Rigsy Gives Off - Dublin Gigs
Amongst the hype and excitement there will be a little complaining. Inevitable really, I'm from Northern Ireland after all. But this is something that comes up over and over again. Why did I have to travel to Dublin in the first place? Why do some of you guys reading have to do the same to see Rage Against the Machine and Stevie Wonder next month?
I took it upon myself to look for answers. I spoke to representatives from Queens Students Union (Radar, Mandela Hall), Shine (Ulster Hall, Stiff Kitten), CDC Leisure (The Limelight, Auntie Annies etc) and MCD in Dublin (pretty much every venue in the country) and asked just why the above acts are among a bunch only playing Dublin and not Belfast this year. Emails were pinged back and forth, theories put forward, issues debated.
So whose "fault" is it? Well it is now, in my opinion, fair to say it's not the promoters in Belfast. They are trying, believe me. The main obstacles, then...
It was explained to me that an act can often make a lot more money playing two sold out shows in Dublin rather than one each side of the border, especially if a large production or stage set up is involved that needs transported up the M1.
Sadly, to make a Northern gig worth while for most well established bands, tickets would have to be above what is deemed acceptable. We'd love to think our favourite bands would see past money and do us a favour, but any band could point out the several dozen towns and city across the UK and Europe that are as big and "important" as Belfast yet are left out of tour schedules all the time. So where would they draw the line? It's a fair point.
An artist's manager and label will often look to conquer regions and, the island of Ireland is often considered a single entitiy. Thus a gig in Dublin strikes the entire island off the list. Furthermore, American bands in particular are used to hearing about fans back home travelling a thousand miles across a single state. Comparatively, a couple of hours on the road isn't a big deal.
For the UK and Ireland - Manchester, Glasgow, London and Dublin are the priorities. Anything after that is almost deemed a little indulgent. And on a related note, if we're comparing populations, Dublin City is around four times the size of greater Belfast. Sunderland, Leicester, Bradford, Coventry and even Wakefield are more populated than Belfast. We get a lot more shows than any of those places, truth be told.
The lack of appropriate venues in Belfast is something everyone I spoke to brought up . Between 8/900 capacity venues (Stiff Kitten, Mandela Hall, Spring and Airbrake) and our 10000+ capacity venue (The Odyssey) there are very few viable options for promoters.
The Kings Hall, Nugent Hall, Ulster Hall and St. George's Market are essentially empty spaces that need a massive pproduction brought in before you'll hear a single note - thus its extremely expensive to run a show.
Furthermore, these venues have very limited availability - The Ulster Hall is block booked by the Ulster Orchestra for rehearsals (fair enough, it's essentially their gaff) while St. George's Market is often... a market. The lack of a dedicated venue the size of The Olympia, Vicar St, The Ambassador or the Tripod in Dublin (i.e between 1000 and 2000 people) that doesn't require notable extra production is a massive issue.
And as for Arcade Fire - I was told they don't have the stage set or production required to do arena shows and are more interested in playing theatre sized venues anyway. So that rules out the Odyssey. Anywhere else in our capital city isn't nearly big enough to generate the required return on ticket sales that would meet their fee. In short - they have nowhere to play.
What I've learned from speaking to everyone in the last couple of days is that it's not really anyone's fault that Northern Ireland often misses out on the big shows. It's a simple case of logistics. And bands can easily argue we're not necessarily deserving of any extra effort given a coule of hours on the road is nothing compared to what many fans in America, Austrailia and across Europe face all the time.
It's a hard pill to swollow, but for the time being (and until someone magically rustles up a dedicated mid-sized venue), we may have to make the most of that jaunt on the Enterprise or, better still, make better compilation CDs for that road trip across the border.
Thanks to Dee McAdams, Dino Caffola, Stephen Curran and Joe Dougan for their input