MUSIC SHOP MEMORIES: “WILL WE GO LOOK AT THE POSTERS?”

Seeing as the last few nostalgia blogs about growing up in Letterkenny during the 1990s / early 2000s went down so well – one on teenage disco days at the Grill and another on weekend cinema trips – I thought I’d stay local again this week. I won’t lie though, I was struggling for an idea to write about until I recently took an early morning walk past what used to be The Music Centre.

Those of a certain age will recall there used to be two of these shops in town. One on the second floor of the Courtyard and the other on the Main Street, nestled just on the corner of the Market Square. While I do marginally recall the Letterkenny Tapes store down at, what’s still sometimes called the ‘Old Quinnsworth’, it was the old building by the Square that sparked my inspiration. 

One morning last week, just before the mayhem of school-run traffic congestion took over the town, I was dandering down past the redbricks of Mount Southwell Place. I’d gotten a bit tired of the same songs on repeat funneling through my earphones and thought it might be time to hit a random playlist and see what comes up. 

In essence, the song could choose me rather than vice-versa. 

Anything, and I mean anything, could’ve come on but, low and behold, I was more than content with what did. It was an old 1979 rock (and some might say, ‘oddly romantic’) song by Kiss. You might remember them as the old metal guitar band who dressed up in black and white face-paint, with wild untamed jet black hair and often performed with their tongues poking out.  

Main Street, Letterkenny.

While it’s a look that’s more suited to dodgy Halloween attire these days, it doesn’t take away from the great toe-tapping and air-guitar inducing riffs that they played. So there I was, humming along to “I was made for loooving you baaaybay. You were made for loving meee! And I can’t get enough of yooou, baby! Can you get enough of meee?” 

Guilty pleasure, yes, but sure why not!

That’s when I spotted the old sign on the side of the wall where the music shop once stood. The fact that it was an advert letting customers know that they had PlayStation 2 and MP3 players in stock is a time capsule in itself to how quickly technology (and time) has moved on since they ceased trading; presumably well over a decade by now, but open to correction on that one. 

Inevitably, this led to flashbacks of school lunchtimes or Saturday afternoons when we’d occasionally loiter about the steps of the Square on days when the weather was half-decent. And maybe because we’d been told to not hang about the Four Lights or Abrakebra unless all of us were eating. 

Every now and again, the question might occasionally arise: “Will we go to the Music Center and have a look at the posters?”

More often than not, you might take a wander in and flick through the big slider they had of wall posters. Obviously, being a music shop, you’d have bands, singers and pop-groups that catered for all tastes. It could range from one of Kurt Cobain wrecking the stage after a set to one of the Spice Girls posing for ‘Girl Power.’ Popular movies and album covers were also a prime feature.   

On the other hand, you might unearth one of some random male models showing off their six-packs while splashing around in the ocean; pictures that looked like an advert for an after-shave product. Then, maybe, a close-up one of a rather alluring Jennifer Aniston – aka “yer doll Rachel from Friends” – giving you a reassuring, subtle and somewhat flirty hint of a smile. 

“That’d look well on my wall, but sure what would me Aul Pair say, hiy?” That was the dilemma. 

Invariably, the question over equal rights between male and female sometimes cropped up. Usually from the perspective of moany boys, by the way. 

“See my wee sister, hiy? She has loads of pictures up on her wall of boy-bands that she gets from her Smash Hits magazine. My Ma says nothing about it, but then if I stick up one of some foxy looking chick standing underneath a waterfall with her head tilted back and her eyes closed, I have to hear about it! I mean jeeeez, like!” 

The mysteries of life. 

Obviously the shop sold much more enchanting products than just posters. Traditional Irish instruments like bodhráns, tin-whistles and accordions were found up on the higher shelves behind the counter. Us being teenage boys though meant that getting a nosey at Cindy Crawford’s or Pamela Anderson’s legs was just a bit more important at the time. 

Having said that, it wasn’t all poster-gazing and ogling. Occasionally, we did actually buy something. 

This was back in the days when you’d count down the days to when your favourite artists were releasing their latest singles. With no internet access to hand, knowing when a song was going to hit the shelves usually relied on what you heard from the chart shows on the radio or if the Top of the Pops presenter mentioned it in the Thursday evening broadcast. 

Being something of an indie rock fan in those days, I still vividly recall putting a bit of pocket-money aside so that I could get my hands on CDs (remember them?) that the likes of Oasis had released. When I’m asked the question about the first record I ever bought, I’m still pretty sure it was a song called ‘Perseverance’ by an alt-rock group called Terrorvision. Don’t ask why.

