Sean Laffey has an insider’s view on an Amsterdam Institution.
There is a curly haired Dubliner living in Holland his name is Mark Gilligan, he’s been there for years, working in and around the music scene, song-writer, promoter, performer, raconteur, champion for old Ireland.
He was Netherlands tour manager for the late Ronnie Drew and has held a torch for Irish Punk and Celtic Rock for more years than he cares to remember. Back in November 2009 we got chatting on the phone and I happened to mention I was playing some up-beat all original Irish-American crossover stuff with Cashel singer-songwriter Billy O’Dwyer Bob. Mark was intrigued and asked us to play his Irish Pub Festival in Deventer. Happy to oblige we agreed and then I asked the €$64,000 question;”Can you get us a gig at Amsterdam’s famous Mulligans pub?”
Well of course he could, he got us two nights. So the date duly arrived, we flew Ryanair into Eindhoven (we had top book extra seats for the instruments). We took a coach to Amsterdam driven by an ex-fighter pilot who remembered the airport when it was military base. Arriving only 30 minutes before the gig, we met musician, sound man and recording engineer Barry Teehan (he’s from Kilkenny). He also pulls pints in the bar a few nights a week. Despite the lateness, Barry took it all in his stride, he’d even managed to get us a drum kit for the evening and he’d later let us take it on a train down the Deventer (but that’s a story for another time).
Barry likes labels (confirmed when we read the instructions on his toilet wall the night we stayed in his flat a kilometre beyond the Heineken Brewery). The pub PA is stored under the stairs next to the stage, the door is locked and labelled. The sound desk is labelled with precise and clear instructions, in English, explaining how it works, telling you what to do and what is forbidden. On the nights Barry isn’t around, anyone who can put a PA together will find this set up easy-Peavey. Mind you with a five piece band, those drums and an electric bass we were pushed for space on the famous postage stamp that is the Mulligan’s stage .
The Thursday night crowd flocked in and we had a great time. During the interval I discovered we were being analysed by a Professor of Folk Music from the American University in Bruxelles who had packed the balcony with fresh-faced college kids who were no doubt working out that most of the stuff that Billy O’Dwyer Bob and The Sorryass Blues Band were playing was in E. To judge for yourself you can even see a video of something in E minor on www.theplatformtv.com.
The driving force behind Mulligan’s is Miriam Feust, a slender elegant lady who has been leasing the pub and putting on Irish music since 1988. And what a good job she does of it. The pub like many buildings in Amsterdam is long, thin and high, bar stools by the counter, a narrow walkway and a long line of tables and that’s about it for space. The equally constricted balcony has nearly every issue of Irish Music Magazine, so drinkers can broaden their minds as they sip their pints of Guinness. The pub doesn’t do food, to feed your belly take a two minute walk to Rembrandtplein. Mulligan’s feeds the soul.
We came in early on the Saturday to watch the Rugby, live from Ireland on Sony TVs which looked to be a least 10 years old, folks in the gallery saw the game in reverse as mirrors reflect the action to the upper deck. When the rugby was over the TVs went off, allowing folks to catch up with the news from home or plan the night ahead. The pub is a magnet for characters, there was an older gentleman from Belfast who had a wealth of stories from the Northern folk scene of the 1960s.
I met Soren Venema who runs Palm Guitars, a music shop on the opposite bank of the Amstel river. He invited me over to see his stock, guitars, banjos, bouzoukis, mandolins, metal body tenor guitars, and some really weird 19th century European instrument, all vintage, all in tune, all ready to be played, all with seriously high price tags...if I ever win a big lotto prize....
We had Sunday night off on our short tour of the Netherlands and we found ourselves back in Mulligan’s for the locals’ session, those regulars even gave us a few Euro for jamming along...welcome, but way too generous.
Along the walls of the pub are what at first glance looks like dusty pub furniture, a banjo, guitar, mandolin, bodhrán, all more or less in tune and if you fancy a session and have forgotten your axe, just grab one from the wall and show the lads your chops. And boy what a house band Mulligan’s has. Led by fiddler Siard De Jong, on that evening he was joined by flute, fiddle, box and bouzouki players and a lad whose name I didn’t get, Dutch spelling isn’t a forte of mine anyway, (someone said he was South African), his mastery of the DADGAD guitar was mesmeric.
Everything you’ve heard about the place is true. The locals tell me that the magic of Mulligan’s is you never know who will show up and the music is always good. It was on that long weekend in February and I’m sure it is still.
Photo Credits: (1) Billy O'Dwyer Bob and the SorryAss Blues Band (from website); (2) Soren Venema of Palm Guitars with a 19th century Belgian foot bass, (3) Sunday nights session in Mulligan's, led by Dominic Crosbie and Siard De Jong (by Seán Laffey).