My best gig ever: New book asked people to recall their favourite concert

A new book in aid of an Irish charity asked people to recall their favourite concert, writes Don O’Mahony.

As they watched the horror of the Syrian refugee crisis unfold, Niall McGuirk and Michael Murphy decided to do something.

“It was just seeing the harrowing pictures from the Mediterranean, and when the two of us saw those pictures of people drowning at sea in an effort to attempt to have some sort of better life for themselves or to escape what they were escaping, we just felt we couldn’t ignore it,” explains McGuirk.

“And the only things that we’re involved in is music so we felt that we’d try and do some publication to try to raise some money and we reached out to our community, which would be the music community, to try and help in some small way the Syrian community.”

Veterans of Dublin’s DIY music scene, McGuirk and Murphy reached out to their friends and contacts in the Irish and international music communities and posed a deceptively simple question.

“We just said to people: tell me what your favourite gig is,” says McGuirk.

The result is In Concert, a compilation of live music memories stretching back 50 years.

“It’s kind of a trace through the musical history of these people,” says McGuirk. “And most of the gigs were ones that happened in Ireland, which was nice as well.”

Below are excerpts from some of the contributions.

Thin Lizzy Dublin, 1971

In February 1971, Thin Lizzy played a week of lunchtime gigs at the Peacock theatre. My school pals and I sneaked out of Colaiste Mhuire early each day (it was called ‘going on the bounce’) to see our favourite band…

I remember the sensation of returning late to school (sneaking in through the bicycle shed) and being so high on rock and roll and deafened by Bell’s lead guitar and Lynott’s thunderous bass and Downey’s explosive drumming that I couldn’t hear a word of the double science class. It was the most exciting afternoon of my teenage life.

Ferdia Macanna (Musician, author)

Leonard Cohen, Dublin, 1972

It was an evening in March 1972 at the National Stadium in Dublin.

That was the night Cohen sang Kevin Barry to the amazement and delight of the gathered throng. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing and interviewing him many times since but there’s nothing that beats that night for atmosphere and excitement. Then, I remind myself, those were the days when bands were slow to come to Ireland and seeing someone like Leonard Cohen had the possibility of being a once (or in that case, twice) in a lifetime experience.

John Mckenna (Broadcaster)

The Clash Dublin, 1977

Ground Zero was that night in Trinity; the big bright hall, jam packed with every type imaginable; students in duffel coats, punks in bin liners, shoe-gazing youths, skinheads, hippies.

They all had one thing in common; an absolute NEED to be in that hall and nowhere else on the planet that night, like Richard Dreyfuss getting to the mountain in Close Encounters, they simply had to be there.

As my girlfriend and I walked up the steps, out of a dark wet night, into the entrance foyer, the atmosphere hit me.

… All my senses were invaded; a kaleidoscope of colour, sound, and smell; that nauseating smell of dope.

...The Count Bishops were the warm up act though I doubt if they signed up for the full and fiery onslaught they received from the crowd that night. At first I thought it was some kind of new lighting effect, a kind of arc from the stage to the front quarter of the crowd. We winced on realising the rainbow effect was caused by the continuous spitting from the crowd at the band.

Jake Reilly (The Blades)

The Stranglers, Cork City Hall, 1977

The Stranglers in City Hall stands out as one of very heightened tension; it was 1977 and the band was at the height of their popularity. They exuded an air of menace, and the tension cranked up as the gig progressed where the audience were getting totally unmanageable with excitement and things could tip over into complete anarchy at any moment, but ultimately held together — those moments are pretty special.

Speaking to Hugh Cornwell in recent years, he remembered the gig well, and was surprised at how well they were known in Cork,

Elvera Butler (Promoter at the Arcadia in Cork, head of Reekus Records)

Tom Waits Dublin, 1981

My absolute favourite gig of all time was Tom Waits in the Olympia on the 27th March, 1981. There is one piece that stays with me to this day, as vivid as if it was yesterday, almost like a dream that you never forget. He stood there on stage singing a sea shanty, holding a broom handle with a light dangling from the end of it and as he was performing the piece he was swaying the light and as far as I was concerned he was really on a ship, so powerful was the performance.

Stano (Artist, musician)

The Smiths Dublin, 1983

The Blades did a great support slot and then on came The Smiths to unrestrained applause and general mayhem. Flowers were strewn everywhere and Morrissey launched into what became his signature swagger, but was at the time totally fresh and radical and enthralled me and made me a huge fan to this day. If I’m honest it is difficult to remember actual songs from that night but the point is that it happened and I was there…

Will Walsh (Musician)

Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Dun Laoghaire, 1991

I recall that Nirvana played to a less than half-full venue, maybe even 150 folks tops. I felt bad for them.

Everyone else was in the pub, but for those of us that were lucky enough to witness Kurt Cobain and his band mates, and their raw sound — wow it was electric — it was the first time I heard them and I was hooked. I think we all knew (who were actually there) we had witnessed the best gig ever — they were going to be legends in their own right!

Edwina Forkin (TCD Ents Officer 1989-1990, film producer)

Moby/Orbital/Aphex Twin, Chicago, 1993

Aphex Twin embraced the challenges of the venue and the stereotyping of electronic music performers. He was just twiddling knobs and he was trying to remain a faceless techno bollocks.

He set up his homemade electronic gear behind the drum riser Moby’s percussionist would later use and literally sat on the stage floor. He was absolutely invisible from anywhere but the side stage he’d snuck out from. Non-rhythmic beats and live experimental tweaks of abrasive dissonance segued into beautiful, ethereal ambiance that continually challenged the listener.

Kevin Martin (Promoter, fanzine editor)

Cathal Coughlan / Nine Wassies From Bainne, Cork, 1997

Cathal Coughlan hadn’t played a gig in Ireland in just over three years when he announced two Cork gigs for October 1997. A gig in Cork’s Kino Cinema was to be preceded by a pub gig in Cobh. Cathal and pianist Dawn Kenny would be backed by Giordaí Ua Laoighre’s Nine Wassies From Bainne… the Rob Roy gig was essentially a live rehearsal for the following night’s show.

The following night’s Kino gig was good but the staid atmosphere of a cinema couldn’t match the boiling back room of the Rob Roy.

Paul McDermott (DJ, promoter, fanzine editor)

Sufjan Stevens, Berlin, 2011

Sufjan was only playing songs from his new record The Age of Adz, an electro, beat-driven, futuristic sounding record which I had only just bought and listened to once. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I liked it so much on first listen.

So perhaps my expectations were low with the knowledge that he was only playing new material on this tour. Hearing it live though and experiencing the energy of the music along with the visuals was just mind-blowing. I simply got lost in the music from the first song.

Brian Crosby (Bell X1, producer)

In Concert is available online via, €15


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