A Question of Taste: West Cork music venue manager Ray Blackwell

Ray Blackwell runs De Barra’s in Clonakilty, a third-generation family run pub and music venue in West Cork.

A Question of Taste: West Cork music venue manager Ray Blackwell

By Des O’Driscoll

Ray Blackwell runs De Barra’s in Clonakilty, a third-generation family run pub and music venue in West Cork.

He co-founded the Clonakilty International Guitar Festival 14 years ago. An expanded version of the festival runs from September 17-23, with Glen Hansard and numerous other artists. See clonguitarfest.com

Best recent book you’ve read:

I’ve just read David Lynch’s memoir/biography Room to Dream and loved it.

Best recent film:

I haven’t been to the cinema in a while but recently I did watch Night of the Hunter with Robert Mitchum on Bluray and it knocked my socks off.

Best recent show/exhibition/gig you’ve seen:

Landmark’s production of Louise O’Neill’s Asking For it was anabsolutely powerful experience that I haven’t been able to shake off.

Best piece of music you’ve beenlistening to lately (new or old):

Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN is on constant repeat on all my devices

First ever piece of music or gig that really moved you:

For a week in the early 1990s the Hothouse Flowers were recording in West Cork and played a series of shows throughout the town.

I was probably 13 and at the front in a packed house at De Barra’s. It was kind of scary — I was very young and people were going out of their minds. Fiachna Ó Braonáin [Flowers’ guitarist] saw I was a bitdistressed and locked eyes with me during the gig and started making a few funny faces at me that totally put me at my ease.

It was a brilliant moment for me and made me feel great in the wild crowd. My introduction to music in De Barra’s...

Best gig or show you’ve ever seen:

I’ve seen plenty but Leonard Cohen in Kilmainham in 2008 was something special.

Favourite gig from a previousguitar fest:

If I had to pick one it would be Lee Ranaldo from Sonic Youth hanging his famous Fender Jazz Master from the ceiling in De Barra’s and ‘unplaying’ it for 50-plus minutes in 2010.

This show kind of sums up what our guitar festival is.

It was so evocative, inspiring, and bizarre! It also happened at a time when the festival was on the ropes, but Ranaldo’s endorsement of our efforts rejuvenated us and gave us the belief and energy to continue. if that gig didn’t happen, the festival would have probably stopped.

Radio listening and/or podcasts:

For podcasts I like Joe Rogan, Hardcore History, Blindboy, Theo Von,Tigerbelly, Kermode and Mayo Film review, Fresh Air.

You’re curating your dreamfestival — which three artists are on the bill, living or dead?

Jimi Hendrix Experience withClonakilty native Noel Redding,Nirvana, and Aretha Franklin.

Your best celebrity encounter:

I was standing at the back of the 100 Club in Oxford St a few years back watching the amazing Roy Harper when Robert Plant — Roy’s old friend — stood next to me and my pal.

When the song ‘Roy’ was playing finished, I politely tapped him on the shoulder and asked ‘Can I buy you a pint, Mr Plant?’ He just took my hand and shook it and said ‘no thanks, mate’ — that was it. I just stood next to him buzzing for the rest of the show.

You can portal back to any period of human cultural history or music event...

As long as it was a return ticket maybe the building of the pyramids.

Any interesting ancestors or family?

My grandfather Billy Blackwell was a guard in Portlaoise and a bit of a legend with a distinguished sporting career — among many accolades he won the Scott medal for bravery for disarming a man with a shotgun, unarmed, Boxing was his passion.

In 1938 he was part of the Ireland international boxing team that fought in pre-war Germany and shook hands with Hitler. He also trained the Laois football team the only year they got to the All-Ireland final in 1936.

However I’ve heard it said they were better boxers than footballers! My father also has some All-Ireland boxing titles.

Unsung hero:

My colleague in the Guitar Festival, Kevin McNally. His dedication, integrity, and commitment to excellence are inspirational to me.

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