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Bruce Springsteen at Croke Park: Why he was born to run... and run

As thousands of fans head to Dublin this weekend to see Bruce Springsteen perform at Croke Park, two writers explain a life-long obsession with The Boss

By Brendan Mulgrew

Published 27/05/2016

Class act: Bruce Springsteen at the King’s Hall, Belfast in 2013
Class act: Bruce Springsteen at the King’s Hall, Belfast in 2013
Dublin date: Bruce with his wife Patti Scialfa in Dublin in 2014

Today I'll be heading down to Dublin to see Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band in concert for the 26th time. Then on Sunday, I'll be back for number 27. I know that sounds a bit obsessive, but unless you have seen him live, well ... it's not all that easy to put into words.

It all comes down to the music. The power, the passion, the sheer connectivity of the music that Springsteen records, and plays live, is very special.

I first saw him on the day that has quite rightly gone down in Irish music folklore, June 1, 1985, at Slane Castle.

That sunny Saturday up to 100,000 people are said to have been at Slane and as a wide-eyed 16-year-old facing into a week of 'O' levels, I truly got my eyes, and my ears, opened.

I had never seen, never mind been part of, a crowd that size and I was absolutely caught up in the power of the music coming from the stage. Springsteen arrived onstage in broad daylight, opened with Born in the USA and powered through almost four hours of music, finishing with Twist and Shout.

At that time I was new to much of the music, with only the Born in the USA and The River albums featuring among my older brother's collection. Soon after though, I bought all of the back catalogue, immersed myself in the early albums, and I haven't missed an Irish concert since, while taking in a few UK and one Paris show, too. So, 31 years later, how does Bruce Springsteen, nicknamed The Boss, still command such a loyal following, especially in Ireland?

There are some things you know you will get at a Springsteen show - sincerity, energy, exceptional musicianship and camaraderie among fans. There are also the unknowns, the key one being, 'What will he play tonight?' And that's the reason why it's not crazy to go to two concerts in one weekend.

Between this Friday and Sunday, Bruce will shake up the set-list so that at least half the songs from night one will be replaced for the second gig.

With 40 years of studio recordings to draw from, not to mention songs recorded but not released, cover versions and one-off tribute songs, these concerts really are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.

Who among the crowd in Barcelona last weekend at the opening of the 2016 European tour would have expected to hear Purple Rain, played in tribute to Prince, and done so perfectly. I'd love to hear it in Croke Park, too.

Each Bruce Springsteen concert throws up its own set of memories, too.

Making plans, hanging out with family and friends, trading tickets, angling for pit wristbands to get closer to the stage, the pre-concert beer and post-concert analysis, laughter and sometimes a few tears.

All of these make for very warm memories which will be drawn on for life.

I'm glad to say that at one show this weekend our kids will be along - for two of them it's their third Bruce concert after a previous Dublin experience and the sun-baked King's Hall gig in July 2013, and for our 10-year-old this is a first gig. Think of the lifetime of fandom that awaits.

Springsteen has been rocking classic hits that most people know, Born To Run, Dancing in the Dark, Glory Days and they all go down a treat at a live show.

But for every one of them there is a hidden gem, including some of my favourites such as This Hard Land, Frankie, Independence Day.

Yes he sings about the blue collar worker with struggles, he also looks critically at corporate greed and the banking crisis, he has beautiful love songs and, of course, songs about cars and girls.

And there is always a chance he'll play one of them in concert that you haven't heard before. When that happens, it is pretty special.

After that glorious King's Hall show three years ago, I headed down to Kilkenny for the finale of that year's European tour.

At the end of the second and final gig, Bruce acknowledged that he has been playing live for 50 years, and told us, "the older you get, the more it means".

Yes Bruce, I know. I've been on this journey now for 30 years.

At 66 years of age, Springsteen brings the same energy to each concert as he did in 1985.

He says he wants every new audience member to say "I saw the E Street Band at its best" and he delivers, every time.

Bruce Springsteen shows no sign of slowing down.

Thank God for that, and thanks for the music, Boss.

  • Brendan Mulgrew is a Belfast-based PR director. He is on Twitter @Brendanbelfast

‘There is something in his songs that really taps into our souls’

An old Springsteen story tells about the time a fan spotted him queuing alone at the cinema. It was back in 1980 when Bruce was promoting The River album — the record which has been revisited on his recent tour.

A fan saw him alone and asked if he wanted to sit with him and his sister. Bruce said yes.

The film they saw that night was Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories in which a star is demoralised by his own fame and dismissive of his fans. When the lights went up, the young man at Bruce’s side nervously asked the rock star if he felt like that.

When Bruce assured him that he didn’t, the man asked Springsteen if he wanted to come home and meet his family. He did. The mother cooked for him and pretty much all the family were hurriedly invited over.

When Springsteen talked about the meeting years later he described it as a privilege of fame: “That is something that can happen to me that can’t happen to most people,” he said.

And the thing about Springsteen fans is that they sort of feel that if they met him somewhere quiet and invited him for a beer … well, despite his multi-million-dollar-rock-star-status, he would probably say yes.

When I was researching my book on Springsteen, his shows in Ireland and his relationship with Irish fans, I heard many stories about people meeting Bruce in the street, a bowling alley or a restaurant — and despite the pressures of fame, Springsteen had time for them all.

Once while he was making a visit to a favourite chip shop in Dublin, a girl in the queue rang her boss to say who she was standing by. The man didn’t believe her so Bruce took the phone and, laughing, said: “You’re talking to the Boss”.

After Bruce had left, the man on the phone arrived, sweating and out of breath; he had just missed his chance to meet Bruce in person.

Ireland is one of the hottest tickets on a Springsteen tour — and they are all pretty hot. Ever since he played Slane Castle in 1985, Springsteen hasn’t left Ireland off the tour itinerary. More often than not there are multiple shows, and fans often attend them all, secure in the knowledge that each night is something special.

His shows can move between stories of hardship and poverty to wild songs of pure rock and roll enjoyment. The tales of hard times matter, but the fun matters, too.

So is there a special relationship between Springsteen and Ireland? It is hard to believe there isn’t.

There are the family connections, for a start. Not only can Springsteen trace his own lineage to Ireland but the mother of his wife, Patti Scialfa, was born in Belfast and left for America when she was five.

Patricia Morris, who went on to marry Joseph Scialfa, who is of Sicilian extraction, and her family had lived in Haddington Gardens, off the Cregagh Road.

Then there is something in the songwriting, the storytelling. It taps into the Irish soul; the stories of fatherhood and community, politics, emigration and conflict.

And there is also that powerful sense of comradeship which Springsteen inspires. If you are a Springsteen fan you feel you care about the world, the people in it and the stranger at your side.

As one Belfast fan says in the book: “Sense of community is disappearing. Fans go to Springsteen to get that sense of connection, not just to Bruce and his music but to each other. The music makes you feel connected to something ‘higher’.”

  • Moira Sharkey, who is originally from Londonderry, is the co-author of Land of Hope and Dreams, £16.99. For more information go to

Belfast Telegraph

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