We were here
It has showcased Irish bands from Thin Lizzy to U2. But what was Slane, where Kings of Leon play today, like for groups whose slots over the past 30 years didn’t lead to stardom?
1981: Sweet Savage
RAY HALLER, BASSIST AND SINGER
SUPPORTED THIN LIZZY
THEN “The memories are good. We were teenagers, and the excitement was incredible, because we were going to play with our heroes, Thin Lizzy. So there we were, supporting Thin Lizzy – and not only that but playing an open-air festival in the grounds of a castle. It felt like we had won the lotto. We went down the day before to have a look around, and we were brought backstage around the artist’s area. You really felt like a rock star: it was as if you’d arrived – living the dream, as it were. We were on the bill because Denis Desmond and Eamonn McCann, of MCD, managed us. They were touting hard to try to get us a record deal, and it was damned hard to get anyone from a London record company to come to Belfast to see us, so being at Slane made sense.
“Anyway, my memories are that it was a beautiful day. Even though we were on very early, to walk out in broad daylight in front of over 20,000 people was mind blowing. I recall being told by Thin Lizzy’s road crew not to use the runways, but of course the first thing I did when I went on stage was to take a mad sprint up and down them. I remember jogging down the runway back to the centre of the stage, starting to play my guitar and nothing happening. Of course, those were the days when you had guitar leads, and with all the running my lead had come out. After the first song, though, it all went fine. But what a day: I remember Thin Lizzy arriving by helicopter – how rock’n’roll was that? – and U2 being there, sitting with their parents, having a picnic, which I thought was lovely. They were on the verge of major success then – and, of course, went stratospheric fairly soon after that.”
NOWYears after Sweet Savage split up – first in 1982 and again in 1989 – Metallica covered one of their songs, Killing Time, which generated interest in the band again. A new album, Regeneration, is released next month. “It’s a labour of love,” says Haller, who has a day job as an art dealer. “Some middle-aged men pack up their golf clubs and head off. We pack up our guitars, go out maybe a dozen times a year and pretend to be rock stars. None of us has any illusions, though: I’m not ordering the Ferrari just yet.”
1984: In Tua Nua
LESLIE DOWDALL, SINGER
SUPPORTED BOB DYLAN
THEN “We were so excited to be playing Slane Castle and to be supporting Bob Dylan: we just couldn’t believe it. And playing in front of 70,000 or 80,000 people was extraordinary. The icing on the cake was when a tour manager came into our dressing room after our gig and told us that Dylan had really liked us and would like to see me ‘and the fiddler’ – Steve Wickham – in his dressing room. I thought, What the hell? Have we done something wrong? But we went there and met him.
“It was like a dream, standing in front of him, this icon who asked myself and Steve to go on stage with him to sing a song. I nearly fainted. I was hoping it was going to be Blowin’ in the Wind, or a song that I knew, but he wanted us on for Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.Mother of God, but I had never heard of it. It was amazing looking at him in the dressing room: he had orange make-up on his face, really thick, with kohl on his eyes. Very strange.
“I was with Bono on the stage, and I asked him what are the words, and he said, ‘Just sing la, la, la, la.’ The gig was great for our profile, and although it was a major gig for us we just took it in our stride; it was more frightening to have played at far smaller venues, such as the Olympia, than the vastness of Slane. There’s something of a false reality playing such a big venue, because people are like ants on a hill. But the memories are great, very real and valid.”
NOWDowdall worked with Paul Brady, Ronan Hardiman and Mike Hanrahan, among others, then took time away from music. “I vary what I do now. I teach kids songcraft, for example, I recently did some gigs with Honor Heffernan, and there might be something happening at some point this year, some Eighties thing. I’m just enjoying it all at the moment, though, and I still love music. Life is good.”
1992: My Little Funhouse
BRENDAN MORRISSEY, GUITARIST
SUPPORTED GUNS N’ ROSES
THEN “We signed to Geffen Records in late 1991, around the same time that Nirvana had signed to the label. We got a $2 million deal, and they got $60,000 – and yet they went and changed music forever. I was the oldest of the band, at 19, and we really thought we were going to be huge. Well, that was the plan, anyway. We had signed the biggest ever deal with Geffen Records up to that point, Guns N’ Roses management had taken us on, and we were even in the video for [the Guns N’ Roses song] November Rain. The ploy behind it was that Geffen was trying to turn us into the next Guns N’ Roses, but we didn’t know that at the time.
