Abner Browns is one of the more curious shops in Rathmines. Ostensibly a barbers, its filled with enough music memorabilia to envy even the most completest collector. For just over a year now its been playing host to local bands from Dublin to such a success that they where handed control of the Oxjam stage at Electric Picnic. We recently sat down with its own man in black, Dave Judge.
I guess the best way to start would be what was the inspiration to start hosting gigs?
How it started was very simple. I bought the leather couch out there for about 30 euro in Oxfam, and I had it next to one of my guitars and my hat stand, which is actually the one on our logo, and the image itself just looked cool. I said to my wife I’m after getting this couch and it looks really cool, it might be cool to get somebody playing on it. This was about a year ago, and on the same weekend, by pure chance, their was a guy in called Blair Packhem, a Canadian singer songwriter and I mentioned it to him, and he played a few tunes, and it went down a bomb. Around the same time a mate of mine, Tim Fernley, who’s in a bunch of bands around town, like Gypsy Rebel Rebel asked if he could play. So they did it. Then Mick Heslin a blues band came in and did it. It became so crazy that people stopped coming in on Saturdays for haircuts because they thought we we’re so busy, when in reality people where coming to listen to the music, so I thought we should do it at night time instead. So we did it. Filled up the sinks with beer and ice for the craic, and went ahead with it. It took us ages to work out how to do it, but now we have it down to a fine art. We can turn the place into a small venue in about fifteen minutes. We have one sponsor that provides the beer and another that gives out samples of whisky, and I get five to ten emails a day from bands asking how they can get a slot here. Every time I left the Oxjam tent at electric picnic somebody would be handing me a cd or asking if they could play. In less then a year we’ve gone from a guy playing on a couch to electric picnic!
Was that completely unexpected?
Completely unexpected. People talk of me as a promoter around town, around Sweeneys, Marcantile, Whelans, and they think I know what I’m doing when I don’t (laughs). IT was just for the craic. Unbelievable couldn’t believe we’re it had gone.
Was promotion something you where always interested in?
Well I love music, I was a musician years ago, about your age in college and stuff. I played guitar, played in a few bands around Dublin but over time I had a business to run, and a family. This has just turned my life around really, my social life has gone sky high, I get freebies everywhere, I know all the promoters and all the musicians in Dublin.
Did you feel their was a need in Dublin for a small venue like this?
I won’t say I did, but I know now, because I’ve gotten to know the bands. Certainly there is a need for some smaller venues around Dublin. For a lot of bands their’s nowhere to play, just the same old places. Not a lot of places for small bands to kick off. We provide that and we do a video, which probably would cost them about five or six hundred euro, for free. Its great for everybody really. We get promoted, the band get promoted and the customers get free beer and they can come and listen to music and have a bit of a chat. Afterwards we all go across the road for a pint together, so theirs a real feeling community spirit, which is hard to find in Dublin The other thing that’s really important is that when people come here, its to actually listen to the music. When you go to Whelans, or the Grand Social or wherever, it’s a hum in the background. Here its total silence. It was a bit awkward at one stage. I remember once a guitarist was tuning in between songs, and their was completely silence, even though the place was packed, about seventy people shoved in. He said “god, its very quiet”, to which the singer said “yeah, because people are actually fucking listening”. Bands love it, because it’s a captive audience, people come for the music.
So has it gotten to the point where you no longer have to seek out bands.
That’s the interesting thing, I’ve never asked one band to play.
Yeah. Mundy, Delorentos, the Hot Sprockets, they’ve all made contact. Ham Sandwhich where suppoused to do the Oxjam tent but they had to go. I’m, organising a gig for Gaza in the Sugar Club in the middle of the month and the Minutes are headlining, because they know the name. That really shows how much things have changed in year, which is amazing really.
Would you ever considering expanding out of the shop?
I don’t know. I’ve been asked a number of times, to help with stuff and I’ve wondered how big it would get. I mean we got to Electric Picnic, and one of the promoters next year said I could have the whole weekend. I don’t know if that’s what I want. Theres a lot of hard work involved. Every minute I wasn’t cutting hair was spent with dealing with names, numbers, insurance. A band comes a plays half and hour but Theirs a huge amount of work involved behind the scenes. I mean we where running the stage 13 hours, for free. No money was made out of it. The enjoyment is fantastic, but to get bigger I need to make money, because it does take up all my time.
That leads us nicely to electric picnic, how’d that involvement start?
Again I suppose I got to know people around town, including a booker, Ciaran Black. He books all the bands that play around the dame district, he runs all that. He knew about me, he’s come to gigs and he asked me if I’d be interested in doing a day at Electric Picnic. I said it was way to early to even think about that. I thought something like that might eventually happen, but not so fast. Maybe in a year I’ll do it. Then my son went to Ghana with aidlink, and as a fundraiser I ran a gig as a fundraiser. Ciaran came and said that I knew what I was doing, and asked me think about electric picnic again. I called him on Tuesday and he said “look dude, I booked you in yesterday, your in”.
So it was a real sink or swim situation.
Yeah that was about three months ago, unbelievable. October last year was our first proper gig, so it was a huge jump. Its been crazy really. The sugar club jumped at the chance when I asked if I could host a gig. When I’m introduced to anybody in the industry they always say they’ve heard of me. Jackie Kennedy from 2fm was talking to a friend of mine and when he told her it was a barber shop she said “what do mean it’s a barber shop? I thought it was a venue that looked like a barber shop!”. You know it was just for fun, I cut hair, that’s what I do for a living.
Did you choose the bands at electric picnic?
I’m joking, as soon as I announced it there was about 200 emails from bands asking if they could play. Most of the bands I booked we’re bands that had played here before. I was offered bigger names, but I wanted to stay through to what we are. Everybody that played here was in with a chance, so I picked ten. 2fm and the King Kong Club had competitions for bands to play at electric picnic, so I facilitated them, but it was mostly bands I picked.
I was at electric picnic myself, the Oxjam tent was packed.
I know, one or two in the day, we had crowds. It was meant to be the night time only, but it gradually turned into the whole day.
Would you do it again?
I think I would. Last night I might not have said that, because I was so tired, but I think i would. I mean the place was hopping, you couldn’t get it, at about 3 in the morning. All the main stages had closed, I couldn’t fit anyone in. Mick Heslin finished it off. Couldn’t fit anymore people in.
Would you like to go bigger next year?
I would but I’d let other people take control. I’m a bit of control freak and I wanted it done right.
By all accounts it was done right.
Oh yeah it was perfect.