This opinion article was first published on CLUAS in January 2005
Times have been a Changin' for Whelan's, but for the better?
In the first CLUAS Opinion piece of 2005 Gareth Maher takes a critical look at what the Dublin music venue Whelan's once was, what it has become now and where he thinks it should go.
Once upon a time, Whelan's of Wexford Street Dublin was considered to be the
coolest place to be. At its peak of popularity it was the heartbeat of the Irish
music scene. Mainstream and independent artists from various genres have packed
the venue over the years and played some memorable shows. In the case of many
music fanatics who regularly attend gigs in Ireland, Whelan's was once hailed as
their musical Mecca. Lately though, the buzz around the place is slowly eroding
away. Why is this? What is going wrong?
When you first heard Neil Young's 'Harvest Moon' or got lost in the melodies of Fleetwood Mac's 'Rumours', it was the discovery of new music that created the buzz. The buzz was something indescribable but it had you instantly hooked. That feeling which trickled along your spine and made your foot tap to the beat. That indelible thirst for new and exciting music was the buzz. Before long you found yourself searching CD/vinyl stacks for 'Closing Time' by Tom Waits or 'Dark Side of the Moon' by Pink Floyd or anything at all by Nina Simone. The music consumed you before you realised just how quickly it was luring you in. It then became the job of your older brother or sister to inform you just who was in cool in the music world. From Bowie to The Clash right up to Oasis, the image of these new found cult figures became the heroes of your adolescence. They were our icons of cool. Just as we started to step away from the singing-in-the-comb-era, our older siblings would leak stories of the crazy antics of rock stars that occurred up on Wexford Street. With a faded leather jacket and ripped jeans, we were ready to begin the quest. It was a quest to experience the essence/excitement/surprise/expertise that these musicians were offering. This was a time when music was important, when Whelan's was the core of the Irish music scene. It was a place to which we would trade a month's pocket money for just one night of pure rock and only ask to keep hold of the memories.
Times change though and business strategies alter. The credibility that the famous emporium has gained over the years is being exploited almost on a daily basis. The most recent example of this was when ex-Westlife member Bryan McFadden played the venue on a Friday night. Despite his newfound claims of being an avid Nirvana fan, it is obvious that he or his PR team are trying to tap into the indie-rock scene. Five years ago, an act like McFadden playing Whelan's would have been the joke of the week. It shouldn't be long now before the venue commercialises itself like CBGBs and starts selling t-shirts. Instead of the venue trying to attract artists like McFadden and his all star guest list entourage, shouldn't it concentrate on cajoling acts like The Urges or The Things away from playing in other Dublin venues in order to bring back those infamous, rock fuelled nights?
Another regular complaint about the venue is the trend of the WLC (Whelan's Lock-in Crowd). The WLC is made up of Irish artists, many of whom are over-rated singer/songwriters, who hang out and receive huge amounts of idol praise all while posing as the coolest cats in town. The reputation of the WLC not only exploits their chosen hangout but also converts the artists in their click into seedy celebrity figures thus transforming Whelan's into the Lilly Bordello's of the music scene. The image of the venue is currently just as appalling as some of the acts that are booked there.
What needs to be done to bring back at least some integrity is for the bouncers to not let under age kids in, the resident DJ to stop playing the same set list, for more diverse and distinguished acts to be booked and for the image of the place not to rely on who drinks there. The set-up of the WAV box office (Whelan's And Village) is an excellent idea and there have been some great performances this year (The Waifs, Janis Ian) but for a venue as important as Whelan's is, not enough is being done. For now, Crawdaddy is the place to be, depending on who is playing that is.
Check out the discussion this article provoked on the CLUAS discussion board.