Bonus DHS - the boys are back in town

Aug 19, 2021, 10:25 PM

Bonus DHS shrine: the boys are back in town. 
Location: 54.481732, -8.277495
Speaker: Raymond Britton
Theme: gathering for an unlikely birthday party location.

Few people realise that Stairway to Heaven got its world premiere in the Ulster Hall in Belfast back in March 1971. Its epic wonder was lost on an indifferent crowd who had migrated en masse to the bar on hearing the slow opening bars to what they thought was a folksy filler between the monster set pieces. 

Less infamous in the annals of Ulster rock lore, but no less remarkable is the notion that at the height of his powers, having just headlined the first ever Slane Castle festival with a Thin Lizzy gig on Sunday 16th August 1981, Phil Lynott decided to celebrate his 32nd birthday with a gig in Bundoran the following Sunday.

Whereas Lizzy were supported by U2, Hazel O'Connor, Megahype, Rose Tattoo and Sweet Savage in Slane, the gig in Bundoran featured The Lookalikes, Atrix and Eclipse. Sweet Savage also played at the Bundoran gig, but bottom billing there was reserved for the Spinal Tapesque entitled Toe-Jam with a note to say 'first gig on their comeback'. The compere on the night was the indefatigable Smiley Bolger who would go on to set up the Vibe for Philo when Lynott died less that 5 years later.

Worth mentioning is that no one these days would consider organising a big gig on a Sunday, but in those days it was par for the course and Sunday was very much part of the weekend. Back then, the notion that Sunday was, to use that ghastly phrase, a 'school night' was nowhere to be heard;  the mantra was very much a case of polish up your pinting boots and get on out there. In fact, Donegal Town's biggest night was reserved for Sunday where the Abbey Hotel was full to capacity with party animals who deftly ignored Monday for the sullen party pooper she always has been.

Lizzy were no strangers to playing in Bundoran in August. And yes, to throw a middle finger to her sullen ways, the original Lizzy line-up played on a Monday night on the 2nd August 1971 in what was billed as 'the rave up of the year'. With a spritely looking elephant declaring that she loved Candida's at the top of the week's billing, Candida's nightclub in the Holyrood Hotel was the venue for this outing. Underneath the billing, it was nonchalantly stated that buses would leave Sligo on Sunday and Monday nights at 10.30pm for the venue. Different times!

The location for that birthday party, the Astoria Ballroom is no more, but the rock and roll baton has been passed in a way as it is near the site of the very popular Sea Sessions rock concerts over the last few years. The Astoria was better known for showbands, so the two main men from Lizzy were in the most unlikely of places to be rocking the night away. In fairness, The Kinks had once played there, so it had some rock and roll pedigree and later on Meatloaf would play there - well sort of, after a bad-tempered public spat with the venue's owner. 

An attendee recalled the following account of the build up to the concert: 
'...nobody believed he was coming but he was seen in Sean Griffin's pub in Upper Main Street, Donegal Town. Apparently he was a friend of Sean’s from old and went to see him before the gig (imagine your shock if you'd popped into Sean's for a quiet Sunday pint and a game of darts!) It was the brainchild of Bernard Kelly from Frosses (brother of Tim who would go on to form the massive Kelly Communications in London) . 

When we knew he was definitely doing his birthday celebrations in the Astoria sure off we went. Only a small crowd had turned up as no one believed that he would attend. Both Phil Lynott and Scott Gorham played a blinder, it was awesome.'

A local newspaper had written about the event as being one primarily set up for The Lookalikes. It read: 

'An indoor mini festival is scheduled to take place in the Astoria Ballroom, Bundoran on Sunday August 23rd with the highlight promising to be the appearance of The Lookalikes in tandem with well-known guests Phil Lynott and Scott (sic) Graham of Thin Lizzy.

The bill also features The Atrix, Sweet Savage, Eclipse and Toejam. The festival will run from six in the evening until 2am and tickets will be obtained from The Astoria Ballroom at the door on the night.

The Lookalikes debut album 'Daydream at Night' which was produced by the band themselves is due out at the end of September on the WEA label. The band are planning a complete national tour at that time.'

Only Philo's arrival at the Great Northern Hotel later that evening was confirmation to the sceptical locals that this was not a drill. In an age before mobiles and social media, there was no viral wave of fans eventually turning up to the Astoria which was a quarter full. Many were tucked up at home oblivious to the fact that the boys really were in town - sure hadn't they just done a massive proper gig earlier that week? Of all of the Donegal gatherings I've mentioned in the Donegal's Hallowed Sites Spotify playlist, this is one that I'd most liked to have attended. It would have been a lot sweeter than having Showaddywaddy as my first live (Sunday night) gig five years later!

URL: Songs for while I'm away documentary trailer

Audio taken from Donegal's Hallowed Sites on the Racontour Archive.
Spotify URL: Donegal's Hallowed Sites playlist on Spotify