Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan about his role in the Sunglasses After Dark club nights that he puts on. Before we get into the interview here is a poster for an upcoming event, to give you a little visual taste of what Sunglasses After Dark is all about.
To begin with, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Sure ! I’m a 32 year old guy, originally from County Down. I grew up in a house where you would hear a perfect menagerie of music, from my mother’s Wanda Jackson records and my father’s Link Wray records through to my brothers Gun Club and New York Dolls records so I guess by osmosis I was set on a course at an early age to deal out primitive rock’n’roll ! I hope that most folks who come down to my night know a little of me, as I always try and say hello to as many people as possible. Having a “face” for a promoter is something I think is very important. I’m always humbled by anyone who would chose to come to Sunglasses After Dark for the night so getting to know my punters is important to me. I live in Belfast with Amelia Earhart (my trusty hound) and in my professional life I work for NGO’s doing training and lobbying work.
What is your elevator pitch for Sunglasses After Dark if you had to describe it to someone who hasn’t been before?
I find it difficult to be concise, so that’s a challenge ! Let me see , err “ If your vision of 50’S and early 60’S r’n’r is petticoats and dreamboats then Sunglasses After Dark is going to show you it’s a hell of a lot wilder, we’ll take you from Rockabilly to Garage via R&B and Surf and if it isn’t wild or dangerous it isn’t played, same goes with the live bands we pick” Another , perhaps more concise way to put it it “This is one big long love letter to THE CRAMPS and their musical taste/influences. “
Could you give us a short history of how it all started.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 3 years ! Early in 2011 I met someone who I now have the privilege to call a lifelong friend , Joe Lindsay. Joe’s one of the finest DJ’s and promoters in this country and he really encouraged me to consider taking my record collection and passion for wild rock and roll, surf, r&b etc and turn that in to a club night in Belfast. I had some experiences with other similar nights in England and I had thought about it, being the great procrastinator that I am I sat on it for a while. However Joe doesn’t give up easily to his credit ! A gig came up in the Menagerie, which is of course our home now. They needed a DJ to play the sort of stuff I do and they called Joe, Joe told them that he had just the guy and as it turned out that guy was me. I rolled in, played some jams for a few hours and I wasn’t allowed to leave the building until Luke and Mark (the guys behind the menagerie) had made me sign a contract in my own blood to do a regular night for them . And here we are, 3 years later with a sold out show every 6 weeks or so behind us ! So the generosity and belief in me that other people have brought me to this place, and I’m grateful to them all.
Bands have often featured on the nights, what has been your favourite performance?
Indeed, we always have a live band that is consistent with our music policy on stage at 11pm. I set no rules for my bands other than “be on stage at 11pm and give me the wildest 45 minutes you have got” It would be unfair to pick any one out , we have had the best this Island has to offer North and South : The Monotonous Tone, The Sabrejets, The Madcatz, The Slick Hicks, The Screaming Demons of Trashville, Thee Penny Dreadfuls,The Groundlings, Los Reyez, The Fucksakes and Astro’s Hombres and every one of those bands raised the roof. Maybe I’ll say Astro’s Hombres because I got to play guitar with them hahaha !
On that note, who would be your ideal band or bands to play at a Sunglasses After Dark?
Let me just say that I’m actually very close to securing my ideal band to actually play Sunglasses After Dark and it’s going to happen this year. That aside we have had a lot of rockabilly, roots and garage bands play. I would like more Surf Bands, sure we had Los Reyez who were amazing, but I want more. If 50 foot combo would play I would love it.
What has the reception to Sunglasses After Dark been amongst fans of the genres you play?
On the R’n’R scene , like any you can get “purists” who get disappointed when they don’t hear enough of their specific niche. For example , Rockabillies may not want to hear as much Garage, Surf heads perhaps don’t want to hear Rockabilly etc. etc. however we don’t seem to have that problem to an extent. Our music policy is about playing the best , rarest and wildest rock and roll of all types and our crowd is open minded. So we have had a fantastic reception from most , and a lukewarm reception from those less open minded. But I don’t mind that so much, there are other places those folks can go. For me also , one of the things I am most proud about is that my night isn’t a “scene night” so people not on that scene feel as welcome and enjoy the music as much. If it’s too dogmatic and not welcoming to new people who get intimated if they feel they don’t “look right” or “know enough about the music” it will die. They way to keep this rock and roll music alive is to make it appealing to young people, as it was in the beginning. I like to think we do that well, so that everyone is welcome at Sunglasses After Dark and enjoys the music and the atmosphere.
What has been the oddest thing you have seen happen at a Sunglasses After Dark?
Well it does get pretty wild in there at the best of times but nothing beats the surreal scenes of Halloween, zombies dancing with fully draped Teddy Boys , next to Greasers sweating in their leathers with bloody bandaged Mummies shambling about made for a pretty interesting evening!
What do you think the music scene is like in Belfast at the moment?
There are a lot of gigs, and a lot of promoters and a lot of nights. People are spoiled for choice no matter what you like there is something there. One thing I would hope for is that promoters would talk to each other more often and make sure they aren’t clashing dates. I try to do that and have moved shows away from certain dates to ensure they don’t clash with other things. To me that just makes sense, this is a small city and the alternative scene even smaller.
Thanks so much for answering these questions! Is there anything else you would like to add?
I would just like to thank everyone who has ever came down to my night and had a good time. In these tough financial times I know how difficult it can be to get a night out , I’d like to think we offer good value and a night worth going to. I’d also like to say sorry to anyone who ever came down and didn’t get in, we get really full and usually before 10pm ! So please come again (but come earlier)
And finally come see us on July 5th with our good friends The Sabrejets who are celebrating their 20th anniversary as a band with us, it’s going to be a special night and Luke and I can’t wait to play our favourite records for you.