LORD HENRY MOUNTCHARL­ES

Hot Press - - Contents - In­ter­view: Stu­art Clark

The Slane Cas­tle owner on Me­tal­lica’s up­com­ing sum­mer con­cert and more.

Ir­ish rock venues don’t come any more iconic than Slane Cas­tle, which this sum­mer welcomes the mighty Me­tal­lica. Here, Lord Henry Mountcharl­es talks about his close en­coun­ters with U2, Guns N’ Roses, the Stones and David Bowie, among oth­ers. Oh, and about the launch of Slane Ir­ish Whiskey...

If there’s one word guar­an­teed to make the pulses of Ir­ish rock ‘n’ roll fans quicken it’s ‘Slane’.

When Hot Press se­lected its 50 Great­est Ir­ish Gigs in 2008 and then threw it over to you guys, Thin Lizzy, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Spring­steen and U2’s vis­its to this stun­ning cor­ner of Meath all fea­tured in the Read­ers’ Top 20. Since then, there have been storm­ers from the Red Hot Chili Pep­pers, Kings Of Leon, Eminem and Oa­sis with Noel Gal­lagher telling yours truly that it was up there with Kneb­worth in terms of his great­est live ex­pe­ri­ences.

This year prom­ises to be an­other bel­ter as Me­tal­lica fol­low in the Slane Cas­tle foot­steps of their beloved Phil Lynott. There is, quite sim­ply, no other out­door venue like it.

“The adren­a­line rush when you walk out on that stage is fuck­ing in­cred­i­ble,” Noel Gal­lagher en­thused. “You’ve got this am­phithe­atre full of peo­ple go­ing men­tal; a river be­hind you and a Down­ton Abbey stately home at the top of the hill. How can you not play your heart out when you’re con­fronted with that?”

The man who’s been mak­ing the Slane magic hap­pen for the past 38 years is Lord Henry Mountcharl­es, who thinks that there could be a su­per­nat­u­ral el­e­ment to the suc­cess story.

“Me­tal­lica were formed in 1981, which was the year that

Thin Lizzy played the rst Slane,” he prof­fers. “Me­tal­lica are, as you say, huge Philip Lynott fans and have reg­u­larly cov­ered ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ in their shows. I was scratch­ing my head a lit­tle won­der­ing, ‘Who can we get to fol­low Guns N’ Roses?’

and Me­tal­lica went out on a fa­mous co-head­lin­ing tour with

Axl and the guys back in 1992. I wanted to take Slane back to its roots and we’d never done metal per se.

“The clincher was De­nis Desmond, from our part­ners in all of this, MCD, telling me that we were – and I hate us­ing the term – on the Me­tal­lica ‘bucket-list’ of venues they wanted to play. When I heard that, I said to De­nis, ‘It’s ob­vi­ous to me now that this is the way we should go.’ There’s the weird­est in­ter­wo­ven syn­chronic­ity about quite a lot of the acts that have played Slane, which re­ally ap­peals to me.”

HIS­TOR­I­CAL SIG­NIF­I­CANCE

When Hot Press made Phil Lynott: The Lost Record­ings avail­able in 2006 as a free CD cover-mount, we got a call from Me­tal­lica’s man­age­ment re­quest­ing that we send a few copies over to Cal­i­for­nia for James Het­field, who’s a mas­sive fan of the orig­i­nal Philo/Eric Bell/Brian Downey Lizzy line-up. It also turns out that the band have one of the two sur­viv­ing Thin Lizzy light­bulb back­drops hang­ing in their of­fice.

“Well, that’s fas­ci­nat­ing and con­firms my su­per­sti­tious syn­chronic­ity the­ory,” Henry laughs. “Kings Of Leon, who played Slane in 2011, were also great Thin Lizzy fans. The two bands that have been most heav­ily re­quested by fans through email and what­ever are AC/DC who we haven’t man­aged to get – yet! – and Me­tal­lica, who I’m con­vinced are go­ing to play one of the clas­sic Slanes.”

Ir­ish mu­sic fans are blasé nowa­days about big out­door shows be­ing staged here, but in 1981 it was a to­tally off the wall

“Bruce re­hearsed his en­tire set – it must have been head­ing to­wards thirty songs – in the din­ingroom to a small gang of us”

con­cept that many felt was doomed to fail­ure.

