gig. It was three years ago downstairs in Whelans, and we were so proud of the line-up we had put together. We had a great crowd in for the entire day and it was such a success and so enjoyable. It one of those days where everything worked out.
6. Where do you stand on the Vinyl/CD/Digital debate?
I use all three formats and I think they each have their place. Vinyl would be my favourite way to listen to music and it usually sounds the best. It’s great to see vinyl coming back again and more and more bands are releasing their records on vinyl.
I grew up with CDs so I still have a lot of them, and nearly everybody has a CD player at home. CDs are cheap enough to buy and they sound decent enough.
Digital can be great but people always complain about the sound and the quality. If you know what you are doing it is pretty easy to avoid low bitrate mp3s and with the internet getting faster and hard drives getting bigger, digital music is becoming available in its original, uncompressed format. Websites like bandcamp are great because they only allow you to upload lossless files and these can be downloaded in any format. The other nice thing about digital is people are being forced to come up with creative ways of selling digital albums, like fridge magnets that come with a download code, or the gummy skull The Flaming Lips did that had a flash drive at its gummy core. It is exciting to see what people keep coming up with.
I can see CDs being phased out over the next couple of years and vinyl taking over as the physical format with digital getting stronger and stronger. Buying a vinyl that comes with a free digital lossless download is going to become the standard.
7. What would you say is the one key thing an independent promoter needs to do to thrive/survive?
I think you have to keep busy. Try and get on every social network website and keep active on them.
8. Apart from your own, what is your favourite Irish promoter? And why?
Back when we first started Hefty Horse, Foggy Notions would have been doing the best gigs around Dublin. Now that has turned into Harmonic and they are still doing great things but because it is part of Aiken there is so much going on and it is hard to keep track. People like Skinny Wolves and U:Mack are always doing amazing gigs and it is great to see them keep on going.
9. Do you think of Hefty Horse as operating on the spectrum of pop music? Underground? What? Or does it matter?
I think we mostly book bands that are more underground than pop, but I don’t think it matters. As long as it’s a band that we like and think they need to be heard then we will book them, regardless of the genre.
10. What Irish music are you recommending to your friends at the moment?
I am really excited about hearing the new Mumblin Deaf Ro album so they would be one. Lets see….Spook Of The Thirteenth Lock, Biggles Flies Again and Dinah Brand.
11. What Irish artist/band would you love to book and why? Non-Irish?
We would love to book David Kitt. I have always been a fan of his and it’s great that he is back gigging again. I went to see him perform The Big Romance in Vicar Street earlier this year and it would have been be so amazing to have been involved in making that happen.
(Read Emmet’s review of the recent David Kitt show at Triskel Christchurch in Cork here)
Bright Eyes would be my dream non-Irish band to bring over. They haven’t played a non-festival gig here in about ten years and it would be such a good buzz to be able to make so many people happy.
12. Do you consider your label part of the Irish music industry? Does it matter?
I think we are part of the Irish music scene. People seem to know who we are and I feel we have had a little bit of an impact on the scene as well and have helped it along. We have give bands chances to play and in doing so we have really helped bands out. It definitely matters. It would be a bit of a shame if with all the work we have done and bands we have booked that it made no difference at all. You can’t have gigs without an audience so we definitely need to a part of the scene/industry.
13. What ambitions for Hefty Horse over the next year/5 years? Or just upcoming plans…
The plan is to keep doing what we are doing and to try and bring some bigger bands over. Start getting a bit more ambitious. For the short term future we are going to be running our third all day festival. We are currently in the process of getting all the bands booked so we will be announcing the gig very soon.
Hefty Horse presents:
You Kiss By The Book + Mumblin Deaf Ro + Hidden Highways
The Grand Social, Dublin
Wednesday July 11th
10euro w/free digital copy of new album