Special features

 
  • What Every Country Needs: The Vulnerable, the Innocent and the Immigrant in the Songs of Bruce Springsteen

    Read more...

  • Maddog, Tinker and the birth of the E Street Band

    Read more...


    plus a Slane 25th anniversary special:

    "IF I WERE YOU, I WOULDN’T START FROM HERE!"
    A Slane Survival Souvenir Special
    Written by Mike Saunders – with inspiration from Dan French & Linda Gilder
    A Wild & Innocent / Seaside Bar co-production 1993 (this edition 2008)


    Every Springsteen fan has their fair share of crazy tour stories – tales of weird, wild and wacky happenings on the way to, from, or even during Bruce shows. Us grizzled veterans lucky enough to have followed his tours around the country since 1981 can remember more than most. Among each collection of personal memories, there is always a particular favourite – an extra special adventure story which bears repeated telling, and improves with age like a good wine. For Dan, myself and the 13 others who made the pilgrimage, our journey to see Bruce at Slane Castle in Ireland in 1985 remains the piece de resistance, the mother of all road stories, and a legend in our own minds. Some things are really only meant to happen once, and this trip was one of them. The events surrounding that unforgettable sun-drenched day, now all of 8 years ago, will remain with us forever.

    When two or more Slane survivors meet, they will greet one another with an indecipherable series of in-jokes, obscure catchphrases and anatomically-challenging secret handshakes. If the conditions are right – that is, if alcohol is involved – a fake Irish accent will be adopted and the story of the glorious Firth o’ June (explanation to follow) will be dusted off and re-told in a tired, emotional, over-excited and misty-eyed manner to gatherings of ‘new’ Springsteen fans (pass the spittoon) until their eyes glaze over in admiration and wonderment. Or until everybody’s pissed.

    So just what is it that makes normally quite sane English people begin to include the words ‘Begorrah, Bejabers and Bejesus’ in their everyday speech and to add ‘to be sure’ to the end of every sentence? Well, you really had to be there. Until now, that is, immortalised in print, for the amazement and enjoyment of those who weren’t there, and for those who made it but were too drunk to remember. It’s a heady tale of great physical endurance, emotional intensity, lack of sleep, sex, drugs, rock & roll and Guinness. So grab a glass or two of the black stuff, put your feet up, imagine yourself back in the spring of 1985, and read on...

    The first point to make is that, despite endless listings of ‘Slane Castle, Dublin’ in the Springsteen reference books, Slane Castle is nowhere near Dublin. More like a medium-sized mansion with battlements, the castle actually stands beside the river Boyne in County Meath, some 35 miles northwest of the city in the heart of the Irish countryside. Faced with spiralling maintenance costs in the early 80s, owner Lord Henry Mountcharles had decided to bring in a bit of extra cash by allowing his grounds to be used for a series of massive annual rock concerts, most notably by the Rolling Stones in 1982 and Bob Dylan in 1984. Bruce’s appearance, originally rumoured for the RDS, hung in the balance for some time before being officially confirmed in April 1985. Having borne the brunt of a disastrous riot after the Dylan concert, the residents of nearby Slane village had expressed strong objections to a further invasion by thousands of greasy-haired, denim-clad, drug-crazed, boozed-up, NME-reading, sheep-shagging, glue-sniffing rockers. They were eventually placated by assurances of tighter security and an apparent promise that Bruce’s show would be the last to be held at Slane …. Until 1986, that is, when Queen played there, followed by Bowie in 1987 and more recently, Guns ‘n’ Roses. The villagers sold up and moved to Spaghetti Junction because it was quieter.

