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Young Dubliners Takin' Rocky Road to Ventura : Popularity of the partly Irish band, based at Fair City pub in Santa Monica, keeps drawing packed houses here and abroad.


So you finally have a band, but you can't get a gig. You are tired of playing the garage and the neighbors are relieved. And you can't find anyone who will pay you to play. Now what? A day job?

Well, there's always Plan B: Buy your own bar. The Young Dubliners, or more precisely front man Keith Roberts, bought Fair City, an Irish pub in Santa Monica. That's one way to get gigs--and free beer, too.

Locals can save themselves a drive when the band plays in Ventura on Friday night. Local rockers, Raging Arb & the Redheads are scheduled to open for the Dubliners, who will make their second appearance at Nicholby's.

The seven-piece outfit recently released a six-song recording entitled "Rocky Road." It's on Scotti Brothers, a label conveniently situated just around the corner from the bar.

Because bands and bar owners are natural antagonists, Roberts may be on that rocky road to schizophrenia. But before he arrives, he discussed his favorite band by phone from Fair City.

All right, who's young and who's from Dublin?

OK, well, first of all myself, Paul O'Toole and Bren Holmes are from Dublin. Our violin player Lovely Previn--she's Andre Previn's daughter--was born here, but she lived over there a lot. The original Dubliners were like the biggest band ever from Ireland. We used to hang out with them and go over to their houses and stuff. When we started playing over here as a duo, myself and Paul, people called us "the young guys from Dublin," which became the Young Dubliners. Of the original Dubliners, two are dead and two are in their late 70s, so we're a hell of a lot younger than they are. Anyway, everyone in the band isn't Irish, but who (cares)? Everyone has to come from somewhere.

So "Rocky Road" is doing OK?

Sure. We're massive in Czechoslovakia--can't hardly walk down the street in Prague. In America, we're working on it. Much like the Gulf War, when there's air support, it works. But one time we played a show in Portland, Maine, for about 12 people and it was one of our best.

The L.A. showcase scene--does it work?

L.A. showcasing in the big clubs is a waste of time and money. The A&R guys won't even show up most of the time. You need a definite contact to show up. We never really blanketed this town, and we didn't send out demos. But when we play the Roxy or the Lingerie, we sell out; and of course, we sell out Fair City every Saturday night.

So you guys didn't get signed by showcasing?

No. It was funny. We knew this girl who had a radio show, but she also worked for Scotti Brothers. She got us on this "Straight Out Of Ireland" compilation album, and our song was the one that got all the airplay. We knew we wouldn't get signed by some single that's getting airplay, but we have a gang of people that follow us around. We sold out the House of Blues--1,100 people--now we're on their main rotation. The people just won't stop coming.

Did getting signed change you guys?

Oh, absolutely. Now we're way more broke than we were before. Now we have to exist on the road on ten bucks a day per diem. And we see each other a lot more.

There is a natural antagonism between the band and the club, but now you're a club owner. What's up?

Of course now I make the same mistakes they did. I started this place to get away from all that pay-to-play (bleep). I book all the bands, but the bar tends to suffer when we're out of town. See, the way I do it, everyone gets to play here unless they're atrocious. I don't judge by demos, I talk to them.

So what do you do when a band is late or cancels?

I draw the line on not showing up. We've never no-showed for a gig no matter if I was sick or even if we were missing a band member. I go out on a limb for your band, so you better show up. I pay the whole door to the band, and I get the bar, no guarantees, no percentages.

How did you get the Nicholby's gig?

I think my agent knew of Nick at Nicholby's. I like that place, but I don't like pool tables in the room. I mean, I'm up there pouring out my life's work, and some guy's shooting pool? But everyone up there is nice.

Describe a typical Saturday night at Fair City.

Well, it's a big party we throw and everybody just hangs out. At first I didn't understand it, but people don't always dance together in America. I mean, if nobody likes you, you're stuck at the bar all night. They do the Irish jig when we play, and it's mad hysterical dancing and everyone is just being ridiculous. Also, the ratio of women to men is astounding. We're the score for Guinness.


* WHAT: Young Dubliners.

* WHERE: Nicholby's, 404 E. Main St., Ventura.

* WHEN: Friday night, about 9.

* HOW MUCH: $5.

* FYI: 653-2320.

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