Music in the local, Nightmare or Nirvana

night1There are two kinds of people who drink in bars; those who like music and those who don’t. I grew up in a world where the thought of a band or a jukebox were considered sacrilege in a pub and the electronic beep of a one armed bandit or the ring and ding of a pinball machine were considered the rhythmic flap and beat of the flames of hell.

In that same world, no-one batted an eye when someone stuck a finger in their ear and struck up a come all ye, usually about the wicked ways of drink and faithless women, or men.

It’s all there in the songs, whether it’s folk, country, blues or jazz. One of the classics is from Frank Sinatra’s For Only the Lonely, Capitol Records album. The song is called ‘One for my Baby’. On the Live from The Sands album, Sinatra offers his own explanation for the song, ‘drunk songs are set in small bars or bistros in the wee hours of the morning and they’re talked or sung by a fella who’s got problems, like his broad flew the coop with another guy and all the bread, so, if you will assume the position of a bartender, this the way these guys behave…the classic, tinkling piano intro and those magic words, ‘it’s quarter to three, there’s no-one in the place, ‘cept you and me.’

And Hank Williams could not have put it any better with ‘There’s a tear in my beer’, when he sang, ‘there’s a tear in my beer, ‘cos I’m crying for you, dear, you are on my lonely mind.’

Shane McGowan of The Pogues took a different stance on this, in ‘Streams of Whiskey’, when his protagonist encounters Brendan Behan in a dream who offers him advice on how to deal with life’s travails and then concludes, ‘there’s nothing ever gained by a wet thing called a tear, when the world is too dark and I need a light inside of me, I’ll walk into a bar and drink fifteen pints of beer.’Pogues – Streams Of Whiskey Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Of course, there is the ‘in vino, veritas’ argument, too.

My personal favourite is Rosie Flores’ simple and succinct toast to bars and music in her rockabilly classic, ‘This Ol’ Honky Tonk’, from Dancehall Dreams, ‘here’s to the bar room and here’s to your dreams, you can bury all your worries in the honky tonk scene, your heart has a home, if you’re feeling all alone, just forget all your troubles, tonight, this ol’ honky tonk makes it alright.

All this musing was prompted last night while I sat, alone, at the bar of The Thomas House in Dublin’s Liberties and listened to the deejay spin old punk, pub rock and ska classics from my youth, to a bar full of people with an average age in the mid 20s, and I didn’t feel alone. I had conversations with a couple of people and exchanges laughs and jokes with a few others.

People choose their pubs for the company they can meet there and often, their decision is tempered by the music they’ll hear. If you like to natter when you’re in a pub, don’t go to pubs for hard line folk fans or jazz enthusiasts. If you like heavy metal, avoid country honky tonks or easy listening, pop joints. It’s a horses for courses situation.

In my teenage years I often went to folk clubs and bars where the insistent jeer of ‘ciúnas‘ (quiet) was part of the territory, however annoying. If you want to hear great singers sing great songs, find those pubs. If you want to hear the blues, find a blues club or pub and so on.

All publicans know that music draws customers and happy customers buy drinks. It’s a simple equation, or so it seems but if the balance is wrong, it’s a recipe for disaster.