As Ed Sheeran gets ready to play Páirc Uí Chaoimh,and recall some of the other big gigs at the Cork venue.
Bruce Springsteen - July, 2013
Bruce Springsteen shows are always epic and his first Cork performance was part of an Irish stadium tour that also included dates in Limerick and Kilkenny and was no different.
The singer came on stage at 7.20pm for a solo ‘pre-show’ acoustic performance of ‘This Little Light Of Mine’.
Later, declaring “we need some summertime music” he took requests from the audience who had arrived with placards and later delivered a rare cover version of ‘Wild Thing’ by the Troggs. People were invited up on several occasions – most memorably during ‘Dancing in the Dark’.
After the show, Springsteen was whizzed off to east Cork, where he stayed at Castlemartyr Resort hotel.
However, while the Boss clearly had a good time, many concertgoers were less than happy, with complaints about congestion outside the ground as thousands poured out through the venue’s Blackrock End.
Noel and Liam Gallagher - August, 1996
Noel and Liam Gallagher had played to 200,000 at Knebworth in two days the previous weekend, but fears that their biggest Irish show (excluding a support slot to REM in 1995) would be an afterthought were quickly laid to rest. This was the peak of the Britpop era and Oasis were lords of all they surveyed, as they proved with a majestic set.
Having arrived at the venue from their rural ‘hideaway’ in Liss Ard Lake Lodge Hotel, near Skibbereen, the band ripped through a set bursting with Britpop classics-in-the-making, with Noel dedicating ‘Whatever’ to his mother’s home town of Charlestown, County Mayo, at the start of a brief acoustic segment.
The following day, ahead of the second gig, pandemonium broke out on Patrick Street, as Liam was spotted popping into Pennys for some impromptu retail therapy. Early arrivals to both concerts were in for a treat too, with the Prodigy — then also arguably at the height of their powers — ripping through their set and making up for the curtailment, due to a power-outage, of their appearance at the same venue as part of Feile 1995.
Oasis’s performance, watched by Liam’s fiancé, Patsy Kensit, and comedian, Lenny Henry, had concluded with a cover of ‘I Am The Walrus’ and a firework display.
Noel Gallagher would return to Cork 19 years later to headline Live at the Marquee. But it would be without Oasis or Liam, with the two brothers finally having parted ways, following one bust-up too many.
U2: August 1987; August 1993
Some of U2’s most memorable early performances had been at the Arcadia Ballroom and Bono had praised Cork as the only place in Ireland with more bands than pubs. So there was a sense of homecoming, as they ended their 1987 tour, in promotion of the Joshua Tree album, at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. The band were in a playful mood, with a cardboard cake wheeled out to mark The Edge’s 27th birthday, out of which emerged his then wife, Aislinn O’Sullivan.
Bono had a sore throat, which was no surprise, considering an exhausting schedule. The band had played across North America and Europe. “I went to the doctor, who told me not to worry about going to Cork,” he told the crowd. “They’ll sing better than you.”
Six years later, a very different U2 returned to Páirc Uí Chaoimh. U2 had discovered post-modernism and irony and their Zoo TV tour was a prescient commentary on media over-saturation (how extraordinary that it was conceived of in a pre-internet era).
As part of their make-over, Bono was experimenting with different personas — including the devilish MacPhisto character. It was in this guise that he addressed a controversy over the GAA’s refusal to allow the band to sell Zoo TV condoms at their merchandise stall within the ground.
U2 manager, Paul McGuinness, also waded into the debate, by distributing free condoms to the crowd, prompting a complaint from the Lord Mayor of Cork, who stated “there were also 13-year-olds in the audience”.
MacPhisto’s intervention came during a segment in which he would ring up a local luminary. In the United States, this had included Bill Clinton. In Cork, it was GAA County Board secretary, Frank Murphy, who was unable to answer, as he was at the concert.
“Civilisation is crumbling, who can take it back from the the brink?” said Bono/MacPhisto. “The GAA, that’s who! We’re their guests tonight, so there’ll be no sale of condoms, no rubber johnnies… We don’t want the young people carried away on a sea of seed and desire, now do do? They’ll be at it like rabbits, slaves to the devil’s monument, delivered to the gates of the hell in latex jackets! Contraception, safe sex, AIDS: it’s not their problem.”