Then again, as Den TV was mandatory viewing for all children who were growing up in Ireland, it could just have easily been one of those dodgy tracks that Dustin the Turkey released. 

In research for this article though, friends of mine have since told me that they did the same with their limited funds for groups like Eternal, All Saints, 5ive and Robbie Williams amongst others. Artists that are probably now considered ‘ancient’ by kids today. The cheek! 

As the nineties wore on, and into the new millennium, there was something of a change in trends. Seemingly out of nowhere, purchasing vinyl records – the ones that you used to see under the gramophone at your gran’s house – became all the rage. Dance music was thriving thanks to Fatboy Slim, Binary Finary and Judge Jules etc so a new era was getting underway.

Older students in school, the senior lads who had scruffy facial hair and who always seemed way taller than they actually were, played guitars and drums. The slightly younger generation were investing in decks and the notion of bringing turn-tables to a “free gaf” when someone’s parents were away became the new popular music fashion. 

Mind you, parties like those, probably deserve an article of their own one day. 

View from the Square

Music, as we know, is invested in very differently nowadays. A monthly subscription to Spotify grants you instant access to any song you want any time. There’s nothing wrong with that in my book. The more headphones you see on walkers and joggers means that the popularity of music has grown rather than decreased. 

Still though, one wee final trip to the record store would be nice all the same. 

@johnnyfoley1984

MEMORY LANE: FRIDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES.

During the lunchtime break at secondary school, the question would usually crop up. “Here lads! So what are we at on Friday night?”

In the absence of a disco or someone’s parents being away for the weekend, the cinema was a common suggestion. “Anything good on?” someone would ask. “Sure what does that matter?”

Growing up as a teenager in Letterkenny, around about the turn of the Millennium, meant that the cinema on the Port Road was a frequent hangout spot for local lads and girls. Sometimes they’d even cross paths together … of course this was usually in the back row of seats.

Long before the days of Netflix and all the other streaming services we use today, the cinema was a fairly sociable hub for youngsters. Especially when one of the more long awaited movies was staging its opening night. 

One that always springs to mind for me was October 1999 when The Blair Witch Project came to our screens. I was a few weeks short of turning 15 at the time, but the fact that the joys of adolescence had done its bit, my voice was well-broken so getting in wasn’t going to be a problem. 

Mind you, gaining entry would be more difficult ther occasions but let’s come back to that later. 

Now maybe it’s because the Blair Witch opened on the same night that we all got our Halloween holidays from school, but it seemed that there were loads of us there that night. 

What’s more is that the movie’s obscure ending – which I won’t spoil for anyone – had many of us in hot debate outside on the front steps afterwards. You have to remember that this particular movie had tricked much of the world into creating the illusion that the shaky handheld camcorder footage was real.

“Naw! I’m telling ya! A lad down the road from me has the Internet in his house, right? And he was saying he looked up a – whatyamacallit – a website and it says it’s definitely real, so it is! They’re all dead so they are!” That was just one of the cases put forward. A case built on solid and undisputed evidence, as you can see.

On the flip side, you were always going to have that one guy who would go over the top, especially in front of thf ladies, in a zealous attempt to prove that he was in no way frightened by the movie. “Ohhhh my God, that was just soooo stupid! I mean, it’s meant to be scary but I just laughed at it the whole time.”

What I recall most about this particular trip to the flicks wasn’t the movie itself. In actual fact, it wasn’t even the arguments over whether it was real or not either. What stands out for me is that, without knowing it, we were truly in the infant ages of easy-access technology. 

Googling something on our phones wasn’t a thing. Come to think of it, most of us didn’t even have mobiles by this stage! And yet maybe the Blair Witch showed us there was still a bit of time left to believe in mythology and imagination even if it was of the darker and more occult variety.

I can tell you now that walking past the dark Gortlee forest and graveyard, on my home that night, gave me a touch of the heebie-jeebies.

Old cinema; Letterkenny.

This was the year of ‘99. A time when people, even in this town, were dreading the Y2K bug. The world feared that when midnight struck on New Year’s Eve, that all the computer systems on the planet would collapse and that planes would “start falling from the sky!”

Now there was a case of much ado about nothing but maybe it’s another example of how there was a touch of gullibility in the air that particular winter. 

