It’s hard to know what makes a good pub. How does any publican connect with the sweet spot where good location, welcoming ambience and a decent pint intersect? If you were stuck for an answer here in Cork, Benny McCabe would be a good man to ask. Over the last two decades he has managed to turn around a selection of venues in various states of decline into booming businesses. You can see the full list of pubs here, and marvel at the sheer variety – but they all have one thing in common; absolutely no pretensions. There are no Celtic Tiger, glam ‘n’ glitz, minimalist fishtank bars; all are good, honest-to-god pubs.
A few years back one of the reporters for the Echo asked Benny the secret of his success, and he simply replied ‘I’m just a fat guy who likes beer’. Obviously, it goes a little deeper than that, but it is often the simple things that lead to success – Benny knows a good pint when he sees one, and he knows that this is the rock upon which the publican builds his church.
My first encounter with Benny was in one of his first pubs, McCabe’s on Parliament Street. It was small and atmospherically dingy, populated by what would become a trademark of his venues – a massively diverse clientele; punks, pinstripes, and Bernie Murphy. He would see me come in the door and pull me a pint, and it was that Cheers moment of walking into a place ‘where everybody knows your name’. Or at least, sort of knew my name – he called me Murf for some reason, and I never bothered to correct him, as he just seemed like a nice guy.
His wife would pop in from time to time, sometime pushing a buggy, with a cheerful little baby ensconced within. Fast forward two decades to a fortnight ago, when I had a Death In Venice moment as I realised that the person serving me a slice of pizza in the Crane Lane was that baby, in her 20s now. I felt a thousand years old already, having gone to the gig in my work clothes (a particularly tacky plaid three-piece suit that Conor McGregor would think twice about) and being surrounded by young hipsters. But then McCabe Jr – a Jameson ambassador, marketing graduate and model – rolls up and suddenly I feel death’s icy grip on my throat, his ghastly whisper in my ear; ‘why are you here old man? This is a place for the young. You are old, take your loose skin and old balls and fuck off home to wait for death’.
Except obviously I didn’t go home, as there free pizza and live music and, hey, I’m not quite dead yet. No, like the rock beast I am, I waited until 10pm, and then went home to my memory foam mattress, as sleep is now more important to me than loud music.
Still, it’s not like I was the only senior citizen at the event: There were others my age, like the barman Andy, who went to school with me and now runs his own mixology business, or Dave Quinn, head of science with IDL, or Shane Long of the Franciscan Well. Except, obviously they were there for work reasons. So why was I there? Well for one, I was invited. Two; I like free stuff. Three; I like music. I used to go to gigs all the time, but now I am part of the ‘too young to die, too old to rock’ demographic, Whiskey Live has become my Monsters Of Rock. Still. Did I mention that this event had free pizza?
There were three acts on the bill in the Crane Lane – beatboxers Amaron and Magic, Nordie indie kids Pleasure Beach, and Wyvern Lingo. The event was held under the banner of the Bow Street Sessions, in honour of the fact that Jameson still have Bow Street on the labels despite none of their whiskey being distilled there for decades. I’m kidding – but it is hard to know what qualifies as a celebration of heritage and what is simple false provenance. And that’s coming from a Corkman with a ludicrous Dublin accent.
Beatboxing has to be seen live to appreciate it, much like up-close magic or a Tijuana donkey show. There is little point in listening to beatboxing on your phone as a machine can do it better. As an opening act, Amaron and Magic were excellent, a curious mix of mnemonic freakshow and hip-hop ventriloquism. Let’s call them the larynX-Men. Let’s not actually, as that is shit.
Next up were Pleasure Beach, who sound like descendants of Pulp, Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, and possibly even The Waterboys, a sort of Pitchfork ‘who’s who’ circa 2002. They were excellent, and at this stage the whiskey cocktails were slowly eroding my awareness that I was dressed like a Jazz Age social diarist, so everything sounded great, everything was great, hey maybe I’m not the oldest person here, where’d I put my drink etc etc.
Next up were the headliners Wyvern Lingo, and, as the crowds went wild, I went home on the 10.15pm bus, because I was pretty tired from raging against the dying of the light, and also from standing for more than 30 minutes.
My thanks to the good people at Burrell PR for inviting me and my long-suffering current wife along. Thanks also to the photographer who promised to make me look less like a human oil slick, and instead made me look like a human Werther’s Original, whilst also Tubridifying me by stretching the photo:
We used to be young and wild. What the fuck happened? I mean, apart from falling in love and having four kids and growing old gracefully.
As a footnote, here is footage of one of the greatest gigs I’ve ever been at – the mighty Jesus Lizard in Fibber McGee’s many millennia ago.
If you’re watching that in work, you might want to know that the deranged frontman David Yow gets bollock naked about ten minutes in. Insane.