Prince - July, 1990
There are two contrasting memories of Prince’s concert in 1990. Many fondly recall a gig that continued the previous month’s World Cup party. We sang along to such hits as ‘Purple Rain’ and ‘When Doves Cry’, grooved to his funky guitar workouts, and even upset the purple apple cart with a rendition of ‘Ole, Ole’.
Others remember a less-enjoyable affair. Colm O’Callaghan, now of RTÉ, was reviewing the gig for this newspaper. “I surveyed my surroundings and, in the best traditions of many a Cork half-back, lowered the blade and had a right cut off of him,” O’Callaghan recalls on his music blog, theblackpoolsentinel.
Either way, the Irish gig on the Nude tour definitely suffered in comparison to Michael Jackson two years earlier, and Prince didn’t connect with his audience in the way that he could have. Rather than channelling the positive energy of the soccer singalong, he just seemed to get grouchy with us.
Prince hung out at Jurys, presumably munching his favourite biscuits, the recipe for which he had sent the hotel a few weeks earlier. Perhaps his lack of banter with the crowd was due to the fact that, unlike most of his band, he didn’t go to Blarney to kiss the stone. Instead, he got his chauffeur to drive him around the city in a dark-windowed Jaguar Sovereign.
Michael Jackson - July, 1988
Michael Jackson’s Bad tour had kicked off in Japan the previous June, where the hype was such that 300 people turned up when the singer’s pet chimpanzee Bubbles arrived on a special flight from Los Angeles.
This was one of the most ambitious pop extravaganzas undertaken, with a chartered jumbo jet conveying 22 truckloads of equipment (including 40 lasers and 100 speakers and 70 costumes) and Jackson’s 132-strong entourage.
Ireland was not originally on Jackson’s schedule. However, Cork promoter Oliver Barry took the audacious step of calling the star’s representatives directly.
“Having made the contact through Jackson’s agents in LA, I was able to convince his management that Páirc Uí Chaoimh was the ideal venue for the Bad tour. I’d already had U2 and Siamsa Cois Lee there,” he would later recollect. In Cork he presented Jackson with a replica of the Book of Kells and remembered the king of pop as a “a very pleasant man”.
Jackson was the biggest star on the planet and the fanfare around his arrival was considerable. Hundreds were on hand to see him touch down at Cork Airport while fans also camped out at Jury’s Hotel on the Western Road, where he was staying.
About 50,000 attended each of the shows and on both evenings there was a palpable electricity in the air as Jackson arrived amid spumes of dry ice and plunged into ‘Wanna Be Starting Something’.
Kim Wilde and Stockton’s Wing were the support acts, the latter having been added to the Cork dates on the recommendation of Barry (also the band’s manager).
“It was an amazing experience to walk out on stage to two sold-out shows, with the crowd cheering and supporting a huge star,” former guitarist Mike Hanrahan would recall.
“While we didn’t get to meet Michael himself, we met his band and entourage and we saw the commotion when he arrived backstage, but we were treated very well.
“It was a great moment and something we’ll always remember and it was great exposure for us, as a band.”
Siamsa Cois Laoi, 1977-87
This annual series of concerts from 1977 to 1987 were a welcome boost to the organisation’s coffers in the wake of a huge debt from the redevelopment of the stadium. As Cork GAA secretary Frank Murphy told this newspaper: “In 1980 alone, the amount of interest to the bank was £170,995. From February to June 1976, the year the
stadium reopened, the board engaged in major bank borrowing at an interest rate of 12¾%. But within three years, the rate had jumped to 20%, resulting in an extra £18,000 in charges.”
Oliver Barry brought international acts such as Joan Baez, Glen Campbell, and Status Quo to the Siamsa, but the beating heart of the event in its heyday were Irish groups like Bagatelle, the Furey Brothers, and the Wolfe Tones. The latter act particularly chimed with the politically-charged times of the early 1980s — an era of Maggie Thatcher, the hunger strikes, etc — when a well-sozzled crowd delighted in such songs as Some Say The Devil is Dead (“... and buried in Killarney. More say he rose again and joined the British army”).
And, given the moral panics that would subsequently revolve around Prince and the Féile, it’s worth noting that this GAA-run celebration of Irish culture probably outdid them all in terms of debauchery.
At times, there was also a nastier side to it all, bringing such Siamsa-related headlines as ‘30 injured as mob baton charged’, and ‘Gang raid Marina camps’.