“Oh, peo­ple thought we were mad,” Henry nods. “I re­mem­ber say­ing to De­nis, ‘I want Slane to be to mu­sic fans what the Al­lIre­land Fi­nal is to the GAA and the Ir­ish Derby is to the equine world’. There were to be no half-mea­sures. The in­fra­struc­ture needed to stage a show of Slane’s mag­ni­tude had never been put to­gether be­fore in Ire­land. Be­cause we’re way out in the coun­try and can’t put on mul­ti­ple nights like Croke Park or the Aviva, it’s a rel­a­tively ex­pen­sive and dif­fi­cult gig to put on. On top of the lo­gis­tics and the costs, ’81 was the year of the IRA Hunger Strikes and ac­cord­ingly huge un­rest on both sides of the bor­der.

“There we were, right next to the River Boyne with all of its mas­sive, com­pli­cated his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance. With all that hap­pen­ing, were peo­ple go­ing to travel up, down and across to this tiny speck on the map to see a gig? Hap­pily, for us, the an­swer was a big ‘yes!’”

Those early Slanes had an in­flu­ence on one of the peo­ple who was piv­otal in bring­ing about the Good Fri­day Agree­ment.

“I re­mem­ber say­ing to Mo Mowlam, who was a good friend of mine, ‘Look Mo, there are tens of thou­sands of peo­ple from all corners of Ire­land en­joy­ing them­selves by the banks of the Boyne. There’s some­thing there, a spirit of to­geth­er­ness, that can be har­nessed.’ That made a big im­pres­sion on me and lots of other peo­ple I know.”

CHARIS­MATIC POW­ERS

By 1985 word of Slane had spread suf­fi­ciently for Henry to bag the hottest act on the planet, Bruce Spring­steen & The E Street Band.

“It was the vic­tory lap, if you like, for Born In The U.S.A., which had sold 25 mil­lion copies and pro­duced hit sin­gle af­ter hit sin­gle,” he rem­i­nisces fondly. “Bruce had played to big crowds be­fore, but none as mas­sive as the 80,000 at­tend­ing Slane and he was nervous. To al­le­vi­ate those nerves some­what, he re­hearsed his en­tire set – it must have been head­ing to­wards thirty songs – in the din­ing-room to a small gang of us, which was ev­ery bit as ex­tra­or­di­nary as it sounds! Rather touch­ingly, he came back a few years ago with his fam­ily to re­visit what turned out to be the scene of his tri­umph. Af­ter Slane, it just got big­ger and big­ger for him.”

The Boss beat the at­ten­dance record set in ’82 by the Rolling Stones.

“That was their rst year playing at Slane, but Mick had ac­tu­ally vis­ited a few years ear­lier,” Henry says. “I got a call from my fa­ther, who was still in res­i­dence, say­ing, ‘I’ve got some chap com­ing to din­ner. A Mick Jig­ger? I think he might be a mu­si­cian.’ I was like, ‘Do you mean Mick Jag­ger?’ and, yep, it was. I took him for a few jars in the night­club we used to have at Slane and one of the lo­cals, spot­ting him in his white suit, went up and said to Mick: ‘Has any­one told you you’re the spit of that Rolling Stones fella!’”

I was one of the jour­nal­ists re­spon­si­ble for the del­uge of ‘A Lad In Slane’ headlines in 1987 when David Bowie brought his Glass Spi­der tour to Meath.

“One of my most vivid Slane mem­o­ries is of David and my­self sat in deckchairs jab­ber­ing away about third-level ed­u­ca­tion. How it had come up I don’t know, but we were al­most obliv­i­ous to ev­ery­thing go­ing on around us. We were re­ally get­ting to heart of the mat­ter when he looked at his watch and said to me, ‘Oh Henry, I think it’s about time I went on.’ He got up, strolled over the bridge that crosses what we call the Lit­tle River, and ca­su­ally walked on stage. I just thought, ‘How amaz­ing to be that cool and col­lected.’ But, then again, he was an ex­tra­or­di­nary in­di­vid­ual.

