On Friday afternoon, 2nd August 2, 1990, Pat Scannell loaded four of us into his old beater and faced it for Thurles. Not, as would have been the norm, to see Munster championship hurling but, rather, to take in the opening night fare at the first ever live music weekend to take place at Semple Stadium. As we set out on the ninety-minute drive from Cork that evening, none of us quite knew what to expect at the other end. Like many others, we’d travelled out of curiosity and, if anything, to see Big Country, who were then four fine albums into a decent career and who, to their credit, managed to sate at least three distinct music tastes assembled in Pat’s car. That opening night line-up at Féile: The Trip to Tipp also included the Dublin-based soft rockers, No Sweat and the never-quite-completely-there indie squall of Thee Amazing Colossal Men with Garrett ‘Jacknife’ Lee, now one of rock music’s most in-demand producers and Cathal Coughlan’s co-conspirator in Telefís, on guitar. The star turn and bill-topper was another old friend of this site, Meat Loaf.
We returned home later that night not really sure what we’d seen and certainly far from convinced that we’d been part of Irish cultural history: from inauspicious beginnings, Féile 1990 went on to fundamentally re-define the parameters of live music in Ireland. And in retrospect, that opening night line-up is both absolutely bonkers and absolutely prescient, speaking to the singular state of popular music in Ireland at that time. Who else was going to headline the opening night of what was Ireland’s most ambitious ever rock music festival but a down-at-heel rock and roll parody ? And on the baize at the birth-place of the Gaelic Athletic Association, equidistant between Cork and Dublin, no less. Meat Loaf headlining Féile: there’s an awful lot to unpack there.
Meat’s performance that night was startlingly average: for someone who defined the big show, it was if he could scarcely believe he’d been returned to centre-stage and head-line billing, and who could blame him ? The previous year, stuck in a critical and commercial sewer, and flogging a spectacularly poor album called ‘Blind Before I Stop’, Meat Loaf spent the guts of a month in Ireland, playing a glut of live shows in a series of unlikely provincial venues. Playing the Community Centre in Moate, County Westmeath and The Golden Vale Ballroom in Dundrum, County Tipperary, among notable others, he rammed every hall he headlined and, by all accounts, barely made it alive out of some of them. With a scale of ambition that was far too big to sit with any comfort in the venues he was playing, he created a buzz not seen by live music in parts of rural Ireland since the headier days of the showbands twenty-five years previously. This chapter of Meat Loaf’s long, varied and loud story, during which his audiences had clearly became more selective, is covered in far more detail in an excellent piece by Ronan Casey here https://www.loudersound.com/features/meat-loaf-a-flying-wheelchair-and-the-greatest-story-ever-told that’s well worth your time and attention.
Born in Dallas in 1947 as Marvin Lee Aday, Meat Loaf was a comic book rock and roll creation whose 1977 elpee, ‘Bat Out of Hell’, has passed through every vinyl collection of note in this country at some point. He connected with audiences in Ireland like few international acts of such scale have done: he is the only popular music draw to have played Dublin’s Dalymount Park, the local hall in the West Cork town of Dunmanway and the showgrounds in Ennis.
That show in Dundrum was attended by a number of a golden generation of young Tipperary hurlers, including several who won All-Ireland medals with the county that year and one who is currently in inter-county management. They’d been as seduced as the rest of the country by ‘Bat out of Hell’, the seven-track rock opera written with Jim Steinman, released in 1977 and that sold over 40 million copies. Produced by Todd Rundgren and featuring Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg from Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street band among the many notable players, it is wide-screen, over-blown, flatulent and at times absolutely magnificent. ‘Bat out of Hell’ began life as a musical written by Steinman and was a counterpoint to everything represented by punk rock, which also achieved a mainstream breakthrough that same summer. Indeed, one can realistically argue that punk rock emerged as an urban, street-smart response to Meat Loaf and his like.
In 1978, Oliver Barry and the Cork County Board ran the first ever Siamsa Cois Laoí festival at Páirc Uí Chaoimh: that day-long live concert was headlined by the Breton multi-instrumentalist and composer, Alain Stivell. The series eventually ran for ten years, radically changing its body shape as it went and ultimately morphing into big international-facing shows by the likes of Michael Jackson, Prince and U2. Meat Loaf, to my mind, was the greatest and most obvious headliner never to have played Siamsa Cois Laoi.
This is the sort of thinking that occupied me far too much when I worked as Pat Kenny’s producer on the Saturday night entertainment series, ‘Kenny Live’, in 1998 and 1999. And during which we hosted a full-live Meat Loaf performance that was as mammoth an undertaking as you’d expect and which we carried off, I think, with no little aplomb. The backing band on the night of Meat’s appearance included various members of the Dublin band, Something Happens, and the back-line ran the entire length of the performance area to the right of the studio. Indeed so many flight cases were rolled into the studio that day that we had to physically extend the sound-stage and eat into some of the other aspects of the set. And of course Meat Loaf raised the roof: not since those sulphurous nights a decade previously, when Charles Haughey regularly locked horns with Brian Farrell on ‘Today Tonight’, had the studio building in Donnybrook witnessed such a whiff of raw, undiluted menace. Once Meat had given us his all for the cause, he took a seat alongside Pat where they shot the breeze and, fleetingly, referenced the 1989 tour of Ireland.
As tends to be the case on some of those bigger state visits, I was rolled out to formally welcome Meat Loaf and his entourage after they’d landed in the reception area to complete a sound-check and rehearse for the cameras. He was every bit the gentleman I imagined he might be: funny and affable, he warmly took my hand and sincerely thanked us for hosting him. His career was once again on an upswing and, five years after ‘I’d Do Anything for Love [But I Won’t Do That’]’, Dunmanway, Moate and Ennis had long been purged from his hard drive.
As the programme’s music booker led Meat Loaf and his party through the doors and into the hospitality area, the receptionist on duty that night called after me. She was wondering if I could bring her out a plate of sandwiches from the green room to keep her going on the graveyard shift. Meat Loaf took one look at me. He knew he was home.