30 years on, Cork will never forget Jackson thriller at the Páirc

30 years on, Cork will never forget Jackson thriller at the Páirc
Michael Jackson performed at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on July 31, 1988. Pic: Dan Linehan.

IT was 30 years ago today, the King of Pop brought his band to play.

Cork went absolutely wacko for Jacko over two nights at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in the summer of 1988.

Many stars have come and gone on Leeside in the intervening years at the home of Munster GAA and a few hundred metres down the road at the Live at the Marquee tent but Michael Jackson remains the biggest star to play in Cork. Three decades on from his epic two-night stint at the old Páirc, the memories of his stunning shows are as vivid as ever.

Fans show their enthusiasm for Michael Jackson at his 1988 concert in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Fans show their enthusiasm for Michael Jackson at his 1988 concert in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Concert promoter Oliver Barry described the concerts on July 30 and July 31 as the most spectacular Ireland has ever seen. It’s hard to argue that Cork has seen anything quite as powerful as the sight and sound of Jackson on stage.

It’s quite fitting that contemporary pop behemoth Ed Sheeran restored the music pedigree of the famous stadium almost exactly 30 years after Jackson, but could his energy match-up to the frenzied and commanding onstage presence of the Peter Pan of Pop?

In 1988, Jackson was at the height of his fame and musical creativity. His career had always been laden with controversy and myths, but for the thousands of people that packed out the Páirc on those two nights, all that mattered was the music.

The Bad album had been released in the summer of 1987, spawning arguably his biggest and most recognised solo hits, including the title track; The Way You Make Me Feel, Man In the Mirror and Smooth Criminal.

His albums sold themselves in Cork’s music stores, while those who couldn’t get their hands on them — or couldn’t afford them — had their fingers poised on the record button of their tape recorders in anticipation of the songs being played on the radio.

Michael Jackson fans in Cork ahead of his concert 30 years ago.
Michael Jackson fans in Cork ahead of his concert 30 years ago.

The gig announcement came in March and with Ticketmaster not yet operating in Ireland and the widespread availability of dial-up internet still more than a decade away, the melee for tickets was unprecedented. A second night had to be added to meet demand.

Punters paid £16.50 for a standing pass. It might seem like peanuts now, but at the time it was a hefty percentage of the average weekly wage. But, luckily, the concerts did not disappoint, becoming etched in the musical history of Cork.

Two years later in 1990 another pop music superstar, Prince, would fall flat at the Páirc but Jackson’s performance had all the frantic energy of an epic Munster hurling final at the same venue.

He played an identical 18-song setlist on both nights and all the hits the crowd were expecting were included.

The ‘80s synth notes of Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ were the first to ring out, while he doffed a cap to his earlier career with the Jackson 5 via a stunning medley of I Want You Back /The Love You Save / I’ll Be There following downbeat ballad She’s Out of My Life from his Off the Wall album. From there, the energy levels were significantly ramped up. The jagged funk of Rock with You was followed by Human Nature to huge audience acclaim.

Fans catching a glimpse of the concert from outside Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Fans catching a glimpse of the concert from outside Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Thriller, Beat It, Billie Jean and Bad threatened to blow the roof off the main stand of the stadium as Jackson stalked the stage. He departed to an ovation — the likes of which will probably never be seen for any performer in Cork ever again — before returning with a song that hinted at the mutual appreciation between Jackson and his Leeside fanclub; The Way You Make Me Feel.

It all came to a glorious end with Man in the Mirror. Cork must have made an impression on Jackson who flirted with the idea of swapping Neverland for Leeside in 2005. He visited Ballinacurra House in Kinsale and also hid away from the world at Blackwater Castle in Castletownroche at the time.

His move here never came to pass.

Just 21 years from those memorable Páirc concerts, he was dead at the premature age of 50, having led a troubled life. How lucky Cork was to catch a brief glimpse of the man at the peak of his powers.

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