A blaze of glory? Not at Slane
THERE WAS SOMETHING resolutely old-fashioned about Jon Bon Jovi’s visit to Slane this week. The rock star was in the Co Meath village to attend a press conference at which details of Bon Jovi’s show in the hilly field next to Slane Castle next year were announced.
It panned out like a 1970s rock documentary: the arrival by helicopter; the press conference at which the star sat alongside the castle’s titled owner; the walk around the village to meet the common people and have the predictable pint in the local pub; and the fabulous healthy glow emitting from Bon Jovi himself.
The notion of a big gig at Slane Castle is also old-fashioned. What was once a key date in the summer calendar for music fans has become a bit of a so-what event. Over the past few years, Slane has lost its lustre thanks to a bunch of uninspiring bookings – can Slane really be all that if its alumni include Stereophonics and Bryan Adams? – and changes in the marketplace. Slane is no longer the be-all and end-all of Irish summer shows that it was 25 years ago.
Slane is a big venue, and it takes a big act to fill it, but acts that can do this are few and far between. In the past, the venue could rely on heavyweights such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, REM, U2, Neil Young and The Rolling Stones to do the business. But even though the likes of Springsteen could still pull a bumper crowd to the castle, he and others prefer to perform elsewhere in Ireland.
While it’s often down to touring logistics – and Slane works best with a supersized production – there is also a sense that acts are shying away from playing landmark gigs. Pulling off a standalone show there requires showmanship and an ability to attract an audience beyond the dedicated fan base. For many heritage acts, this is no longer part of the package.
There is also the not insignificant problem of the paucity of new potential headliners. The music industry’s paradigm shift means the heritage acts that filled Slane in its pomp are not being replaced. The seismic changes in the way the record industry operates, with a fall-off in long-term talent development as revenues slump, mean we may be seeing the end of superstar rock acts.
They really don’t make them like Springsteen, Dylan or Bowie any more, and this is a problem for a venue like Slane, with its reliance on rock acts. Aside from the Kings Of Leon, who played Slane in 2010, and Coldplay, who are believed to have passed on playing the venue, you’d be hard pressed to find a new act who could pull the 80,000 people that fit there.
Perhaps, in years to come, the likes of Arcade Fire, Snow Patrol, Florence The Machine or The Black Keys might decide to go for it, but don’t hold your breath. Slane could be pressed into use for a reunion of Oasis or even for The Stone Roses, but they are second-time-around-the-block acts. Maybe Slane needs to look elsewhere for fresh talent. Wouldn’t that hilly field, for example, be a great venue for a knees-up with Tiësto, David Guetta, Avicii, Skrillex and Swedish House Mafia? Mention of such big-draw dance acts leads to another problem for Slane in the shape of competition from other events and venues.
SLANE MIGHT NOTbe able to pull the acts, but that doesn’t mean the acts are not coming here. On the contrary, there are very few acts who don’t play Ireland these days because, over the past decade, Irish people have become huge fans of live music in the great outdoors.