Coughlan’s: Going Live for Fourth Festival

September 21st-25th sees Coughlan’s on Douglas Street serve as the epicentre of Cork music during its flagship Coughlan’s Live Festival. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with venue coordinator Edel Curtin.

“Coughlan’s annual festival has become an important event on our calendar, as it marks the anniversary of the venue. It’s always a nice time to take stock of what has happened in the previous twelve months, and to celebrate all the great musicians we have had the honour of hosting. The festival is a chance for us to say “thank you” to the people that have supported us since the beginning, so we try to have as eclectic a mix as possible and keep some of the shows free. It’s nice for us too, to be able to remind ourselves that we have made it through another year, and hopefully done a good enough job in the process, especially with so many venues having to close their doors.”

Edel Curtin, booker for Coughlan’s on Douglas Street and its sister company Coughlan’s Live Promotions, is preparing for the venue’s annual centrepiece event, Coughlan’s Live Festival. “This year’s festival will be a cracker. We’re very excited about having Rusangano Family thanks to our friends in Southern Hospitality Board. John Blek and the Rats is always a fantastic show to go to in Coughlan’s, and our silent disco has proved hugely popular over the past few years. The Voice Squad promises to be a really special show too, and it’s their first time playing the venue. All in all it promises to be a great weekend!”

In its fifth year, also headlined by talent like Hermitage Green, and Lisa O’Neill, the festival marks the space’s fourth anniversary. Edel talks about the roots and beginnings of Coughlan’s as we know it. “For years, previous to Coughlan’s becoming a venue, I had it in my head that I’d like to be part of a small music venue. At the time I was still working as a musician, and Cork didn’t really have a small intimate space for musicians to play. There seemed to be a gaping hole where The Lobby used to be and it became an ambition of mine to try in some small way to fill that void. Myself and some friends started a casual session that took place every Monday night in Coughlan’s. It was good fun and started to draw a crowd. At the time the back room wasn’t really in use, and although it’s very small, it seemed like a nice space to try something. I organised a festival for that September and the rest is history, I suppose! People liked the venue, musicians liked playing it, and after that weekend I started getting enquiries from more musicians that wanted to play. I never thought it would turn into what it has, to be honest, and a huge part of that is down to the incredible support we received.”

The venue tapped into a rich, but underutilised, vein of acoustic-led genres and sub-genres, something that hadn’t really been pushed to a venue’s forefront in recent years in Cork City. What was behind the decision to lead with this genre, right as others were appealing to other, contemporary audiences? “I suppose the type of shows that were put on were largely dictated by the venue itself. I wasn’t sure what would work in the room volume-wise, but I knew there wouldn’t be a problem with the more acoustic shows. Over time we were able to experiment a bit more, and take a few chances. Personal taste also played a part, to a degree, but I think as the venue grows, we are broadening the types of shows that we put on. Rusangano Family at this year’s festival is a good example of that I think.”

Quickly beginning to outgrow the walls of the backroom of their headquarters, the Coughlan’s team began expanding into other venues in town, collaborating and co-promoting with Cyprus Avenue and The Oliver Plunkett to name a few. “Coughlan’s Live Promotions happened quite organically off the back of the venue. We were fortunate that some of the musicians who had previously played Coughlan’s and were now in need of a bigger venue wanted to keep working with us. Having come from playing music as a profession, there was already a good relationship with a lot of the venues in the city, and thankfully they were receptive to us putting on shows. It’s great to be able to use these
venues, and it’s exciting for us to be able to book acts that we might not necessarily be able to have in Coughlan’s.”

The hard work and entrepeneurial spirit of the Coughlan’s team has reaped rewards, with the Hot Press and IMRO Venue of the Year award in 2013 taking pride of place at the venue’s entrance. “Winning awards over the past few years has been genuinely very humbling. To know you have the support of so many people is a great feeling. This is not an easy job to do, there’s a huge amount of work that has to be done behind the scenes in order for the venue’s doors to stay open, and to see this recognised is hugely encouraging for us. People have really gotten behind us, and that is the biggest reason for us being able to continue doing what we do. We are blessed too that we have fantastic staff, there’s a really great team and I think people see that and want to support it. It’s a huge reason for people returning to the venue, they know they will be looked after, treated well and greeted by a familiar face. We don’t have the biggest stage or best lighting rig, but the place has atmosphere and character and I think that counts for a lot.”

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