An Unforgettable Flame
Slane Castle, Ireland #1
August 25, 2001
all over Dublin were covered with the news. Bobby Hewson was dead
and the burial had been that Friday, the 24th in Howth. Pictures
were on the front page of every newspaper. Bono shouldering his
father's casket. His eyes hidden behind purple glasses. But the
glasses didn't hide everything. There was grief written everywhere.
His father was dead and he missed him. Larry Mullen could be seen
over the top of Bono's head as the procession was coming down the
church steps. Bobby had always liked Larry and they had both lived
in the northern suburb of Howth. Norman Hewson was in the front
on the other side. It was a family thing.
seen. *Everyone* knew what the band and especially Bono were going
through right now. They knew he must be hurting. Everyone realised
how easy it would have been for U2 to cancel the show... and how
hard it would be for the fans, but they'd understand. But no word
had come about cancelling the show. Slane, when first announced,
had been touted as the greatest opportunity for U2 to put on a concert
for the ages. The gorgeous natural amphitheatre deep in the Royal
County of Meath, below the hill where St. Patrick is said to have
defied King Laoghaire and lit the flame before Tara had lit theirs...
site of Lord Henry Mountcharles' castle and the scene for the yearly
rock festival. This year, it was less a rock festival and more of
a homecoming for Ireland's sons, legendary band U2. The first time
they had headlined Slane. A night twenty years in the making. But
now, the cloud of death threatened to hang over Slane. If they weren't
cancelling the show, how would Bono react? Would he just hold it
in and go on with the show, risking a stiff performance while his
mind was elsewhere? Would he be able to sing while his heart was
so bruised? Was it too much to ask?
dawned with heavy rain in Dublin. I mean, HEAVY rain. Damn. The
yard was soaked. I love U2 but I wasn't ready for a mudbath. No
one was. Tempers were a little irritable, a little too much tension
that morning. No one had counted on a dry Slane, of course. Counting
on sunshine in Ireland is like counting on rain to water your crops
in the Sahara. But we definitely didn't want rain like THIS. It
was like a shower head.
I was getting
a ride up with a couple of friends. The others in the house we were
staying at were taking the bus up. They had already left at 9AM
that morning. We went out to the Spar a few blocks away to get stuff
for lunch. The tickets didn't say no food or drinks so we decided
to risk it. The sandwich assembly line in the kitchen yielded three
sandwiches a person. I also brought some apples and Cadbury biscuits
along. We had two 2 liter bottles of water as well.
set out at 1130AM in the relentless rain. One of the radio stations
was having a U2 Weekend and they played U2 tunes almost non-stop.
The DJs played a clip of their interview of the fan who was first
in line in the GA queue for Slane. The guy was German or something
and said he was happy to be #1, but he didn't sound very excited.
Maybe because by comparison, I'd be like, "OHMYGOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Or I'd be speechless and completely unable to speak, just mouthing
a silent, "Bono..."
got bad around Dunshaughlin. Now that I'm looking at a map here
and reliving the journey up, we passed not far from the Hill of
Tara. A friend who I'll call Peter (as always, names are changed
to protect the guilty) was driving and he was on his cell phone
with other friends who were already there or on their way up also.
The friend gave us bad directions from Navan so we wound up going
in circles for a bit. The traffic was bad by now. It took like 15
minutes to go through a roundabout. The road to Slane was marked
by big orange signs saying CONCERT TRAFFIC ONLY. The village of
Slane was closed to traffic for the day. The barriers started appearing.
Garda were out in mass numbers, 800, I think. They had their fluorescent
green jackets on and were directing traffic, answering questions,
and basically making sure things ran as smoothly as possible. Getting
80,000+ people to a small Irish village in the middle of the countryside
on tiny two lane roads with no markings was a huge job. The garda
siochana did a fine job.
The most exciting
thing was that shortly after leaving Dublin, the sky had cleared.
Only tiny fluffy white clouds hung here and there. Harmless. The
day was radiant. Sunshine everywhere. It was cool and there was
a nice breeze. It was amazing. It was completely unexpected. Dublin
was getting dumped on while Meath was enjoying glorious weather.
The ground was only damp if you sat there for long enough. No mud.
Just an endless dry green carpet of grass everywhere as the sun
smiled down. It was glorious. We kept our fingers crossed that Dublin's
rain clouds would go out to sea and stay away from Meath that day.
