I had a panel proposal accepted for the International Association of Popular Music Studies conference that was to be held in Cork, at University College Cork. The panel was to be about the practices of popular music archives and museums with an emphasis on D-I-Y and D-I-T physical and online archives. In the lead up to the conference I was put in to touch with UCC scholar Eileen Hogan who was also presenting at the conference but was also one of the organisers of an exhibition about the a club in Cork called Sir Henrys. We exchanged emails and agreed that I would take part in a roundtable discussion the morning before IASPM started about some of the challenges, opportunities and realisations of this type of exhibition and popular music heritage more broadly.
About twenty or so people turned up (at 9.30am!) to take part in the discussion. I was joined by Stevie G, a DJ who played at Sir Henrys and is deeply embedded in the Cork music scene, Ray Scannell a playwright who have drawn from interviews done during the exhibitions formation and created a award winning touring play called Deep, Siobhán O’Mahony, former Sir Henrys’ photographer and contributor to the Sir Henry, Crónán Ó Doibhlin, Head of Special Collections, Archives and Repository Services, UCC Library and Eileen chaired the discussion.
Opened in 1977, just as punk was breaking, the venue was a forerunner in the changing social and cultural mood taking hold across Ireland, particularly in the younger generation. This immediately placed Sir Henrys firmly in the hearts and minds of young Corkonians that remained until its closure in 2003 and is evident in the response the exhibition generated from those who visited the esteemed venue, as regular Paul McDermott noted ‘It was a dump, but it was our dump’.
Sir Henrys quickly became established as the venue for local guitar based bands to play, The Frank and Waters and The Sultans of Ping would become almost the house bands, Sir Henrys also started to attract touring bands elevating the venue to a different level, so much so that Sonic Youth, supported by Nirvana would end up playing a legendary gig there. But it was just guitar based music that Sir Henrys became known for. DJs like Stevie G would introduce soul, funk, hip hop, house and dance music to the city in the shape of the legendary club night SWEAT. In common with other nights taking place in Ireland and the UK, there was often a media outcry over drugs and wild eyed youngsters running riot at Sir Henrys but in spite of this the club continued to flourish. Each crowd happily co-existing with each one another.
All this was evident in the discussion that took place at UCC. Whilst there was some nostalgia for the club, the articulation of the meaning of Sir Henrys in the lives of those who had attended it was evident. Stevie G was articulate in how it shaped his music activity and how it reinforced his connection to the city. Siobhan beautifully expressed her surprise that anyone should care at all about the photographs she had taken ‘back in the day, and that had been stored in the loft’ and Ray spoke of how he has used the richness of peoples memories of Sir Henrys for his play Deep and how it triggered his own memories of being a punter at the venue.
The use of using social media platforms ‘a necessary evil’ as Stevie G brilliantly put it, as a way of crowd-sourcing materials for the project was hugely successful and trigged a discussion about the fragility of these sites and the threat to the materials being uploaded to them.
What was extremely interesting for me was hearing Crónán explain why UCC, and in particular the library, had got involved and backed the project. For Crónán, his background as an archivist who was interested in the inclusivity of archives, ensuring those often excluded from archives had a voice, meant that he had an understanding of the cultural and social value of Sir Henrys and the role it played for individuals and communities in Cork. The willingness of the University to support the exhibition and collection of materials relating to Sir Henrys was a brilliant to hear of and they’ve been rewarded with a huge amount of media and publicity. With impact and engagement high on universities agendas this type of activity is a wonderful way to bring people into our spaces and places in order to share our work.
The exhibition itself is being held in the library at UCC and I loved the images and timelines used to visualise Sir Henrys. It was evident that there was a lot of love for the venue judging by some of the comments I overheard when walking around the exhibition and reading the visitors book.
Huge respect to Eileen Hogan, Martin O’Connor, Crónán Ó Doibhlin and Stevie G for organising the exhibition and special thanks for inviting me over. I loved it!