    Bruce’s Slane concert has an extensive series of ‘firsts’ associated with it. It was the first show of his 1985 European tour, his first show on this side of the Atlantic for almost 4 years, his first show in Ireland, his first outdoor show ever here, and the first European show by the new E Street Band with Patti and Nils. No doubt a total coincidence is the fact that it took place on June 1st and was show number 111 of the ‘Born in the USA’ world tour. Most importantly, however, it was Bruce’s first giant, general-admission festival-style megagig. He’d played a handful of outdoor shows over the years (Red Rocks, Alpine Valley, Saratoga Springs, stadiums in Melbourne and Brisbane) but this was something else entirely, and the crowd at Slane were the guinea pigs. With numbers officially limited to around 65,000 (but widely reported to be closer to 100,000 on the day) this was by far the largest audience of Bruce’s career at the time. It was to be a whole new experience both for him and us, which is why we had to be there.

    Promoted by Jim Aiken in Belfast independently of Harvey ‘50p booking fee’ Goldsmith in London, tickets for the Slane show were incredibly easy to come by, due to the size of the gig and the relaxed attitude at the Irish end. All this in direct contrast to the limited numbers available for Bruce’s 1981 indoor tour. Having been used to overnight queues, unsuccessful postal applications and general frustration, many fans experienced intense guilt at having obtained a Slane ticket so easily, and had to endure extensive therapy once it was all over. The objects of desire were about 6 inches long, 2 inches wide…and blue, so it’s not what you were thinking. Emblazoned along their length were the words ‘Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’ in silver lettering. The conditions included the usual ‘No bottles, cans, tape recorders or cameras’, but in recognition of the outdoor nature of the event, also stipulated ‘No folding chairs or umbrellas’. Presumably hammocks, waterbeds, paddling pools and 3-piece suites were also prohibited, but they didn’t say.

    Exactly how our tightly-scheduled travel plans came together is long forgotten, but it took weeks of meticulous organisation, and at one point involved the hiring of a 40-seater coach until numbers dropped to a more manageable level. Joined by my friend Mick, I made my way up to London on May 30, staying overnight at Dan’s place with his friend Neil. The four of us staggered out of bed in the wee small hours of May 31 (Dan’s birthday) and caught a taxi to Euston by 51m. There we met Tony (1) – who’d recently seen Bruce in Australia – and Robin. By 81m, we’d caught a train to Coventry and joined up with Tony (2) and Dave. A second train then took us via Birmingham (where we picked up Denise) to Liverpool Lime Street station, where we made our rendezvous at 10.30 with Jim, Jeff, Kev, Marge, Catharine and Janice – our token American. Enid Blyton’s Famous Five had nothing on us. We were Bruce’s Fabulous Fifteen Fanatics.

    Amazed that we’d all come together exactly as planned, we divided ourselves up into a car and a 12-seater yellow minibus festooned with ‘I’m a Rocker’ stickers. This was to be our mobile home for the next 7 days and 1000 miles aw we drove from Liverpool to Dublin to London to Newcastle and back to Liverpool. Dave and Jeff originally shared the driving, Dave subsequently taking over on a more-or-less permanent basis when Jeff revealed his potentially lethal habit of falling asleep at the wheel on dimly-it roads in the middle of the night.

    We set off through the Mersey Tunnel and followed the coast of North Wales in blazing sunshine, passing picturesque villages, wide sandy bays, castles and rocky outcrops. Everything having gone like clockwork thus far, it was inevitable that Sod’s law (anything that can go wrong, will go wrong) would come into effect before too long. Sure enough, as time grew short, we found ourselves stuck behind an agonisingly slow-moving tractor on the narrow road to Holyhead, eventually making it to the harbour just in time to catch the 2.45 Sealink ferry to Dublin.

    The Irish Sea remained as calm as a millpond for the entire 3 ½ hour crossing. The ferry appeared to be gliding on air, heightening the dream-like quality of our journey, as the Welsh coast disappeared behind us and the rolling hills of Ireland loomed magically ahead in the mist. Below decks, the Irish experience began early when we encountered the confusing exchange rate between pounds and punts. Intending to pay in sterling for some packets of sandwiches, we were told that it was a better idea to change our money over first, and pay in punts. ‘Although they will appear to cost more, it’s actually less, and works out the same’, said the girl at the counter, helpfully. It was a problem our travel-weary brains were unable to cope with. We took her word for it and retired to the bar. Several cans of Smithwick’s later, we didn’t care anymore. Eight years on, we’re still not sure exactly what she meant.