“I went to see the Bowie Is… ex­hi­bi­tion at the V+A in Lon­don, which made me even more aware than I had been of the in­flu­ence he had on fashion, mu­sic, cin­ema, ev­ery­thing. One of my favourite lms of all time is The Man Who Fell To Earth, and even though we were talk­ing about nor­mal stuff like ed­u­ca­tion, part of him did seem very oth­er­worldly. Out­wardly I kept my cool, but in­wardly I was a to­tal fan that day!”

Of the new, younger breed of Slane head­lin­ers, Henry was par­tic­u­larly im­pressed by Rob­bie Wil­liams.

“When he rst came to Slane in 1998, Rob­bie was third on the bill to The Verve and gave an ab­so­lutely stun­ning per­for­mance. Straight away it was,

‘We’ve got to get him back next year as head­liner’, which we did. That show was broad­cast live on Sky and then end­lessly re­peated, mak­ing it a sem­i­nal mo­ment for him – and for us. It brought a younger crowd to Slane, many of whom have kept com­ing back. Rob­bie’s said in in­ter­views how blown away he was by the show. There’s a pho­to­graph of me with him, where I’m hold­ing a bot­tle of Slane holy wa­ter. Rob­bie said, ‘What in God’s name is that?’ and I ex­plained that, in a tra­di­tion go­ing back to pre-Chris­tian times, ev­ery Au­gust 15th, we com­mem­o­rate our lo­cal saint, Erc, by draw­ing wa­ter which is sup­posed to be holy from the well at the far cor­ner of the con­cert site. I gave Rob­bie some to drink be­fore he went on stage, and whether this gave him mag­i­cal charis­matic pow­ers I don’t know!”

BIZARRE EX­PE­RI­ENCE

Since Au­gust 2017, Slane has been pro­duc­ing an­other sort of holy wa­ter.

“You’ll prob­a­bly think I’m crazy, but the orig­i­nal idea for the Slane Whiskey dis­tillery came from that rst Thin Lizzy show in 1981,” he ex­plains. “I oc­ca­sion­ally, in good spir­its, DJ-ed in our night­club and would end with the other Na­tional An­them, ‘Whiskey In The Jar’. When I met my wife, Iona, she was work­ing for Moët and Chan­don in France, and knew the in­dus­try in­side out. I asked, ‘Do you think this is a good idea?’ and she said, ‘Yes, it’s a win­ning one.’ So Slane Whiskey was lit­er­ally born on a kitchen table. The nal piece in

the jig­saw was my son, Alexander, go­ing to work in Aus­tralia for Jameson. With the knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence he gained, we were ready to go as a brand.”

The weird syn­chronic­ity Lord Henry talks about was ev­i­dent again in July 1995 when Oa­sis made their Slane bow sup­port­ing REM.

“Ev­ery­one knows about their con­nec­tion to Mayo, but the Gal­laghers roots are ac­tu­ally from up the road in Duleek,” he re­veals. “A few days be­fore Oa­sis came back and head­lined Slane in 2009, we had an event in the cas­tle night­club, and ev­ery Gal­lagher in Ire­land must have been there. I had to go out and when I re­turned there was a plas­tic bag hang­ing off the door, and in­side it a bot­tle of whiskey and a note from one of the fam­ily say­ing, ‘Thank you!’ They were crawl­ing out of the wood­work that night. I have to say that Noel is one of the good guys. He’s an ab­so­lute gentle­man and very funny. I’ve bumped into him a few times in dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions and he re­ally is a gig­gle a minute. And smart with it. Noel doesn’t miss a trick and has a great han­dle on life. Liam comes across as be­ing thor­oughly de­cent as well, but I’ve had less in­ter­ac­tion with him. I sus­pect that ei­ther to­gether or sep­a­rately they’ll be back at Slane one day.”

I’m not sure if they out­num­bered the Gal­laghers, but Duff told me there were a lot of McKa­gans on the Slane guest-list both times Guns N’ Roses head­lined.

“Playing Slane is ex­tra spe­cial for mu­si­cians who have fam­ily here, and names don’t come much more Ir­ish than McKa­gan. The rst Guns N’ Roses show in 1992 was, shall we say, chal­leng­ing but I liked Duff and the other mem­bers of the band I met, and had no qualms about bring­ing them back in 2017. Well, I had a cou­ple, but they were on-time and on-form and ce­mented their place in Slane his­tory. Not that I was there to see it. I had the bizarre ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing in a hos­pi­tal bed and watch­ing Guns N’ Roses per­form via-mo­bile phone. De­spite the ob­vi­ous lim­i­ta­tions of that, I could tell they were hav­ing a great time back at base.”

