Abner Browns


Abner Browns: The Little Barbershop that Can

A Face in the Crowd

AN UNLIKELY and in many ways unintended success story in the heart of Rathmines, Abner Browns Barbershop – opened just five years ago – has become a fairytale at the heart Dublin music.

Today, the venue is hosting regular bring-your-own-beer events and expanding into festivals, documentaries and more sizeable venues, but the musically-themed barbers started out as owner Dave Judge’s post-crash last resort.

“I’d been a businessman for 20 years, and I lost everything in the crash,” he said. “Everything except the shop. I didn’t have a penny, and I picked up some records on sale in a local shop in Rathmines, hung a guitar above an old couch, and opened up the barbers.”

“The first gig happened really quickly. It was a Canadian singer called Blair Packham, who came in for a hair cut, talked about his music and we decided he’d play sat on the couch the next Saturday. Another guy saw him, and came in the next week. Within four weeks, I had people in every weekend playing music. It started so fast, and to this day I’ve never asked anyone to play. They always come to me.”

Judge himself used to play in bands, but describes himself as “a general businessman” who left music behind years ago. “I’m organised and good with people,” he explains. “A lot of musicians aren’t, their brains work in different ways, so we fit well together. People say I’m one of those people who gets stuff done.”

The process has been entirely organic – “it’s great marketing,” Judge admits, “but that’s not why I do it. I love it. Almost every gig someone will come up to me with an idea about monetising the shows, but it’s a community thing. I don’t want to turn it into something else.”

In the few years that it’s been going, Abner’s – currently temporarily shifted a few doors down from its normal location on Rathgar Road for the duration of a roof replacement on what Judge jokingly calls “the mouldy green room” – has had some serious highs. Michael Stipe of REM dropped in a couple of years ago having heard about the place, while Northern Irish pop-rockers Ash are amongst the acts to have played for free on a floor cleared of its hairdressing equipment.

A film about the barbers entitled ‘More Than A Barbershop’ – actually the third to be released, alongside regular footage of in-house gigs – is currently doing the rounds at film festivals ahead of public release next year, and Judge’s influence is quickly growing beyond his own walls.

Ash. In a barber shop. Unreal.

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State of the Nation: David Judge (Abner Browns/ Canalaphonic)


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.