We’re all live music business experts now
Time for the one thing missing from the whole Garth Brooks’ shambles: perspective
If Charlie Haughey had not got there first, GUBU would be one apt way to describe the Garth Brooks’ shambles. The story ran from Thursday July 3, when Dublin City Council granted a licence for three of the five concerts by the singer in Croke Park, until last night, when Aiken Promotions announced that the five in a row dream was well and truly over. Every single possible twist and turn imaginable was stitched into the narrative of the last 12 days to make up what was one of the most surreal stories I’ve ever seen unravel at such speed.
There were times last week when it felt that we were living through some particularly outlandish scenes in The Truman Show soundtracked by bad country music. I think the peak (or nadir) was waking up one morning to hear that the Mexican ambassador – the Mexican ambassador – wanted to get involved and that the White House were on hold.
It was at this point that you wanted to slowly move towards the door, grab your horse and get the hell out of Dodge. No-one died – unlike the Swedish House Mafia story from two summers ago – but it was a story which took over the news cycle. Some will argue that the media amped up things, but those “most read” lists do not lie in terms of readers’ priorities.
Along the way, those of us who cover the music business beat week in and week out learned some interesting facts. For a start, we’re all live music business experts now. The entire nation, like. Especially the capital’s lord mayor Christy Burke, who either significantly advanced or greatly diminished the case for a directly elected mayor, whichever way you choose to look at it. But Burke was not alone as everyone chipped in with their suggestions when it came to staging, touring, routing, health and safety, gigonomics, agents, management and ticketing.
When you had Dublin City Council considering the singer doing two shows in one day at Croke Park, moving 160,000 people in and out of the venue in the space of a few hours, you knew we’d lost the plot. You also suspected that this was proof that no-one actually read the health and safety pages in the event licence application, if they were prepared to consider that potential for disaster in Dublin 3. That possibility only lasted a few hours until the singer pit the kibosh on it, but it was still quite horrifying to learn that no-one had obviously learned anything about what staging a huge event entails.
We also learned that “subject to licence”, like “the value of your investment can go down as well as up” and unlike “regulated by the Central Bank”, actually means something. That this came as news to a lot of people was interesting to see. For years, promoters have had to deal with a timeline which was just about on the right side of ridiculous – event licences only granted on the eve of a show or a few days before – and where licence applications were only accelerated when the relevant council knew that all eyes were on them. Because the licences were always granted, often subject to a raft of conditions to keep objectors and locals happy, no-one was really too bothered about things.
The question now is if we will see a different approach to event licences in the future and an end to promoters selling tickets “subject to licence”. Certainly, there has been a lot of bleating and blathering about this during the omnishambles so the moving and shaking would lead you to believe that action will be taken. However, anyone who listens to Morning Ireland on a regular basis knows that omnishambles and crisises are always accompanied by righteous bleating and blathering about doing this, that or the other, but nothing is ever done. The Brooks’ mess was an unprecedented event – 400,000 tickets sold, five sold-out shows, the Mexican ambassador, a container ship en route to Ireland – but don’t hold your breath that changes in terms of timeline and process will be made.
You could, of course, point to the fact that the licensing process actually works, but that’s a moot point when you think about it. Dublin City Council may have listened to the local residents’ concerns by only granting a licence for three of the five initial shows, but remember that they were prepared to change their mind not once (with the “olive branch” of a fourth show) or twice (the completely ridiculous five shows in three days’ scenario) or thrice (the three shows in October option), but four times (the offer to co-promote shows in October) about this decision. There may not be a formal appeals’ process to be considered, but it’s obvious that there’s plenty of budge room to be exploited when you’re prepared to push. It seems that the bad old days when planning decisions are subject to outside pressures are not quite over yet.
Then, there’s the matter of the people who have stayed as quiet as a small child who has just broken a window and hopes no-one notices. The silence from Croke Park, the people who hired the hall to the promoter for the show, has been deafening. Blame must be equally dished out to all parties in this mess from the artist to the promoter, but the GAA are currently doing their level best to stay out of the fray by saying nothing. Their poisonous relationship with the residents around the stadium and their odious attempts to spin against these residents (some of that spin came via the sports’ pages, interestingly) has made for a fraught atmosphere for quite some time. A Brooks-like scenario was always on the cards, but no-one imagined it would happen with someone as musically anodyne as Brooks.
The fallout from this will be considerable. As we don’t have sight of the contracts and agreements between promoter, artist and venue, all of this is speculation, but there are surely a lot of large bills to be paid all round. It will also be interesting to know what assurances, if any, the venue gave to the promoter about the licence and if these formed part of any written contract. The artist’s fees and deposits would account for a pretty penny too and these amounts would have been clearly structured and scheduled by Brooks’ manger Bob Doyle and his people. As we know from promoter Peter Aiken’s interview on RTE’s The Business show, there was no insurance in place for the shows because no licence was granted.
However, there was also a lot of class ráiméis over the last 12 days. My favourite was that the fallout from Croker would mean artists would think twice of coming to Ireland in the future. As George Hook pointed out with characteristic bristle one evening last week on his radio show, artists will keep coming to Ireland as long as there’s a large fee involved.
Shows get cancelled all the time – hello “unforeseen circumstances” – and yet, the artists keep coming back for more. It may mean we won’t see an artist like Brooks plan a spectacular comeback around an Irish visit in the future without the licences copper-fastened and in place. It will certainly mean artists think twice about Croke Park in the future, good news for all in Dublin 3 who’ve had to put up with some awful shite in Jones Road from Bon Jovi to U2 to the Kilkenny hurlers. But life will go on, acts will still come to Ireland and, unless the powers that be are really serious about making changes, selling tickets to outdoor shows with audiences in excess of 5,000 people will still be “subject to licence”.
UPDATE: link to full appliction for event licence on behalf of Aiken Promotions, including endorsement by Croke Park’s stadium director Peter McKenna on April 15 for five shows (last page), despite knowledge of agreement with local residents for only three “events” per year.
UPDATE: it now appears that Dublin City Council budged from their original position on the concerts a fourth time – see above