Interview with Dave Allen, Music Manager
What (and where) is Whelan’s? What happens there?
Whelan’s is a pub/live music venue celebrating 25 years of putting on the best of local and international musical talent up close and personal. We are open seven days a week and have concerts on in both venues most nights.
What is your role and how did you get there?
Music Manager. I have been here for a lot of the 25 years. I originally started as a sound engineer but from about ’92 I started booking the bands. I oversee the day-to-day running of our two music venues. We have our main room which holds 450 and our upstairs room which holds 120. We have a very diverse booking policy so the bands can be jazz one night, trad another and then heavy metal another. We try to keep the quality as high as possible.
Describe Whelan’s, for someone who’s never been there: what makes it different from other music venues?
Whelan’s is an essential part of Dublin for any music fan as it has a very special atmosphere and is steeped in musical heritage. The layout of the main venue with its balcony overlooking the stage makes for a very intimate bond between musician and customer. Music comes first at Whelan’s.
What’s under/over/around you? Can you describe the street and what goes on there, your neighbours?
Wexford Street/Camden Street has a diverse selection on offer. Lots of new exciting restaurant offerings create a real buzz on the street at night. Everything from Spanish Tapas, to Mexican Burritos, Asian and local cuisine is here. The humble burger is also given an upmarket update with Bunsen defining the perfect burger. Opium, our new neighbour, brings the best of Asian Cuisine in a fabulous, vibrant dining room. There is also our sister music venue/nightclub The Village next door.
Wexford Street has a completely different atmosphere by night and by day – can you talk about that?
The daytime buzz would be different than that described above as the coffee shops and local nick-nack shops take over. A lot of these shops have been here for many years. There’s a great camera shop across the street which also has a selection of model railway stock; an eclectic furniture shop beside it and also one of the best fruit and veg/deli’s in town. Also a lot of students around during the day from the nearby college.
Didn’t I hear that you had started your own record label? How’s that going? Who have you recorded so far?
It’s a small label to start with as we can’t devote a lot of time to it. Local band the Raglans were our first release. We have also released some limited edition singles over the year to celebrate our 25th.
What’s your own favourite recent gig and why?
It’s hard to pick favourites as we have so many great shows. But back in March we had a short notice gig by up-and-coming act Hozier, which sold out in about 90 seconds. He is destined for great things. And then we had a great gig upstairs a few weeks back by another local act, Tvvins. Coming up we have: Michael Franti, Webb Sisters, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Jagwar Mar, Gruff Rhys and so many more. All in the next few weeks. So this job has its perks.
Luckily, musically we rarely have a bad gig. But sometimes we have bad turn-outs due to different factors like competition on the night, weather etc. But few and very far between.
Can you talk about your location? What impact does Whelan’s have on its surroundings, and vice-versa?
When it opened Whelan’s stood out as it raised the quality and experience of going to a small music venue. The facilities and decor helped it stand out from the crowd . There wasn’t much happening on the street at the time and it would have been considered away from the action. Since then the street and area have come on an awful lot and I think it’s safe to say that Whelan’s has brought a lot to the area and helped establish it as a destination.
How long has Whelan’s been in its current incarnation? What was here before?
The front bar of Whelan’s was a run down pub called Bourke’s and the rear part, which now houses the music venue, would have been an empty yard. The owners in 1989 striped away the formica and dodgy tiles to reveal the wooden bars and walls that give Whelan’s its timeless feel.
If it wasn’t a music venue, what would it be?
Hard to say. In the wrong hands it could have turned into one of the so-called superpubs that became popular in the late 90’s.
What do you imagine will be here in the future?
We would hope that Whelan’s will continue strongly as a music venue for at least another 25 years and that the magic never fades. We also plan to open a record shop in the next few months to keep music in all its incarnations at the heart of the area.