YOU’VE rolled your eyes when he began to assemble his gear. You’ve cursed him. You may even have just left the pub altogether. But spare a thought for him, in the corner of the pub, plugging in leads and setting up stands, a forced smile on his face: The Man With The Keyboard.
Pubs are under pressure these days from all sides. The smoking ban has driven some ould lads away, the last of the professional smokers who wouldn’t be caught dead vaping. For the price of one pint you can get a tanker full of Devil’s Pelvic Girdle Cider in the off-licence.
Even the excuse there is nothing on the telly has evaporated. Remember in Fair City when they’d press the remote control in frustration and say “Nuttin on that yoke. Fancy goin to McCoys?” (As if they themselves were watching Fair City)? That is no more. There still mightn’t be anything on the television set but there is definitely something on your laptop or phone.
So publicans have to do something. Many have diversified into food and craft beer. Food can only last so far into the night and craft beer is itself leading to a decline in the amount drunk as you spend a good bit of time trying to figure out which local beer to try: Lofting The Viaduct Blonde Ale or Inniscarra Dam Pilsner?
It’s still too much effort for the plain people of Ireland. The aim is to get a bit of atmosphere going. Atmosphere is difficult to manufacture. In planets you need photosynthesis, volcanic eruptions spewing out vapours and an ionised magnetic field.
Creating atmosphere in a pub is just as hard. You don’t just magic up a ‘Bulmer’s Nothing Added but Time’ advertisement out of nothing. They don’t grow on trees, the thirtysomething men with ironic plaid caps and woolly waistcoats who look like Michael Fassbender (but not the way he looked in the “dirty film” he did), flirting with women from a Vintage Baking Blog. You know the sort, the kind of people who lived in Berlin for a while, but are home now.
While waiting for these types to arrive, the publican may just try and get the place livened up by hiring The Man With The Keyboard — dressed in black trousers and a short-sleeved pink shirt who sings ‘Ring of Fire’, ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, and some rather downbeat versions of Joe Dolan songs. Whereas the Mullingar Mojo himself would have whipped a crowd into an orgiastic frenzy, The Man With The Keyboard just croons.
But next time he starts up ‘Do you want your old lobby washed down?’ and you have to shout to make yourself heard, don’t grimace in his direction. You don’t know who he is. This fella may not always have been The Man WithThe Keyboard. He could once have been in a wedding band that was all the rage years ago.
But as time went on, the band broke up when demand for waltzes was replaced by demand for songs about the kind of state Rihanna or Azalea Banks would leave you in, if you didn’t measure up .
Anyway some people like The Man With The Keyboard. They weren’t planning on talking anyway. They don’t need to have a discussion about what season two of True Detective was like. They want to sip a pint — Herself’ll have a Cidona — and hear whether Paddy Riley ever does come back to Ballyjamesduff.
And The Man WithThe Keyboard knows that a few pints later, you’ll be sidling up asking for ‘Galway Girl’ and dancing around like an eejit.
The Man With A Keyboard knows. Atmosphere is here at last.
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