As the Irish saying goes, "If you don't like the weather, wait
15 minutes." But this was weather we wanted to keep. And it
stayed, people. It stayed all day long.
popping up in the fields. "Event Parking". Right there
on the farmland. Gates had been opened and cars were parking on
the long-haired fields. We went on until we came to the first Official
Car Park. A garda was waving us in. Peter stopped the car and rolled
down the window.
the closest one?"
everything else is just about full up. We're getting a lot of traffic
out here now."
to the castle?"
down the hill. Five minutes."
an Irish five minutes, or real time?"
Real. Just down the hill there," and he pointed down the street
that was flanked by walkers on one side and buses on the other.
decided to leave the car there. The lot was already halfway full.
We parked at the end of the second row. There were people there
tailgating. Sitting on the lush grass under the glorious sunshine
with U2 playing in the tape decks. "Kite" was soaring
out from one. "Walk On" from another. Guys were taking
their shirts off. Girls with tank tops. But no one was far from
a raincoat and/ or a sweater. After all, this was Ireland and if
you don't like the weather, you wait 15 minutes...
an Irishman when he's giving directions. The five minutes the garda
had said turned into 30 and then 45 until we finally got to the
castle entrance. The first garda checkpoint was well out on the
road, though, just after the VIP parking. They checked tickets for
frauds and no one without a ticket was allowed any farther. There
were people selling water, food, and dinky Slane souvenirs along
the way. At the actual gate into the castle grounds, they checked
tickets again and the gardai were shouting, "Girls to the left,
guys to the right."
they were going to search us. And apparently they did frisk some
people if the pictures in the next week's Hot Press don't
lie. But we got in without any delay. I was at first glad I hadn't
brought my camera but then sorry I hadn't. They made us take the
tops off our water bottles and throw them on the ground but nothing
else. At the end of the rows of barriers, they checked tickets again
and tore them this time. No re-entry. Heather and I joined up with
Peter again and reassembled our stuff. It wasn't easy carrying around
an open 2 liter bottle of water.
There was an
outlet of Abrakebabra right there. They weren't selling anything,
though. It was a tasting cart or something. A girl came out in the
middle of the walkway with a huge tray of hot chicken tenders. "Take
as many as you want!" she was saying. Free lunch! A souvenir
stand was there also, right next to the Abrakebabra. We stood there
and surveyed the merchandise as we nibbled our chicken tenders and
JJ72's raging music floated around us. That's when I saw the hunter
green Slane souvenir shirt. U2 Slane 2001. I didn't really like
it. It was green with red and white lettering. Talk about looking
like a Christmas ornament! IR£15. I wasn't overfond of it
and didn't buy anything.
wound around and then spilled out onto the field. That first view
of the field at Slane is something I'll remember for as long as
I live. The bright green land fell away from us to the Boyne River.
People were everywhere. Sitting there on the grass having lunch,
lying there catching rays that so rarely kiss the Irish soil. A
solitary tree stood there in the middle of this teeming mass of
humanity. It was the information booth. Several massive screens
were placed in strategic places around the venue. At the moment,
they showed Mark Greaney's young face as he raged earnestly about
not needing anyone else, just you and I. Hillary Woods coolly strummed
her bass. Fergal Matthews was hidden somewhere to the right of the
tarp-covered mass of Larry Mullen's drum set, tapping out on his
own smaller drumset. It was JJ72 and they tore on about angst and
alienation in spite of the sunshine like Radiohead in miniature.
Slane Castle peered out from behind the VIP seating area, like a
lord overseeing something he's created. The turrets catching the
breeze. The River Boyne sparkled below, aware and silent about its
significance in Irish history. The Hill of Slane peered down. The
site of one famous fire looking down to the site of a new one.
We made our
way through the crowd on the little stony path that wound down the
hill. The pit was jumping down in the front. The heart was covered
in black plastic. We couldn't tell at first, but there were people
in it. The soundboard was there in the middle, a great silver booth.
It would stink to be caught behind it. Winding our way through,
we eventually found a free patch just to the left and behind the
central lighting rig. Three big towers all along the middle had
all the lights on it. Some of the larger projections were covered
in red plastic. Everyone still feared the possibility of rain.
But as we spread
out our stuff on the grass, rain looked like it was a thousand miles
away. There were a few clouds in the sky but they only served to
occasionally block out the worst rays of the sun. The sky stayed
a deep blue and the sun continued to peer out. I used my raincoat
as a tarp. We munched sandwiches and listened to JJ72 finish out
their set. The sound was good in that even if we were outside, we
had to shout to hear each other. My hearing's going out in a blaze
on a reconnaissance mission and returned saying that the food prices
weren't as bad as we had feared so there were no worries if we ran
out of food. But the queues were massive, especially the beer queues.
