ALO CONLON 1936-2009 R.I.P.



Above: Peggy and Alo behind the bar in the Dublin Castle in the 1960s


Landlord Alo Conlon died at home on Friday 9th January 2009. It was Alo that gave Madness their residency at the Dublin Castle back in 1979, that launched their career.


Alo was originally from County Mayo. He came to London in the late 1950s and earned a reputation as a fearless tunneller. He and his mate were known for digging tunnels in very dangerous conditions. They would earn good money by taking risks that none of the other tunnellers were prepared to take. Alo eventually invested his earnings in Camden becoming Landlord of the Dublin Castle. The pubs in Camden at the time included the Dublin, the Windsor, the Edinburgh and the Caernarvon. They were set up in the 1800s for the thousands of navvies building the railways. The contractors wanted to keep the workers from different regions apart and decided to establish pubs for the Irish, Scots, Welsh and English. It meant less arguments, less fights and therefore more men showing up for work in the morning!


Things changed forever one afternoon in the summer of 1979. Henry Conlon says his father remembered the occasion only too well. "Seven young men came in and said they were a jazz band and could they get a gig? Dad thought: Oh, jazz, that’s nice and respectable. He was not a little surprised the following Friday when a bunch of skinheads showed up. He thought: What am I doing? But the band were Madness and the crowd were great." Alo quickly offered the Nutty Boys a Friday-night residency: "Before we knew it we had crowds of people queuing down the street, and the place was packed each week."


Little would Alo have realised that by providing Madness with this monumental stepping stone, it would also put the Dublin on the music map of London for the next 30 years. As one of the most influential music venues on the pub circuit, many bands' careers have since been launched here and was one of the main hubs of the Britpop era of the 1990s. The Dublin Castle was the birthplace for 'The Camden Crawl' in 1995, and this annual event has steadily grown to become one of the UK’s most important music festivals, showcasing not only the country's biggest stars, but also providing the opportunity for huge numbers of lesser known and unsigned bands to perform. High profile artists that have performed on the Dublin's famous back room stage in recent years include Blur, Travis and Amy Winehouse, as well as Madness who played 5 dates in 2004 to showcase their Dangermen tracks, returning to their spiritual home after 25 years.


The familiar mirrored alcoves of the bar area, have also provided the back drop to numerous TV interviews with members of Madness, the most recent being Suggs interviewing Henry Conlon for one of his Disappearing London shows. It will be no surprise that it's most probably Lee Thompson who holds the record for appearing on the back room stage with more bands than any one else, probably clocking up his greatest number of appearances with Madness, Crunch! and Like Father Like Son. Apart from members of Madness, other famous punters over the past 15 years include Morrissey, Noel and Liam Gallagher, Jarvis Cocker, Kate Moss, Pete Doherty and Sir Bob Geldof (and daughters) to name just a few.


Twenty years on from giving Madness their big break and in 1999 the opportunity arose for the Conlon family to acquire the pub from the brewery and thus enable it to continue running as a traditional music pub with very distinctive character. This courageous move, masterminded by Alo and family, has without doubt ultimately saved the Dublin from the fate suffered by so many other Camden pubs in recent years, that have either been converted to trendy wine bars or gastro pubs or redeveloped as flats. The Conlon Freehouse is thus paving the way for another generation of music fans and emerging bands.


Whilst around 5 years ago Alo handed over the landlord responsibilities to son Henry, Alo still remained very much a regular and could often be seen enjoying a pint on quieter afternoons, covering the occasional shift behind the bar and every so often escaping over the road to rival pub 'The Spread Eagle', when things got too manic in the evenings!


The Camden Inner Licensees Association (Cilla) is an organisation that meets every month to discuss issues facing pubs, bars and clubs in Camden. They host an annual ball to raise money for charity, including a project that funds trips home for men from Arlington House. The annual ball was a more emotional event than usual in November last year when Alo was honoured with a lifetime achievement award and a standing ovation by his peers.


The Camden New Journal reported:


"Alo Conlon’s decades behind the pumps at the Dublin Castle in Parkway were celebrated at the Cilla ball last Wednesday, where he was remembered as the man who first put the ska band Madness on stage – famously after they told him they were a jazz ensemble. Henry and Alo Conlon, Mr Conlon’s sons, accepted the award on his behalf and told pub workers at the ball, held at the London Irish Centre in Camden Square, to raise a glass to “all the publicans, the customers, the police and the competitors” in honour of their father. They revealed that ever since he had his first pint in the Murray Arms in 1957 – just 100 yards from the Irish Centre – 'he’s loved this town'."


Alo will be remembered with enormous fondness by all of his patrons and will hold a prominent place in London's music history for enabling Madness and so many other bands to get their big break. He leaves North London with one of its most popular and endearing pubs that has retained its charm and character, whilst so may others have succumbed to changing fashions and pressures along the way.


On behalf of Retro-Madness and all our customers, we offer sincere condolences to Alo's wife Peggy and sons Henry and Alo.


Obituary written by Emma & Chris of Retro-Madness and cited in the NME News 27/01/09



Above: The Dublin Castle, Camden Town, NW1



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