Sunday 22 April 2018

Flashback 1981... Thin Lizzy headline Slane

Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy at Slane Castle, January 1981. (Photo by Denis O'Regan/Getty Images)
Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy at Slane Castle, January 1981. (Photo by Denis O'Regan/Getty Images)

Ger Siggins

This weekend 34 years ago saw the first of the 23 concerts at Slane Castle that have made visiting the Co Meath venue a highlight of the Irish summer ever since.

Some of the biggest names in the world of pop and rock have headlined the gigs, including Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Eminem, Queen, Oasis and David Bowie. But the inaugural gig was a mostly Irish showcase with Thin Lizzy and U2 the main attractions.

There wasn't unanimous approval in Slane when the lord of the manor, Henry Mount Charles, announced that he would be holding an open-air rock concert in the natural amphitheatre between his home and the River Boyne. Fearful locals held a protest meeting a few weeks before but Mount Charles insisted "I do not want to allow an event to take place on my property which could harm the community."

The summer of 1981 was also that of the IRA hunger strikes and a fraught one for an Anglo-Irish nobleman to be raising his head above the parapet. He later revealed that he had received death threats before the concert, for which he received a £5,000 fee.

The enterprise of promoters MCD was rewarded with a scorching day. More than 17,000 fans paid the £8 (€10) ticket price for the six-performer festival which also featured Dexys' spin-off The Bureau; Belfast heavy-metal band Sweet Savage; Aussie hard rockers Rose Tattoo and Hazel O'Connor's Megahype.

In an Irish Independent report headlined 'Hard rock hooley at the castle', Liam Collins reported that local fears of trouble proved unfounded with a broken pub window the height of the crime spree. One mindless patron lobbed a bottle at the stage when U2 were playing and gardaí confirmed there had been just three arrests.

The Dublin band had only released one album at that stage and played a storming set which climaxed with three songs that formed their first EP, Stories for Boys, Boy-Girl and Out of Control. They returned to sing Happy Birthday for the Edge's girlfriend - and later first wife - Aislinn, and finished with recent single Eleven O'Clock Tick Tock and The Ocean. U2 headlined Slane two years later and again in 2001. That night they paid tribute to Phil Lynott with a passage from Lizzy's Dancing in the Moonlight. Bono admitted from the stage, "When we started off it was unimaginable we would be headlining Slane. We played on stage with Thin Lizzy and we were crap, really crap."

Mount Charles recalled meeting Lynott off the helicopter in which Lizzy travelled to Slane - dubbed 'Rockalypse Now' - and that when he went on stage, "he literally lifted the whole nation. The Boys were back in town and Thin Lizzy rocked."

The festival peaked in 1985 when Bruce Springsteen entertained over 100,000 people, his biggest audience at the time. In May this year, 60,000 watched Foo Fighters at Slane.

U2 continued an association with Slane, living at the castle where they recorded The Unforgettable Fire in a converted drawing room in 1984. They also filmed a video for Pride in the ballroom and a concert film at the 2001 gig.

Lynott died in 1986, but the reformed Lizzy, containing two veterans of the 1981 gigs, Scott Gorham and Brian Downey, returned to play support to Kings of Leon in 2011.

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