“We were first on the bill at Slane, and for a bunch of young guys from Kilkenny it was amazing. It was about our 10th gig. We had won the Carling Hot Pressband competition about a year before, and that’s what got us signed to Island Publishing and, subsequently, to Geffen. We had played a few local gigs, went to LA, came back home, and the first major Irish gig was Slane. We were staying at the Conrad Hotel in Dublin, and had a police escort all the way from there to Slane. Because our singer had big hair everyone thought he was Slash, the Guns N’ Roses guitarist. Three of our friends from Kilkenny drove up with the equipment, and my girlfriend – now my wife – was my guitar tech. She was out on stage in front of 40,000 or so, tuning up my guitar – and she didn’t have a notion what to do.
“It was a good day, but it was quite intense. We did about 10 songs. I remember the day quite vividly. I recall getting to the venue, realising how big it was, meetings Guns N’ Roses, us all being looked after by Faith No More, and then the party later on at Lillie’s Bordello.
“We went back to LA, and I remember waking up one morning and looking at the rock charts: Aerosmith were number one, Guns N’ Roses were number two and My Little Funhouse were number three. I thought we had really cracked it. To this day the band opens doors for me. A lot of people in the music industry remember the story: the biggest signing at the time, the biggest-hyped band. That said, we made some great records in LA that never got released. Of course, it all changed very quickly after that: if you had long hair and sounded like Eighties rock it was all over for you. Would I change a minute of what happened? Not one. I loved all of it.”
NOWMorrissey trades oil around the world with his company Morrissey Oil. “I spend a lot of time in Nigeria, India, the Middle East. I was always into the business side of things and have always been very focused in what I do.”
DEIRDRE McGOLDRICK, SINGER
THEN “What year was it again? Nineteen ninety-eight? Wow. It was definitely one of the highlights of my life. We were way down on the support bill, the baby band, but we had done quite a few gigs in America in front of big audiences, so there was definitely a sense of coming home and telling people what we had done. Our record deal was in America, our publishing contract, and at the time we had written a few tunes for movies, one of which was on the soundtrack to Urban Legend. The gigs in America were good, but not so much the ones in Ireland, so playing Slane was great for us to do.
“What else do I recall? Well, it’s such an iconic place to play. And I remember Mo Mowlam knocking back champagne with us. I remember saying hello to Robbie Williams and Finlay Quaye, and I also remember Denis Desmond sending in champagne to us every now and again. Our gig was early. We were off stage by early afternoon, and the rest of the day ended up being something of a session fest. It was our biggest gig ever, and after we went off to America to record an album with Greg Wells, who is a very famous producer now. But when it was ready for release we were told by the record company it wasn’t really what radio wanted to hear. Then I got pregnant, and naively thought that after the baby was born we’d carry on, but shortly after that we got dropped.”
NOWMcGoldrick – maiden name O’Neill – opened the Pregnancy Store, on Dawson Street in Dublin, in 2005, but she left Ireland about three years ago. She now lives in Singapore, where she works in events management. “It’s a place that is in boom time at the moment, and it’s full of opportunities. Life is great here.”
2000 and 2001: Dara
SUPPORTED BRYAN ADAMS AND U2
THEN “They were two very different experiences for loads of reasons. The first gig was on the support bill for Bryan Adams. Even though we’d played quite a few gigs, we were nervous, which was something I wouldn’t normally be, but Slane is the daddy of them all, isn’t it? It was raining at Slane 2000, and in fairness I don’t think the Bryan Adams gig had as much buzz around it as other Slane gigs.
“Anyway, it was lashing rain for a while, and it seemed to take the whole day for the place to really fill up, so by the time we played there were about, I’d guess, 5,000 really enthusiastic people standing in the rain. It was great, and I’m chuffed to have done it, but it was a mixed bag: 5,000 people in that space makes it look sparsely populated.
“The U2 support slot, in 2001, was totally different: that was hectic. That gig was full from first thing, so we went out on stage – I think we were second or third on – and we had the full-on Slane experience. That was fantastic. What’s it like playing in front of so many people? Well, you can deal with that huge scale of an audience as one entity, and therefore you don’t feel so scrutinised. Whereas if you’re in Whelan’s you can find yourself looking out into the room and wondering, What is he thinking, or, Does she like what she’s hearing? You can’t see someone yawning at a Slane Castle gig, so for me the second gig was easier, and will be a treasured memory forever. It isn’t something you get to do every day.”
NOWO’Toole is still involved in music, full time, and does a lot of orchestral and soundtrack work, and some production. “I’ve worked on arrangements for Paddy Casey and U2, as well as, more recently, a young Dublin band called The Gandhis. Also, I worked on a soundtrack recently for a movie associated with the Ballymun Music Programme.”