Saturday 20 January 2018

The band who rocked the recession

Pester power helped ensure that Kings of Leon would headline Slane next year. Henry Mountcharles had long been a fan of the band, but it was the persistent appeals of three of his children: Alex, Wolfe and Tamara, that convinced him that this was the right act to play Slane's 30th anniversary show.

"The fact that 80,000 tickets sold out in 40 minutes vindicates the decision," he says, chuckling. "Really, it was a no-brainer. They're a huge band and they enjoy mass appeal. I was hooked the first time I heard them and I think that goes for an awful lot of people too. There will be an extraordinary cross-section of society at Slane Castle come May and that's testament to the wide appeal of the Followill clan."

Officials at Irish rugby's governing body must have looked on with envy as first 80,000 tickets for Slane sell out, and then, just days later, the 14,000-capacity O2 in Dublin sold out in minutes. The new Lansdowne Road will be pockmarked with banks of empty seating for the Samoa match today, when, in all likelihood, it could probably fill its 51,700 seats with all the people who wanted to see Kings of Leon but were unable to secure a ticket.

All week, message boards have been busy with disgruntled Kings of Leon fans venting their frustration at losing out. Many regaled other posters with their tales of queuing up at record shops only to be told their allocation was gone, while others studiously manned the Ticketmaster phone line only to suffer a similar fate.

It is hoped that Mountcharles will announce a second show -- although such a plan is unlikely, despite U2 having set that precedent in Slane in 2001. "That was a very different circumstance," he says. After the negative reports of crowd disturbances at last year's Oasis concert, the man dubbed the rock 'n' roll aristocrat is understandably pleased to have a good-news story to talk about.

Hailing from Tennessee, brothers Caleb, Nathan and Jared Followill -- sons of a Pentecostal preacher -- and their cousin Matthew Followill, made a significant critical impact with their 2003 album, Youth and Young Manhood.

But it took time before the wider public would embrace their classic brand of southern fried rock. Their debut Irish appearance -- at Oxegen's smallest stage that year -- attracted just a few hundred punters.

Their fifth album, Come Around Sundown, was released three weeks ago and has sold more than 30,000 copies in this country. Executives at their record company, Sony, are hoping the album will eventually outperform its predecessor, Only by the Night, which sold 120,000 in Ireland. To put that figure into context, even U2 were not able to match such sales in their own back yard when their last album came out.

There's no doubt about it, Kings of Leon are a phenomenon in a music industry that has been left reeling from a culture of illegal downloads.

"It's a bit of a throwback to the pre-internet era," says Sony Music Ireland's general manager Patrick Hughes. "Their success is classic word-of-mouth and they have grown the old-fashioned way.

"Each subsequent album has sold more than the one before. That's almost unheard of today and it's partly because the band are unashamedly ambitious. They want to reach as many people as they can and sell lots of albums. Unlike other bands, they make no apologies for that."

Hughes believes their impact is very much driven by the quality of the songs. "It's classic rock 'n' roll and that appeals to a huge audience, from people who fell in love with music in the 1960s to the youngest generations today."

It's been a good week for Sony Music and for promoters MCD. Besides Kings of Leon, both are benefiting from a national love affair with Dublin band The Script. On Wednesday, tickets for the band's show in the Aviva Stadium went on sale and trade has been brisk.

It follows the band's achievement in selling out all 60,000 tickets for an Irish arena tour. Their second album, Science & Faith, is -- by a major distance -- the biggest selling domestic album of the year.

"They have an American sound that people love," Hughes says. "Danny and Mark (frontman and bassist, respectively) have a background in music production, so they really know how to make their songs sound great. And both their albums have songs that really excite the music-buying population. At the end of the day, that's what sells albums."

A casual observer of the country's live music scene would imagine it is in fine fettle, especially when one considers that Take That had little trouble shifting 80,000 tickets for a Croke Park date next summer and Michael Bublé played to 90,000 people over two nights in the Aviva Stadium in September.

Add Bon Jovi's RDS show, which went on sale this week, and there's no shortage of fans willing to stump up the cash to see their favourites. Yet, such sales reveal a skewed picture.

"It's the big, marquee names that are doing very well," says a well-known music industry figure, who does not wish to be named. "People often go to these event shows because all their friends are going and it becomes this huge event which, in some ways, is not really about the music.

"But scratch below the surface and the live scene is going through a difficult patch. Even a band as critically adored as Arcade Fire is struggling to sell out its dates at the O2 in December, there were loads of tickets to be had for Gorillaz on Thursday night and then you get a band like Yeasayer who have to be downgraded from the Olympia to the Academy due to lowish sales.

"People just don't have the sort of disposable income they used to have and the days of them going to a smaller mid-week gig on a whim are gone.

"It's easy enough to justify the money for a day out in Slane Castle next year, but if money is tight, they're not going to head out on a Tuesday night to see the latest obscure band that people like yourself in the press have been raving about.

"If they want a night out, it's a lot cheaper to go to the cinema because, let's face it, you can sit through a film without alcohol and we just don't do that in this country when we go to a gig.

"Factor in the concert ticket, a few drinks, maybe a bite to eat and a taxi fare home and you could be looking at €100. Believe me, the recession is still here despite what a sold-out Slane might suggest."

Irish Independent

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