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What do hairdressing and the Irish music scene have in common? If you’re aware of one of the coolest and most unlikely venues in the city, Rathmines-based Abner Browns, the answer will jump out at you. David Judge is a hairdresser by profession, but has found himself stuffing his salon with music memorabilia and turning it into a BYOB cultural hub that hosts some of the best acts in Ireland (it recently welcoming a small show from Duke Special, and Michael Stipe dropped in for a chat).

And that was all before his latest project – recently rebranded Canalaphonic from Canalapalooza, after a frankly outrageously hypocritical legal challenge from Castlepalooza – got underway. The festival will take place on canal barges and around Rathmines, and has already announced acts like The Hot Sprockets and Gavin Glass. David, in short, knows what he’s talking about. So here he is on his own heartlands, and Irish music in general:

Abner Browns is an unusual combination to say the least. How did such a venue come about, and how do the businesses compliment each other?

Well first of all it’s only one business, cutting hair is what i do for a living and what puts food on my kids table , the music is for me at the moment anyway. It’s just something I love doing, though its kind of taking over my life as I seem to have created a monster! But each does complement the other, the shop is a bit of a music museum, vintage guitars, gramophones, vinyl etc on the walls, so the music at night fits in nicely. The music and gigs have been great for the business and has increased our customer base in a huge way. This was never the intention, it started off with a guy playing some songs on the couch on a busy Saturday and has grown organically from that. But as a marketing tool it has been fantastic, we couldn’t buy the publicity we get .

What’s your vision for Abner Browns?

I don’t really have a ‘vision’ as such, the thing has become extremely popular and we seem to be known all over Ireland as well as getting mails from abroad. We’ve featured in inflight magazines and been filmed by Spanish TV.We’re part of the Dublin Now project which is basically the 100 coolest things in Dublin.The ‘brand’ and our name has grown and people want to involve us in stuff like the new Canalaphonic festival and some other festivals coming up in the summer. I’m promoting a couple of gigs and also managing Sinead White, one of the GoldenPlec’s 2015 picks, so who knows whats next ! I’ve a background in business and marketing before this so i do approach things in a slightly different way to some in the music industry.

The Michael Stipe visit – I must admit I checked his right hand tattoo, I thought it was that unlikely the man would turn up in a Dublin hairdressers! How was the experience for you?

The Micheal Stipe visit was a bit of a crazy one alright, a customer of ours had said his ‘friend’ is in the music business in the States and loves what we’re doing for music in Dublin, he’s Godfather to his kids and he’s actually Micheal Stipe … Of course I didn’t believe a word and pretended to be impressed, til a couple of months later in they walk! He’d a look round, a short chat etc but when i tweeted and facebooked it went viral and was featured on every news outlet , paper, radio, TV etc. An unbelievable amount of publicity, and all good for Abners.

What did you do before Abner Browns/ Canalaphonic, and how has that helped you on your new projects?

Before Abners?  Well I always owned the barbershop, its been there for 16 years now. I’d a couple of businesses, property etc a few years ago but was unfortunately one of those people who got hit in the crash and lost a huge amount of money. I went back to basics cutting hair again, re-branded the shop Abner Browns got a guy with a guitar on the couch and here we are. My business and marketing background have helped though, with things like running gigs, managing acts, festivals and such. Its organisational and communication qualities and assets I bring to the table as well as being good with figures and not intimidated by anyone who may know more than me about this business.

 You’re also a big part of Canalaphonic/ Canalapalooza. It’s a bold move, starting a festival, but you seem to be taking giant steps. What made you decide to do it?

Canalaphonic came about when a friend of mine in Dublin City Council asked could I source some acts as the were thinking of something small around 1 or 2 pubs in the area to coincide with a rally of barges up and down the canal. As i chatted to possible acts and venues, I realised the area was desperately needing a boost, and if done right this could be it. I went back  to the council and the canals project and had nothing but support as its gotten bigger. I’m ‘pushing open doors’ as they say, but I couldn’t have done it without great support from Sid Daly and Brian Kirk who were instrumental in kicking things off initially.

I think I speak for the majority of the music industry when I say we were surprised by Castlepalooza’s court moves against the name, especially given where their name comes from. What did you make of it all? Are you put out?

I cant really say much about the Castlepalooza injunction thing other than we were surprised ourselves…

 How difficult do you find the funding side of what you do?

At the moment we have funding from DCC, I approached Failte Ireland and they loved the idea and are to help as well, we were approached by a couple more sponsors and a radio station but are in talks at the moment so wait and see.

 Do you think the government’s doing enough to support Irish music in general?

To be honest, I wont claim to know what the government do or don’t do for music, as a business person though I would be of a view that maybe people should do stuff for themselves. Yes, it’s difficult and you may have to work for nothing as i am doing at the moment, but I do believe if you are good enough and work hard enough it will happen. There is help. From what I hear IMRO and First Music Contact are both helpful and as I’ve been involved I’ve found  in general music people want to help each other. So get out there, though if you are to go into music to make money, think again!

  What about the public? What would really help stuff like Canalaphonic and Abner Browns move forward?
Canalaphonic and Abners will move forward with help from the public, people can come and hear amazing music, its all free and an awful lot better craic than sitting at home watching Tubridy. Social media is the way forward though in terms of getting a name or brand out there.

Who are your Irish acts to watch our for right now?

My acts to watch for are first of all  Sinead White, I think shes on the cusp. The Hot Sprockets while well known around the country (Canalaphonic headliners) are an independent act and are to tour Europe this Summer but I’m looking forward to seeing them go to the next level. Gavin Glass is about to release his next album and having heard it i think its the one that will take him from top session musician/producer to top act in his own right.

 Any tips for Irish musicians looking to make an impact?

 Work hard, practise till its perfect. If its not perfect, don’t gig it, don’t record it and don’t put an iPhone video to your Facebook! Get a website, use social media, put up good content, then put up more good content. Dont play the same venues all the time. Find out how to do a proper press release /submission for festivals. Get a professional recording and video done to send to radio, TV, festivals etc. And there is life outside of Dublin and Ireland .

State of the Nation is a blog project for 2015 focused on telling the story of the Irish music scene through interviews with some of its major players. Interviews are published weekly, and you can find a full index of all published to date here

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