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Seven cities, two continents, nine gigs and a lot of hard-earned cash... is UUP man Graham Springsteen's biggest fan?

By Suzanne Breen

Published 09/06/2016

Ulster Unionist councillor Graham Craig with some of his Bruce Springsteen
memorabilia
Ulster Unionist councillor Graham Craig with some of his Bruce Springsteen memorabilia
Ulster Unionist councillor Graham Craig with more of his Bruce Springsteen memorabilia
The Boss in action

A Belfast councillor has revealed he is Bruce Springsteen's number one fan in Northern Ireland - and has been to five of the singer's concerts in 10 days.

Ulster Unionist Graham Craig went to Springsteen's two concerts in Dublin's Croke Park, then flew to Glasgow for his gig in Hampden Park.

From there, the councillor travelled to Coventry to see another performance before heading to London for the Boss's show in Wembley Stadium last Sunday night.

And that's far from the end of councillor Craig's concert trail.

He is off to the Netherlands to see the New Jersey rocker in The Hague next Tuesday.

In July, he will fly to Italy for two concerts in Milan, and then he will jet off to the USA to catch Springsteen perform in Washington.

"Some of my mates think I'm a bit mad," the UUP man told the Belfast Telegraph. "But I fell in love with Bruce's music as a schoolboy growing up in Castlederg and I'm still smitten.

"I was 13 when Born in the USA was released. Bruce sang about small-town America but he just as easily could have penned those lyrics about small-town Northern Ireland.

"He sang about the mills closing down; about poverty, despair, violence and tragedy.

"He articulated people's frustration that their lives didn't turn out differently, and their yearning for something better.

"Yet he celebrated the camaraderie in communities and the strong sense of pride too. For me, when he sang My Hometown, he was singing about Castlederg and all the other small towns and villages I knew."

When Springsteen came to Ireland for his first legendary concert in Slane Castle in 1985, Graham was too young to go.

"I've certainly since made up for the disappointment of missing that one," he laughed.

"I've been blessed to have been able to go to 40 Springsteen concerts in the past 15 years.

"My sister Jayne was shocked the other day when she heard how many shows I'd been to. 'Have you not grown out of that by now?'" she said.

Councillor Craig, who was elected to represent the Botanic ward in south Belfast in 2014, was previously a special adviser at Stormont for three years to former DUP finance minister Sammy Wilson (before he decided to stand for their unionist rivals). He suggested that Springsteen held particular appeal to someone from his religious background. "As an Ulster Protestant, I was always going to be attracted to his blend of rock, country, soul and gospel," he said.

"His music is shot through with biblical references and his gigs are like gospel meetings. You are not present merely to spectate, you are as much a part of the show as he is. He is like a preacher up there, telling us to sing along and put our arms in the air.

"'I want to hear it louder!' he'll yell. Being at a concert is a rapturous, enthralling experience. The more energy that comes from the crowd, the more he has to give back to us.

"There is nothing fancy about his stage or lighting. Unlike Madonna, Bruce doesn't rely on gimmicks. This is all about his sublime ability to make a connection with his audience."

The UUP politician's adoration of the singer is even more intriguing given that he doesn't share Springsteen's politics.

"I am certainly not left-wing or even left of centre," he said. "But I am still thankful for the voice he gives to the working man and woman. He has charted the collapse of the American Dream for blue-collar America.

"He expresses the rage that people feel with the system, the rage that has led to the success of Donald Trump, even though I'm certain he would be very much a Bernie Sanders man himself."

Councillor Craig said that his family were very supportive of his frequent concert trips.

"My partner Melanie has absolutely no interest in accompanying me - she doesn't like crowds - but she would never try to stop me going to a show. I've taken my nine-year-old daughter, Sophia, to one concert and I'm bringing her to another this year," he added.

The UUP man insisted his Springsteen obsession was not a waste of money. "Look, I don't have an extravagant lifestyle," he said. "Apart from trips to see Bruce, I don't go on holiday. I don't play golf, I don't eat in fancy restaurants, I don't spend money on a big car - indeed I don't even drive.

"This is my one and only luxury. No two shows are ever the same and he always performs as though his life - and our lives - depended on it.

"Bruce is 66 so he has more concerts behind him than in front of him. That is why I want to take every opportunity I can to be there because someday I will have only the memories."

Belfast Telegraph

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