Tuesday 22 May 2018

Devoted to The Boss - the Irish Springsteen superfans

Rocking out: Bruce Springsteen performing at Nowlan Park, Kilkenny in July 2013. Photo: Damien Eagers
Rocking out: Bruce Springsteen performing at Nowlan Park, Kilkenny in July 2013. Photo: Damien Eagers
A Springsteen memorabilia item in Tom Mc Cormack's house.
Bruce Springsteen fans Ita Gibney and her daughter, Laura Costello. Photo: Damien Eagers
Bruce Springsteen dancing with Laura Costello from Dublin at the Nowlan Park concert in 2013. Photo: Damien Eagers
Ita Gibney and her daughter, Laura Costello's Bruce Springsteen memorabilia
Bruce Springsteen fan Anton Martin. Photo: Tom Conachy
Bruce Springsteen's autograph addressed to fan Anton Martin. Photo: Tom Conachy
The Springsteens. Photo: Patrick Browne
Tom McCormack. Photo: Doug O'Connor

John Brennan

Bruce Springsteen's Irish fans are amongst the most dedicated in the world, as this weekend's Croke Park concerts will attest. From flying home from holidays just to see him, to contacting the governor of New York for tickets, we meet the super fans who'd do anything for The Boss…

Tom McCormack

From Clonskeagh in Dublin, Tom (54) works as the communications manager for the Guinness Pro 12. He's a member of the Bruce Buddies, a Facebook club of die-hard Irish Springsteen fans who attend gigs and socialise together. Tom has been to 25 Springsteen concerts in Ireland as well as five shows in the UK.

"Bruce Buddies have been on the go for about 18 months now, it probably only warms up when tours are announced or albums are coming out. There's a lot of excitement about Bruce coming back to Ireland. It's the Irish fan club, but the E-Street Fans covers Irish and English fans too.

"At the concerts, the pit is where it happens. In venues like the 3Arena there might be a couple of hundred to 1,000 people in this area, but in a venue like Croke Park there could be 3,000-5,000 people there. The pit is where it's at, it's where the die-hard fans want to be. They don't drink beer, they don't leave to go to the bathroom, they're just there for the music. He usually plays between 32-36 songs - so over three hours.

"For most fans it's the troubadour in Bruce that they love. He tells stories and fans can relate to them at different phases in their lives. Whether it's about leaving town, growing up, problems with their parents or even work. Getting out of town is a lot of it, and later his songs are about finding out who you are as a person and falling in and out of love. Lately, the recession was a huge theme too. He speaks to people. I was 14 when Born to Run came out. I've listened to that album for 40 years and it still goes down as one of the classic albums."

Last night global superstar Bruce Springsteen took to the stage at Croke Park for the first of two sold-out concerts. It was his 27th show on Irish soil, with the 28th set to take place tomorrow night. Among the audience will be people who have seen all 28 of Springsteen's Irish gigs - and many more besides.

Bruce's fans are renowned for being fanatical in their devotion, and nowhere more so than in here Ireland, where both the Boss and his wife have family connections. Small wonder then, that all 164,000 available tickets for The River Tour shows sold out within two hours when they went on sale back in February, with the tickets for last night's show snapped up in just 30 minutes. While Springsteen may have been 'Born in the USA', he's been accepted by Irish fans as one of our own.

Speaking to some die-hard Irish fans about Bruce, they paint a picture of a story-teller, an inspiration, a gentlemen and an entertainer who has inspired them to travel the globe just to see him perform. Here, we meet some of the Boss' biggest fans…

Greg Lewis

Cardiff based Journalist Greg Lewis (47) along with his Derry-born wife Moira Sharkey are the authors of The Land of Hopes and Dreams, a book which explores Bruce Springsteen's Irish links.

"We always used to go see Bruce in Ireland because the shows always seemed quite special. Fans from England and in Europe that think that they need to do an Irish show, because for some reason the Irish shows seem an extra bit special.

