Paul McGuinness at the Dalkey Book Festival

On Saturday last I went out to Dalkey to see Paul McGuinness, ex-manager of U2, interviewed as part of the Book Festival. The talk was titled ‘The Business of Music’ and obviously McGuinness, having managed one of the biggest bands in the world since its infancy, had a lot to talk about.

The talk mostly centered on U2 and his experiences working at the top level of the international music industry. There were a lot of fun anecdotes and little-known facts. For example, one audience member asked why U2 had never played in China, a question that had been put to McGuinness years before by the Chinese Ambassador to the UK. The answer was that they are banned from China as a result of doing a Free Tibet concert years ago. So there’s a bit of music trivia for your next pub quiz!

McGuinness also gave sharp insights into the future of the music industry and problems facing artists now. He made a great point regarding the proliferation of music festivals in recent years and the impact they are having on stadium tours. He says that most artists don’t get the chance to craft a huge stage show these days, in the way that U2 did with their Zoo TV and PopMart tours. Instead they play a series of festival gigs in Europe and North America which has its drawbacks. The band don’t connect solely with their own audience and they’re expected to play a festival-friendly set, i.e, one that is mostly comprised of their greatest hits to satisfy the masses. In addition they are limited in terms of the creativity they can bring to the production; huge props and intricate lighting displays just aren’t feasible when you’re doing an hour at a festival. McGuinness reckons that when the current rock acts like Springsteen, Rolling Stones, and U2 (whose 360 tour was the highest grossing concert tour of all time) aren’t on the road anymore, stadium tours will be a thing of the past. A great observation.

There were a lot of music talks at the festival including Viv Albertine of The Slits whose memoir was published last year. It’s a great festival set in a gorgeous part of Dublin and well worth checking out next year.

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