As alluded to earlier, getting to see any film I wanted at the cinema was not always an easy task. At the age of (almost) 15, one tends to think of themselves as a grown up. A big man! 

Sure, you might be at an age where you can hold hands across the tables in the Four Lanterns with a girl in public for the first time. You might even be something of a legend to some because your fake ID got you served in the offie one night. 

Getting refused admission to see a film on the grounds of being too young, however. That brought you right back to earth. It was a subtle reminder, about as subtle as a brick to the face mind you, that you’re still only a pup. 

The one movie in the autumn of 1999 that proved difficult to gain entry to was American Pie: a high school comedy with plenty of risky and raunchy humour. As you might expect, you had to be over 18 to see it and the cinema staff were on high alert to avoid letting any young ones in. 

On the night myself and my pal queued up for it, we noticed a few schoolmates getting turned away at the kiosk. My mate Ultan was part-Scottish – well he still is , I suppose – and he uttered “Dinnae worry Johnny! Ah huv a wee idea mate! Follow me!” 

His cunning plan was bloody ridiculous, but I have to give credit to the man. It worked! Ultan ordered us two tickets for some chick-flick film. Some borefest about a young girl trying to make it big in the city. Yawn! It even brought a bemused look on the guy selling the tickets. 

“What are you at, ya muppet?” I whispered with a snarl. Ultan shushed me and carried on as normal. Picking up a couple of popcorn combos before making our way down the corridor to where the screens were, I was still quietly raging.

As we embarked down the hallway, all I could think was what a waste of £6 this was. ‘We’d have been better off buying six cans of Dutch Gold,’ I thought to myself.

Then, with one swift point of his index finger, Ultan pointed to the doorway where American Pie was being shown. Better yet, there was nobody guarding the door.

“After you,” was his simple command. “Well played,” was all I could say. 

It didn’t go unnoticed either. A girl, probably in her twenties at the time, was walking behind us. She chuckled and gave an approving “I see what ye did there lads. Nicely done!” 

Of course, long before that and when I was much younger, Saturday matineé trips to the cinema were a part of growing up in the town. Sometimes they were tied in with birthday parties and on other times, they were just for the spectacle of what was being shown. 

Between the ages of eight and eleven, it was here where many of us saw such (what are now considered) nineties cult-classics like Wayne’s World, Jurassic Park, Batman Forever, Dumb and Dumber and Toy Story. 

They don’t look like much to younger audiences now but seeing these magnificently created CGI-dinosaurs on a full-size silver screen back in those days was truly mesmerising. A piece of cinematic art within itself. Likewise, Toy Story was iconic because it became the first ever full-length computer generated movie. History.

I should point out here that the aforementioned Dumb and Dumber also involved something of a sneak in on my part. It must’ve taken me a solid four attempts to get past old Mrs Collins in the ticket booth for that one.

Thankfully though, some lad in my class tipped us off that “she doesn’t work on Thursday evenings, so go see it then!” 

As it is now.

At that age though, the excitement would usually build from the day before. Our bus to school used to make its way along the Port Road and as it slowed down in the traffic, we used to gaze out on Friday mornings to see a man on a ladder slotting in the tiles of letters on the boards to advertise that weekend’s showings. 

On the day itself, we used to buy bag loads of penny sweets from the shop a few doors down. Drastically undercutting the income of the popcorn kiosk within the cinema, right enough, but sure these things happen. 

The one thing you had to be prepared for back then was, because it was still the afternoon when the film was over, the daylight always seemed that bit more blinding after being cooked up inside for the last two hours.

Of course, that old building is gone now. It’s been taken over by offices and a youth centre and, we can’t complain, because the town has a new and much more modern cinema house over by Leckview. One with comfy seats and beverage holders. 

Even though some lads used to give out that the new state-of-the-art armrests were a preventive barrier to some ‘high-quality shifting.’ Well sure, you can’t have everything, now can ya?

Still though, the old cinema house on the Port Road may be long gone now, but it certainly had its charm back in the day.

@johnnyfoley1984

GROWING UP IN DA’ HOOD!

LETTERKENNY MEMORIES: SOME HAVE GONE AND SOME REMAIN.

Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in June 2021

Letterkenny is ever-growing with newer faces, more diverse ethnicities and more modern ways of doing things. In a previous article, I wrote about how the best place to see this is by taking a walk through the Town Park. Sometimes though, places in this great town also changed forever but maybe not always for the better.

