The metal and punk scene became much more prominent in later years, with Slayer and Nuclear Assault in 1988, followed closely by Metallica and Danzig (if you were looking for something a tiny bit less explosive, there would have also been a chance for you to see The Waterboys). For an unforgettable experience, you could have gone to see Zed Yago and Anthrax in 1989, only to watch the main act leave the stage after twenty minutes due to a particularly aggressive audience. Less aggressive shows that year included The Elite and No Sweat or W.A.S.P. One year later, you could have seen Death and Kreator, Prong and Faith No More or Sepultura. Finally, 1991 saw what arguably remains the most famous show of the venue, with Sonic Youth and Nirvana sharing the stage.
None of these sound good to you? Don't leave the venue just yet: you could have also went to see The Human League, The Hank Wangford Band, Yngwie Malmsteen Band, Ozzy Osbourne, Carl Mann, The Mission, Quireboys, The Damned, The Charlatans, The Inspiral Carpets, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Suicidal Tendencies, Exodus, Crumbsuckers, Onslaught, Slammer, Danzig, Nuclear Assault, Malice, The Rose of Avalanche, Happy Mondays, Dr. Feelgood, Patti Smith, Marianne Faithful, The Equals, Dave & Ansell Collins, The Tremeloes, Light Fantastic, M.O.D., Howard Jones, and the late, great, David Bowie.
Punk pioneers The Damned were one of the movement’s most recognisable and influential groups. Their 1976 single ‘New Rose’ is often considered the first punk single from a British artist, and their first handful of albums (Damned Damne dDamned, Machine Gun Etiquette) were considered to be blueprints for the progression of the entire punk movement moving forward. The 1980s saw them moving in a more Gothic direction, incorporating elements of rockabilly and psychedelia into their music.
The Damned’s 1986 appearance at the Top Hat came just as they had experienced their biggest commercial success to date, after their cover of Barry Ryan’s 1968 single ‘Eloise’ got to #4 in the Irish charts in February of that year. The appearance was in support of their upcoming album Anything, due to be released on December 1st, with the title track experiencing a single release just over a month after the gig occurred.
The Mission were one of goth and indie’s most beloved bands. Alongside fellow artists like All About Eve and Sisters of Mercy, they brought newfound darkness and moodiness to alternative music, taking much inspiration from more gothic subject matter and material.
Their appearance at the Top Hat in late-1986 saw them arrive on the cusp of stardom, with one top 30 hit (‘Stay With Me’) already under their belt, and with their soon-to-be-released follow-up ‘Wasteland’ becoming their first Irish top 10 hit in January 1987. Their setlist combined material from their debut with covers of various tracks by artists like The Beatles, Neil Young and The Stooges.
The above is audio of an interview with Irish Film Institute archivist Kasandra O’Connell about her experience at The Top Hat watching her favourite band The Mission in November 1986, when she was 17.
Interview conducted by Olivia Lynott.
Pioneers of electronic pop music, The Human League had been one of the dominant acts of the early '80s, with hits like ‘Love Action (I Believe in Love)’, ‘Mirror Man’ and ‘(Keep Feeling) Fascination’ all reaching the top 20 in Ireland, with ‘Don’t You Want Me’ and ‘Mirror Man’ in particular both reaching #1 here, putting them at the forefront of the synthpop explosion.
By 1987, their star had waned slightly, although they had just managed their second American #1 with ‘Human’, which had reached #5 in Ireland in August 1986. Promoting their 1986 album Crash, which was a moderate Irish success, the band had streamlined their original striking appearance a touch but still looked impeccable on the Top Hat stage.
The original king of heavy metal. Famous for fronting heavy metal giants Black Sabbath from 1967 until his firing in 1979, Osbourne became renowned for his wicked on-stage persona, soon earning him the legendary nickname ‘the Prince of Darkness’.
1988 saw Osbourne arrive at the Top Hat in time to promote his upcoming record No Rest for the Wicked, due for release in late-October. The record later went double-platinum and proved that Osbourne’s star had not yet faded. This particular tour was notable for featuring Black Sabbath’s original bassist Geezer Butler as part of Ozzy’s touring line-up, resulting in half of the original Black Sabbath line-up on stage at the same time.
A key component of the ‘Big 4’ of thrash metal, Slayer were responsible for some of the most controversial and uncompromising songs in thrash history. Known for their breakneck speeds and unflinching subject matter, Slayer continue to be a divisive, but mostly adored, part of the metal story.
1988 saw Slayer promoting their album South of Heaven, the follow-up to their 1986 masterpiece Reign in Blood. Slayer’s arrival at the Top Hat made them the first of the ‘Big 4’ thrash bands to play there, with Metallica performing less than a month later, and Anthrax performing later in 1989, with Megadeth being the only act of the ‘Big 4’ not to perform there.
One of metal’s most enduring and legendary bands, Metallica were at the forefront of the San Francisco thrash metal scene, introducing the style to a whole generation of unsuspecting listeners. While their debut at the Top Hat pre-dated their mainstream explosion with the release of their self-titled ‘black album’ in 1991, they were nonetheless already mythical figures within the metal scene.
