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.

There has been a massive jump in the number of festivals and standalone shows taking place in the summer. In 2012, when Slane Castle was dark, more than 100 such events took place up and down the country.

The appetite for live music is certainly there, but it manifests itself in a demand for events that are nothing like Slane. The large multiday, multistage camping festivals, such as Electric Picnic, and niche gatherings, such as Castlepalooza, Sea Sessions, Body Soul and Drop Everything, are the choice of the new generation.

When it comes to music in the open air, audiences want more acts, bigger choice and an experience that involves more than sitting in a Co Meath field waiting for the headline act to appear as the sun goes down.

But even for standalone outdoor shows by big-name acts, such as The Stone Roses or Kasabian, promoters increasingly favour other venues, such as the Phoenix Park, Marlay Park, Croke Park, the RDS and the Iveagh Gardens. The promoter MCD is believed to be planning up to four shows for the Phoenix Park next summer, for example, and there’s also increasing speculation about who will play Croke Park in 2013 in addition to the Kilkenny hurlers.

Another issue will be ticket prices. Much play was made this week about discounted £12.50 tickets for Bon Jovi’s UK tour next year. The promoter of that tour, Rob Hallett, says, “Ordinary fans have been priced out of live music in recent years and we hope this goes some way toward redressing the balance. After all, rock’n’roll always was and always should be the music of the people. And that means everyone.”

However, there were no such concessions from MCD, from Lord Henry Mount Charles or from Jon Bon Jovi for Irish fans this week. People who want to see the band on June 15th will have to shell out €79.50 per ticket, plus Ticketmaster add-ons. And that means everyone.

Yet many will point to the fact that Bon Jovi are still a big act with millions of album sales and a good reputation for large shows. Surely they won’t have any problem selling out Slane? Again, we’re back to the paradigm shift in how the music industry works.

Once, an act toured to plug a new record, but touring is now where all the money is made, which is why bands seem to be always on the road. Groups such as Bon Jovi would visit Ireland only once every five or six years, but now it feels as if they’re here every year. In recent times, the band have played Croke Park (2006), Punchestown (2008) and the RDS (twice in 2011).

As we’ve seen with other acts, such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, who have definitely overplayed their hand in Ireland, with more shows here in the past 10 years than they’ve had hits, familiarity breeds contempt. Why bother going to see the band in 2013 when they’ll be back in in 2014 or 2015? You can’t even trust bands on their “last tour ever” to keep their word.

We’ll find out how Bon Jovi fans feel about this by the number of radio ads in the coming months trying to shift unsold tickets for the Slane gig.

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