A quiet Tuesday night upstairs in Bar Ritz in Castlebar and it is a lot different from the heaving mass of bodies squashed into the venue towards the front of the stage area 11 days previously, when Belfast band And So I Watch You From Afar had the place hopping. For almost three years now Finbar Hoban has been bringing the best of local original Irish bands to Castlebar in a series of shows that have gone from strength to strength from quality of performer to visuals and props. When he first put on a show, a handpainted sign was all that was there to let you know this was a Finbar Hoban Presents show, now there’s a screen behind the stage with graphics and animations to let you know who is putting on this night’s entertainment.
While the shows have got bigger and better it is still almost a one-man show, when it comes to getting things going, from finding an act to putting the show on stage, and it all came from a conversation in a bar not too far away from where we sat on a quiet evening just over three years ago.
“I was sitting down at the bar in Rowlands Bar about a month before it closed down in April 2008. At that stage The Humbert had gone two years pervious to that, and we were taking in there going, “What’s the story with a live venue now, where will we go?’ At the time there was no other venue for live music in the town. Someone had said what about Mulroy’s, John is always looking to put on a bit of music, so it entered my head. The very next day, I made it my mission and went over and talked to John, and I had never spoken to him before and said, ‘Look we’ll do one night and see how it goes’. He said ‘Yeah, sure we’ll do one night and see what happens’. I remember it well, it was a local band called Kneel before Zod who was on the first night, it was a huge success. I thought, hang on here I could be on to something. We started off with a charge of €4 on the door. We had three bands the first night and we decided we’ll do another night and see what happens, so we did one a month directly after with another band, Story of Hair, and same as, we nearly had to close the doors. I could see the plan coming together and went to John and said, ‘Maybe we should book a few more shows and see what happens’. It just took off from there, because at the time there was no place in town that wasn’t a huge venue to start off and have new original music.”
The first couple of shows featured bands who were from Castlebar or had very strong roots in the town, but to bring on the shows it soon became time to start branching out and looking for new talent from outside of Mayo, and with that came risks in itself, as Finbar explained. “The third show I put on was a band called Walter Mitty and the Realists, they were a cracking band and sort of after that show, it changed that I had bands getting in touch with me about getting to come here and play shows. But that show was the first time that I was bringing in a band from outside the county with no connections to Mayo, whereas the first two had roots here and I was a bit nervous about it. From then on I was setting myself a bit of a task about selling that show and it has been ever since then, bringing in acts that aren’t familiar to local people, it can be quite tough. But I think most of the acts have been pretty well known acts on the Irish scene. But that third show I thought to myself that this is going to be a make or break show. It went OK, not as good as the first two shows, but I was expecting a bit of a fall off all right with no local draw. It went well enough to keep going, and we’ve been going since then. Even to this day each night I run it’s a risk, because you don’t know how it’s going to go. I always feel it’s good to have a kind of local act on the support, the next night we have two support bands, one is from Claremorris and the other act has a few members from around Mayo.”
Being a one-man promoter brings plenty of risks when putting together the next show and can have nerves going before the doors open each night and it hasn’t changed from day one to now. “The first show I put on I was nervous as hell, but to be quite honest every show I still put on I’m still nervous. It can be hard to get people in from night to night. Some nights we wedge the place, other nights we could have 35 to 40 people. It’s a learning curve every night, one thing I have noticed is that metal bands are a huge seller in the town. If you have a bad night, you just turn around to yourself and say how can I better this next time? Every night is different here, every band is different to the next, like we had RSAG here before we had And So I Watch You From Afar and there was only maybe 40 people here that night, but he was fantastic, then ASIWYFA where there was a huge crowd. Next up we have Whipping Boy who I think will do really well, but it will be a completely different crowd from the last show we put on here.”
“I do think there is a hunger for it, but people come in not knowing what to expect and people go after that, was great, the reason being it was something different you’re not going to hear on the radio or the normal cover band you’ll see in a pub.”
Having something different and new every time can be a challenge to sell the show to the people, but Finbar has seen that there is a demand for it out there over the past three years. “ I do think there is a hunger for it, but people come in not knowing what to expect and people go after that was great, the reason being it was something different you’re not going to hear on the radio or the normal cover band you’ll see in a pub. There are a lot of bands that would do really well around the country, but probably wouldn’t think off coming to the like of Castlebar because there was no where for them to go. Like you couldn’t put on these bands in the theatre in the TF because it would bomb and wouldn’t sell for them, what I’m trying to do is get the right size venue that suits the bands and what were trying put on here.”
“There have been a couple of bands now that weren’t great and I’ve been straight up with them about it, seeing as I’m presenting it and paying for it”
Juggling work and promotions takes up more hours than there are in the day sometimes, but Finbar manages to squeeze it in, which can be a struggle at times. “Like I’m working a full time job as well, my hours are usually from 1pm to 9pm, but I’m up in the morning sending emails to this and that management or act, then when I come home at night it’s the same thing, organising this, that, and the other. It can get frustrating when you’re working with acts and they turn around and tell you they can’t make it. I’ve had gigs I’ve put on and advertised support acts who have pulled out at the last minute and it throws things off kilter. You got to jiggle it around, but you do what you can. It’s hands on all the time on the day of the gig, like the lads will be here with the PA at 2.30pm or 3pm in the day and I’ll be here loading the thing up and down the stairs with them and I won’t get out of hear until about half one that morning after the show is over. Some of the acts have demands and you have to make promises to them when you’re doing a deal with them. It can be from we want a healthy meal later or we want a crate of beer, things like that don’t come cheap and I have to come up with it. But as I said it’s a risk, like sometimes you’d be standing there as the lights are about to go up and say to yourself, right how many people are out there, we need X amount of people to come in to break even or I’m out of pocket here. It is for the love of music, but in all fairness there is only a certain amount of time that you can go for nothing, I do this for the love of music, but there is only a certain length I can take it to. I don’t look that for sure in five years time I’ll still be doing this. But at the end of the night if the people keep chanting one more tune, I’ll keep bringing the shows. If I see a need for it I’ll keep them coming, there is only so many nights you can run without making a profit for yourself for the work you put in.”
This weekend as part of the Castlebar Blues and Beyond festival, Finbar Hoban Presents will be presenting DJ Dave Barry in the Market Square, Castlebar on Saturday afternoon when Dave will be bringing his Cross the Tracks radio show live to the streets of the town. Meanwhile on Main Street in the town Ballina based band 21 Outs will be playing live during the afternoon. The next show up for Finbar Hoban Presents is on Saturday June 25, when legendary Irish rockers Whipping Boy take to the stage in Bar Ritz.