The Blue Note celebrates 25 years in business this weekend

Cast your mind back to 25 years ago in Galway city. Diddley-eye music echoed from every pub and two young lads – Simon and Kevin – wanted something else.

A safe haven from the trad tunes, a space to listen to really good music, somewhere to go before heading on to a nightclub. So, on a day like any other in 1994, the golden gates of the Blue Note were thrown open.

We spoke to Mal, the current owner of the pub, about the last 25 years. Many moons ago, Mal landed in the Blue Note to collect some glasses. Marlena Shaw’s ‘California Soul’ was oozing from the speakers and he was surrounded by the most effortlessly cool people he’d ever met. He thought to himself, “I love this pub… someday it will be mine”. And sure look.

Sound man, that Mal.

Breaking the mould of what it was to be a pub in Galway, the Blue Note became a beacon of light for music lovers. Soul, house, funk, disco and techno music were given a home in the Westend and aspiring DJs were given a platform to showcase their talent. Some of Ireland’s greatest DJs started their careers within the walls of the Blue Note and over the years, it’s become a pilgrimage on their route to the top.

The name comes from Blue Note Records, an acid–jazz movement in the mid-90s where old jazz records were remixed and reedited. This is an element of the pub that has been nurtured in recent years, aided by their partnership with the Galway Jazz Festival. The music that fills the Note is constantly evolving, supported by their loyal regulars who appreciate music in any form. According to Mal, it’s as different now as it was when it opened. Every five years they take a long hard look at themselves and say, “right, who’s the next wave of DJs coming along?”. Every now and again it’s important to see who else is in Galway, who else is up and coming, who else is around – that keeps everyone on their game. It keeps the older heads buying new records and it brings a whole new life into the place.

About five years ago, the face of the pub was hidden by a “manky off-license”. You either knew about it or you didn’t and “while an inside joke is funny, you have to let people in on it”. They asked themselves, “why do we have a big off-license blocking those three great windows?”. And out they came, breathing new life into the place.

Blue Note Galway

Ever looked at the River Corrib and seen Trump’s wall? Mal has. The dynamic of the town separates people into either Uptown or Westend drinkers. Being further away from the action means that you can’t just open the doors and expect people to walk in. “You have to give people a reason to come in and once they’re in you have to take really good care of them. It’s all about customer service and having the craic,” Mal says. This philosophy rings true, visible in the relationships between staff and customers.

So came Groovy Tuesdays. Mal warmly quotes his friend Keith when we says, “the people of Galway love to dance in dark rooms.” The Groovy Tuesday guys – The Collective – understand the vibe of the Note. It’s about people having a really good time, listening to really good music. Expanding their customer base to include swarms of students queuing for a boogie was an extremely good shout. Mal knows that they are the life blood of Galway. They’re what keeps this town going.

“Galway is very special; it has the students and it has the tourists. There’s always new life being brought into it… The future is whatever the next generation decide they want. What type of music, what type of bars, what type of entertainment they want to see.”

The next rebirth of the Blue Note comes just in time for their birthday celebrations this weekend and the boozer has never looked as good. The expansion of their already legendary dance floor is set to change the flow of the business entirely. No more dancing through ravers to make it to the loo!

The festivities will kick off on Friday, 22 February with a set from the legendary Blue Notes Choir, a group of regulars from the bar who came together every Wednesday under the guidance of the irrepressible Tracy Bruen. They’ll be cutting the ribbon on the sexy new layout, followed by former-young lads, the OriGin DJs.

On Saturday, P Disconaut – the godfather of all things wonderful in this town – will be keeping the party going, as well as a set from Sunday Times!, an unreal collective from Cork who’ve been running the best parties for the last 10 years.

Sunday will be filled with big hugs and cries and puppies and kittens, all fuelled by Jägermeister, as much of the shenanigans in the Blue Note are.

In the 25 years of business, the people who started their raving days in the Note have grown up and had kids and in some cases it’s those kids who are back raving in the same vein as their parents! “It’s all music lovers. These kids are playing music from 25 years ago and the old farts are playing music they’ve heard the kids playing. It’s a great influence, it keeps everything fresh”.

There is no judgement within the walls of the Blue Note. In the past 25 years about 50 members of staff have passed through, staying in touch ever since. Every piece of art dotted around the boozer is produced by the staff or by the regulars, showcasing and supporting the talents of their creatives. They’re a community of people who have and always will weave in and out. It’s where people go when they’re in need or a pint, a laugh or a hug. It’s a very special building.

Words by Sarah Gill
Photos by Ciarán MacChoncarraige

Blue Note Galway