    We finally docked and drove onto Irish soil around 6.30, immediately finding the answers to the two most-asked questions by first-time visitors to the Emerald Isle – no, you don’t need a passport, and yes, they do drive on the left. Feeling confident with 3 different maps of Dublin, we set off in search of our three pre-booked guest houses. Some while later, after several interesting circuits of the city centre and a variety of unplanned detours, short cuts, long cuts and straightforward wrong turnings, we found them. The majority of our group occupied two rooms in a cosy B’n’B which overlooked the North harbour, and the two large chimneys of the power station beyond. If you closed one eye and half looked away, you could imagine ‘the gas fires of the refinery towers’. Then again, maybe not.

    Suitably refreshed, we drove back into the city in search of food, passing on the way a half-demolished bakery wall with the remains of a sign offering the dubious delights of ‘oven-fresh cak’. We declined the opportunity, preferring to sample traditional Irish cuisine at Flanagan’s Pizza Parlour in O’Connell Street, just a few yards from the Gresham Hotel, where Bruce was staying. At the time, however, he was soundchecking at Slane, so no chance of a meet.

    Also that evening, we carried out several sneak attacks on local newsagents, descending en masse upon our chosen target and stripping the shelves of anything featuring Bruce. In those bygone days of megastardom and total media overkill, he was everywhere, and it was a full-time team effort to check every music paper, national paper, local paper and magazine. Among our haul that evening was the Dublin Evening Herald, which had pictures of Bruce and Julianne arriving at the airport, and an interview with Jim Aiken about the setting up of the show. Undoubtedly the funniest front cover we encountered was that of the listings magazine ‘What’s on in Dublin’ which used a spoof ‘National Enquirer’-style design to advertise the career retrospective inside. ‘Read about his hidden secret’, it began, ‘his favourite colour, his Nazi past, his groupie rating, the dawn fistfights with Kenny Rogers, and more!’

    On the way back to our guest houses, the local radio station played the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s version of ‘Cadillac Ranch’ and the closeness of the big day slowly began to dawn upon us. Following another mystery tour around the Dublin backstreets, we sank into our beds around half past midnight. It had been an exhausting 20-hour day, but the best was yet to come.

    Four hours later, we were up again. Having abandoned plans to drive up to Slane the previous night in favour of a few brief hours of sleep, we agreed on an early start at 4.30am on what was now Saturday June 1 – Dave’s birthday. Ignoring the carefully-laid breakfast table our landlady had prepared in advance, we piled into the minibus and set off in search of a 24-hour petrol station. By now, getting lost in Dublin was inevitable, all part of the fun and something we looked forward to. As we crossed the river Liffey for the umpteenth time, we switched on the radio in time to hear ‘Trapped’ (from the ‘We are the World’ album) blasting out.

    While filling up, we decided to ask the taxi driver parked next to us for the directions to Slane. ‘Well, the quickest way is to go up to those lights and turn right’, he began. ‘The only problem is you can’t turn right there, ‘cause you’ll end up in the harbour’. Legend has it that he also said ‘If I were you, I wouldn’t start from here’, but we can never be sure (makes a good title for this article, though). We thanked him for his help and, assuming he’d just got up to start a day shift, wished him top o’ the morning’ and said it looked like being a nice day. ‘Is it fuck’, he replied good-naturedly. ‘I’ve been up all night, I’m off to me bed’.

    We found the road to Slane without too much trouble, and headed North in the early morning light. As the outskirts of the city gave way to the fields, farms, trees and villages of the Irish countryside, it was hard to imagine that a vast rock concert could be taking place in such tranquil surroundings. The only indications that this was not an elaborate hoax on the part of Jim Aiken were the occasional yellow A4 signs fixed to trees which read ‘Bruce Springsteen Concert’. Naturally, we took one.

