Promoters have no choice when it comes to selling tickets before a licence is granted
WHEN all the Garth Brooks gigs at Croke Park were first announced, the gags started flying. After the GAA announced its TV deal with Sky a few months later, one website joked that the country superstar had cancelled his concerts in protest.
Well, the Sky deal looks to be working out well, but Garth's Croker "Drive for Five" has come a cropper. Dublin City Council denied a licence for two of the shows, putting all five shows at risk.
There have been gig cancellations in Ireland before: Eminem pulled out of Slane and Prince backed out of a Croke Park gig (the Minneapolis genius reportedly had said of promoter Denis Desmond of MCD, "Tell that cat to chill". They later settled a court action over the cancellation.)
In 2003, the iconic Lisdoonvarna Folk Festival was turned down by Clare County Council and had to relocate to the RDS, though they at least had the bones of three months to arrange it.
However, this is by far the most dramatic no-show in Irish history, if only for the sheer number of fans involved. The usual suspects have been rounded up as the usual game of "who's to blame?" gets played out in the press, on social media and – of course – on Joe Duffy's 'Liveline', water-cooler to the entire country.
The accusations have flown thicker and faster than all those Garth gags: the GAA was too greedy, the promoters jumped the gun in selling tickets before the concerts were made official, the Croke Park residents are being unreasonable, the council was unfairly tardy with its decision.
Naturally, the national appetite for self-flagellation was indulged, too, with people wailing about how "this could only happen in Ireland" and "we couldn't organise a session in a brewery".
This is patently untrue; for one thing, sessions are somewhat of an Irish speciality. More seriously, the vast majority of events – be they sporting, musical or otherwise – go ahead without any difficulties.
Also, gig cancellations aren't unique to this island – and they can affect even the biggest acts. In 1992, for instance, The Cure were denied a licence for a gig in Eastnor Castle in England by the council. More surprisingly, it was being held for charity.
The same year, grunge legends Nirvana had to cancel a show in Singapore when the local promoters couldn't secure a licence.
Up the road in Indonesia, Lady Gaga was refused permission to play in 2012 because of protests about her "unIslamic" behaviour.
And this spring, Dutch DJ Hardwell was stopped from playing by Edinburgh City Chambers, amid safety concerns, while metallers Kreator couldn't play a Kuala Lumpur gig because the venue's licence had lapsed.
The main problem here seems not to be the fact only three of five mooted concerts were allowed, but that tickets were sold before the gigs were officially sanctioned.
This is a fairly standard practice – radio ads always add a disclaimer, "subject to licence" – though of course that means the possibility for a massive snafu like this one is always there. They could always ban this practice, but how workable, or fair, would that be for promoters?
Licences are often late in coming; every aspect of the event has to be examined by the local authority.
The Brooks decision has arrived just three weeks before the date. If promoters had, as standard, mere weeks to sell tickets, would it even be worth their while?