Birmingham Leisure

The Barrel Organ – Digbeth

The keen-eyed amongst you will notice that the photograph above shows ‘the Dubliner’ however, in a past life this bar in Digbeth was known as The Barrel Organ and was a flourishing indie/alternative gig venue and drinking hole during the 1980s and early 1990s.

My introduction to the Barrel Organ came around 1986 when I’d just joined a local new wave band named Voice of Dissent and the other guys in the band took me to their favourite haunt for a drink. I was only 16 at the time and it was as much an eye-opener as a visit to Zig Zags some months previously! Upon entering through the door seen to the right of the above photograph, the room was L-shaped with the main drinking area immediately in front of you and to the left, a long ‘room’ with a stage at one end: the bar was also L-shaped and served both areas of the pub.

As a relatively inexperienced pub/club goer at the time I was rather overawed by the gothic and punk clientele drinking there and, silly as it sounds, a bit scared. Several months later I had joined another band called Lost Cause and my first gig with them was to be the Barrel Organ and I recall our rather jangly guitar indie didn’t go down that well with the Barrel Organ faithful but they applauded politely at appropriate pauses in the set!

It wasn’t really until I started working at Edwards Number 8 a year or so later that the Barrel Organ was added to my Brum drinking circuit. The licensee Steve Treanor and his oppo Cal (not sure of Cal’s title . . . if indeed he had one!) were frequent visitors to Eddie’s and I got to know them quite well and would pop in to the Barrel Organ from time to time and really tuned in to the place. At the time it was the epicentre of the gothic scene with a fair punk contingent who were, despite my initial juvenile misgivings, a fantastic crowd.

Regulars of the time may also remember the doormen who worked for Joe Estridge (such as Martin) and doorman come jack of all trades Fergie. The Barrel hosted many gigs too and most week nights a band could be caught there (Written in Yellow being on a lot as I recall) and had their resident sound engineer(s) Colin and Willie (Colin being a rather irascible character who wasn’t an ‘instant hit’ but rather grew on me over time as I got to know him and the desire to wrap everything I could lay my hands on around his head abated). As Steve’s long-left the pub it’s safe to say that the hours of the Barrel Organ were somewhat ‘flexible’ and I used to go there after finishing work at the Institute night club just over the road about 2.30 in the morning and drink there until 5 – 6am with Cal, Fergie and whoever else was around!

I’m not 100% certain as to when the Barrel Organ opened or closed: it seemed an ever-present on the Birmingham gig circuit and alternative scene and then one day I was driving past and it had become the Dubliner. I did bump into Steve Treanor mid-1990s who at that time had a backstreet pub in Newtown that was an absolute hoot and I seem to recall him running the Ship Ashore/Outrigger at some point too but don’t know his current whereabouts: I also ended up working with Cal’s mom and my mom worked with Steve’s sister for a while (funny old world!). If anyone wishes to share their memories of the Barrel please feel free to do so using the form below.


13 comments for “The Barrel Organ – Digbeth”

  1. helloo, nice to read the article about the Barrel, it was a fantastic place and an era that i will always hold close to my heart.
    I still see Kal and occasionally fergie too, I am now a director of a training company and i live in Bournemouth.
    would love to hear any memories of this era and from any old friends.


    Posted by Steve Treanor | October 20, 2010, 12:03 pm
  2. I’m currently transferring some of those vinyl spinning things onto CDs. Amongst my old stuff, I found a double album “Live at the Barrel Organ,” put out by Brum Beat. It features 22 tracks by local bands recorded there in June 1980. The band list is as follows:
    Bright Eyes, The Lazers, Willy & The Poorboys, The Quads, Rockers, Speed limit, Dansette Damage, Mayday, Dangerous Girls, The Playthings, the Thrillers, Spoonful, and Eclipse.

    Do those names spark any memories of the late seventies/early eighties pub music scene around Brum for anyone?

    Posted by Ian Whatley | October 24, 2010, 11:16 pm
  3. Don’t recall those bands myself but there’s some info and a couple of videos of Dansette Damage here – the album sounds a real find though . . . never heard of it before.