What’s not com­monly known is that Lord Henry has for the past cou­ple of years been bat­tling a rare form of lung can­cer.

“It’s noth­ing re­lated to smok­ing, which I gave up many, many, many moons ago,” he ex­plains. “I’m un­der­go­ing chemo and have now moved into what they call a main­te­nance phase. The prob­lem is, all the treat­ments have screwed up my immune sys­tem, mak­ing me vul­ner­a­ble to in­fec­tions like the chest one, which I’ve been in hos­pi­tal with re­cently. Fin­gers crossed, I’ve got rid of it now be­cause I don’t in­tend watch­ing Me­tal­lica on my mo­bile phone!”

“The bloody spook­i­est thing is that The Un­for­get­table Fire, which has a ru­ined cas­tle on the cover, was recorded in Slane in ‘84, and in ‘91 we had an un­for­get­table fire of our own”

EX­TRA­OR­DI­NARY ROLLER­COASTER

The band with the record num­ber of Slane ap­pear­ances, four, is U2 who were so taken with the house it­self that they elected to record most of The Un­for­get­table Fire there.

“All of the record­ing equip­ment was set up in the house, which we felt obliged to tinker with – much to the con­ster­na­tion of their crew,” Alex Conyn­g­ham told Hot Press re­cently. “The band and, of course, Brian

Eno and Daniel Lanois, were there for an ex­tended pe­riod, so us caus­ing them engineerin­g prob­lems was quickly for­got­ten, and I re­mem­ber Bono chasing us around and gen­er­ally hav­ing lots of fun with the guys. They found it very amus­ing when, on a school visit to the cas­tle, some kids get­ting off the bus com­pletely ig­nored the band and ran over to the canons in­stead!”

Alex’s dad has equally fond mem­o­ries of U2 com­ing to stay. “No­body at the end of the ‘70s thought that the big­gest band in the ‘80s and be­yond would be from Ire­land; it re­ally is an as­ton­ish­ing cul­tural phe­nom­e­non,” Henry mar­vels. “Adam Clay­ton is one of my clos­est friends – he’s been very good to me – so I’ve seen close-up how bloody hard they work. Slane has close con­nec­tions with U2 on so many lev­els. The spook­i­est thing is that The Un­for­get­table Fire, which has a ru­ined cas­tle on its cover, was recorded in Slane in 1984, and in 1991 we had an un­for­get­table re of our own. I re­mem­ber Paul McGuin­ness say­ing they were look­ing for some­where to record and me go­ing, ‘To hell with it, Paul, what­ever deals you get of­fered else­where, I’ll un­der­cut them!’

“One of the most ex­tra­or­di­nary Slanes was the one U2 played in 2001 just days af­ter Bono’s fa­ther passed away,” he con­tin­ues. “No one would have re­motely blamed him for can­celling but, no, the show had to go on. It also co­in­cided with the re­birth of the cas­tle; the restora­tion process had been a chal­leng­ing and at times tor­tu­ous ex­pe­ri­ence, but my wife and my­self were ab­so­lutely de­ter­mined to see it through. The U2 con­certs – the Taoiseach of the day, Ber­tie Ah­ern in­ter­vened so we could have two that year – marked the rst time ef­fec­tively that the Cas­tle was re­opened, so you had all those dif­fer­ent emotions and a singer and a band at the height of their pow­ers able to chan­nel them.

“I re­mem­ber watch­ing U2 go­ing on stage – and weep­ing. It was an ex­tra­or­di­nary roller­coaster for every­body con­cerned and while I’ve learned to never say ‘never’ where Slane is con­cerned, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever wit­ness a show like that again. It still gives me goose pim­ples think­ing about it!”

Me­tal­lica play Slane Cas­tle on June 8. Slane Ir­ish Whiskey is avail­able in all good pubs and off li­cences.

The Slane events: Henry & his son Alex, Philo, Bruce & the Stones

U2's un­for­get­table gig & Me­tal­lica

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