Alan McLaughlin’s online home for music

Carolyn Farrar


Carolyn Farrar

A flat overlooking Letterkenny’s High Road is home to some of the best-known wallpaper in Donegal.

A flat overlooking Letterkenny’s High Road is home to some of the best-known wallpaper in Donegal.

The flat is Goof’s Gaff, the setting for the You Tube channel that has featured intimate performances by dozens of artists from around the county and as far away as Chicago and Madrid, both well-established performers and talented newcomers. And the gaff may be coming soon to a Donegal landmark near you.

What started last year as a way for musician and music student Alan McLaughlin to pass the summer -- “Goof” was a nickname -- has become a growing internet phenomenon. Goof’s Gaff held their first live show recently at the Regional Cultural Centre in Letterkenny, featuring some of the most-respected names in Donegal music.

“It does take over your life,” said Alan, age 27, a musician studying music performance and music technology at the Northwest Regional College in Derry.

Alan said that when he started the You Tube channel, he figured that if Goof’s Gaff drew 1,000 followers in 90 days he would keep it going. At the end of three months he had 1,700 followers, “and the numbers kept coming”, he said.

There is also a surprising reach. While most viewers are in Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales and the United States, a lot of views are coming from Germany and France and there have even been views in such far-flung places as Brazil, Chile and Mongolia.

“They would be very minimal, but they still reach there,” Alan said. The Goof’s Gaff Facebook group now has more than 3,200 members.

In the last 11 months, Goof’s Gaff has uploaded 83 videos by about 40 artists, and Alan said there are 20 more acts looking to perform on the black sofa in the Letterkenny flat. The sofa and vivid floral-print wallpaper have become such iconic elements of the project that they have been incorporated into the Goof’s Gaff logo.

“The wallpaper chose me. I didn’t choose it,” Alan said with a smile.

Originally from Greencastle, Alan came to Letterkenny about six years ago, working as a carpenter. He is also a musician and he and Anthony Logue of Carndonagh play together, a guitar duo influenced by the fiery strings of Rodrigo y Gabriela.

The Goof’s Gaff “sofa series” began with a simple flip HD share camera as a “wee project to keep me busy for the summer,” Alan recalled. The first video he uploaded was of himself, playing an original composition called “Rogue Waves”. But he is quick to say the project is no one-man show. In fact he describes it more like a fledgling music collective.

When Alan launches the Goof’s Gaff web site later this summer he would like to see it become a central stopping point for people interested in learning about local artists and music. He would like artists to link from there to their own web sites, so that they would still get their own views and hits. And he said the site could include links to music-related businesses, photographers and artists. “Anyone linked to music in any way at all,” he said.

Most important, he said, “I’m trying to do this for free so artists never pay a penny for it.”

Donegal artists are already posting videos of their own performances or announcements of coming gigs to the Goof’s Gaff Facebook page. “I like to think with the group page there’s a community there,” he said. “It’s not one man on a mission.”

The initiative is artist-centred. Alan, who admitted to being nervous himself when he plays in public, wants to make the musicians feel comfortable when they come to the flat to record. “I want to give them a relaxed place to play their material,” he said.

Next up for Goof’s Gaff will be the launch of the web site and the DVD that was recorded at the successful May 4th charity concert at the Regional Cultural Centre. All proceeds from the concert and DVD will go to the Irish Cancer Society and Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).

The show was visibly linked to the Goof’s Gaff sofa series from the start, when musician and emcee John Muldowney and musician Leila Keeney entered the stage on a moveable platform, sitting on the gaff’s black sofa with the flat’s coffee table in front of them. The show also featured performances by Liam Deery, Heads of State, In Their Thousands, Simon McCafferty and the McBeth Sisters.

Performers and crew donated their time and their talents, and the project has also been supported by local businesses such as the Green Room at Voodoo Letterkenny, the Hot Plate in Gortlee, Four Lanterns, Hillside Kitchens and Dee Mac’s DIY, Full Tilt Studios and Reynold’s of Raphoe.

Alan hopes the concert and DVD will raise €7,000 for the two charities.

“Pennies went in and thousands will come out,” he said. “I can’t thank everyone enough.” He had special credit for the contributions of sound engineer Orri McBrearty and of Paul Rooney and Phil Ruddock, who did lighting and stage design. “What they did for that show was they made it a show,” he said. Also very involved with the Goof’s Gaff initiative have been Orla O’Reilly, David Toye and Annette Gallagher, he said.

The project has developed at its own pace. “I like the slow growth of it,” Alan said, adding later, “A long, sustained flame is far better for it.”

Looking ahead, he has plans for Goof’s Gaff on Tour, bringing a live show several times a year to such venues as the Green Room and Letterkenny’s Port na Fáilte centre. And he would like to invite artists to perform outdoors, sitting on an inflatable sofa with local iconic landmarks as a backdrop.

“I think it will be a nice, fun thing to do,” he said.

But the sofa sessions will continue. Alan doesn’t live in that flat any longer but Anna Lassus from Glenties, does, and she is happy to see the recordings continue.

“I love the music as well,” she said.

Alan said the artists who were among the first to take their place on the black sofa, such as Brendan McGlynn of Letterkenny, “grounded the standard of music” to a high level from the start.

“People come here and I get to listen to phenomenal music,” Alan said. “I’m happy out.”