"We were at one of the gigs in Dublin and I remember there was someone in the crowd who shouted "Bruce - you're Irish!", and we thought that it was an interesting thing that the fans seemed so dedicated and so interested and he seemed to be so warm back. Obviously he's a charismatic figure, but he really seems to have that connection with Irish fans and we thought we'd explore that in the book.

"A lot of people will point to the fact that he played Slane Castle in 1985. At the time Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson were probably the biggest stars in music. People fell in love with him, and we found people who have been to see him on practically every tour since he played Slane. You'll see that there are a lot of young fans too - so it doesn't tell the whole story. I think some of it is to do with the way he writes -the way he tells stories connects a lot with Irish music and with Irish literary tradition, but as well as this his view of America is quite in-keeping with a lot of liberal European people.

"Bruce is never going to disappoint you in live concerts, because he always said that every time he goes out he just imagines this is his only show and he imagines people in the crowd will only see him once, that's the sort of commitment he has. I've seen him over 20 times, but if you speak to die hard fans, that number is fairly pathetic!"

David O'Neill

The Springsteens. Photo: Patrick Browne

From Dunmore East in Waterford, David (44) is the drummer with The Springsteens. The six-piece tribute band met on Waterford's music scene, and the line-up includes David's brother Conor as lead guitarist and vocalist. Though he works in the building industry by day, David's love for Bruce's music has seen him play around the country at night and weekends for the past seven years.

"I've been a fan for years. I suppose Born in the USA would have been the first Springsteen song I knew. The one for me though was Tunnel of Love in '87, that whole album is a masterpiece.

"We've all been playing music since we were teenagers, of course you always start out doing the originals you know, thinking you're going to be the next big thing - the next Springsteen! We were all in different bands over the years, but through our love of Springsteen's music we thought we'd give a tribute band a go. We started The Springsteens in 2009. We're all working, so this just started out as a hobby because we all just loved playing Springsteen - but now it has a life of its own!

"In 2014, we did a gig in Dublin and there was a guy at the gig who knows Bruce very well. He was so impressed with us he said he'd get Bruce to meet us. So Bruce Springsteen rang me out of the blue one night - you can imagine what that was like! When he called, he said he had seen our stuff online and loved it. It was unbelievable for him to take the time out to do that, but that's why he has the fans he has - the ones who follow him around the world. He said to me: "Keep up the good work and spread the love all about the country." So that's what we do, we bring his stuff to every part of the country. We're hoping to meet him some day.

"I've seen Bruce play nearly 30 times at this stage. There's no looking back for him now, he's the biggest artist in the world. He could have sold out another few gigs in Croke Park, easy.

"I'm in the building industry and all the lads have something going on, some of them are full-time musicians. People say 'you're probably making a fortune', but we're not, we're doing it to, as Bruce said to me, 'spread the love'."

Ita Gibney & Laura Costello

Bruce Springsteen fans Ita Gibney and her daughter, Laura Costello. Photo: Damien Eagers

Mother and daughter, Ita Gibney (62) and Laura Costello (25) from Donnybrook in Dublin, both work in communications. They have travelled around the world to see Bruce Springsteen live. During Springsteen concerts, he traditionally picks someone from the crowd to dance on stage with him during Dancing In The Dark. In 2013, Laura's dreams came true at Kilkenny's Nowlan Park when she was the lucky fan.

Ita says:

"I discovered Bruce Springsteen about 10 years ago so I'm a late comer to the party. I saw him at the RDS and I just got hooked. I started playing a lot of albums at home and in the car and the love of Bruce passed onto my two kids Mark (22) and Laura (25). That was fantastic to be able to share. From a family point of view he really brought something to us. We've been to so many concerts, nearly all the ones in Ireland since we started listening to him, we also saw him in New York and in Paris. For Laura's 21st we went and saw him in Madison Square Garden, so it's become a way to celebrate these big family events.

