20 unforgettable festival memories
Some were more unforgiveable than unforgettable, but all in all the Irish festival scene - with or without Christy Moore - has given us plenty to look back on, writes JIM CARROLL
1 Rory Gallagher, Macroom Mountain Dew festival, 1977One of the strangest ever yarns from Irish music is that the Macroom Mountain Dew festival organisers invited Idi Amin to town in 1977. The Ugandan dictator didn’t show, and punters had to instead make do with a magnificent show from Rory Gallagher, which was a much better result for all concerned. The festival continued and, by 1981, was hosting The Undertones, Elvis Costello, The Pretenders and Paul Brady and charging £12 for weekend tickets.
2 Christy Moore, Carnsore Point, 1978The Carnsore Point gigs saw Christy Moore, Clannad, Barry Moore (before he became Luka Bloom), Bothy Band and others head to Co Wexford in 1978 and 1979 to play a free festival to protest against the proposal by then minister for energy Dessie O’Malley to build a nuclear plant there. It all worked out well: Carnsore wasn’t nuked, the festivals helped to set the Irish green movement in motion, and Christy Moore gave due notice that he was the man when it came to Irish festivals.
3 Thin Lizzy, Slane, 1981Crowds flocked to the front garden of Henry Mount Charles in Co Meath for the first time to enjoy some live rock’n’roll. Supporting Thin Lizzy on their big day out were Hazel O’Connor, Sweet Savage, Rose Tattoo, The Bureau and U2. Thirty years later, Thin Lizzy (albeit without Phil Lynott, who died in 1986) returned to the castle to support Kings of Leon. U2, of course, would also return.
4 Jackson Browne, Lisdoonvarna, 1982We’ll always have Christy Moore’s song to remind us of Ireland’s first major music festival, a quintessentially Irish take on Woodstock and Glastonbury. Organised by local businessmen Paddy Doherty and Jim Shannon the festival brought thousands to the town between 1978 and 1983 to see international stars such as Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris, Loudon Wainwright III, UB40, Richard and Linda Thompson and Wishbone Ash, as well as Moore, Rory Gallagher, Van Morrison, The Chieftains, Planxty, Paul Brady and Clannad. An attempt in 2003 to revive the event was scuppered by Clare County Council, and a one-day Lisdoonvarna festival was held, bizarrely, in Dublin instead.
5 U2, Phoenix Park, 1983U2’s Day at the Races festival at the Phoenix Park racecourse featured an impressive undercard, with Simple Minds, Eurythmics, Big Country and Steel Pulse providing support. About 20,000 people went to see U2 bring their Wartour to Dublin, as they prepared for worldwide superstardom. Oddly enough, the band haven’t returned to the park for a show since, preferring to play their outdoor gigs in the capital at the RDS and Croker.
6 Bruce Springsteen, Slane, 1985Even the Boss and his team were taken aback by the reaction to their debut Irish show. Manager John Landau later said Slane had the wildest crowd of the European leg of the Born in the USAtour. Some 65,000 tickets were sold, but the Garda estimated 100,000 people were in Slane on the day. Whatever about previous appearances by Bob Dylan (1984) and The Rolling Stones (1983), this show created the notion of Slane as an event gig.
7 The Boomtown Rats, Self Aid, RDS, 1986The idea was hatched after the success of the previous year’s Live Aid at Wembley Stadium: a big show in Dublin with a telethon to raise money and jobs for the unemployed. U2 volunteered to play a few songs, with Bono having a dig at critics of the band in “the pages of cheap Dublin magazines”; The Boomtown Rats performed for the last time; and there were performances from Chris de Burgh, Chris Rea and Christy Moore (if you were called Chris, you had a gig), as well as The Pogues and many others. Believe it or not, a couple of thousand jobs were plucked out of thin air as a result of the show. Maybe it’s time for Self Aid 2.
8 The Pogues, Siamsa Cois Laoi, 1987Music festivals were a popular way for sports stadiums to clear huge debts, and Siamsa Cois Laoi was intended to bring Pairc Uí Chaoimh’s bank balance into the black. The one-day festivals began with home-grown folk acts and trad acts in 1977, before expanding to house everyone from Status Quo, John Denver, The Pogues and the McGarrigle sisters to Christy Moore (who else?) and the Wolfe Tones by the time it ended, in 1987.
9 Primal Scream, Féile, Semple Stadium, Thurles, 1992For those who came of age in the 1990s, Féile was Oxegen and Lisdoon rolled into one, and thousands made the Trip to Tipp from 1990. There are as many Féile memories as there are Féile veterans: from great sets by Primal Scream, Bjork, Cypress Hill, De La Soul and PJ Harvey to bizarre slots for Chris de Burgh, Transvision Vamp and the Jim Rose Circus. The festival moved to Cork in 1995, took over the Point in Dublin (including an outdoor stage in a fenced-off part of the car park) in 1996 and returned once again to Thurles for a one-day bash in 1997 before running out of steam.
