Flashback: When Michael Jackson came to town
It was billed as the greatest show the country had ever seen.
As part of Jackson’s UK and Irish tour, in which he played 14 shows at five different open-air venues, the two concerts in Cork over the August bank holiday weekend of 1988 generated £2 million in ticket sales.
The Jackson entourage was holed up in Jury’s Hotel in Cork, apparently taking over an entire floor that was fitted with a temporary dancefloor so Jackson could practice his pitch-perfect routine right up until show time.
130, 000 fans packed into Pairc Ui Chaoimh, dubbed Pairc Ui Pepsi, and Cork city itself was swamped with fans arriving from all over the country. Friday evening saw standstill traffic outside Dublin as the exodus began its journey south, although the hype that surrounded the concerts didn’t extend to the land locked fans who were said to be “as abstemious as a pilgrimage to Ballinaspittle.”
The show was packed with wow-factor props, including a hydraulic crane that emerged from the stage floor and propelled him up and over the adoring crowds, as well as a Tarzan-like rope that hurtled him through the air as Thriller streamed through the speakers and ghoulish dancers stormed the stage.
The two-hour was show was choreographed to a tee, with the Irish Independent reporting that there was hardly a discernible difference between the Saturday and Sunday night performances. In homage of their rock god, the crowd was largely decked out in bleached and ripped jeans, Stetson hats, shades-on-a-string, starched white t-shirts and the ubiquitous Eighties sweatband.
Concert merchandise was a lucrative add-on for the Brockum Corporation, an American company that supplied the official Jackson merchandise and who ordered an injunction and court order against anybody daring sell their own wares, but that didn’t stop illegal bootleg tapes of the concert cropping up in the days following.
A “leather clad vendor” gave a tip-off that the concert had been recorded by a “high-definition Japanese recorder not normally available on a commercial basis”. These black market tapes were then sold on prominent places like Dublin’s O’Connell Street, much to the chagrin of official merchandise sellers.
Another company that made a tidy profit from the Jacksonmania was Pepsi, who reported a 28% spike in consumption in Ireland in the two weeks prior to the concerts. Although he refused to pose with a can himself, Jackson earned $20 million for his role as spokesperson, with half a million posters of Jackson delivered to households across the country in the lead up to the shows.