“ED SHEERAN’S whole European tour is going to start in Cork, in a brand new stadium,” says Peter Aiken, his enthusiasm obvious — even over a dodgy mobile connection from Belfast.
“The first show to take place in the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh. This is going to be an historic tour.”
2018 will be a great year for music in Cork, Aiken says.
“It’s all very good, but the big thing for next year — the Marquee will be big, of course — but in May, to kick off the European tour, that’s where it’s going to start, the big thing, that’s where it’s going to kick off: Ed Sheeran, in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. The biggest star in the world.”
Talking to the Evening Echo, Aiken, who represents Sheeran for his Irish concerts, is a keen advocate.
“It looks like he’s going to have a Number One single; he’s Number One in America at the moment, with ‘Perfect’.
“Nobody has ever sold 415,000 tickets, and it’s all taking place in Cork over three nights.”
Aiken reckons Sheeran’s gigs will have a hugely beneficial effect on Cork, with thousands of Sheeran fans expected to descend on the city to see their idol.
“It’s going to be history in the making, because people are going to travel from all over the world to see this.”
Peter Aiken has lived his life in music.
His father, Jim, was a teacher in Belfast, who turned a part-time concern as a concert promoter into a national business.
Aiken Senior was involved in some of Ireland’s most legendary rock gigs, including Bruce Springsteen’s 1985 career-defining Slane gig and U2’s famous first Croke Park gig that same year.
Aiken Senior was also a friend and promoter of Cork (and Ballyshannon) Blues legend Rory Gallagher, and Aiken Junior served his time in the late 1970s as a roadie to Gallagher.
“Rory was a very shy man,” says Peter Aiken, “but on stage he had such charisma. When he hit the stage, he was incredible.”
Aiken believes that if Gallagher were alive today, he could sell out 10 nights at the Point (3Arena).
Aiken is excited about this year’s Live at the Marquee, which is now in its 13th year.
“After Ed Sheeran, then we’re into the Marquee. I think things are definitely looking up. It’s great to see so many Irish acts doing so well in Cork.”
Aiken is especially enthusiastic about one veteran Irish performer playing the Marquee this year.
“And then you get Christy Moore, who’s now knocked U2 off the charts, he’s back at Number One, he’s stronger than he ever was, it’s going well for him.
“Two nights of The Script, two nights of Picture This, two nights of Christy Moore, Nathan Carter. Irish music has never been as strong. Nor has the appetite for Irish music ever been as strong.”
Aiken says the success of the Marquee series illustrates the demand Leeside for live music.
“We have Alanis Morrissette playing the Marquee this year and straightaway she sold out,” says Aiken. “That goes to show you the strength of the appetite for live shows in Cork. Her album Jagged Little Pill was released a little over 26 years ago and yet this has sold out.
“If you look at a-ha, a big band from the Eighties, it was one that I was a bit apprehensive about because it’s going to be the first or second show in the Marquee this year, so I didn’t really fancy it. And it sold 5,000 tickets in an hour.”
The Cork broadcaster John Creedon has long said he believes Peter Aiken should be given a civic reception for his contribution to Cork’s music scene. When told this, Aiken laughs appreciatively.
Cork’s proposed, and long-delayed, 6,000-seat events centre has been in the news, with Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin accusing former Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Simon Coveney of “electoral cynicism” for their turning the sod on the stalled project in February 2016, just before the last general election.
Peter Aiken expresses his bafflement at the lack of progress.
“There was so much talk about it and then nothing,” he says.
“It just seems strange. I mean, they were going to build it, they turned the sod and then nothing. I don’t know. It seems to me the weirdest thing.”
Aiken feels that a venue of this kind would be of great benefit to Cork, and feels similar venues would work well in other regions too.
“For a country that gets so much out of sports and music, I think we should build these things all over the country. We’re great at sports, music, culture, and we should embrace that.”
Aiken laughs when reminded of a story about him and Bruce Springsteen.
He and the Boss were chatting backstage at Madison Square Garden when an assistant came to shoo Aiken away, because someone else was due to talk to Springsteen.
The Boss was having none of it, and stayed talking with Aiken, letting the other person wait outside.
“We were actually having a bottle of beer,” says Aiken.
“And Springsteen said ‘Actually, we’re not done here’. Afterwards, I walk outside and Stephen Spielberg is sitting there.”
It’s not too many people who let Spielberg wait, or who are given precedence over Spielberg.
“Ah, I have a good working relationship with him,” says Aiken of Springsteen.
“He’s a good guy.” Similarly, Aiken says he has a good relationship with many of the household-name rock gods, like Neil Young, Elton John and Bob Dylan: “But only a working relationship.”
On Bob Dylan’s excellent 2014 appearance at the Marquee, when the famously-taciturn Dylan was even reported by some to have actually smiled, Aiken laughs.
“Oh, Dylan enjoys gigging. He wouldn’t do it if he didn’t. I mean, it’s not like he needs the money.”
Last September, The Irish Times reported that Aiken had purchased Danes Hollow, the North Dublin former home of Riverdance creators Moya Doherty and John McColgan, for €8.2 million.
Aiken is dismissive of the story.
When asked by the Evening Echo if he had purchased the house, Aiken replies: “What house? No, I didn’t. I don’t where that came from.”
Returning to the more comfortable topic of Live at the Marquee, Aiken says he doesn’t have one favourite Marquee gig, and he says it’s not always an exact science.
“It’s hard to have a favourite when you’re that close, just as it’s hard to predict what’s going to be a great gig. And then there are gigs that surprise you. I knew Dylan would be good, I knew Neil Young would be good, I knew Rod Stewart would be amazing.
“I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the Coronas. I knew they were good, but seeing their gig, they were brilliant.
“There’s always an element of surprise. Having Roger Waters there was pretty incredible.”
Aiken says he doesn’t have a bucket list of performers he would like to see play the Marquee but says that for him, the big thing is how strong Irish acts are now.
When asked if he sees any particular Irish acts on the cusp of greatness, he plugs the Mullingar indie band The Academic.
“I like The Academic. I think you could see them in the Marquee soon. I think in a year or two, if the Marquee is still going, you could see them there.”
When asked what he sees for the future of the Marquee, Aiken is circumspect.
“It’s just year by year, you know?”
For 2018, at least, the future for Peter Aiken and for Live at the Marquee seems bright.