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Slane Castle is Harry’s House for Styles’ Sold-Out Show

Queen, David Bowie, U2, Madonna, Oasis and Bruce Springsteen.

Those are just some of the legendary acts who have graced the stage at Slane Castle in the Republic of Ireland.

On Saturday another made their mark on Slane’s rock-‘n’-roll history spanning 40 years as headliner Harry Styles entertained a crowd of 80,000 for his sold-out show.

It was the first gig at the Boyne Valley estate in County Meath since the year before the Covid-19 pandemic began.

Slane has become shorthand for the apex of a musician’s career in Ireland and is considered a pilgrimage for many music lovers due to its top-class line-ups.

Thin Lizzy was the first to headline in 1981, with support from a then up-and-coming U2, as well as Hazel O’Connor and Sweet Savage.

Back then tickets would have set you back the equivalent of just €10 (£8.59).

Alex Conyngham, whose father began the gig series, said it was a big risk to take amid the heated political climate on the island.

Slane Castle sits just over 30 miles from the Irish border. At that time, in Northern Ireland, the Troubles were boiling.

“The security risks were definitely high but dad always believed in the power of music, bringing people together so they took the risk and put the show on,” he told BBC News NI.

Some 20,000 fans made the trek to the village about one hour north of Dublin and the show was considered a roaring success.

That gave Lord Mountcharles the courage to pursue the Rolling Stones for the next gig, said his son.

“It wasn’t easy but he managed to get them and that really put Slane on the international stage,” said Conyngham.

“The rest is really history.”

Since 2001 gigs have run at the castle on a biannual basis, with heavy metal band Metallica the last to play in 2019.

‘It has the best atmosphere’

Artists are lucky to play Slane once in their careers but Downpatrick band Ash have supported big names at the venue a few times over the years.

Drummer Rick McMurray told BBC News NI the first time the three-piece played in 2001 was under “bizarre circumstances”.

They had been touring their third album Free All Angels when they got the call offering a last-minute support slot for U2 after the Foo Fighters had pulled out.

“We were unexpectedly thrown in the deep end,” he said.

“It was a very special day because Ireland had just qualified for the World Cup in 2002 and they had actually played the qualifiers on the screens right before we played.

“It was down to the wire and is still probably one of the best atmospheres that we’ve ever played in.

“Ireland had just qualified for the World Cup and we were the soundtrack to that.”

The band was able to repay the Foo Fighters for that slot 14 years later when they acted as support for Dave Grohl and Co.

“Seeing that hill just covered in fans who are just absolutely up for it was just spectacular,” added McMurray.

‘A magical experience’

Fans come from all over to make the journey to Slane, and for good reason.

“It’s a legendary location,” said McMurray.

“Physically, the shape of it, there’s not a bad place to watch a gig from there – everyone’s got this great view of it despite such a massive audience.”

The stage sits at the foot of a hill from which the fans have a prime vantage point.

The thought of playing to some 80,000 fans may be overwhelming to some but Slane’s unique elevation provides a sense of closeness.

“A lot of the times when you’re playing a larger stage and you have this flat audience in front of you, even the front barrier feels a gig’s length away.

“But when you’ve got them raised up in your face it definitely gives it more of a kind of intimate, special atmosphere.”

Conyngham, who is custodian of the site, agrees.

“Slane is not a stadium – it’s a beautiful, natural amphitheatre,” he said.

“You’re in this amazing, natural environment and there’s something almost spiritual about it.”

Artists love for Slane mixed with the energy of an Irish crowd creates a “magical experience”, he added.

Is Styles suitable for Slane?

Styles’s Slane show was announced last August but was met with criticism from purists who believed he wasn’t worthy of the slot.

But the organisers have always tried to push boundaries with pop acts like Madonna and Robbie Williams headlining, said Conyngham.

“The fact is Harry Styles is one of the hottest artists in the world at the moment,” he said.

“He’s a great showman and I think he’s going to bring something different to Slane.

“Hopefully in the annals of history the Harry Styles show will go down as one of the great Slane shows as well as many others.”

Slane Castle was one of the final stops on the Grammy Award-winning artist’s Love On Tour.

It began in September 2021 and has featured seven legs, spanning Europe, North America, South America, Asia and Australasia.

The 22-month-long saga will come to an end in Italy’s RCF Arena next month, where 100,000 people are expected to attend.

Saturday’s line-up at Slane was completed by DJ Annie Mac and Styles’s own guitarist Mitch Rowland, as well as Dublin band Inhaler, fronted by U2 frontman Bono’s son, and Isle of Wight duo Wet Leg.

Source : BBC