Glory Days! Remembering the finest gigs Cork's ever staged

While the Irish music industry awaits a firm date for a return to gigging, Downtown got to remembering the buzz and anticipation behind some of the big moments in the city’s musical life in the past few decades. Mike McGrath-Bryan delves into the Echo and Irish Examiner archives, with help from Eoghan Dinan.
Glory Days! Remembering the finest gigs Cork's ever staged

Lark by the Lee with U2 on Sunday August 25th, 1985.

LARK BY THE LEE — AND A SURPRISE FOR MUSIC FANS

The Lark by the Lee series of concerts, out in the city’s Lee Fields, were a backbone of musical life in Cork in the mid-late 1980s.

Co-organised by Cork Local Radio alongside the cultural might of RTÉ Radio 2, its first instalment on August 26, 1985, is renowned for a surprise appearance from Dublin rockers U2, then in the middle of touring The Unforgettable Fire.

Rumours began in the afternoon, and while most casual revellers were back on their way to town, the band’s faithful went along in search of a glimpse of their heroes — and weren’t disappointed, as the “up-and-coming band” were greeted rapturously, and finished a nine-song set with Sunday Bloody Sunday.

Information in the then-Evening Echo in the days after was scarce, however — with Music Scene columnist Brian O’Brien describing Radio 2’s involvement as part of a ‘coup d’etat’ against the burgeoning pirate radio scene, but speaking of the gig as a ‘boost’ to the city’s morale.

U2’s mission of world conquest would bring them to Páirc Uí Chaoimh on two occasions as stadium-filling draws, but their amble down the Lee Fields has stuck with gig-goers.

JACKO VISITS THE PÁIRC

Michael Jackson’s legacy as a pop phenomenon has been brought into question by multiple abuse allegations, but the realities of the person behind the persona were a million miles away for the people who piled into Páirc Uí Chaoimh at the August Bank Holiday weekend of 1988.

Some 130,000 fans descended on the stadium for the typically-showy affairs, involving a full dance troupe and backing singers including future superstar Sheryl Crow. 

Hydraulic platforms and a rope to swing over the crowd figured as part of the shenanigans, while cheers could be heard as far back as Glanmire for the hit singles, including show-closer and recent smash Bad.

A detail of note in hindsight, though, according to the Irish Examiner 30 years later: Jackson was accompanied on tour by a young boy named Jimmy Safechuck — among the former charges of Jackson that alleged abuse in the years after. He accompanied Jackson to a local charity appearance: “Once the pictures were taken, he disappeared through a lace-framed door just one step away, with Safechuck at his side.”

PRINCE TOUCHES DOWN — BUT NOT ALL ARE CONVINCED!

While the Purple One may have been at the height of his pomp as the Eighties wended their way to a close, domestic attention in Cork was apparently squarely on his sexual proclivities, as a moral panic engulfed the city’s elders in the days leading up to his July 7, 1990, gig at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Then-chairman of Cork County Board, Denis Conroy, even threatened a one-on-one summit on such matters.

Cut to the day, and that perhaps wasn’t the case. 

While 60,000 fans journeyed along the Marina and into the stands, Prince apparently didn’t quite connect with the assembled crowd, who stayed relatively mute as he breezed past 1999 early in the set, defaulting to chants of ‘Olé Olé’ at the half-hour mark. 

“This town needs an enema,” Prince is said to have pithily responded.

An unbylined piece in the Cork Examiner claimed the artist then

known as Prince “gave the thumbs up to his Irish debut on Saturday evening”, noting that in post-gig small talk, “responses come in mono-syllables and one whole sentence seems a major effort”.

He was on the plane back to London within 12 hours — but the gig was a boost to the local economy, with this parish claiming the affair generated £4m in ticket sales and trade.

Nirvana played Sir Henrys in 1991.
Nirvana played Sir Henrys in 1991.

YOU PROBABLY DIDN’T SEE NIRVANA AT HENRY’S

They had just put the dusty, blurry video for upcoming single Smells Like Teen Spirit in the can, and big things were apparently in their future, according to industry buzz, but no-one could have suspected how Seattle grunge trio Nirvana would push the reset button on the world of pop a few short weeks after they touched down at Cork’s Sir Henry’s on August 20, 1991, to support Sonic Youth on a European tour.

In fact, the Grand Parade venue was the first place outside America where the band played the era-defining anthem live to a half-full crowd, composed of the curious and the already-committed.

Surviving desk audio documents a visceral sonic affair, while frontman Kurt Cobain admitted to feeling ‘weirdly spiritual’ about returning to his rumoured ancestral home.

