Tuesday 26 September 2017

Slane marks thirty years

Alison Comyn talks to Lord Henry Mountcharles about hosting the world's greatest concerts in his back garden

IT WAS a pipe dream that became a reality – bringing the cream of the world's musical acts to play in your back garden – but when you're aristocracy, and your garden is a 1,500-acre estate, dreams can come true.

Thirty years on, Slane concert is still attracting rock'n'roll royalty to quake the banks of the Boyne to their core, and with just two weeks to go until Kings of Leon add their names to the hall of fame, Marquess Conyngham, best known as Lord Henry Mountcharles, recalls how it all started, and some of his favourite gigs and memories.

'In some ways it doesn't feel like 30 years since Thin Lizzy first played, but in other ways it feels every minute of it,' says the 8th Marquess, whose ancestors have lived in Slane Castle since 1701.

' This year we have a real rock'n'roll band, who will admit their roots are in bands like the Rolling Stones and Thin Lizzy, so in essence, we have come full circle in three decades.' The Ireland of that first year of the Eighties also bore a striking resemblance to the country today, with huge unemployment rates, and emigration on the increase.

'1981 was a very dark time for the country, it was during the hunger strikes, and Slane was a pathfinder gig, headlined by Thin Lizzy and U2, and the buzz was wonderful, and despite only having 18,000 people there, which in today's numbers is very small, I actually made money from it,' he says with a smile.

'I really hoped it would take off after that first success, and by the following year, when we had secured the Rolling Stones, I knew things were never going to be the same again.'

Henry had high hopes for the event from the start, wanting Slane to take its place in the national psyche, alongside the All-Ireland Final and the Irish Derby.

'When I first said that to Dennis Desmond and Eamon McCann, they thought I was nuts, but of course, it has now been voted one of the top 10 venues in the world,' he adds.

'We've had world-class acts appear, many of whom have been stressful, but also a lot of fun, and they've made an enormous contribution to the building of the castle, so I am looking forward immensely to May 28 and enjoying this very special gig.'

Looking back over the 20 concerts over the past 30 years, Henry says he has several favourites. 'Slane has a very strong connection with U2 – the band recorded An Unforgettable Fire here and I count Adam Clayton as a close friend – and played the first gig here, as well as their own two, very emotional gigs, so they would have to be up there,' he says.

'Although it had its difficulties: we had a very hard time getting Axl Rose on stage. I can remember my son Alex and I going over to Slash, because what no one knew, and what we were trying to keep quiet, was that the lead singer wasn't even on-site. 'We were talking to his advisers in his hotel suite in Dublin. Meanwhile, the manager was fishing in the river.

But when he finally did, the Guns N' Roses gig was amazing, and he also adds that Bruce Springsteen put on an astonishing three-hour set, as the only act to play without support, and has come back with his family to relive the experience.

The concert took a break after the David Bowie gig in 1987, and Henry says that was a conscious decision. 'I needed a break, the venue needed a break and I needed to re-marshall my spirits, and of course, as you know, we had some diffi-