1988 saw Metallica releasing their fourth album …And Justice for All, their first full-length record since 1986 and their first without their bassist Cliff Burton, who was tragically killed in a tour bus accident that same year. The performance was their 17th date on their Damaged Justice world tour, which continued for a further 202 shows, concluding on October 8th 1989, a whole year after their appearance at the Top Hat.
Irish-Scottish band The Waterboys had spent half a decade perfecting their particular brand of folk-infused rock and roll. Colloquially known as ‘The Big Music’, The Waterboys specialized in a very natural, earthy approach to song-writing, one which took as much inspiration from God and nature than it did reality, perhaps exemplified by their signature record ‘The Whole of the Moon’, which flopped upon release in 1985 but eventually reached #2 after being re-released in 1991.
Their Top Hat New Year's Eve gig saw them on the verge of breaking through into the mainstream, with ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ having just become their first top 20 hit earlier that month. Indeed, the New Years’ Eve performance was the third of three consecutive shows performed over three nights by the group, solidifying their status as folk heroes. The impact of the three consecutive gigs could be seen the following June, when their next single – ‘And a Bang on the Ear’ – became their first and only Irish #1.
Possibly the most over-the-top in a crowded field of late '80s hair metal bands, W.A.S.P. were provocative, loud and often completely ridiculous, like the stereotypical idea of what all hair metal bands were at the time. They were often targets of 1980s censors, particularly the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) who decried the band for their vulgar imagery and lyrics.
1989 saw W.A.S.P. promoting their new album The Headless Children, often considered by critics to be their most accomplished and mature record. The band had begun to achieve significant success in Ireland, with the first single from the album, ‘Mean Man’, reaching #17 in the Irish singles charts in March, and the soon-to-be-released follow-up - a cover of The Who’s ‘The Real Me’ - peaking at #19 later in May.
An infamous performance, mainly because it barely even happened. Anthrax were another component of the ‘Big 4’ of thrash metal, Anthrax’s particular brand of thrash was inspired by classic rock, bringing power chords and anthemic strictures to the genre. They had managed to become the first thrash metal act to break into the Irish charts, when their rap-metal hybrid ‘I’m the Man’ got to #19 in December 1987.
Anthrax had already spent a year touring in promotion of their album State of Euphoria, even touring with Metallica during their Damaged Justice tour, and the Top Hat was one of the final dates on the tour’s schedule. Unfortunately, the gig was forced to be cut short after only six songs following increased disturbances from the crowd, with bottles being thrown and the band being spat on. Anthrax wouldn’t return to Ireland for another 7 years following the incident, eventually playing at the SFX Hall in January 1996.
San Franciscan alternative veterans Faith No More had spent much of the 80s figuring themselves out, dwelling generally in goth and post-punk circles. Following the arrival of Mike Patton in 1989 however, they began to expand their sound palette immensely, incorporating influences from all over the musical spectrum, creating records which were challenging, abrasive and complex, but also witty, self-aware and breathtakingly adventurous.
FNM’s arrival at the Top Hat in 1990 coincided with them promoting their album The Real Thing, often considered their finest record. They very nearly didn’t make it to the performance at all, as they had been promoting their new single ‘From Out of Nowhere’ on British music show Top of the Pops, which meant a mad rush from London to Dublin in time for the gig to start!
An iconic gig featuring two metal legends. German band Kreator had already made names for themselves on the metal circuit with their particular brand of extremely fast, uncompromising thrash, which would prove to have a long-lasting influence on the death and black metal genres in the future. They arrived at the Top Hat to promote the release of their 1990 record Coma of Souls, their first record with former Sodom guitarist Frank “Blackfire” Gosdzik.
Supporting Kreator that night were Death, often regarded as the first true death metal band. Their albums Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy had earned them widespread acclaim for their brutal, savage sound which eclipsed many of their contemporaries. Death were in the process of promoting their third record Spiritual Healing, however Death songwriter and frontman Chuck Schuldiner was not present on the night due to his hesitance about touring Europe.
Perhaps the most famous gig in the venue’s history. Two giants of the alternative scene, one on the verge of breaking out and becoming one of the biggest bands in music history.
Firstly, Sonic Youth (the headliners for the evening) had already made a name for themselves in the underground scene through their avant-garde approach to rock, fusing the avant-garde with pop song structures to create entirely new, noisy listening experiences. Their 1988 album Daydream Nation was critically lauded for its stylistic approach and scope and can often be found on many lists of the greatest albums of all time.
1991 saw Sonic Youth riding the wave of Goo, their major-label debut with Geffen Records, which saw them transform overnight from underground sensations to (almost) mainstream icons without sacrificing much of their abrasiveness and experimental nature. Their setlist is much more reminiscent of days of old however, featuring songs dating back as far as 1983.
Their support act that night was a relatively unknown band from Seattle named Nirvana. Following the release of their debut record Bleach in 1989, Nirvana had languished in obscurity for a little while, their 1990 single ‘Sliver’ (the first to feature new drummer Dave Grohl) barely scraping the top 100 of the British charts. This particular performance featured old songs like ‘Floyd the Barber’ nestled alongside new songs like ‘Drain You’ and ‘On a Plain’, which were due to be featured on their forthcoming album Nevermind, set for release on 24th September.
