Cast your mind back to the Galway city of days gone by, where diddley-eye music echoed from every pub and the importance of tradition was in full effect but something was missing. Searching for a safe haven from the trad tunes, a space to listen to really good music, two young lads – Simon and Kevin – broke the mould and on a day like any other in 1994, the golden gates of the Blue Note were thrown open.
Well before the COVID chaos took its toll on the country’s humble publicans, we caught up with Mal - the current proprietor of the pub - to chat about the pub’s past and right now, it’s the pub’s future that’s on our minds. While we’re all looking forward to getting back into the boozer, there’s no better time to take a look back at some of the memories that were made along the way...
Many moons ago, Mal landed in the Blue Note to collect some glasses and the rest - as they say - is history. Marlena Shaw’s ‘California Soul’ was oozing from the speakers and some of the most effortlessly cool people in town were batting the breeze. He thought to himself, “I love this pub… someday it will be mine”. And sure look.
Sound man, that Mal.
Transforming what it meant 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.
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."
In the 25 years of business, the people who started their raving days in the Note have grown up and had kids and 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.
We’re pretty sure that the next rebirth of the Blue Note will be a good one. Until then, we’ve got memories of good times with good people to keep us going.
Words by Sarah Gill
Photos by Ciarán MacChoncarraige