Been looking through some old photos, and came upon this sweet moment, thought it might be nice to share this with you. So many memories and emotions this photograph evokes in me.
I reckon it is mid-1988.
The other person playing is the one and only Eileen Ivers. Blue fiddle, blue guitar…..
The location is The Red Lion on Bleecker Street in
Greenwich Village, New York.
In 1987 I was mostly in Washington DC, playing in a college bar called Dylans in Georgetown and a few other places. Sometimes I’d get the Amtrak train up to Boston to play some shows with the help of my friend Paddy Doherty or Tommy McGann. This was the beginning of the Luka story – hovering around New York. Eventually I began to get the train to New York, looking for places to play assuming Greenwich Village was ‘the place’.
I’d just walk into bars with my guitar in the daytime, seeking out owners, who might allow me to play. One of the places I was recommended was The Bitter End on Bleecker Street. I went in. Instantly knew it was not for me. Didn’t know why, just not for me.
I was looking for a place that could be a blank canvas. Anywhere I could make my own stage happen. Practically next door to The Bitter End was a bar called The Red Lion. I walked in and just inside the door on the left was this small stage. Really simple sound system. Clearly not a ‘cool’ place, but I just felt something.
I asked the bar man was the owner around. Told him I was a singer from Ireland, and I would love to sing here. Five minutes later I am sitting in The Red Lion in the middle of the afternoon, talking to Alan Whelan, the Dublin born boss of the Red Lion. A lovely guy. I asked him could I sing a few songs for him. Plugged in the guitar onstage, got the sound going, and played him Rescue Mission, Gone to Pablo, and one or 2 more……
He liked what he heard. Offered me the prime spot on Saturday nights. The Red Lion was a popular spot for students at weekends……
‘No thanks Alan, that’s not what I’m here for’, I said.
‘What do you want’? He asked. ‘When are your quietest two hours in the place’? I asked.
‘Monday, Tuesday, 8-10pm’.
I don’t remember if it was the Monday or the Tuesday I took, but I asked him for I think the Tuesday 8-10pm spot in The Red Lion on Bleecker Street.
Alan thought I was nuts. For once, I wasn’t.
I asked Alan to please ensure that 8-10pm every Tuesday night the sports TVs would be turned off, and the barmen would keep the vibe cool at the bar, so we could try to create an atmosphere in the place.Alan was so supportive, and just kind.
So, suddenly I had a residency on Bleecker Street. How did we promote gigs before the Internet?
Smoke signals, postcards, phone calls, telepathy……
I used to get the train from Washington DC every Tuesday.
Go to Bleecker Street and set up my blue Washburn guitar.
Then go around the corner to Quantum Leap for some veggie food on West 3rd Street and back to The Red Lion, plug in and play for two hours.
Pack away my things. Get a cab to Penn Station and catch a midnight train back to Washington DC.
I did this for weeks and weeks. People began to hear about it.
I don’t remember the first time I met Eileen Ivers. I think she was living in The Bronx.
She would come and play with me sometimes.
This photograph captures the pure joy I felt, in this little bar, with more people coming every week, and just singing my songs in New York, with Eileen alongside playing songs like ‘You couldn’t have come at a better time’.
Sometimes this period was so tough, REALLY missing my family, and just struggling to survive; but those nights on Bleecker kept me going. Slowly but surely there was this feeling that my songs were going to be heard by more people.
One night I noticed this guy standing at the bar, with a suit and fine overcoat on, watching and studying the gig intently. It was Tom Prendergast from Limerick. The next week he brought his friend and colleague Glenn Morrow. They ran a label called BarNone Records. Tom had a great Record Store in Hoboken called Pier Platters. They brought Michael Hill from Warner Bros.
Then Kenny McPherson from Warner Chappell Publishing. Frank Riley, the great agent came along. Ina Meibach, the lawyer……
Over a 2-3 month period, everyone I would work with in recording, publishing, and most of all, touring, came to hear my songs in this little bar on Bleecker Street.
No demo tapes, just a hot, sweaty room, with a great Tuesday night crowd, packed with energy.
Songs and joy. Pure joy. Delirious, Rescue Mission, Gone To Pablo, Irishman in Chinatown, Hudson Lady, Cold Comfort……..
I had been struggling for so many years.And somehow, everything changed in The Red Lion on Bleecker Street.
I think about it often.
And say thank you to all the people who queued in the rain and snow.
To the staff who worked there.
To Alan Whelan.
To Tom, Glenn, Michael, and all the amazing people who gave me a chance.
And in the end my thank you, is to New York.
New York, like many cities, is hurting now. I send you my love, and really hope I get to sing there soon again.
It’s the least I can do.