Johnny Cash: Remembering the Ipswich gig that never was
By Richard Haugh
Johnny Cash's 1992 appearance in Ipswich was cancelled
In 1992 an ambitious plan to bring Johnny Cash to headline an all day event at the Suffolk Showground was cancelled due to slow ticket sales.
The country music legend, who died in 2003, had spoken of his excitement about the gig to BBC Suffolk's country music presenter Brian Mann.
"I love coming to that part of England, it's my favourite part of England," said Cash from his hotel in Las Vegas.
"We're going to give them a show... everything they paid for and ask for."
Brian replayed a section of the interview, which can be heard here in full, as part of his look back at 20 years of country music shows on BBC Radio Suffolk.
The gig was due to take place on Saturday, 29 August, 1992 and it was hoped up to 20,000 people would enjoy music from Johnny Cash, June Carter, the Carter Family, 'Ireland's top star' John Hogan, Lindsey St John and Debbie Allen.
"We're looking forward to coming to England," Cash told Brian. "We're coming on the 24th so we can break the jet lag before the show, we want to feel good and getting over jetlag is an important part of feeling good when you're travelling international.
"I've thought about this show in Ipswich and all those people coming so far. I think it won't be many years until this will have to be a two or three day festival."
This was, indeed, the plan.
According to Barry Dye, hired by the promoters to organise the event, Johnny Cash's headlined show would be the first of many at the Suffolk Showground.
"We went through all the motions of all the meetings, the safety meetings, the fire, the police, the fencing work, the stage lighting, sound - I'd booked the lot," said Barry, who two years earlier had organised Tina Turner's gig at Portman Road.
"It got within two weeks, I think, of the concert and the promoter decided to pull the plug. He said he hadn't sold enough tickets.
"I'd advised them not to cancel the show. Even if we've sold 2000 tickets there will be a hell of a lot more people turning up on the day.
"I said if you cancel the show you'll lose out more in the end than if you go ahead with it and lose money on the day.
"You'll have to pay money to the artists but still make money on the day, there's still all the merchandising, the food outlets and all the other ways of making money apart from the tickets.
"By cancelling it you've got no chance but you've still got to pay people.
"I'm sure the second year we'd sell out and then the third year we could have gone to a two day event."
What went wrong?
A poster advertising the event boasts that it was to be Cash's only UK appearance. Tickets were priced at a reasonable £15-£18 and a press launch meant the event was well publicised.
Barry Dye kept the poster advertising the Ipswich show
"The media were very excited about it," said Barry. "He was a very, very big name and being an area where country music is very strong we thought it would be a good attraction.
"But for some reason people didn't snap the tickets up.
"I don't think it was too expensive - I think people were just waiting to see what the weather was like. That's the trouble with outdoor concerts, that's why you really need to sell the tickets in advance."
BBC Suffolk presenter Stephen Foster, however, thinks Cash wasn't a big enough draw at the time.
"I was lucky enough to see Cash at the Gaumont back in 1986 and he was in fine form, proving that he'd lost none of the charisma that made him such a big star in the 1960s.
"Come 1992, Cash was still a huge name in country music circles but his light wasn't shining so brightly as it had in the previous decade.
"I remember thinking at the time that the promoters would do well to attract thousands of people to his show on the outskirts of Ipswich.
"A few years later of course Johnny Cash became hip again thanks to his work with American producer Rick Rubin, but by then the chances of him ever playing in Suffolk again were remote."
Paying the cost
Barry Dye estimates that around £100,000 was spent on the failed show.
"To put on an event that big is a lot of money," he said. "From memory Johnny Cash was on about £50,000.
"(The promoter) paid 50% of Johnny Cash's fee in advance so he lost that. I can't remember the situation with the other artists but I think they all got possibly 25% or 50% of their fee."
Johnny Cash broke boundaries by performing in prisons, including the infamous Folsom
Cash died 11 years after he was due to play at the Suffolk Showground.
In that time he found a new audience with the American Recordings before the posthumous biography Walk The Line added another level to his legacy.
The film captures the turbulent history of Cash, who speaks about his brushes with the law in the interview with Brian Mann, but also focuses on his desire to connect with, and to please, his audience
This was definitely the plan for the Ipswich show.
"Everywhere we go, from time to time we poll the audience and ask them what they would like to hear," Cash said. "I put down a list of my 20 most requested songs.
"Most of my show, as you will hear, will be those most requested songs.
"I think an artist is really making a mistake when he doesn't do the things that people want to hear.
"It would be very easy to get tired of some of these old songs, but it doesn't matter. When I'm singing Folsom Prison Blues for the 12,000th time, if the audience is loving it, I'm loving it.
"That song is an extension of myself and you can't separate the two of us when we're on stage.
"I love what I do, I love to perform for the people, I love to communicate my songs, ideas and emotions and when they respond in kind and throw it right back at me with love and applause, it just really turns me on."
Were you due to attend the Johnny Cash show at Suffolk Showground, or were you involved with the organisation? Send your memories to firstname.lastname@example.org
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