The rest is history, but the band had already begun carving a legacy while no-one was looking, ahead of the release of their Nevermind LP later that year — an enduring blend of rock muscle, pop perfection and indie sensitivity.

TRIP TO… THE MARINA

The trip to Tipp offered by the Féile festival was a generational experience, with many a music head still speaking warmly of the chaos in and around Semple Stadium. By 1995, however, patience had worn thin, and the decision was made to move the summer weekender to Cork’s Páirc Uí Chaoimh in what would prove to be its final installment, between August 5-7.

The line-up was a who’s-who of the broad indie and dance spectrum of the time, with a few cult faves and heavier bands in the mix, though in hindsight, it’s insane to see rising quantities like The Verve, Ash and David Holmes so far down the bill, Kylie Minogue in the midst of her ‘indie’ years, and the sheer quality of dance and electronic music, including peak Prodigy and Chemical Brothers.

The Evening Echo elected to lead with news of the collateral damage caused by the weekend’s revelry, however, including “several hundred pounds” caused by one admittee, and 800 cautions for drug-related incidents, with a full-pager and an editorial inside featuring live pics and word on deliberations on the ultimately-doomed festival’s future — shelved until a reboot back in Tipp in the late 2010s.

 A summer concert at, Páirc Uí Caoimh. Among those who have performed here are Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, U2 and Oasis. Picture: Dennis Horgan.
A summer concert at, Páirc Uí Caoimh. Among those who have performed here are Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, U2 and Oasis. Picture: Dennis Horgan.

AN ELECTRIC PAIR OF GIGS FROM OASIS

In the wake of grunge’s descent from the mainstream after Kurt Cobain’s tragic passing in 1994, the mid-90s musical picture is one of transition, as the Britpop phenomenon overtook the decade’s jangly and dancey developments, our own ‘Corkchester’ hype included, to stride across the cultural picture like a colossus, driven by the lad-culture bombast of feuding genre leaders Blur and Oasis.

Leaning on their working-class Irish heritage, the latter were in their chart-topping pomp when they headed for the Páirc on August 14 and 15, 1996, just after their legendary Knebworth concerts in the UK. Evening Echo stories in the preceding days veered from their whereabouts, to their rider, including the private booking of four separate nightclubs for post-show antics.

Ultimately, though, the two nights were a rousing critical and commercial success, with Maurice Gubbins declaring Cork ‘the capital of rock’, and stories ranging from reviews and chats with residents, to impromptu city-central appearances from the band’s Gallagher brothers, including their invitations to fans to help them shop for underpants — a pair of which found their way to this parish to be given away!

 'Live at the Marquee' which provided summer after summer of big concerts. Picture: Larry Cummins
 'Live at the Marquee' which provided summer after summer of big concerts. Picture: Larry Cummins

SUMMER NIGHTS AT THE MARQUEE

Starting as part of the Cork 2005 programme, and lasting nearly 17 years by the time the curtain comes down on outstanding post-Covid bookings at its current location on Monahan Road, Live at the Marquee has played host to acts across the genre spectrum.

Leaning more heavily into established acts as the years progressed, artists as diverse as four-time headliner Elton John, Bob Dylan, The Prodigy and homegrown crowd-pleasers like Bell X1 are among dozens of headliners to have graced its stage, as the summer season became an anchor in the city’s cultural and tourism calendar.

Kraftwerk performing their live 3d show in Live At the Marquee Cork.
Kraftwerk performing their live 3d show in Live At the Marquee Cork.

Your writer has a few select notes, both in a personal and Echo newsroom capacity. While visits from thrash-metal titans Slayer (2007) and Megadeth (2010) promised much, the bands ultimately fell somewhat flat — the former outshone by show-stealing tour support Mastodon, and the latter simply dialling in 1990 album Rust in Peace and a few other hits before calling it a day.

Finally seeing Christy Moore at one of his legendary Marquee performances in 2019 felt like the opposite, as the folk legend gave new life to old favourites, while it was more of a matter of witnessing history to see German electronic innovators Kraftwerk in the flesh in 2018.

Bruce Springsteen on stage at Pairc Ui Caoimhe in 2013. Picture: Miki Barlok
Bruce Springsteen on stage at Pairc Ui Caoimhe in 2013. Picture: Miki Barlok

THE BOSS COMES TO TOWN

There’s always been a love affair between Ireland and New Jersey troubadour Bruce Springsteen.

So when the Boss rolled into the Páirc on July 18, 2013, it was another case of a sold-out live crowd hearing him and the band give a marathon three-hour show, with people listening as far away as the city centre.

Proceedings were followed by a private session held at the Castlemartyr Hotel, where Springsteen was treated to a trad session until the early hours.

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