    As we travelled deeper into the idyllic landscape, the only vehicle on an otherwise deserted country road, we couldn’t help but notice the large numbers of dead birds and small furry creatures scattered across the tarmac. Perhaps Ireland had a higher-than-average suicide rate amongst its indigenous wildlife. In which case, if the road was this quiet all day long, they must have to queue up in the bushes and jump, several at a time, under the wheels of the occasional tractor.

    After around 20 miles, we encountered a police checkpoint. A small group of officers were sitting around chatting at the side of the road, one of whom came across to check that we had tickets for the show. We passed them out to him for inspection. “Sorry, lads” he said, poker-faced, “these are forgeries”. We had a collective heart attack before, with natural comic timing, he continued “Only joking. Enjoy the show”! Breathing a giant sigh of relief, we drove on before he changed his mind. Bastard.

    Two miles from Slane, we came across a second checkpoint. This was the end of the road as far as concert traffic was concerned, and only local residents could proceed further. Farmers were allowing the surrounding fields to be used as car parks for the day, charging £2 a vehicle. We pulled off the road and parked, our journey complete. It was still only 6 am. Grabbing our belongings, we set off on foot towards the village. The road wound gently down into the Boyne valley and crossed the river over an old stone bridge. As we stood there in the crisp dawn air, watching the water trickling gently along below us, the sun began to rise above the trees and break through the early morning mist. It was a haven of peace and tranquillity, a scene which probably hadn’t changed much in the past few hundred years. Very much a fairytale setting, but cold hard reality was waiting for us on the other side.

    We walked slowly up the other side of the valley into the outskirts of the village. It was then we discovered that we were not quite the first to arrive. A number of fans, traders and experienced boozers had turned up the night before, and the local pubs had apparently been open all night helping them to overcome their unquenchable thirsts. The results of this all-night session were all around us – lifeless bodies huddled in sleeping bags at the side of the road or laid out on garden walls. Those still able to stand staggered zombie-like towards us, searching for a suitable ditch to collapse into. Further down the road, others had camped out in the fields, reportedly tearing the doors from the portable toilet blocks provided to use as firewood during the chilly night.

    We continued on our way, following the stone perimeter wall of the castle grounds. This eventually gave way to a long section of temporary corrugated iron fencing which led us to the main entrance of the concert site, across which a large tarpaulin sheet had been stretched (this was not a state-of-the-art operation). A row of security barriers and some mean-looking guard dogs put paid to any thoughts of taking a quick look inside. We joined a small group of others at the front of the queue and sat down. It was now 7 am, a mere 8 hours before the ‘gate’ was due to open. As the morning ticked slowly by, the sun rose in a cloudless sky and the crowd grew larger, queuing peacefully 3 or 4 deep either side of the entrance and down the road in both directions for as far as the eye could see, and then some. Some members of our group passed the time by playing Bossopoly, a specially-adapted form of Monopoly featuring place names like E Street, Thunder Road, Mansion on the Hill, My Father’s House and 10th Avenue, and using alternative banknotes with Bruce’s face on them to complete the effect.

    Now and again, small groups of us walked off to investigate the army of unofficial merchandise stalls which had opened for business at the roadside, selling all manner of stickers, badges, posters, t-shirts (we counted up to 40 different designs) and programmes. While chatting to one programme seller, we jokingly questioned the authenticity of his obviously home-made produce. “That’s not official”, we said. “Isn’t it”? he replied, appearing genuinely surprised. We bought one anyway, just for posterity, because printed on the front cover were the immortal words ‘Bruce Springsteen, Slane Castle 1th June 1985’. Maybe the guy had his own special language (firth, second, thirst, ford, fist, etc), or perhaps he just had a lisp, but his error stuck in our minds. Because of this, we will always remember Slane as the Firth o’ June.

    Back in the queue, a steward was summoned to sort out the problem of gatecrashers. “Right, all those who just pushed in, go to the back”, he shouted hopefully. Naturally, nobody moved. “No problem”, he smiled, and moved on. Around 12 o’clock, some frenzied activity at the front signalled that the tarpaulin sheet was about to be opened 3 hours early. Security staff began the thankless task of tearing each ticket down the perforation and throwing the stubs in a large bin. Except mine, that is. The guy who took my ticket ripped it clean in half through the silver lettering and threw both halves in the bin, leaving me with nothing.