I won't even wager a guess as to how much beer was consumed that
day. People walking by had at least two glasses each... and were
spilling it everywhere. I got dumped on twice. Just watch where
you're going, people!
The crowd was
a young one according to the papers. And really, I didn't see many
lined faces :) Mid to late teens to the 20's were probably the most
common ages. Wooooo-hoo! Nothing against older U2 fans, but it was
great seeing such a young fan base... all wild about U2.
the screens and music came over the PA after JJ72 had thanked us
and U2 and had disappeared from the stage. They had gotten a good
reception for how small-time they still are. Chances are that many
of you reading this maybe haven't even heard of them. Their songs
DO tend to sound the same, but they're awfully young and only have
one record out. That's an import for all those Americans out there.
We hung out
and vegetated in the meantime. People watching can be great fun
especially when a few folks have had one too many and have started
to become comfortably drunk. The day wasn't at all hot and the sun
wasn't too angry. But girls with the tank tops who had been there
since the beginning were starting to turn a bright red. Irish skin
not used to seeing the barefaced sun too often. My silly U2 tan
got a bit worse.
Kelis was on
next. I had never heard of her prior to the Slane lineup being released.
I had heard her at Manchester where she and her band opened for
U2. Sorry. I wasn't at all impressed. Worst part is that her sound
has this awful, grating, ear-damaging quality that I don't care
for especially before a U2 concert. No one cared that she was on
stage. Too bad, I guess. But really, she is too far from the tastes
of a U2 audience to have been well-received. People clapped at the
end of her set though the cheers seemed to be more for relief that
she was done than any appreciation for her music.
minute break between performers. I knew Coldplay was up next. This
I had to see. I had heard that they really weren't that good live,
didn't have a huge stage presence. Supposedly, they had been flat
in one of their stateside concerts and when opening for Radiohead
at a British festival. Or so I had heard. But I still wanted to
hear them. They write surprisingly mature, intelligent music and
"Yellow" is another song I thank VH-1 for. I loved it
the moment I heard the video from my kitchen at home. But first
to pay a visit to the port-a-potty city spreading out far to the
left of the stage. Everyone else seemed to have the same idea so
I was glad of the long breaks between the bands. It was cool of
the planning committee to have set up pipes with fresh water. Both
hot and cold water... in the middle of a field. It was cool of them
and I was glad I was able to wash up. Some people were drinking
the water. Cool of them to let us bring our own food also. Thanks,
Slane planning committee.
I got back
a few minutes later and had sandwich #2. We had planned the food
situation earlier. Have one when we got there for lunch. Have #2
midway through the afternoon, and have #3 just before U2. There
was plenty of water. If it had been hot, we would have needed more
water. But as it was, the 2 liters were more than enough.
There was a
roar from the pit and then moments later, the first intro to "Shiver".
I was on my feet in a moment. Coldplay had come out swinging. They
sounded tight and well-rehearsed. "And it's you I see/ But
you don't see me/ And it's you I hear/ So loud and so clear..."
Well done. The crowd loved it. And it only got better. The crowd
was involved and ecstatic. The weather was beautiful. This was SLANE.
The band played off of it and they got better and better and BETTER
as their set went on. Chris Martin was obviously as glad to be there
as the fans. He said they had bypassed other offers to be here with
us today at Slane. As he introduced "Don't Panic", he
said this was a song about the world being a beautiful place, it
being a beautiful day... and he was sure Bono would go on about
got a tremendous response. "The colors shine for you/ The colors
shine for you/ The colors shine..." Thousands of arms waving
in the afternoon sun. It really began to feel like a huge, outdoor
music festival then. With the crowd being involved and all that.
And it was awesome when Chris Martin introduced the song in a very
U2-fan way: "'There's been a lot of talk about this next song.
Maybe too much talk. This song is not a rebel song, this song is
called Yellow'." The crowd recognised that and LOVED it. They
were playing right to what they knew was a common sympathy and capitalised
on that big time. They knew "Yellow" would be a hit, and
adding the Bono ad lib bit, they scored a home run with that.
I believe "Everything's
Not Lost" was the last song though I could be wrong. He introduced
it as needing people to help out with this one, this being an Irish
sing-a-long if you will. People responded by the tens of thousands.
