Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Garth Brooks: 400,000 shattered dreams and why tomorrow may never come again for fans in Ireland

Garth Brooks in concert

Garth Brooks won't have to fall back on the usual ingredients like dead dogs, unfaithful lovers, temperamental tractors or family feuds for his next country and western song.

For by forcing him to cancel his five shows in Dublin later this month Ireland has managed to provide him with the one of the saddest C&W storylines of all time.

Indeed, the last few weeks have probably given the American superstar enough material to fill a double album of tear-jerkers.

But who outside Ireland would believe the twists and turns if Brooks were to put them to music as hundreds of thousands of his fans reel from the confirmation that all of his gigs at Croke Park are off? Usually one broken heart is enough to inspire a song. But 400,000 shattered dreams are surely a guaranteed Grammy winner.

The cancellation announcement from Aiken Promotions yesterday came after Peter Aiken had flown to America for a face-to-face meeting with Brooks, who'd already ordered a ship carrying his equipment to Ireland to turn back.

The statement expressed regret at the developments but added that the promoters had exhausted all avenues in relation to the decision by Dublin City Council to give permission for only three of the five concerts.

It was the ending which Brooks' fanatical admirers were dreading and one that must have left the rest of the music world bewildered and bemused – if not a little amused – at how it has all come to this, making Ireland look ridiculous in the eyes of singers and bands who will undoubtedly be wary of committing themselves to concerts here in the future.

Unlike most country songs, however, everything at the start of the Brooks Irish odyssey sounded and looked upbeat. All the tickets sold out in the blink of an eye for his concerts, which his people promised would be memorable and sensational spectaculars.

Tens of thousands of people from overseas had booked to fly into Ireland for the long-awaited return of the country giant who in 2000 was recognised by the recording industry in the US as the number one selling solo artist in American history. He sold more than 128 million albums but retired in 2001 to devote more time to his three daughters.

No one expected his self-imposed exile to last forever and Ireland was seen as the natural choice for him to bounce back into the country spotlight in 2014, especially with 400,000 adoring fans certain to welcome him.

But then came the shock announcement that Dublin City Council was allowing only three of the sell-out shows, not all five. They cited concerns about noise, traffic and possible anti-social behaviour as the reasons for the decision. But baffled fans adapted Orwellian logic to ruminate over why three concerts were good, two concerts bad, especially at a stadium well used to hosting massive crowds for big GAA clashes.

Brooks then threw the cat among the Croker pigeons saying he would do five gigs or no gigs at all, adding with a nod to King Solomon that having to choose between concert dates was like being asked "to choose one child over another".

Belfast impresario Peter Aiken, a former Gaelic footballer himself, appeared to age overnight between TV interviews as he urged a common sense approach to end the impasse, which he said would cost Brooks millions and the promoters a seven-figure sum.

The on-off nightmare, it was said, could also cost Dublin businesses up to $50m in lost revenue.

But amid the gloom there appeared to be light at the end of the Dublin Port Tunnel with city councillors backing a motion from Sinn Fein, who've never been renowned for the love of country music, for all five Brooks concerts to get the green light.

However, city manager Owen Keegan said the law dictated that only three gigs could proceed. And to muddy the waters even more, it was revealed that an injunction by a resident called Brian Duff to stop ALL the concerts would be heard in the High Court tomorrow. Mr Duff said he was worried concert-goers would vomit and urinate in the street.

His court action won't be needed now, but unhappily for Mr Duff, his address was published in Dublin newspapers yesterday and it's highly unlikely that he'll receive a flood of 'fan' letters from Brooks fans.

Before yesterday's cancellation, hundreds of householders near Croke Park had signed a petition in favour of all five concerts.

Confused? Well, Garth Brooks must have been. He's always been as big a fan of Ireland, as Ireland has been of him. But the Croke Park fiasco had made Brooks feel unwelcome in Ireland, according to the man who tried to mediate a settlement in the dispute, Kieran Mulvey, the chief executive of the Labour Commission in the Republic. He said Brooks was dismayed by negative comments made in Ireland following his "five gigs or none" ultimatum.

"He's a human being, a country western singer – not a diplomat" said Mr Mulvey.

Another word he could have used was "gentleman".

In March 2007 Garth Brooks flew to Belfast to attend the funeral of Peter Aiken's father Jim, who had promoted his earlier shows in Ireland. Thirteen years earlier, after a concert in the old Point Theatre in Dublin, I bumped into Brooks in a lift in a hotel after reporting from the city on developments in the peace process.

I hadn't initially realised who he was and he laughed that few people recognised him without his stetson. However, he was still eager to hear the news and with a huge grin on his face said "congratulations" after I told him that the IRA had called a three-day ceasefire. He claimed to have remembered the meeting years later when he came to Belfast to appear on Gerry Kelly's UTV show.

But Brooks won't forget Ireland now in a hurry. He'd been due to announce a world tour at a Press conference here to coincide with the Dublin concerts. But his website says he'll now be meeting reporters tomorrow in Oklahoma. It's inevitable he'll be asked for his response to what happened in Dublin.

As his Irish fans now seek refunds for their tickets, one question which they will want answered is whether or not their hero will ever entertain the possibility of playing here again.

That's one tomorrow which may never come ...

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