    Once we were inside, a breathtaking panorama opened up before us. From the entrance, the vast cow pasture which formed the concert venue sloped steeply, then more gently down to the river Boyne, flowing peacefully across the site in the middle distance. At the bottom of the hill, backing onto the river, stood the giant stage, flanked on either side by massive PA stacks and video screens. Trees bordered the area and covered the slopes of the opposite bank. To the right, dominating the scene, stood the castle. It was a truly beautiful setting, and the weather was perfect. Pausing momentarily to take it all in, we ran down the hill as U2’s ‘Pride’ played over the PA.

    Fearing a crush at the very front, we based ourselves directly in front of the mixing tower, itself a multi-storey building which could have housed several families. Accommodating the sound desk, spotlights and a video cameraman, it was connected to the stage by a long umbilical cord of wires, slung high above the crowd. The stage itself was multi-levelled and had no backdrop, enabling us to see across the river. Catwalks extended out at either side for Bruce to run along, and extra sets of back-up speakers had been positioned at intervals further up the hill. Various official merchandise stalls, food and drink vendors, toilet blocks and first-aid posts hugged the perimeter. We settled down to begin the 5-hour wait until showtime, with the boiling sun now directly overhead and a cool breeze blowing down the valley.

    As the afternoon wore on, the music on the pre-show tape was occasionally drowned out by the roar of helicopters ferrying band members and VIP guests into the backstage area. Soon, the site was a colourful mass of humanity, packed with fans from the stage right back up the hill to the road, with barely a blade of grass visible. It was an amazing sight, at once both exciting and overwhelming. We pinched ourselves to see if we were dreaming.

    At 4 o’clock, Jim Aiken announced that Bruce would be onstage at 5. This proved to be the signal for the dream to turn into a nightmare. The natural slope of the site, combined with the inevitable human desire to move closer, soon resulted in a dangerous crush at the front. When Bruce hit the stage at 5 o’clock, thousands more surged forward, increasing the pressure and causing a steady stress of limp bodies to be pulled over the barrier. A large number of those pushing forward appeared to be mindless drunks; eyes rolling as they staggered into the crowd, the front began to turn ugly, with idiots forcing their way towards the stage, and battle-scarred victims fighting their way out of the chaos. The previous week’s Heysel stadium tragedy was still fresh in the mind, and although there were no serious injuries at Slane, the potential for disaster was always obvious, prompting questions about the safety of such huge shows.

    Our decision to stand in front of the mixing tower proved to be a lifesaver, as we were spared the pressure from behind and could maintain our position without being carried forward into the mob. The continual crowd movement, however, ensured we had to stay constantly alert in order to avoid being pushed, shoved, trampled and generally abused. Faced with the distractions of this endurance test, the actual concert became a secondary consideration. It was almost as if Bruce was playing the background music to the second battle of the Boyne.

    The conditions in front of the stage were not lost on those behind the scenes, either. At one point, Jon Landau appeared at one side looking concerned, while Bruce himself asked the crowd to move back on a couple of occasions, his requests falling on deaf ears. There was actually very little the security staff could do to reduce the crush, beyond training hosepipes on the crowd to combat the effects of the searing heat. At one point, there were so many water droplets in the air that a mini-rainbow formed above our heads, one of the day’s more striking images.

    The show itself passed by in a blur. As we struggled to maintain balance and sanity, Bruce performed a comparatively short 26 song set which lasted for 2 hours and 50 minutes, with a 30-minute interval. Appearing punctually at 5, he was off for the last time at 8.20. The song selection was fairly typical of the latter stages of the ‘Born in the USA’ tour, consisting mostly of material from ‘Born in the USA’, ‘The River’ and ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’, plus regular non-album inclusions like ‘Trapped’, ‘Pink Cadillac’ and the closing medley of ‘Twist and Shout/Do you Love Me’? Essentially no surprises, except that is for Bruce’s choice of first encore. Making brief reference to having had an Irish grandmother, he treated us to a solo electric version of the Beach Boys’ ‘When I Grow Up To Be A Man’ – a performance which remains exclusive to Slane.