    Posted by Andy Doherty | October 25, 2010, 6:45 pm
  4. Andy, I started going to the Barrel Organ regularly around 1986. For a while I’d be there at least three nights a week Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and other nights if there was a gig on. I remember Steve Treanor and your comment about Colin made me laugh with recognition. Very fond memories although a bit hazy on an account of being quite drunk most of the time – the stupid amount you consume when your a teenager I guess. Saw some fantastic bands there too, some of them promoted by Greg (who also did stuff at Edwards I believe). Would love to see a list of bands that played around that time. I remember Twenty Flight Rockers, Ghost Dance, AC Temple, Mudhoney, Moose and some local bands, Sleepwalk, Dr Phibes, Stukas, Spellbinders, Delicious Monster, Egyptian Fringe, Cable Regime, Godflesh, Head Of David – don’t have tickets for any of them now and I’m pretty anal about keeping them so I guess they were either not ticketed or I was on the guest list (or possibly I drunkenly lost them).

    Posted by Nick Peters | November 10, 2010, 3:55 am
  5. Blimey Nick, a few blasts from the past there – I recall many of the bands you mention. Was that the same Greg who ran the Skullsuck Club at Edwards on a Sunday night?

    Posted by Andy Doherty | November 14, 2010, 2:50 pm
  6. Hi, my Dad Steve owned the Dubliner back in the day “The Barrel Organ” even as a child I had many good memories there and still remember all the colourful characters. My Dad has sice ran many pubs but is now a Director of a training company. I know that UB40 gigged there early in their career as did the girls that sang “Pink Pink Sunshine!” Although due to my age at the time I never got to stay “downstairs” often I will always remember the Barrel and after a recent visit to the Dubliner (after the arson attack) I think its safe to say it will never be the same again !!

    Posted by Sarah Treanor | November 16, 2010, 3:10 pm
  7. My dad was the lead singer out of bright eyes.. nice to here a few memories from you guys as i was a little to young to remember.. lol .


    Posted by Daniel knowles | November 17, 2010, 10:58 pm
  8. Andy – yes, it was the same Greg I believe, very tall guy with big black hair. Would love to see a list of the gigs he promoted as I can’t remember half of them.

    Posted by Nick Peters | November 26, 2010, 4:39 am
  9. Andy, Its kinda funny – I was looking at the picture on this page but never read the article – I was thinking that the building was the “Barrel Organ” (not the Dubliner) and the reason I was looking for the “Barrel Organ” was because I couldn’t remember the name of it, even though I must’ve played there many, many times during the 80s. I had been googling “Pub Bands Digbeth by the bus station” and “Digbeth Pub where bands play live” and I kept coming across this page and thinking why the name of the pub was eluding me as I have some very fond memories there playing with “Written In Yellow” – but alas I moved to New York in the late 80s and left the music scene altogether. Thanks for the reminder of some great times with great people.

    Posted by Darren Byrne | February 25, 2011, 8:34 pm
  10. Hi!
    It’s fair to say that I practically lived at the Barrel in my younger days. I have loads of good memories of the place and everyone who worked there at the time. I was still there at the end along with Tat who I’m sure most of you will remember!
    I felt a real loss when it closed and didnt know where else to go, and I was right because things were never the same after.
    Anyone remember Tall Jeff, always at the bar….
    Linus – great guy – worked behind the bar – now lives in Brighton.
    Kelly (was singer in Sneaker Pimps) – stunningly pretty barmaid.
    Anyway, thats enough about the past – but that place will always be fondly remembered in my heart x

    Posted by Jenni Tatler | March 23, 2011, 4:58 pm
  11. I remember going to the barrel on friday nights and sometimes saturdays, was around 86 i loved the place and loved it’s darkness and thought it was beautiful.
    great memories and great times.

    Posted by Maxine muldoon | April 3, 2011, 12:02 am
  12. Went there a few times.Remember seeing The Steve Gibbons Band on top form one Saturday night.This place and Bogarts on New Street where my usual haunts.

    Posted by Malcolm Allen | April 19, 2011, 6:51 pm
  13. Ah yes I remember it well. I was the bassist in The Playthings and have the album still,(although our track was strangely recorded at a higher speed and sounded ridiculous). I got a real job etc, but Rick and Maggie went on to have some success with Swans Way and then Scarlet Fantastic and Maggie was on Never Mind The Buzzcocks a couple of years ago. We all took it so seriously and there were real rivalries, but there are worse ways of spending your youth.

    Posted by Valentine Smith | June 11, 2011, 4:03 pm

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