Dublin’s Waterfront rock café was situated right where the name suggests it was: on the quays of the river Liffey. It used to be a restaurant, The Columbia Mills, which wasn’t hugely successful because it was a bit out of the way. Then promoter Denis Desmond bought the lease of the place.
Gavin: “I said I want to start this club, I have ideas for songs, I have melodies, I have lyrics and I need to find a musician, but a good way to find a musician is to start this club… the Blue Jaysus. I might make some money. Denis Desmond had got this restaurant called The Waterfront but he complained nobody would go down to the area. I said to him: ‘Give me 150 quid and I’ll make it the hippest place in Dublin, everyone will be queuing. And he said: ‘I’ll hold you up on that’. I said: ‘Can I do anything I like?’ He said: ‘Anything.’ ‘Can I change the look of the place? Can I do that?’
Gavin took over The Waterfront and for a few months in 1987, every Friday night he created an antidote to its raggle taggle scene.
“The Blue Jaysus wasn’t like anything else that was going on in Dublin at the time: “We were infested with the raggle taggle disease. Hippies! And U2 were gods. I had this… no door policy, when it’s full it’s full, it opens at 10 and it closes at 3 in the morning, which was great. We had gingham table cloths, Georg Grosz slides, and I had a rule: no music other than music pre-Rock and Roll. Nothing.
“I had this table and I used to put a statue of Jesus, painted blue there and I’d go up and talk to bands and musicians and I’d say you can come up for 15 minutes, I want you to play, there’s no money but you get two bottles of wine. And you cannot play any of your own songs or any songs earlier than 1950. And they went for it. Loads of musicians were coming. And if someone was in town playing SFX, which was a big gig then, Denis would bring them down. If there’s some comedian on, he’d bring them down. It was IR£ 1.50 to get in. And it was packed.
“It was every Friday night, a two month run at one stage in its heyday. And then we did a revival. The thing I had… a theory, and I still have it, is that when you go out you’re not going to just see a band, you’re going to drink and chat and it’s a great idea for a club, I’d still do it. I always had the philosophy that you don’t want to hear a band play for three hours, you want to chat with your mates, so… doors would open at 10, at about 11.30 I’d go on, I’d do one song and talk and then I’d introduce a guest and then I’d do another song, and then a guest… we’d do twenty minutes, thirty minutes and stop. And then there’d be another 45 minutes before another act would come on and do a song.
Guests included members of the Hothouse Flowers, the Waterboys, Clannad, Maria McKee, comedians Ben Elton and Sean Hughes, Phil Chevron of The Pogues, Agnes Bernelle, Mary Coughlan, Simon Carmody and Des O’Byrne of the Golden Horde. Van Morrison even showed up one night.
“Def Leppard even fucking played, can you believe that? And the Thompson Twins… the place was packed, jammed… like, you couldn’t move. And every night the whole thing ended with Bernie and Attracta.”
Bernie and Attracta were actually Gavin and Guggi performing in drag, playing two old Dublin woman having surreal conversations and telling jokes.
“They were great days. They were just so spontaneous, you know. Mad stuff. Even the Aidan Walsh shit came out of that. Loads of people got their first break there. Sean Hughes, the first time he ever stood on a stage… he used to always go ‘I’m really funny, will ya let me on?’ And I’d go ‘I don’t think you’re funny, fuck off.’ Eventually we had no one and went ‘OK, get up’. The guest would sit at the table with the Blue Jaysus, the statue. And there was always a raffle. Bernie and Attracta would sell the raffle tickets. The same fucking jokes every week, but it worked. They were very, very treasured times.”