    Throughout the show, Bruce sweated a lot, ran out along the catwalks several times, sang with Patti, kissed Clarence, danced with a girl from the audience, turned his baseball cap back to front and walked to the back of the stage to wave at the fans perched in the trees on the other side of the river, watching the show for free. They definitely had the right idea. Although their position was somewhat precarious, they were probably a lot more comfortable than we were.

    The use of video screens for the first time at Slane was a mixed blessing. They were undoubtedly a great help in enabling those at the top of the hill to see what the ants on stage were actually doing, but from that distance, the pictures would have been 3½ days out of sync with the sound. Ironically, they proved to be the greatest help to us near the front. Unable to see very much of the events onstage, thanks to the constant movement and the inevitable presence of tall bastards directly in front of us, we ended up watching most of the proceedings on the screens. Having been used to seeing the E Street Band dressed in dark suits on the ‘River’ tour, it was a stark contrast to see them wearing brightly coloured shirts for maximum noticeability. The sight of Roy Bittan actually dancing lingers in the mind, as does Nils Lofgren’s huge Styrofoam Stetson (worn during ‘Cadillac Ranch’), and the use of a panoramic view of the Boyne flowing into the distance during – what else – ‘The River’. This image was subsequently used to illustrate the song for the remainder of the tour.

    As the final strains of ‘Twist and Shout’ died away, the massive crowd began to disperse and we regrouped to count our bruises, realising we’d survived the event unscathed. Deciding to rest and relax until the majority of the fans had gone, we were able to witness the aftermath of the frontstage chaos. The ground was a sea of rubbish – paper, discarded clothes and thousands of empty plastic bottles. As the roadies set about dismantling the stage, drunks crawled through the wreckage on their hands and knees, shaking the bottles in the hopeless search for more alcohol. Further up the hill, oblivious of the world around them, a couple were attempting some kind of drunken sexual congress while remaining fully clothed.

    One of the strangest remnants we found in the mud was a broken telephone dial. This prompted several theories. Perhaps at one point there had been a public phone box near the stage which had been demolished in the rush. What if there had been someone inside? We imagined his last moments on the phone: ‘Hello darling, it’s me. I’m in Slane. Had a good journey over. Weather’s wonderful and everything’s really peaceful. The guy’s just said Bruce will be on in an hour, and…AAAAAGH!’

    Around 9.30, as the sun set behind the castle and the evening chill set in we began to make our way back, dragging our sunburnt skin and aching bones up the hill with considerably less energy and enthusiasm than we’d had when running down some 9 hours earlier. The road was a solid mass of bobbing heads disappearing into the distance like the start of the London marathon. Progress was slow as we made our way back across the old stone bridge and up towards the car parks, which all looked the same in the dark. When we first arrived, the area had been virtually deserted. Now, the fields were packed with cars, the road was lined with around 50 coaches, and 100,000 people were attempting to leave Slane all at once on the same narrow country road. Needless to say, traffic was at a standstill and looked like staying that way for the next few years.

    We finally found the yellow minibus around 11pm, deciding to let the worst of the jam clear itself before we made a move, having first cleared away the broken glass which some thoughtful individual had placed in front of our tyres. Just as we’d begun to consider crashing out in the bus until morning, a gap appeared in the gridlock and we made it back to the guest house by around 2am after a shattering 22-hour day. Heads hit pillows and sleep came almost immediately.

    The next morning, we allowed ourselves the luxury of a lie-in until at least 8 or 9 o’clock before going down to breakfast. Somewhere along the way, we’d picked up an extra person. Rather than eyeing them suspiciously and demanding instant payment, our landlady simply said ‘Jeez, I coulda sworn there was one less of you yesterday. Never mind, I’ll lay another place.’ As we crunched cornflakes and discussed the Slane experience, she casually enquired ‘Did you enjoy the match, boys?’ We nodded, too tired to explain.

