My first major gig was the Police in the summer of 1980. I was 13, and told my mother I was going to an all-day football blitz in Cabinteely.
I stashed my football gear in a hedge down the road and put on my cousin’s Sid Vicious Dead’ T-shirt, which was a print of the Sun newspaper’s headline. Deep down, I’d always wanted to be a punk but my mother wouldn’t let me.
In contrast, her sister, my more tolerant auntie, allowed my cousins to wear tartan bondage trousers, get their ears pierced and even sport proper, soap and water, Exploited Barmy Army’ mohawks. You’ll be glad to hear that these youthful rebels are now middle-aged, golf-playing lawyers.
Appropriately kitted out, we headed from Dun Laoghaire to a place called Leixlip. I had no idea where it was, but I can still feel the teenage thrill of heading into the city and from there, up the Liffey, on a special CIE bus with dozens of others. Our gang was definitely well under age and I remember thinking to myself: ”If this is what growing up is, I love it.
On the bus we were warned by bigger local lads to avoid a mythical skinhead outfit called the Black Catholics or, worse still, a notorious Mod gang called the Cabra A-boys. Both were apparently on the lookout for posh punks. Thankfully, we never came across these heads. However, a few years later, I found myself terrified among them when the Clash were supported by the Belfast skinhead band the Outcasts in the SFX in Dublin.
It was not a pleasant experience, particularly as, desperate to be cool, I had brought a girl to the Clash on our first date. She subsequently emigrated.
The Police were huge in 1980 and were supported by Squeeze, the bizarre John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett, the Q Tips and a young Dublin band called U2. Someone threw something at the Police, Sting went off on one and lost much of the crowd in the process. My standout memory was U2 stealing the show and a 19-year-old Bono – who even then was a brilliant frontman, and who understood the chemistry of crowds and the crucial role of the lead singer in this essential alchemy – climbing up on the huge scaffolding stage, belting out I Will Follow from the top of the stage to the enraptured throng.
Fast-forward 30-odd years, and I am writing from Croatia where the local teenagers – one generation after their parents fought a war with the Serbs – are all heading to Serbia and the Exit festival in Novi Sad.
Music brings people together. Gigs are a type of public communion for the secular classes. Concerts are experiences that people value. If you are prepared to spend your hard-earned cash on going to gigs, they matter to you.
For my generation, the music of the 1980s is part of our own specific cultural heritage, and the concerts are part of our musical memory bank with live performances staying with us most of our lives.
We spent huge parts of our measly disposable income on buying music, paying fortunes for ”Japanese imports bought from ads in the back of the NME and generally being financially garroted by the unscrupulous music industry. Now all this has changed.
Recorded music is, to all intents and purposes, free. Streaming sites have insured this. However, many bands, still trying to figure out how to make a crust in this new business model, have taken to the road.
We are now going to more concerts than ever. There are huge gigs all over the continent every summer and millions of people both young and not too old are paying for the pleasure of the live gig. This summer, everywhere from the Ultra festival in Split down the road from me, to Marlay Park in Dublin and Electric Picnic, festivals and gigs are part of the tourist offering countries provide to an increasingly mobile audience.
When I hear about the Garth Brooks saga, I despair, not for the music, because I don’t get country and western at all, but because hosting gigs is something we are good at. Ireland is a good venue. And it could be a brilliant one. Hospitality is what we are supposed to do well.
In a world of cheap travel, gigs are an essential part of the tourist offering of a country – much more essential than say the likes of golf. Hosting a big gig is worth more to a city than a Champions League final and the marketing opportunity is crucial particularly if the gigs are televised. Who doesn’t have a better view of Latin America in general – and Brazil in particular – having seen thousands of smiling fans having a good time?
Now think about the positive impact on music festivals and the greater economy. As usual, we don’t have the figures for Ireland, but for Britain, five years ago in 2009, total revenue from live music was £1.4 billion (Euro 1.7 billion).
Tourists coming to Britain spent £196 million on concerts and £47 million on festivals in 2009. British residents spent £652 million on concerts and £499 million on festivals. Half of the total £1.4 billion expenditure was spent outside music events, in local businesses such as hotels and restaurants.
The table on this page gives you a breakdown of the value of live music across major countries in local currency and converted into dollars. You can only imagine that this industry has grown since then, given the number of gigs staged in Ireland alone during this summer.
In Italy, live music is already worth nearly twice as much at Euro 781 million, compared to recorded music at Euro 419 million. For Britain, the difference is less marked with live music at £1.48 billion and recorded music at £1.24 billion. Worldwide, recorded music retail sales are $25.8 billion, while the live sector is estimated to be $21.6 billion.
This is a huge global industry and we could be getting a little bit of it. Giving in to a few Nimby agitators is not the way to go. We have a giant stadium: use the bloody thing. Seen from outside the country, it looks pathetic, ungenerous and small-minded. Seen from the economic perspective and from the perspective of positioning the country in a huge global industry, it looks like madness.
Music is infectious, music is memorable and music festivals are a profitable part of the tourist calendar. Let’s wise up.