At the end of their set, Chris Martin (tickled pink by the audience
participation) said he was sure U2 were in for a treat tonight as
we had been a great crowd. Loud cheers ushered Coldplay off the
stage and we sat down and geared ourselves for the last break. It
would all be on our feet from here on out.
The crowd was
very excited and very numerous and in some cases very drunk by now.
There were multiple attempts at tower building. Some of them were
successful and they drew cheers. Others were entire failures. People
had started to pack up their picnics and put their stuff away. The
floor was covered with trampled beer cups as there were no trashcans
so you had to throw everything on the ground where thousands of
feet soon crunched it all up more effectively than a garbage compressor.
The "Ole! Ole! Ole!" soccer game cheer made a few appearances.
It would make a reappearance the next week in a more robust form.
Peter wanted to go find his friends who were calling him from somewhere
near the VIP seats, but the crowd was compressing by now, no doubt
pushed forward by all the latecomers coming in through the gates
now. There was a good chance he'd never find Heather and I again
in the throng. So he stayed put. The people near the stage were
packed in like sardines but since we were a good 100 feet out, we
It was past
6PM and the sun was setting on the other side of the castle and
the hill it was built on. The light became that bright yellow infused
with orange glow that makes everyone look sunburned even if they
aren't, of the late afternoon. Dramatic light with dark shadows
and bright highlights. The sky was a deep blue. Clouds caught the
colors of the sunset and sparkled overhead. And the Red Hot Chilli
Peppers made their appearance. They got a deafening cheer. The crowd
was all on its feet and ready for a concert by now.
For their cover
of "Higher Ground" (same song in the set U2 uses as intro
music, except they use the original version), they asked people
to take off their shirts and spin them around in the air like helicopter
propellers. Thousands obeyed, though as Hot Press writes,
"Irishmen being Irishmen, they seemed to have another seven
layers underneath." It was quite a site as I, near the bottom
of the hill, turned around and saw thousands of shirts being spun
around manically in the light of the western sun. The setting sun
had also brought a new chill to the air that no one minded.
loud set pumped and primed the audience up for what was to come.
By the time the Chilli Peppers left the stage, the audience was
raucous and the sun had set over the hill. Everything was ready
for U2 and their sort of homecoming back to Slane.
It was about
45 minutes as the crew set up the stage. The heart had been uncovered
since before the Chilli Peppers. Their bassist had actually ventured
out onto the sacred U2 turf on a couple of occasions. The sky remained
clear and it was turning purple in the east and pinkish to the west
where the sun was waving goodbye. Two guys that had been standing
next to us starting playing WWF with an inflatable chair with an
alien face on the back rest. Heather almost got trampled so we moved
a little ways over. I ended up in back of a fairly tall person with
bushy curly hair. Damn. Oh, well. What I would have been able to
see would be 2 cm tall versions of U2 anyway. And the audience has
a tendency to shift during a show. I tried not to be too concerned.
As the clock
moved towards 830PM, the loud music over the PA started. It wasn't
a tune I knew, though, having been to *multiple* shows by now. Thin
Lizzy. "The Boys Are Back in Town". Fitting. The crowd
cheered. They knew what was coming and they seemed to appreciate
the message in the choice of intro music. Thin Lizzy gave way to
the original version of "Higher Ground". And then those
four lads from Liverpool with their "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart
Club Band". The news had traveled like wildfire. People knew
this was the song. They were coming out just after this one. Thousands
of hands clapping in unison... somewhat. And then the psychedelic
sound of those wild days in the 60's gave way to titanium notes
of modern dance/ techno music. But it was a tune we knew. "SOUL!"
yelled out a familiar voice over the PA. "SOUL!"
It's hard to
judge how loud they were. This was an outdoor concert and though
the noise must have been deafening, it dispersed and scattered in
the plentiful air everywhere like notes of music caught and snatched
away by the breeze. But every arm was raised. The thousands crammed
into what I must call the front (though it's difficult to give a
region a name when it's that sprawling) were bouncing up and down.
From back where I stood, it looked like a black mess of insects
tossed up and down by a huge hand beneath them. The guys in front
of me with Irish tricolors tied on like capes looked like orange
and green-striped grasshoppers. They were no more than 18 years
old. And they were beside themselves... caught up in a moment no
one wanted to get out of. "SOUL! SOUL! YOU ELEVATE MY..."
And then the high-pitched yodels, wordless cries of joy. The crowd
obeyed the unspoken command to sing and the out of tune, "Woo-hoo!
Ooo! Ooo!" filled the glen. They must have heard us as far
away as Dublin. London. The world over.