Abner Browns – Not your average barbershop

By Aidan Coyle

Dave Judge is something of a celebrity these days. The story of how he turned his little barbershop into a live music venue has led to three documentaries and has been covered in many of the national papers including the Irish Times.

Dave initially worked as a barber before opening his own shop on Cork Street. He then did very well in the property business and opened Abner Browns in Rathmines. That was when the recession hit.

Dave went from being picked up at the Galway races in big cars to cutting hair on the floor of Abner’s. He said: “We lost everything in the recession. Banks took the lot. It was a really, really tough couple of years. I was left with nothing.”

“I kept the family home and I kept the barbershop cause I just leased it and didn’t actually own it. Thank God. If I owned it, it would probably be gone too,” said Dave.

Dave fortunately managed to hold onto Abner’s and that is where his career took another unexpected turn. He had previously played in a band as a teenager and decided to redecorate the barbershop with music memorabilia. Canadian singer-songwriter Blair Packham agreed to play a few songs and became the first of many artists to grace the shop with live music.

Although Dave confessed he somewhat stumbled back into the industry with the advent of Abner’s music nights, he has always loved music. Dave said: “I had a load of albums at home cause I’m a music head. I played music years ago. When I was in my late teens/early 20s, I played in bands around town.”

Dave believed his love for music mixed with many years’ experience in business gives him an advantage over other people in the industry. He said: “I think that’s it; I fell back in love with it I suppose. It was always there but when I went into business, you’re focused in a different way. I brought that back to this in that all the music heads, they’ve a different way of thinking than I would have. So, I’m able to channel it better.”

Dave Judge: Owner of Abner Browns and The Underground (Credit: Aidan Coyle)

Dave became so sought after in the music scene that he had to stop the night-time gigs at Abner’s. He is involved in festivals around Dublin including running the 2FM stage at Electric Picnic. He also opened a venue called The Underground on Dame Street that features music from up and coming independent artists.

Dave named and based The Underground after the 80’s venue on Dame Street that was significant to him. He said: “It’s about up and coming independent bands which is what I was when I was 20 years old and we had nowhere to play. There was the old Underground, that’s what it’s modelled on. Back then it was just down the road, pretty similar to what we are. But there was no Whelan’s, there was no Grand Social.”

Dave’s aim with The Underground and with the music nights in Abner Browns is to give rising musicians that platform they need to perform. “It’s an opportunity to play and some people say; ‘Ah, some of them are shit’. ‘Well yeah, so were U2 when they started off’. You have to start. I was a shit barber when I started off. Give people a chance, that’s what we do, that’s it.”

Abner Browns in Rathmines (Credit: Aidan Coyle)

He said: “For me it was never about making money. Obviously, The Underground now has to make money. I would actually make more money if I played this type of shit and had someone playing Galway Girl all day and a load of Leprechauns on the stairs but it would break my heart.”

Despite his scenic route into music promotion, there is no doubting that Dave is an expert on the Irish scene now. “People see me as the knowledgeable person in Dublin for up and coming bands and I would know them all. Like we had a Brazilian company here last week and a Los Angeles film company. They’re doing a thing about independent music around the world and doing Dublin. And they made me the centre of the Dublin thing which is a bit mental to be honest with you.”

Last month, Dave brought the popular music nights back to his barbershop Abner Browns in Rathmines after a year and a half hiatus. ELLYD and Statelights lit up the small venue. “It was brilliant and straight away I got the next one booked in now and back at it again. I kind of missed it a bit because it was just about music.

“Whatever you have in your head, you go in there and everyone listens,” said Dave.

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