Monday 20 November 2017

Satisfaction from the Stones... but Bowie blew it

the great, the bad and the very disappointing...
The Rolling Stones rocked Slane but some other acts were a complete letdown, says Damian Corless

Damian Corless

The first Slane show in 1981 was a success in its own right, but if the wider world took any notice at all, it saw an evening of homespun entertainment. Thin Lizzy were the local boys made good, U2 were the new kids on the neighbourhood block, and Hazel O'Connor's dad was from down the Galway road.

So the first bash by the Boyne had the feel of a night down the local supping pints with your mates but the second Slane felt every bit like putting on the ritz for the visit of a foreign royal or a US president.

The Rolling Stones were rock royalty and they reigned supreme.

They'd passed through Ireland just once before in 1965, in the back of a cramped van, playing six shows in three days, including two in Dublin's Adelphi Theatre. The Beatles had barnstormed the Adelphi some time before them, and The Beach Boys would do so a short while later. The reassuring message to Ireland's pop kids from these groups, the biggest stars of the Swinging Sixties, was: "You're a bit off the beaten track, but we know you're there and we won't forget you."

But very shortly the whole of the pop world did forget Ireland. The outbreak of the Troubles in 1969 scared off visiting talent, and when the situation went from bad to worse the outside world stayed scared and at a safe distance. By the start of the 1980s, Ireland had been a no-go area on the touring circuit for a long and lonely decade and more.

So when Henry Mount Charles and his backers signed up The Stones for the second Slane concert in 1982, it meant much more than just a big day out. It was a signal to the farthest flung corners of Planet Pop that Ireland was open for business again after a long-enforced closure.

That second Slane opened the floodgates, and over the years that followed the biggest touring acts went that extra yard to visit Ireland, ending a purgatory of pained isolation.

The Stones arrived in Ireland on something of a roll. Keith's name had finally come off the infamous bookies' list of Stars Most Likely To Kick The Bucket. The guitarist had even dredged up a new killer riff to stand with his best ever, and the hit single built around it, 'Start Me Up', served notice that the Stones were still alive and kicking.

To ram home the fact that they were still the real deal, and that fans should accept no substitute, they let the J Geils Band tag along as their main support. The J Geils Band had just shot to No1 in the US singles and albums charts and they desperately wanted to be The Rolling Stones. But try as they might that summer Saturday, they didn't come close.

The real Rolling Stones rewarded their Irish fans handsomely for their long wait, kicking off with 'Under My Thumb' and finishing with a dream sequence of 'Honky Tonk Women', 'Brown Sugar', 'Start Me Up', 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' and 'Satisfaction'.

But The Stones being The Stones, of course, trouble was never far behind. The locals were understandably annoyed that thousands of fans decided to make a long weekend of it, camping on private land, partying through the night and generally acting the maggot. The upshot was that there was no Slane show in 1983, and when Bob Dylan freewheeled into town in 1984 there was a notable nervousness in the air as everyone tried to be on their very best behaviour.

Support act UB40 did their bit to establish a feelgood mood with their street-party rhythms, before Santana raised the tempo and local hero Van Morrison finally primed the crowd for the main man.

With the headliner, as ever it was now a matter of waiting to see which Bob Dylan would turn up. Would it be the truculent Bob who'd got out the wrong side of the bed that morning? Would it be the Bob The Convert who just wanted to play stuff from his recent Christian albums 'Slow Train Coming' and 'Saved'?

Happily for all concerned, it was Greatest Hits Bob. He started with 'Highway '61 Revisited' and closed with 'Blowin' In The Wind', visiting just about every one of his career highpoints along the way. The crowd drifted away dreamy-eyed and sated.

If the second Slane featuring The Stones marked a gear-shift up from the first, then it was Bruce Springsteen's sun-kissed marathon in 1985 that moved the event on to the highest logistical level, and demonstrated that a medium-sized rural village and 80,000 rock fans could co-exist in peaceful harmony once all the jigsaw pieces were slotted neatly into place.

All of the pieces slotted into place the following summer for the visit of Queen. Everything, that was, except the Irish weather. It rained and it poured and as the ground turned to muck beneath them, many in the sodden crowd must have wished that Queen's visit had fallen victim to the anti-apartheid protesters who had threatened to disrupt the Irish leg of the world tour that would prove to be the band's last.

From the moment it was announced, the Queen show came under fire from that large section of the Irish population who opposed the racist regime in South Africa, which treated blacks as 10th-class citizens.

The Irish public had been strong supporters of a cultural boycott where stars of sport and showbiz refused to perform in South Africa. Queen, being the biggest live act in the world at the time, and a law unto themselves, ignored the boycott. Other European shows on their tour sold out without a hitch, but the Irish public rebelled. Before they could play Ireland, Queen gave an undertaking that they would never perform for the apartheid regime again.

Back in good standing with their fans, Queen got a rousing welcome to Slane. They brought along their biggest sound-stacks and best lightshow, but still came a poor second to the thunder and lightning enveloping them. Even their cast-of-thousands encores of 'Radio Ga Ga', 'We Will Rock You' and 'We Are The Champions' couldn't save the day.

The sun reappeared in July 1987 for David Bowie's first-ever Irish show, but once again the weather was more of a hinderance than a help. The trouble was that Bowie had put together the most spectacular light show in the history of showbiz for his massive Glass Spider Tour. Some 20 years before U2 unveiled the giant crab centrepiece of their current 360 tour, he arrived with a strikingly similar stage set lit up like a menacing forest of Christmas trees.

The superstructure was designed to dazzle in the darkness, but in the glaring sunshine close to the longest day of the year, it looked sadly like a derelict building site in the possession of NAMA.

Bowie did his best to impress in the style of a demented Spiderman, flying on wires, swinging from prop to prop, climbing the walls, but the harder he tried the more the crowd cried out for the old hits. He'd told Pat Kenny beforehand that he'd leaven the new material with golden oldies, but they were few and far between.

As Bowie went off for a complete rethink, so, it seemed, did the promoters. There wouldn't be another show for five years, but this party was far from over.

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