This town, the place I happily call my home even though I’ve not always lived in it, has produced an abundance of marvelous writers throughout the years. One of those who has stood the test of time is Patrick McArt – a colleague with us here at theLeader and an uncle to a lifelong friend of mine – and his piece in last month’s edition of this paper struck a chord with me. 

Mister McArt penned a brief but nonetheless poignant column about how he can’t quite shake feeling nostalgic about the way Letterkenny used to be. He wrote about a time when certain shops and stores lined the Main Street, cafés where locals sat outside and, generally speaking, a time when everyone seemed to know everyone. In short, he misses that era. Understandably. 

It got me thinking though about how much this town has transitioned since I was born. With that, a Spotify-headphoned walk around the streets and backroads of the town was required. Starting off closer-to-home and for the purpose of this article’s word count limit, I’ll stay focused on my more local surroundings in and around Gortlee and Ballyraine for this one. 

Seeing where myself and the neighbour kids used to play football on the green outside Knocknamona Park was a start. Back in those days, being the youngest, I nearly always landed with the responsibility of being the goalie – whether I wanted to or not was immaterial – and there was no final whistle. The game only ended when the kid who owned the ball was called in by his parents or when the street-lights went on. 

We used to have this big wooded-tree area along the roadside that we called ‘the Territory.’ During our games of ‘Block’, it was an ideal hiding place before attempting a dash across the road to free all the prisoners. 

Neighborhood kids

It was also once home to a treehouse and an underground den. It was where we gathered tires for the Halloween bonfires every year and it was also where we had a genuine beast of a rope-swing. A couple of the older lads used to bring along a battery-operated cassette player and rock out songs by the likes of Nirvana, Guns and Roses and a bunch of other angry-but-cool-sounding vocalists.  

Nowadays though, you would never know any of it was ever there. Some time back, the green where we played three-and-in until all hours was cut down in size to make way for a bigger pavement. As for the Territory, that land was bought up and it’s now the site of a huge house with a long, stretching garden while other places we used now belong to the Beinn Aoibhinn or Whitethorn Park estates.

It’s not that we really minded when this Gortlee facelift took place. After all, we were getting older and were starting to find new ways to keep ourselves entertained. The new houses that came along meant that new neighbours, with kids of their own, had a place to settle, to play and make memories of their own. 

So, in that case, Letterkenny moved on for the better but it doesn’t mean you can’t reminisce about the way it was. The places where you scored that wonder volley to win the match just before the call from mum on the back porch signaled the end of the game. When you knew where all the other kids were as soon as you saw all the bicycles were lying down and as I ventured into my adolescence, it was also the place I got my first ‘shift’ with a girl who lived in the back-row of houses. 

Sure didn’t I just tell you we were getting older, didn’t I? 

Sadly though, some places in the town didn’t age as well. Growing up in the 1990s, visits to the PinTavern down by Ballyraine was just a mecca of fun. The synthetic noises and flashing lights of the arcade games, clinks from the air-hockey table and of the rolling sounds of bowling balls crashing into pins. It’s no wonder every kid wanted to have their birthday party there. 

As I moved forward into my teens, ‘The Pin’ was still there. Only this time, myself and a group of secondary school friends would use the outside facilities where you could play 5-a-side football on the astroturf pitches. Games were always good fun, but they were quite competitive and on some occasions, a flare-up over a bad tackle would arise. Handbag arguments that quickly blew over, but maybe it was a sign we were just getting a bit more serious with age. 

Caged off

Last week, after a period of about twenty years had passed, I snuck around the back of the Pin’s building and it was genuinely sad to see how so much of the place had become dilapidated, crumbled and overgrown. Rusted barriers caged up the playing fields and the building where we used to play bowling and spend all our pocket money on the arcades resemembled a bomb site. 

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with business owners packing up and moving on; it’s part and parcel of life. I suppose there is solace to be taken that maybe this mantle was just taken up for younger kids to make their memories just over the road at Arena 7 or maybe at the newly-developed, state-of-the-art football pitch, just along Orchard Grove at Ballyraine FC. 

Discarded goalposts

I get it when people say they miss things about the way things used to be in this town. Heck, I feel that way about places in my own neighbourhood! On the other hand, nostalgia can only get us so far and things just change naturally, sometimes for good and sometimes not. After all, if you ever listen closely to the words of ‘In My Life’ by The Beatles, that’s exactly what they did. 

This article got me thinking though … Maybe next time, I’ll have to explore my memories of The Grill! Now there’s a venue of Letterkenny history that makes you think about times when things went good and sometimes not so good!