Well, Friday night actually! It’s a real coup for The Music Show to have the opening honours done by none other than the legendary founder of Island Records, Chris Blackwell, and he does a superb interview with Hot Press’ Stuart Clark, to a hushed audience that includes Gavin Friday, Ali Hewson, Ned O’Hanlon, Grainne Duffy manager John McIver, Liam O Maonlai, his former Island sidekick Tom Hayes, Kevin Godley, Steve Wall – oh and loads more, far too numerous to mention. With a career that encompassed musical liaisons with Traffic, Nick Drake, Bob Marley, Marianne Faithfull, Grace Jones, Tom Waits and U2 among many others, it was both hugely entertaining – and on occasion downright inspiring…

If that was a quiet occasion, the first thing that strikes you entering the RDS on Saturday morning is the wondrous cacophony of sounds emanating from the dozens of musical instrument exhibits around the Main Hall.
The sheer amount of gear on display is mesmerising: there must be tens of millions of euros worth on show, all of it tantalisingly presented. Guitars – both electric and acoustic – dominate and the best brand names are out in force, with Martin, Peavey, Takamine, Aria, Richwood, Cort, McIlroy, Lakewood and Sheridan to the fore (the latter at the Clarke’s Music Company stand), alongside the Fenders and Gibsons that are carried by exhibitors in the Retail Village. There are also prototypes for the new Craftine Irish range, a beautifully-designed guitar indeed.
Added to that are all manner of keyboards and synths, assorted drums and percussion, even DJ decks, samplers and oodles of high end recording gear. Near to the main entrance, the spectacle of young lads at the highly impressive Roland stand, banging on electronic drum kits with all the fervour they can muster is a sight to behold. In stark contrast, a bearded gentleman can be seen nearby gently plucking a beautifully ornate banjo, at the Clareen Banjos stand, demonstrating if nothing else that the Music Show truly caters for musicians and instruments of all kind.
It’s entirely appropriate that this historic room at the RDS should be the location for Ireland’s biggest music extravaganza. With its stone walls, cast iron pillars and wooden mezzanine, the old Main Hall was graced by some of the biggest names in world music back in the days when it was Dublin’s premier venue – before it was superseded by the nearby Simmonscourt Pavillion and later on The Point. In fact Swedish superstars Abba performed what would be their last ever European concert in this very space in November 1979, while in 1982 Roxy Music, on their Avalon tour, played one of the best shows ever seen in Dublin.
But that was then… today the huge crowds mingling excitedly around the exhibits are a mixture of top level pros from all areas of the industry, serious music heads in the semi-pro category, curious amateurs and families out for the day (often including two generations of players!), as well as giggly teenagers – some of them doing a bit of talent spotting of their own. Around the corner, the Hot Press covers exhibition draws large crowds, many joining the early queues to catch The Blizzards. One of the live highlights of the day, they do a blistering set to a packed house and go down a storm. If this is rock’n’roll, I sure as hell don’t want my old job back!
Meanwhile, the U2 Trabants look other-worldly, a reminder of the band’s sense of visual adventurousness as well as a potent symbol of a once divided Europe.
Upstairs in the meeting rooms it’s down to serious business as the hugely-popular and well- attended music seminars get underway. The first of the day – Rock ‘N’ Roll On TV Sucks – sees Dave Fanning in his usual self-effacing and straight-talking way revealing that the drinks budget for just one episode of the Late Late Show was probably bigger than the budget for the entire series of The Last Broadcast. He also lets slip that while he’s a huge fan of Later… With Jools Holland he isn’t all that keen on the presenter! Mike Edgar of BBC Northern Ireland gives a real insight into how TV programmers have to view music, U2 man Ned O’Hanlon talks more than a good deal of horse sense, while 10cc legend and video pioneer Kevin Godley stands at the back of the room smiling serenely – quite possibly because 10cc’s classic ‘Wall Street Shuffle’ has been receiving renewed airplay in the wake of the stock market shenanigans!
It’s standing room only too for the lively Record Company: Are Young Bands Getting A Raw Deal? talk. Mark Crossingham, the newly installed boss of Universal Ireland, rejects outright the notion that record companies are nowadays populated by mere lawyers and accountants – and the qualty of his argument brooks no dissent. For her part, Julie Feeney reveals that while her deal with Sony/BMG is a huge boon, she has a plan B should it go sour.
Dave Robinson entertains everyone greatly with war stories from the Stiff era, and beyond during the 360 Degree Deal – Is This The End Of The Industry As We Know It? panel, and there’s a full house again for the Producing A Record – What’s It All About? seminar with Steve Wall, Tom McFall, Marc Carolan and arguably the most popular panellist, Dublin resident Nick Seymour. Nick modestly introduces himself as a producer and bass player with Crowded House. He draws the biggest laugh when he says he tries to “actively discourage” bands from producing themselves!
As Saturday progresses, it becomes clear that for the exhibitors, the Music Show 2008 has turned out to be a resounding success…
Enda Quealy of Futuresounds, who distribute leading brands like M-Audio, DigiDesign Focusrite and Akai, is evidently happy with the way it’s going.
“I really think the Music Show organisers have pulled the rabbit out of the hat this year in terms of getting the crowds in,” he proffered. “This is our third year doing it and it’s by far the best ever. Obviously the numbers are way up and out of that mass of people we’ve got a lot of serious enquiries.”
Mark Bolton of Keynote Music, who’s showcasing percussion from Meinl and Martin guitars, among a wide range of other top products, is equally enthusiastic.
“For us it’s a really good show. There’s much more about the music and getting people involved with what’s going on. What we wanted to do was create an experience which was much more interactive and we’ve succeeded. We created a Martin guitar room, which has a great vibe and have had drummer Mike Terrano in for a showcase – which blew everybody away!” But then top class musicianship of that type is a huge part of what the Music Show is about…
While Opus II are best known as sheet music specialists, at the Music Show they are showcasing Yamaha keyboards and digital pianos. “It’s our first year but the general reaction from the public has been very good,” says Michael Nichols. “We had a guy on hand to demonstrate the various keyboards and pianos and we had plenty of interest. The brand name is very well known but for some reason, people seem to think Yamaha are very expensive, so there’s a bit of a wow factor with the price.”
An excellent set from Declan O’Rourke on the live stage, the guitar masterclass with Henry McCullough and Fiachna O Braonáin, the Music and Film panel with Neil Jordan, Gavin Friday, Kevin Godley and Ken McHugh and the live performance by Cathy Davey follow hard on the heels of one another – and all in their wonderfully different ways enthral. And then, just when you thought the energy levels might drop, there’s more superb live performances by Ham Sandwich and Fionn Regan.
In parallel time, the Digging For Gold – Making Hit Records panel gets into some seriously interesting territory. With the Future Cut team of Darren Lewis and Tunde Babalola offering insights into making No.1 records with the likes of Lily Allen, and Manic Street Preachers man Greg Haver and Mikey Graham of Boyzone offering their very different take on things, it turns out to be fascinating stuff.
Talking to Mark Bolton again late on Sunday, he notes that there’s been a distinctly different atmosphere on each of the two days.
“Yeah, they were definitely quite different in terms of the crowds,” he avers. “On Saturday we had a lot of serious musos, really checking out the gear, while Sunday was much more of a family event with lots of kids around getting a feel for the variety of it all. We were delighted with the mix. “Overall it’s been a huge success for us.”