There’s something about Clancy’s Fish Pub in Fremantle. You can walk in on any given afternoon or evening and there’s some music playing and it always feels like some kind of best-kept-secret, though best-kept-secrets are usually the stuff of exclusivity, but Clancy’s is all about inclusivity, joining the fun even if that just means sitting there with a beer and a plate of fried mice and taking it in gently (though those friend mice are pretty darn-tootin' hot).
Yes, it did require a long sentence. The fact that Clancy’s has been in Fremantle for some decades yet retains that ‘best-kept-secret’ feeling is testament to how special it really is. In 1988, the Fisher Family moved from running The Seaview Tavern and took over Clancy’s. This weekend they celebrate their 30th Anniversary.
“Before then Clancy's Tavern was run by a couple of Irish chaps and the venue had those English/Irish Pub aesthetics,” recalls Entertainment, Promotions & Brand Manager/musician/raconteur/football-brain, Tom Fisher. “There were raucous folk music sessions and it was the first pub in Freo to serve Guinness. I think after the hectic America’s Cup period in Freo and the success of the Seaview, my uncles Joe and John were a little unsure of the next step. They wanted a pub in the English style model, where all felt comfortable and enjoyed themselves. The word 'Pub' is derived from 'Public House' a saying we love and very much embrace. Of course, live music was at the forefront of making people feel welcome and happy.”
It’s a uniquely family and community-driven and fuelled venue. With the Fishers steering the ship it was like this from the get-go.
“Yeah this was always the direction,” Fisher notes. “The WA pub culture was pretty black and white, in a sense. Brasserie for the women, front bar for the blokes, probably best you didn't take the kids. We basically wanted the opposite to this. Kids everywhere, colour, fun, comfort food, friends and regulars, a real community hub and pub. So when we rebranded to the Fish Pub in the early ‘90s, that brand embodied all these characteristics and still does. Fish & Chips in a pub, great beer, wine and great music. These are still the key brand words to this day.”
It hasn’t been without its challenges over the years. As Fisher notes, “challenges come pretty thick and fast in hospitality. You’ve got to keep moving forward without compromising your beliefs and sticking to your brand. We revelled in our underground status for many years. Very little advertising and kudos. So you would get a first-time visitor who walks in to the Sunday session with 300 people going nuts to the Zydecats and it's like they just walked in to a bar in New Orleans or something.
“So I guess making noise about our history and getting the recognition we deserved was a bit of a focus and challenge of mine. The amount of money Clancy's has paid musicians, artists, etc over 30 years is in the millions. We still pay musos as well as we can, we always will. As far as success, I think our longevity and the general love we receive for being 'Clancy's' is our greatest success.”
Of course, there has always been a unique musicality at the heart of the venue. The highlights and characters are so many that they are sometimes difficult to recall.
“So many memories here I'm not sure where to start,” Fisher says. “The atmosphere of Lucky Oceans and Bill Roger's Zydecats' 20-year Sunday residency, in the early days was insane. Just pumping. We still have the Zydecats once a month. They are true Clancy's legends. The Fremantle Folk Festival we have run the last two years really embodies Clancy's on a grand scale, being my baby I'm pretty proud of that. Seeing my Dad (renowned WA musician, Jim Fisher) play shit-hot traditional bluegrass with his friends I've known since I was a kid always makes me smile.
“Personally, my high school mates and I talking my uncle in to 'giving us a gig' that turned in to a five-year residency with 250-plus 18-year-olds every Friday going bananas. That really introduced a new generation of punters to the pub and was so much fun. We continue to focus on new talent whilst nodding to the past and our legends. Josh Cutler who books with me really focuses for Saturday nights to feature the young, hip acts as well as up and comers, album launches, etc. He does a great job and once again exposing another generation to our music culture.
“Seeing Paul Kelly casually drop in for a song with the Zydecats; my cousin Tim Minchin was an upstart barman and played at the pub on occasions before going onto bigger things. I literally can't think of too many highlights as there have been so many and we just kind of see it as normal and part of our culture.”
There’s much in store for the 30th Anniversary celebration. And then there is always the future that honours its past.
“Saturday night will be a lot of fun,” Fisher says. “Two generations of Clancy's musos in the fathers, sons, and daughters of the 'Family Band' - featuring yours truly. Celtic legends The Fling another long-time Clancy’s resident band. Dad and band (The Hamilton Hillbillies) playing red hot blue grass. Also nods to our future with some of our favourite young Clancy's acts of late in Jack Davies and Fraeya.
“As for the future? Another Folk Festival set for December 1 is exciting. As for the pub, we will continue to have great music in a pub, the way it always should be.”
30 Years Of Clancy’s Music is celebrated on Saturday, May 26. Full details via www.facebook.com/events/363975517421511/