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.