I remember the very first time I saw Liam Gallagher.
It was in a small pub in Dublin and he was the singer in a very cool but little-known band called Oasis. I shouldn't have been in the pub at all but some skillful work with the make-up brush had earned me entry across the threshold. I said hi, and he seemed nice, friendly (can you believe it, Liam Gallagher -- nice?!). That was 1994 and by the following year the band would not be able to enjoy such anonymity in pubs or anywhere else for that matter.
In 1995, they were on the bill for Slane, supporting that year's headline act, REM. Oasis returned to the castle to headline their own gig 14 years later, but in 1995 they were very much at the height of their cool, if not their popularity. World domination and band acrimony were still a long way off. I was 17 and mad about music and while not too keen on spending a full weekend at Feile (the only music festival in Ireland at the time) I thought Slane offered the best of both worlds -- a festival atmosphere with the attraction of going home to your own bed that night.
Tickets were a ridiculously reasonable price, £45 if I recall correctly, although it still took me weeks to save up the money from my part-time job. Looking back it was a strange line-up. Sharon Shannon and Luka Bloom on the same bill as REM and the New England indie band Belly and, of course, the Mancunian upstarts, Oasis.
As the day approached myself and my companion, a school chum from Greystones, planned the day with military precision. We stayed in her sister's flat the night before -- it seemed terribly grown-up and glamorous to know someone with a flat in Phibsboro -- so we could shave some time off our journey. It's an insight into our festival virginity that we got up at the crack of dawn that morning with fuzzy Westcoast Cooler hangovers to catch the bus to Slane. We knew the gates didn't open until two o'clock but we were sure as hell we weren't going to miss anything.
There were other early birds there when we arrived with the same idea so we all sat around in the sun, chatting, relaxing and enjoying the general holiday atmosphere, while a group of boys stripped off and ran around playing football in their boxer shorts, which seemed wildly liberated and bohemian behaviour to my innocent self.
When the gates opened we surged in, got our passes for the pit and headed straight for the front-row barrier. It was like a magnet and we stayed there through all of the bands, until the crush became so great that the bouncer made an executive decision and hauled us out.
I remember being outraged by the lack of gig etiquette. My live music experience up until that point comprised of fey indie audiences watching civilised jangle bands in small venues like the SFX. I was perfectly indignant at the guy who draped himself on my back like a rucksack and brayed along to every song beside my right ear. It was quite the introduction to festival etiquette, although I've since realised this was nothing to complain about.
The crowd went mad for Oasis, who played a typically insouciant set and sounded great in the sunshine. When they returned in 2009, they were a different band (quite literally, their line-up had changed) and their world domination was complete. They had sold 70 million records by that time and had a different outlook toward giant gigs like Slane, I'm sure, but back then they were a new band playing rock'n'roll very, very loud.
One of the things that stands out for me now was the fact that we didn't have mobile phones. When one of us went off to get some food or to go to the bar, the other waited patiently on the same spot for anything up to an hour, sending out silent missives to whatever god we didn't believe in for the other's safe return.
As the night grew dark, and the gig finished with the still-memorable spectacle of people throwing lit paper cups in the air -- a precursor to the now-common sea of lit-up mobile phones -- we started up the hill to leave. It all seemed a little scarier then. It was dark, there was a standstill and a long period of waiting on the steep slope and hoping nobody fell because that would certainly lead to a domino effect and death, or so I thought, but it was more likely just a scary new experience for a young girl.
Overall, I loved every minute of that Slane and the ones that followed. It carved a little place for the festival in my heart forever.
When I woke up the next day my entire body was covered in bruises and I wore them proudly like a badge of honour. I can remember very little about the songs the bands played now, but as far as I can tell, Slane has never really been about who is playing so much as the experience itself -- sitting on a hill on the banks of the Boyne with 80,000 other people, watching a band play as the sun sets behind a very beautiful castle.
It's hard to believe that was 16 years ago. The idea of a one-day festival seems quaint now but the very appeal of the Slane concerts is that they never change and the fact that it celebrates its 30th anniversary this year is testament to its appeal, especially in an Ireland that now includes several international weekend-long music festivals.
I was never a huge fan of Oasis nor was I the biggest fan of U2, or REM, or any of the bands I have since seen at Slane, and yet, each year, by the end of the concert, I am smiling from ear to ear, singing along and having the time of my life.