Where music matters: filmmaker chronicles Erin's Pub in St. John's, N.L. - InfoNews

Current Conditions

Mostly Cloudy
5.5°C

Where music matters: filmmaker chronicles Erin's Pub in St. John's, N.L.

Erin's Pub co-owners Chris Andrews, left, of the Celtic folk band Shanneyganock, and Bob Hallett, right, of Great Big Sea are shown in a handout photo. Filmmaker Cody Westman chronicles its rollicking past in "That Little Room: the Story of Erin's Pub." THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-CatsEyeCinema
January 18, 2015 - 7:00 AM

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - There's a little bar on Water Street in St. John's that for almost 30 years has personified the self-assured sense of humour and love of music that define Newfoundland.

It's a kitchen party sort of place that helped launch bands ranging from Great Big Sea to Shanneyganock, the Irish Descendants and new acts such as Rum Ragged.

Filmmaker Cody Westman chronicles its rollicking past in "That Little Room: the Story of Erin's Pub."

The 23-minute documentary is reaching global audiences as it plays until the end of the month on Air Canada flights around the world.

"We didn't expect that this kind of thing would take off — no pun intended," director Westman, 36, said of his first film made with producer Peter Furlong.

Erin comes from the Gaelic word meaning Ireland and Erin's Pub is a beloved musical landmark in St. John's, he added.

"This is the first Irish bar that was owned by an Irishman playing Irish music.

"It's just an energy that you don't find anywhere else in Canada."

Erin's was a rough joint back in 1986 when Dubliner Ralph O'Brien bought it as a home base for his internationally successful band Sons of Erin.

It evolved into a venue where live music, open mic events and traditional or trad sessions nurtured some of the biggest performers to come off the Rock in the last 25 years.

Chris Andrews of the Celtic folk band Shanneyganock (the name comes from the Gaelic for "creature of the night") recalled being in awe of O'Brien and his band as a teenaged musician.

He got a job working the door at Erin's Pub and was soon playing gigs there.

"This was the beacon of traditional music," he said in an interview seated near the stage in the bar he now owns with Bob Hallett of Great Big Sea.

O'Brien sold it to them in October 2012 when he was ready to retire. But he was careful not to let it go to just anyone, he says in the film.

"I could have sold it as a place to sell suits," he says. "But I didn't want that. I wanted the legacy of Erin's to be kept and the boys are doing a marvellous job."

Andrews describes the pub as "a listening room" where great music is still revered and played by professionals and amateurs alike, well into the wee hours, week after week.

"It's unlike anything else in town."

It wasn't a smooth transition, however. Five months after Andrews and Hallett took over, in February 2013, a burst pipe poured water into the freshly renovated bar for about eight hours.

Much of the damage was covered by insurance but it would be about three months before Erin's reopened.

Westman happened to pitch the documentary just days before the disaster.

Andrews can almost laugh about it now.

"I'll never forget the morning with all the water coming out of the walls and the ceiling, and Bob was flying in on a plane, and I was sitting there going, 'What are we going to do?'

"And Cody walked in and said: 'Oh my God. This is wicked!' And ran and got a camera."

Andrews said part of him understood where Westman was coming from as a filmmaker.

"The other part of me wanted to break his legs."

"That Little Room" follows the bar's emergence from a massive and waterlogged mess — an ordeal that's tempered with a bit of humour even at the bleakest times.

Andrews, 42, said Erin's Pub will continue to ensure music matters as it honours O'Brien's vision and legacy.

"It is a bit about economics to keep it going," he said. "But at the end of the day, we're just not here for a quick buck. We're here to keep the music of our province going.

"And I think he realized that."

Follow @suebailey on Twitter.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

  • Popular penticton News
  • Comments
View Site in: Desktop | Mobile