10 Sonic Youth, Sunstroke, Dalymount Park, 1993For two years in the early 1990s, Dalymount Park became a staging post for the optimistically named Sunstroke festival, featuring some of the heavier acts on the circuit. Sonic Youth’s appearance in 1993 was the pick of the bunch, the New York band putting blood in the music with great panache. Other Sunstroke acts included Faith No More, Belly, Sugar, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, Ice Cube, Hole and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
11 Ray Charles, Fleadh Mór, 1993Vince Power may be a hugely successful music promoter out foreign, with the Mean Fiddler and London Fleadh of old and Benicassim and Hop Farm today, but his attempt to bring a festival of a similar ilk to his native Waterford didn’t catch on. The highlight of Fleadh Mór’s one and only outing, at Tramore Racecourse in July 1993, was an appearance by the legendary Ray Charles and his orchestra. Others on the two-day bill included Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Nanci Griffith, Jimmy Cliff, John Prine and (naturally) Christy Moore.
12 Radiohead, Castlegar, Galway, 1996Many incongruous venues have been pressed into use for festivals, and the Castlegar sports grounds, near Galway city, makes the list for hosting Big Day Out gigs as part of Galway Arts Festival. After sets from Neneh Cherry, The Bluetones and The Cardigans, Radiohead plugged their new album The Bends and probably played Creep. The Radiohead of Kid A and innovative record-release schemes were decades away. The festival returned to Castlegar in 1998 with the Beastie Boys, Pulp and Garbage.
13 Nick Cave, Liss Ard, 1997Liss Ard was a boutique festival long before the term came into common usage. Held in the grounds of a sprawling estate outside Skibbereen, in west Cork, from 1997 to 1999, it attracted big acts like Pulp, Will Oldham, Tindersticks, Nick Cave, Lou Reed and Patti Smith; electronic acts like Carl Craig, Andy Weatherall and Plaid; and hundreds of discerning punters. Cave was the Liss Ard poster boy, appearing at all three festivals.
14 Robbie Williams, Slane, 1998There are some days when the star of the show gets upstaged, and this was one of them. The Verve were at the height of their success, but the all-singing, all-joking, all-dancing ex-Take Thatter wooed the audience with every trick in the book. After that, it was an easy jump to headlining the Phoenix Park (2003) and Croke Park (2006).
15 Orbital, Homelands, Mosney, 1999Twenty-five thousand ravers turned up for Ireland’s first legal all-day multi-stage dance event at the Mosney holiday camp and had a whale of a time. Even today, a bill featuring Underworld, Orbital (one of their best Irish shows), Paul Oakenfold and Laurent Garnier would do good business. It was promoted by Pod and Mean Fiddler; predictably enough, rivals MCD soon muscled in on the action with Creamfields. In a sign of the times, neither festival featured Christy Moore.
16 The White Stripes, Witnness, 2001The arrival of Witnness in 2000 saw the return of a festival with camping to the Irish scene. The two-day bash at Fairyhouse Racecourse, sponsored by a drinks company (hence the misspelling), Witnness came with a smattering of decent headliners, including The Prodigy, Beck, Flaming Lips, Foo Fighters and Coldplay. It also had some good new bands, such as The White Stripes impressing the small crowd who saw their appearance in 2001.
17 Arcade Fire, Electric Picnic, 2005For Irish music fans, this is the equivalent of the thousands who claimed to have been in the GPO in 1916. Still considered by the band to be one of their best ever gigs, Arcade Fire at Stradbally was one of those you-had-to-be-there events. Their performance, as well as appearances from Kraftwerk, Doves and LCD Soundsystem, changed how the then two-year-old festival was viewed by the music industry and gig-goers.
18 Amy Winehouse, Oxegen, 2008Well she turned up, didn’t she? After cancelling a 2007 appearance because of “exhaustion”, Winehouse tottered on to the main stage a year later armed with a beverage to get her through the gig. Most of the vast crowd were just gaping at her in the expectation that she’d fall over, but instead she did the gig, played for the contracted 70 minutes and scampered home with a large cheque.
19 Lady Gaga, Oxegen, 2009This was the year Oxegen went pop. The weekend had already seen the masses going mad for The Script, The Saturdays, Lily Allen and Pet Shop Boys. But Lady Gaga’s appearance on the main stage on the Sunday afternoon caused hysteria, as she played the hits and the crowd screamed their heads off. By contrast, there wasn’t that much fuss about old hands such as Nick Cave, The Specials, Nine Inch Nails or Jane’s Addiction. Expect Gaga-like hysteria when Beyoncé takes to the main stage next Sunday night.
20 Chic, Electric Picnic, 2009There is always one surprise performance at Electric Picnic, one act on the bill that only a few people expect to set the place alight. In 2009, people thought the organisers had lost their marbles booking Chic to headline the big tent on the Saturday night, but Nile Rodgers and his band were perfect for that slot. One solid-gold classic after another made it a Picnic highlight to be filed away in the archives.