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Friday 22 November 2019

When pop rocked Slane

Rock hasn't always ruled the roost; pop has reigned, too, says Ed Power

Ed Power

Not the sort of chap you can imagine donning novelty Jedward headgear, Henry Mount Charles has never been shy about the fact that he regards Slane first and foremost as a rock venue.

When it was put to him a few years ago that Westlife might make suitable headliners he didn't hesitate in dismissing the suggestion (raising the hackles of Louis Walsh in the process).

Still, for all his protestations, Slane hasn't been adverse to embracing the shiny, superficial world of chart music every now and then.

The argument could be made that some of the event's most memorable moments occurred when it put its leather jacket away and unleashed its inner pop tart.

The biggest pop extravaganza in the festival's history was unquestionably the 2004 appearance by Madonna.

For her debut Irish performance, she rolled into Slane with her super-conceptualised Re:Invention tour, a glitter-strewn extravaganza featuring dozens of dancers, risque backing videos and 20 years' worth of hits.

This being Madonna, there was also the occasional 'what the hell?' moment, such as when she belted out Into The Groove accompanied by a bagpipe player in full Highlands regalia.

Then again, what kind of world would would it be if Madge couldn't get jiggy with a man in a kilt when the impulse struck?

That was the the last time a fully fledged pop star headlined the festival.

The previous occasion was 1999 when Robbie Williams, then in his pre-UFO obsessed pomp, silenced all those who questioned whether a mere pop act could fill the boots of U2, REM, Thin Lizzy, etc.

A super-sized personality with songs that go down as easy as ice-cream floats on a summer afternoon, he turned out to be the perfect Slane headliner.

Crucially, Williams recognised the importance of not taking himself too seriously -- and the last concert of the decade was a breezy affair, without the histrionics that often attend arena shows.

It helped that the bill was arguably the most eclectic in Slane's history, with pre-fame David Gray playing alongside goth-popsters Placebo and charmingly lovable lairy Mancs Happy Mondays.

In contrast to this year's line-up -- largely aimed at fans of anthemic rock -- Slane 1999 was at pains to appeal to as wide a demographic as possible.

Though the thoroughly stodgy Bryan Adams was headlining, Slane 2000 adopted a similarly open-minded outlook, with once-and-future Spice Girl Mel C juxtaposed with raspy chanteuse Macy Gray and one-hit novelty Eagle-Eye Cherry.

Second from top on the bill was Moby, then in the midst of shifting six million copies of his 'Play' album -- the furthest a dance artist has ever ascended the Slane leaderboard until the Prodigy rocked up and thrilled/terrified the bejaysus out of everyone in 2009.

Since the glory days of Madonna, alas, pop has taken a bit of a back seat at Slane.

Granted, the Prodigy are technically a dance act.

But it would be more accurate to describe them as a heavy metal band masquerading as a dance act -- their performance two years ago was by some distance the most rock and roll part of the evening (neutrals agree they blew a dreary Oasis off stage).

So has Slane's strange tango with pop come to an end? Mount Charles has always said he'd book the act best suited to the venue.

Dare we suggest Slane and a certain Stefan Angelina Germanotta are made for one another?

Someone has already started a 'Lady Gaga for 2011' Facebook page.

That opportunity has passed -- but it's not too late to start clamouring for a Gaga-Slane hook-up in 2012.

This would be a one-night stand forged in pop heaven.

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