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Twenty years of The Stables

On Sunday, December 20, the midlands institution of 'The Stables' will commence its 20th birthday celebrations as only it can, with a full day and a long night of music.

The Hot Press Newsdesk, 15 Dec 2009

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. 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, including one of Ireland’s first ever major outdoor festivals at the now departed Mullingar Racecourse, and was a massive music fan. It was with ease that he channelled that love into The Stables.

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.

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.

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