I’m not sure Slane is ready for the Harries. For their feather boas, their home-made bedazzled outfits, their cowboy hats, their explosion of colour, or their determination. I’m equally unsure if the Harries are ready for Slane. For the long day and night ahead of them, the vastness of the crowd, the scale of the production.
On Saturday, Harry Styles plays in the shadow of the castle with great expectation on his shoulders. But he, more than most, should be ready for it. He’s been travelling with his Love on Tour show since September 2021 with an influx of hysteria around the release of his third solo album Harry’s House in May 2022.
He’s already been to Ireland with Love on Tour – he played a sold-out Aviva Stadium last summer. It’s said that Styles was the fastest artist to sell out Slane, which has a capacity of 80,000. Faster than Metallica, faster than Red Hot Chilli Peppers, faster than U2.
Of course, it’s easy to move tickets when it’s all processed at lightning speed online, so “fastest selling” should be taken with a pinch of salt. It’s still an impressive feat for the former boy band member. The last time someone with that CV sold out Slane it was Robbie Williams in 1999. I was there and remember similar grumblings at the time that to give a pop star a headline slot at Slane was to besmirch the great history of the venue.
Was it for this that Phil Lynott and Mick Jagger and Axl Rose accepted Lord Henry Mountcharles’ invitation? Will the Harries – the collective name for Styles’s fans since his days as a member of One Direction – even get the significance of the honour? The Harries don’t give much of a sh*te, to be quite honest. And why should they? It’s 2023, Harry Styles, Taylor Swift and Beyoncé are the biggest music stars in the world and they’re playing to millions on TikTok every night. The Harries don’t have time for hand-wringing about who should be playing Slane. They have barricade spots to snag and concert memes to memorise.
The only reason I have any solid memories of that Robbie Williams show in 1999 is because Sky TV broadcast the show live and my parents were under strict instructions to tape it. There were no camera phones, no selfies and no social media. For an artist such as Harry Styles touring in 2023, every move he makes onstage is captured and broadcast – sometimes instantaneously – on TikTok. A funny aside from a concert in Scotland or Paris can easily become a “bit” for the rest of the tour, fuelled by concert audiences who’ve already seen all the show spoilers on social media. The Harries will be heading to Slane ready to roar the bridge of Just Keep Driving, to form a hokey pokey circle or do the boot scoot – a dance move borrowed from line dancing – during Treat People With Kindness and of course to scream “leave America” at the appropriate time during As it Was.
They know that a coveted spot at the front of the barricade in the front pit gives them a better chance of an interaction with Styles and an excellent vantage point to capture content on their phones. When the footage is posted to TikTok it’s common for commenters to quip “Did you record this with your eyes?”. Phone cameras are now so high quality that it might actually be a better visual experience to watch the show through the camera’s lens. It’s probably safe to say we are now in an era that’s post-hand-wringing about phones at live shows.
Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour is still on its first leg in the US and the concert memes are already ingrained in the brains of her fans in Ireland and Europe. Rather than try to crack down on streaming and recording at shows, artists are embracing the free and fervent publicity that’s driving sales of the likes of Harry at Slane or Beyoncé’s Renaissance tour.
All the technology aside though, it’s exciting that tomorrow will be the first experience of Slane for the majority of attendees. Some may not care much about the ghosts of Metallica or REM songs hanging around the castle, but they will come away appreciating the scale and enormity of making the pilgrimage to see their idol. I’ll be there, in the Bishopsgate pit, boot scooting and screaming and crying along to Matilda with everyone else around the world. I can’t wait.