An Irishman's Diary

 

I could hardly contain my astonishment this week when reading Hot Pressmagazine's 30th anniversary commemorative special and seeing the reproduced ad therein for "Dublin's first major open-air rock festival", writes Frank McNally.

It was shocking enough to discover that Dublin's first major open-air rock festival happened only in 1977, so long after similar happenings in other European cities. But the most terrible aspect of this event was something I had managed to forget until now. I was there.

Whether I was aware then of the concert's historic significance, I cannot now say. But of course, as you can imagine, I was very young at the time. Indeed, in retrospect, I'm shocked at my parents for letting me go to a rock concert in 1977, even if they may not have known exactly what it was.

Chances are I told them something about having to go to Dublin to buy books for the Inter Cert year and then added, in a mumble, that the bus would be stopping for eight hours at Dalymount Park on the way home.

I must concede that having attended Dublin's first major rock festival without realising it is a bit like having been in the GPO in 1916 to buy stamps. But then again, Dalymount '77 was not quite a national landmark. In this particular war of independence, as in others, Dublin had been beaten to the punch by rebel Cork.

A flying column under the command of Rory Gallagher had struck the first blow for rock and roll that summer, heading Ireland's inaugural rock festival, at Macroom. That was in June, a full two months before the flames of insurrection would reach the capital.

Young people today probably wonder what we were fighting for back then. So did I, until another feature in the anniversary issue - a 1977 list of the Irish Top 20 singles - reminded me.

There at number 3 was Yes Sir, I Can Boogieby Baccara. And that, in a nutshell, was our cause. Maybe we were wrong. But we were young and idealistic, and we wanted to free Ireland from of the forces of disco, which had occupied our country for far too long.

It was not just disco, in fairness. The same chart also includes an entry from a certain Danny Mirror, with a record called I RememberElvis Presley. I remember him too. But I had successfully forgotten that song until now. Thanks a lot, Hot Press.

It was one of many attempts to cash in on the then recent death of Elvis, an event that also inspired an ill-advised call by the Dalymount concert MC for a minute's silence. Sad to say, this was not well observed. Elvis was the King, after all, and we had declared a Republic.

If we had a monarch that day, it was Phil Lynott: then still believed to be the only black man in Ireland (Paul McGrath was as yet unknown). The Thin Lizzy singer was at the height of his powers and impossibly glamorous. With his flashy bass guitar, his skin-tight leather trousers, and the country's only authentic Afro hairstyle, he was a world-class rock star. And yet he was ours.

I remember him striding onto the stage and shouting into the microphone: "The Jacks are back!" This was a GAA chant - not something you heard a lot from international rock stars then - synonymous with the resurgent Dublin football team, which that very same afternoon had beaten Kerry in a classic All-Ireland semi-final, down the other end of Whitworth Road.

But we had to suffer hours of boredom before Thin Lizzy came on. It was a grey, drizzly day in Dalymount. There were long waits between bands. And in keeping with a global rock-festival protocol whereby the technicians for the bill-toppers have control of the stage, the sound for the support acts was atrocious. Also, some of the supports were a bit obscure: including as they did an outfit called the Boomtown Rats, whose only appeal was a loud-mouthed but charismatic front man called Bob something.

That old rock concert trick - "a very special surprise guest" - was also billed to appear. And throughout the afternoon, we speculated intensely as to who it might be. We were hoping for someone really dramatic - Elvis, perhaps. Then the special guest turned up. And not only can I not remember now who it was, but he was so obscure that we had trouble remembering him while he was still on stage.

Anyway, Thin Lizzy appeared eventually and made up for it all. Unlike the earlier bands they had a light show, and dry ice, and simulated explosions: the whole works. But they also had show-stopping songs like The Boys Are Back in Townand Jailbreak.

They were magnificent, and seeing them live was an unforgettable experience (until I forgot).

Everything about the concert looks quaint now: even the admission fee, which was £4 if you ordered tickets in advance, or an exorbitant £4.75 on the gate. With the all-in bus package from Monaghan, the total cost to me must have been well over a fiver. I wonder where I got the money.

LP Hartley was right: the past is a foreign country. Poor Phil Lynott didn't live to see many of the changes that would sweep Ireland in the next 30 years. But he did his bit to make the country safe for rock and roll. And although he could hardly have imagined it back then, he also helped paved the way for the first black mayor of Portlaoise.