I used to have a weekly residency at a venue in London called The Dublin Castle. It’s a beautifully smelly pub in North London with an incredible music history that I am truly honoured to now be a part of.
The Dublin Castle has suffered greatly since Covid kicked in, as have all venues. The DC however will ALWAYS have my heart. I loved, and at times, hated that residency, but mainly loved it! I met life long friends there and I still always go in and say hello when I’m in that part of town. I smelt smells I will never smell again in that pub, drank copious amounts of flat lemonade and cranberry juice and even lost the bottom of a dodgy old pair of creepers when they got stuck on the sticky beer soaked floor!
At times, I thought that The DC would propel me in to superstardom, which it totally didn’t, but I don’t care. I have our memories and our good times tucked away in my little brain box. Let me tell you my story of how I fell in love with the infamous Dublin Castle…
I got offered the residency completely and utterly by accident. My old band and I turned up to play a gig at another venue in Camden Town (The Fiddlers Elbow) a whole month earlier than we had been booked for. My manager at the time gave us the wrong date and so we turned up with all our stuff and played a gig. No one questioned it. We just walked in, introduced ourselves to the bar staff (one of whom also happened to be the in house sound engineer) set up and played. Nothing special. I think I sold a few CDs and we went home.
I remember finding out we’d got the date wrong a few days afterwards and we all just thought it was funny. What can you do but laugh in that situation? I remember my drummer saying how maybe we should try that trick at Brixton Academy and see if they just let us play if we randomly turned up. I haven’t tried it yet, and the chances of us just being allowed to wonder in to Brixton Academy and play I’m pretty sure would be much slimmer…
That night, at The Fiddlers Elbow, the manager from The Dublin Castle had been out on her birthday bar crawl. She’d seen our set and taken our details. That week she got in contact and one email later had offered us a weekly residency at The Dublin Castle! The same place as Madness. The same place as Amy Winehouse. I couldn’t believe it! Obviously, I accepted and in my head I knew that it was Joe Strummer looking down on me from punk rock heaven and sending me down an opportunity to have a residency at one of the coolest venues in London… Thanks Joe xxxxx
I had heard of the Dublin before but I’d never actually been in there. So one night I was meeting a few friends at the 55 bar in Camden Town and before I met them I walked up to The Dublin to check it out. Amy Winehouse’s dad was in there that night putting on a benefit for Amy. He introduced himself to me when I walked in to the venue part of the pub. I put a tenner in the bucket and he shook my hand. I thought it was for sure another sign from Joe, as loads of Amy fans walked in past me complete with wonky beehives!
So we were offered Monday nights to start off with, which I thought was great, no problems there. Monday night whooohoooo! I would finish work and drive up in my 1995 reg Ford KA (that just about got there every week), park right outside at 6:30pm (when it was free to park) and carry my (INCREDIBLY HEAVY) Vox amp and Grestch guitar across Parkway and in to The DC. I liked to imagine my drive up there every week was a bit like when Debbie Harry would walk up to CBGBs every week. Or when Elvis would put his white jump suit on and get ready to do his Las Vegas residency. Maybe not just like that, but for sure something similar! Me in my Ford KA with no windscreen wipers is not the same as Elvis in his pink Cadillac… feet back on the floor!
The first week we got all ready and then about half an hour before I was due to leave I got a message from the pub telling us that The Libertines had played a secret gig there the night before and completely smashed up the PA so we couldn’t play unless we had our own PA, which obviously I didn’t! So we’d got all ready for no reason. I thought it was cool though! Pretty Rock’n’Roll that my residency was at a venue The Libertines played at too. Obviously it would have been better to actually play the gig in the first place. But a week later they had fixed the PA system and we were back up and running!
So the first gig (but second week of the residency) arrived and I invited all my friends and we had loads of fun. I met all the locals and we had a lovely time and over the coming months had some great gigs. The locals at The DC are amazing. I met Knox, who runs the shop next door, who was in The Vibrators. I love Knoxy, he tried to sell me two left feet shoes once and they had fish in the heel. Not real fish. I didn’t buy them. There was the man who looked like Captain Jack Sparrow who was super nice, but gave too tight hugs. The infamous Peggy who lives upstairs and has done for about a million years. The homeless man who used to come in with his dog and fall asleep on the back bench in the actual club during my sets. Bless him… that did loads for my ego… Then every week there would be the tourists who’d come in and have photos on the stage cause Madness had played there in ’79. I liked them a lot and we’ve all done sad things like that. I’ve got loads of pictures of me outside places Joe Strummer might have stood once, so what?!
The venue was so typical Camden Town it was… DIRTY! There is no backstage room but there is an equipment cupboard for you to get changed in, but the lights never worked in there and obviously there aren’t any windows. You didn’t want to get trapped in there.
If my bass player played an open E string it made the air conditioning unit buzz really loudly. So loudly it was a bit worrying it might crash down and hit you on the head mid gig. The doors to the toilets from the venue only opened inwards and they didn’t have any handles. The smell of the
toilets was so bad but I did become immune to it. I miss doing beehives and breathing through my mouth in those toilets.
Some weeks it nearly broke me. I was exhausted. I was working stupid hours and gigging at night. It’s bloody hard work gigging to nobody for sometimes weeks in a row. It hurts your soul. I’d think about Joe Strummer doing it with the 101’ers at The Elgin and just keep going. My friends band had a residency weekly at The Blues Kitchen just round the corner from The Dublin. Their gigs were always packed. Mine weren’t. So what? You keep going. Sometimes it would be really busy and we’d have a massive laugh and I’d stay later and we’d have a drink and it would be brilliant. Sometimes nobody would turn up at all apart from my mum. I’d finish a set, unplug and pick up my guitar case and amp and walk straight out to my car and go home. It didn’t feel like it at the time but it did make me stronger as a musician. I know I’ve done my grafting!
My career would have looked very different if I hadn’t have done it and I am so indescribably grateful for the opportunity. I met my drummer Matt, who I work with now, up there! He came along one night and we started working together from then on. I also met my friend Niamh there, who was an excellent radio plugger at the time and introduced me to Radio X DJ John Kennedy. I met my dear dear friend Julian up there. Julian was my weekly sound engineer. I loved him instantly. We were both learning on the job. I love you Julie.
The residency lasted for a whole year. The only reason I left was because it got harder to get other gigs at any other venues in London. If people know they can see you for free every week at The DC they aren’t going to pay to see you anywhere else, so very sadly my days at my favourite venue in London finished.
I will always love The Dublin Castle and it is vital that we can’t lose these venues. They’re important. Important to musicians but also just music lovers. We need to keep these venues going for the next round of wannabes like me or the next group of kids who want their photo where Suggs may or may not have stood!
Long live The Dublin Castle