Emer McLysaght: Ask anyone about their first gig, and watch them light up

Harry Styles’ Dublin show was magical, and an important first for many

The day Princess Diana died, I went to see U2 at Lansdowne Road. I was a teenager and stayed at a friend’s aunt’s house the night before so we could get to the venue early to queue for places at the very front of the crowd. It was really important to me to try to be up the front, no matter the gig. I just didn’t want to miss anything. Diana’s death was pretty much all we talked about in that queue and once we had been let in and secured those coveted spaces at the front barrier, we went back to it. Someone got hold of an Evening Herald and it did the rounds. Going to the bathroom wasn’t an option. We were well under age but maybe had smuggled in a naggin to keep us going. We just stood there, shoulder to shoulder, sweaty forearm to sweaty forearm, and waited. It wasn’t about taking pictures — sadly all the gigs I attended in the nineties went completely undocumented — it was just about being at the centre of the excitement. To look Bono or Liam or Damon or James Dean Bradfield in the eye and sing every lyric back at them surrounded by a thousand other obsessives with full bladders and a niggling premonition of that back pain that comes in your forties from standing too long in a queue in Tesco.

I feed off their energy via the medium of those videos they take of Styles, bounding around the U-shaped catwalk

When Harry Styles played at Lansdowne Road — okay, fine, the Aviva — last week, organisers knew the current crop of superfans would want to queue, and they tried to put them off. They put out warnings that anyone attempting to secure a spot before the gate opening time of 4pm would be moved on by Gardaí. Then, when the diehards arrived at 6am, they were ready for them anyway with queuing lanes marked by barriers and friendly banter with security staff. I completely support these girls — and for Harry Styles they are mostly girls — and their fervour. Things have changed in that they’re now double tasked with watching the show, and capturing it on their phones for posterity, Instagram, TikTok and clout. I feed off their energy via the medium of those videos they take of Styles, bounding around the U-shaped catwalk and interacting with as many as he can. I long to be a teenager again, totally devoted and firm in the belief that this man in his striped jumpsuit is saving my life.

The first home-made sign I saw when I entered the Aviva Stadium last week read “I love u, thx 4 saving us”. It was hanging over a barrier high up in the stand at the back of the stadium and it brought a lump to my throat. I know that feeling of being saved by music. I understand how an artist like Harry Styles can evoke that emotion and gratitude. Too often the things that girls and women are passionate about are dismissed as frivolous or low brow or culturally unimportant. The energy in that stadium last Wednesday was the epitome of “safe”. It was powerful and unifying and electric. For many, it was probably their first gig and oh what a way to kick start a career in live fandom. I find when you ask anyone about their first live gig, their faces light up. For my peers it’s often Kylie or Bon Jovi. For these kids, it’s One Direction or Harry Styles.

That Cranberries show was the beginning of a long career of live music, of snouting out gold dust tickets like a pig with a truffle

There were teenagers in elaborate yet brief outfits topped with feather boas and cowboy hats. Mother and daughter pairings in matching T-shirts. The occasional dad and kid combo and the very rare dutiful boyfriend, sticking out like a thumb with a hang nail. I didn’t attempt to go anywhere near the front. I left that to the queuers and the ones quick enough to purchase tickets for the Kitchen, Bedroom and Hallway pods — all themed around the concept of “Harry’s House”. That’s another thing that’s changed since the nineties. If you’re swift enough, you can sometimes buy your way to the front. In fairness to the Styles tour the price difference wasn’t hugely significant. I was thrilled for the girlos in those pits. I was living for the videos I knew would emerge on TikTok and Instagram in the coming hours and days. I was just glad that my young ghost was up there with them, hauntingly screeching U2 and The Pixies.

My first gig was The Cranberries in The Point Depot in 1995. It was just me and my friend Niamh, and Dolores O’Riordan was our queen. When she died in 2018 Niamh was the first person I texted, despite not having seen her in at least two decades. That Cranberries show was the beginning of a long career of live music, of snouting out gold dust tickets like a pig with a truffle, and a gradual letting go of my grip on the front barrier. I’m happy to have passed the torch to the “Harries” and all the other devotees, queuing like their lives depend on it.