    It was now June 2 and, regrettably, time to make our way back to England. Due to various complications, we were set to return via the southerly route from Rosslare to Fishguard, and had most of the day to kill before catching the late ferry across. Around 12 o’clock, having raided a couple more newsagents for Slane reviews in the Sunday papers, we made our last few circuits of Dublin city centre and headed south down the east coast of Ireland in blazing sunshine. En route, we stopped at Wicklow, taking time out to explore the bars, the shops and the beaches.

    Fuelled by alcohol, our brains frazzled by the sun and our bodies in the terminal stages of Slane-lag, it seemed that every bend in the road brought fresh absurdity and hilarity. Passing through one particularly crowded spot, we witnessed a group of people attempting to push a broken-down car up a hill backwards. ‘Take the handbrake off!’ shouted one. ‘Don’t be stupid, it’ll roll downhill!’ replied the driver. Stopping to fill up at a garage further down the road, we noticed that the office window displayed a VISA sticker, under which had been placed a contradictory handwritten sign which read ‘No credit’. Obviously all major credit cards were accepted, as long as you paid by cash.

    The inhabitants of Courtown revealed a fondness for surreal signs and instructions. Pinned to the narrow doorway of a shop in the high street was a notice which stated ‘No go-karts allowed’. Quite how a go-kart would be able to squeeze through without losing all four wheels was beyond us. Exactly why a go-kart driver would want to destroy his vehicle by attempting to enter the shop was another matter entirely. Down towards the beach, we encountered a further confusing message which warned ‘Don’t throw your ice-cream in the river’. This could have meant that the local council was on an anti-pollution drive, but worked equally well as a simple public service announcement: ‘If you throw your ice-cream in the river, you may find it soggy and difficult to eat afterwards.’

    First prize for weirdness, however, went to the push-button hand drier which only operated if you kept the button depressed. This meant that rubbing both hands together under the warm air jet was impossible. Keeping the button down with one hand, users had to wait for the air to blow the drips slowly off the other hand before swapping over. (We half-expected to find someone sitting on a tree branch, sawing it away from under themselves, but no luck there.)

    Arriving in Rosslare, we reluctantly boarded the ferry and went up on deck to watch the coast of Ireland disappearing slowly into the sunset. Although we’d only been in the country for two days, we’d definitely got the bug, and had fallen in love with the people, their unfussed approach to life, their hospitality, generosity, unique sense of humour and illogical logic. The Guinness wasn’t bad, either. Vowing to return one day, we sailed off into the night, on our way to Bruce’s two shows in Newcastle, but that’s another story.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Slane made headline news just about everywhere. Quite apart from extensive coverage in a variety of Irish papers and the fortnightly music magazine Hot Press, there were also reports in the Mirror, Sun, Star, Mail and Express, reviews in the Times and the Guardian and features in Melody Maker and Rolling Stone, among others. The final word on Slane, however, belongs to Clarence Clemons. Remembering the world tour for a Rolling Stone article in 1986, he described the helicopter trip up to the site, and spoke of his awe at the sight of the 100,000 fans spread out on the hill below. ‘It wasn’t only the sheer volume of numbers,’ he continued, ‘but the sheer volume of harmony and peace.’ I wish I could have a pint of whatever he’d been drinking, because from where we were standing, the only harmony in existence was Patti Scialfa’s hairspray.

    And so ends this version of the Slane legend. I’m sure there must be 1000 other groups with their own variation on the theme, but we believe that ours is as good as any, and probably better than most. Having threatened to produce this epic at regular intervals since 1985, we finally completed it in time for Bruce’s RDS appearance on May 20 1993, and the 8th (or should that be the 8st) anniversary of Slane just over a week later. Some of made it over for Bruce’s 1988 show, and others in 1993 and later, but Slane will remain a unique experience for all involved. Never mind all that though, where did I put my Guinness..?