A rich history: 13 years on a long and exciting road.
Standing in the audience – there was rarely room to sit – at a Raglan Road gig in the early 80s, you’d be taken to another world. On any Wednesday night at the Grand Hotel, Bondi Junction, a Friday night at the Rose, Shamrock & Thistle Hotel (the “Three Weeds”) in Rozelle, or on Sunday evenings at the White Horse Hotel, Surry Hills, Raglan Road was a band that did more than play music – they took you to another place in your heart and in your soul. You laughed and sang and clapped along to the Irish ballads and the jigs and reels, you screamed “Tar” in the chorus of “Lachlan Tigers”, and you clenched your fists and thought for a bit, listening to songs like: “The Hearts are Reaching Out” (about youth drug addiction), or to Dylan’s “Masters of War”. Raglan Road gigs were, as they’d say today, “cool”. The music was happy, strident, powerful, sad, uplifting, thought provoking, and brilliantly performed.
Raglan Road knew what they were doing – by 1980 they’d performed over 800 times. They started in 1974 at the Paddington Green Hotel on Saturday afternoons and stayed for almost three years. The “Green” gig was legendary and few people under 30 in the East of Sydney would not have heard of it. Packed, shoulder to shoulder, and easily the biggest acoustic gig in Sydney. Perhaps only the Bushwackers Saturday nights at the Dan O’Connell Hotel in Melbourne could have been an equal at the time.
A favourite Raglan Road gig in the late 70s was the Courthouse Hotel, Taylor Square, on Wednesday nights. It was a big airy room with a less hectic feel than the “Green”, and allowed the band to mix in some of their slower, softer material with their standard powerful songs and tunes. There would still always be over 100 in the audience and often many more. They were special nights for the band’s growing, fiercely loyal, almost “cult” following.
For a band that was fast becoming an integral part of Sydney’s live music scene, they were still loyal folkies at heart. They still played at local folk clubs (like the Man o’ War in Ultimo, and Gerry Boame’s at Miranda) for less than the cost of petrol to get there.
A rich history
The story of Raglan Road
But things were moving fast for Raglan Road. In 1978 they released their first album. By 1981 Raglan Road was clearly Sydney’s premier folk/acoustic band, and they were getting noticed! In that year they played at the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Town Hall, and at the giant Birkenhead Barn, each to audiences of over 2000.
The following year they re-released their album, originally a private pressing, on the Larrikin label. Still performing at their epic residencies on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, they also did concerts with the Bushwackers, the Dubliners, and Eric Bogle.
Their two years of Wednesday nights at the Grand Hotel (Cock & Bull) left an interesting legacy. Raglan Road was the first band to play Irish music at that venue. Up until then its theme was English music hall. Within weeks the hotel became a mecca for Irish ex-pats, backpackers and tourists and 33 years later it still is! In the early 90s the Grand won the “Irish Echo” newspaper’s “Australia’s Top Irish Pub” award and the hotel still proudly displays it. All because of Raglan Road!
Through 1984 and 1985 the band began widening their audiences by performing in hotels and clubs in and around Sydney, including Wollongong and Tamworth. In October 1984 they toured with the Fureys, including a concert at The Sydney Entertainment Center with an audience of over 2000. April 85 saw the release of their double album through E.M.I., and in March 1986 they toured with the Dubliners, Stocktons Wing and Christy Moore. They then performed at the prestigious Port Fairy Folk Festival in Victoria.
Beginning 41 years ago and for 13 years an integral part of Australia’s folk music history, Raglan Road will be remembered for many years to come.