The Frightened Smokers of Dundalk

Some places are just magic and Ireland has a fair few of them.  It had been another raucous night at Fibber Magees. Drunks had been ejected, Brazilian beauties had samba’d, Irish lads had talked quickly to each other in a tongue which was supposedly English but which no Englishman could decipher, and we had not been allowed off the stage until six encore songs had been played.

My great friend Peter Jones of Irish punk rockers Paranoid Visions told me: “You are all playing the Stags Head tomorrow night right? You’ll have the time of your lives”. Dublin’s cheeriest and most loveable rascals, Charlie Higgins and John Farrell, chipped in: “You’ll not stop us coming up. It’s the best boozer in Ireland”.

And so we took the train north to near the border, on a cold day with the wind blowing specs of rain through our clothes as we walked from the station to our hotel.

On the case in Dublin

But our hearts and souls were warmed to the core as we later stepped into the Stag’s Head to be met by Skinner, organiser of shows and contender for most generous barman in the world.  He was assisted by a host of regulars with warm handshakes and kind smiles. Some places just ooze friendliness.

Skinner (far right) in the back bar with locals and previous performers

The Stag’s Head has three main areas. There is a front bar, where the older, more restrained element tend to drink, a back bar where the bands play, and an outside smoking area. Now, of great significance to our story is the fact that, when bands set up, the door to the smoking area is to their side meaning smokers need to walk across the stage and through the performing band to feed their craving for the devil’s weed.

With most bands this presents a minor obstacle. The elderly gentlemen drinking steadily and quietly in the front bar can enjoy their seven or eight pints of Guiness while occasionally tottering, in a less and less steady manner as the night wears on, through the din and mayhem of the back bar. They then wend their way between the musicians and exit stage right to enjoy a peaceful smoke with their friends.

Those of you who have seen us live, however, will testify to the fact that there is a fair degree of movement going on by three characters holding guitars, each of whom therefore represents a moving barrier approximately four feet wide (that’s 1.3 metres for our European friends) on a stage, in this case, with a total width of 15 feet.

And so the evening’s entertainment progressed. We all agreed we were having the time of our lives. The audience were completely drunk and sang along to the songs, including a number of glamourous, exhuberent, long legged ladies in cinderella high heels and party dresses. Nick was excited.

Every now and then one of the aforementioned elderly gentlemen would come tottering from the front bar toward the stage in contemplation of a relaxing smoke, to be met by the sight of three dangerous, axe wielding maniacs, the most deadly of which was Welsh and female. Imagine, if you would, a line of desperate, Irish Walter Matthaus waiting by the side of a motorway/autobahn/freeway (call it what you will), hopping from foot to foot, occasionally advancing, then thinking the better of it, while trying to judge the opportune moment to make a dash through the speeding traffic to reach the sanctuary of the far side. If you can imagine that you can picture the scene in Dundalk’s finest pub that night.

So did we slow down to allow safe passage for the elderly gentlemen in their time of danger? Did we hell – we sped up! It became a badge of honour that none should pass. We fought a losing battle, of course, since periodically we had to pause for breath between songs, or one of us would be rooted to the spot while on keyboard duties. On these occasions a flood of relieved nicotine junkies would grab their chance of safe passage through the deranged rabble, leaving for later the challenge of how they would make it safely back to their drinks.

The evening ended with Irish retribution of a kind as Charlie and John joined us on stage, frightening Sophie into joining Karen behind the drum kit. The cheers of elderly men in the front bar could be heard above our din.

John and Charlie forcing Sophie into a retreat!

After the show the night flowed on into the early hours and much Guiness flowed with it. More unintelligible english was spoken at high speed by our wonderful hosts and even more laughter was to be heard mixed in.

A large 21st birthday party was in full swing when we arrived back at the hotel. We hadn’t found any food on our way but were warmly encouraged to help finish off the birthday buffet, which we duly did.

Ireland: it’s full of the Irish and, because of that, you can’t help but have a good time.

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