"Bruce Springsteen fans are almost like a tribe, so when one fan meets another fan or you discover someone you know also likes Bruce Springsteen it opens up a whole new conversation. There are lots of people across all generations who like Bruce Springsteen. I think it's because of the authentic voice, he just speaks to something in people."

Laura says:

Bruce Springsteen dancing with Laura Costello from Dublin at the Nowlan Park concert in 2013. Photo: Damien Eagers

"All music is about creating feelings, but I love the moments and the stories that Bruce creates with his music - and there is so much of his music too! Ireland is a special place for him, I don't think many big artists would come to Kilkenny for a gig.

"I toured around Ireland in 2013 seeing him play. On the last night of the tour in Kilkenny, we were up the front. I brought a sign reading: 'I dyed my hair blue for a chance to Irish dance with you.' It's one of those things you never think is going to happen, so when the song came on I was holding up my sign, everyone was dancing.

"He just walked over, took my hand, helped me over the railing - I was just in such a state of shock, but because my sign said Irish dancing, I just started Irish dancing! We were just laughing the whole time and at the end he just whispered in my ear 'you're a doll'.

"The best thing about it was sharing that experience with everyone. When I found my brother in the crowd I just hugged him and cried. The fans were incredible, people sent me pictures and videos of it. It was totally a bucket list thing that I never thought would happen."

Anton Martin

Bruce Springsteen fan Anton Martin. Photo: Tom Conachy

Accountant and auditor Anton Martin (54), from Dundalk, Co Louth, has been a lifelong fan of The Boss and this year hopes to complete his half century of Springsteen gigs. He has passed his love of Springsteen's music on to his four children, Conor (27), Rory (26), Claire (21) and Niall (18). The whole Martin clan - including wife Diane, who Anton describes a "closet fan" - are attending both Croke Park concerts this weekend, and Anton will also be travelling to Wembley for a gig this summer.

"I've only seen Bruce 44 times - that's all! Wembley and the two Croke Park shows will bring it up to 47 - I might make 50 this year because he's after announcing a US tour again. I was over in Washington and Newark in January, they're just things you have to do. It's a bit like a drug!

"It was about 1978/79 when I got the album Born to Run, and I started going through his back catalogue. I remember buying The River in Dublin in 1980. I was a student at the time, it was a double LP and I came home and listened to it all weekend - it just grabs you.

"In 1993, I took Conor out of school to see him arriving at Dublin airport but we missed him. A security guard at the concert said he was flying out the next day at 1pm, so we went up the second time and we got him! People say you should never meet your hero but it was just unbelievable - he took time out to talk to Conor, said he was a beautiful child. I said to him that Conor liked Pony Boy, because they always had to listen to Bruce in the car and the house, and he sang it to him. Myself and Conor are probably the only people who ever heard him sing Pony Boy live!

"About five or six years ago Bruce announced two shows in the RDS but we'd booked the holidays for the time. I flew back for the one night to see him in the RDS, booked into a hotel and was on the next flight back to France at 6.30 in the morning.

"We always wanted to go to one of his Christmas shows in Asbury Park in New Jersey but we couldn't get tickets online. A relative had told me that my mother was born in the same house as the grandmother of George Pataki, who was the Governor of New York. So I sent an e-mail to George and explained that I met him in Louth when he was over visiting his roots, and explained that I was looking to buy two tickets for Bruce Springsteen. I got an e-mail back looking for my credit card details. Eventually, the governor of Albany sorted me out. I got two back-stage passes, we were allowed in for the sound check and everything. There was about five people in the place and there was this fella was standing beside us, I looked around and it was Jon Bon Jovi. We saw the whole show from the front, it was brilliant.

"My story is one of two Irish stories to make it into an American book called For You, which is full of stories from Bruce Springsteen's fans. Honestly, everything in our house comes back down to Bruce - everything is Bruce!"

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