In the weeks following the gig, Nirvana’s popularity skyrocketed, with ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ reaching the top end of the charts around the world, and inadvertently ushering in a new era of alternative music and bringing grunge to a much wider audience in the process. The Top Hat performance feels like the dawn of a new era, and perhaps the moment the 1990s really began.
Anthrax were my favourite band at the time. I remember being really excited to see them. This excitement turned to sadness though on the night after they walked off stage after less than 30 minutes because the crowd were spitting at them. Before the show started someone came over the PA asking people to not spit at them. I think it was the last night of their tour and maybe they’d just had enough by then. They had a song called ‘Caught in a mosh’ and I remember when I got home I painted ‘Caught in a spit’ on the back of my Anthrax shirt.
This was the first concert I ever went to. I went with my best mate. I was 14 and I remember we were asking our parents for months if we could go. They finally gave in and said we could go but we were not allowed get the dart to it and had to get a lift there and be picked up afterwards (we lived in Tallaght) It was a great show though and a few months later Slammer came back and played their own show in McGonagles. Also a great show.
I remember this being a great show. Kreator headlined but everyone was there to see Death. I don’t remember too many details. I had a couple of cans before that one :-)
This show was completely sold out. Sepultura had just released their third album ‘Beneath The Remains’ and this album sent them to metal stardom. They were huge at the time. Amazing and sweaty gig. Their drummer Igor signed my ticket.
Interview with Ronan Tully about his experience skateboarding at The Top Hat and his memories at the roller disco and his experience meeting Tony Hawk at a skateboarding competition.
Interview conducted by Olivia Lynott
When my old band Dreamcreeper supported Sepultura there in 1990 we were setting up our amps etc next to theirs. As we were the support group ours wasn't as powerful as the headliner’s gear. Max and Andreas from Sepultura seen us setting up and insisted we used their gear. They went out of their way to be nice to us and that really made an impression. The gig was brilliant and the crowd were class. Sepultura were absolutely brilliant that night and nice blokes too.
Interview with computer programmer Ger McEvoy, about his experience watching his favourite guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen at The Top Hat in 1990, when he was 20 years old.
Interview conducted by Olivia Lynott.
My Dad used to drive us from Dundalk to gigs in the Top Hat, and sleep in the car outside till the gig was over. We went to WASP, Judas Priest, Suicidal Tendencies.
We were just home from touring the UK to promote our second album when we played the Top Hat in 1988. It was funny to be playing in our hometown of Dún Laoghaire with lots of friends and some old fans present. We really felt the pressure to be on form.
The main thing I remember about that night was getting up on the stage during sound check, I walked into a concrete beam and cracked my head open. My bandmate Steve Belton whisked me off to St Michael’s hospital where I got a few stitches. I felt fine and went back to the Top Hat and did the gig! Halfway through the set, I felt blood running down my face, but the adrenaline kept me going and it turned out to be a great night!
This has been a great distraction in our Coronavirus times. I went down to the basement last night and alas - didn't find 1988's diary but did find 1989 and found what I wrote on the day of the Anthrax gig. Half-way into the diary entry it reads (fun to see the writings of a 15-year-old):
"Then I legged to Barr's (Barry) and hopped over his roof cause no-one answered. I walked in and his Canadian cousins were there. They got a fright. I went up the road with Donall and met Barr and a guy called Rob. We got the bus. The lads drank LCL Pils in Dun Laoghaire and then we went into the Top Hat for ANTHRAX. Predator backed up. They were excellent and ANTHRAX were fucken deadly. They really got the crowd going. Then some guys spat. Scott Ian got angry and they left. We will get our money back. It was fucken annoying. Well, we had chips in Robs then and I was home at 12.15am."
Now that I think of it, I remember meeting Niall McGreevy (Predator's guitarist) several years later. We were in the same class of a 'musicianship' 1-year-course at the College of Music in Dublin - there off Grafton Street. He was an excellent classical guitarist and remembered the gig well then for sure. I'm sure he does. Predator used to do Saturday afternoon gigs in McGonagles and there was loads of stage-diving there - great craic altogether.
Interview with John O’Laoige about his experience at Top Hat roller disco in the 1990’s.
Interview conducted by Olivia Lynott.
I first went to the Top Hat around 1987 when I was 12. My family had just moved from Dún Laoghaire town, all the way to Sallynoggin, and I went to keep close to my roots!! When I went on Saturday afternoons the entertainment was a roller disco. It was a fun place and lots of my school buddies were going too. But the thing that kept me coming back was the amount of girls I could make friends with.
The roller disco was already starting to struggle by the time I started going and so the owner of the place started giving jobs to us kids. I quickly became a skate hire employee. So now my friends and I were staff we started to get offered extra work from time to time and this is what put my life on the path I’m still on.
I had no real interest in any music at the time but was asked to come down and work at a concert. I was 13 at this stage and my parents weren’t too happy for me to be going out to work nights!! But I managed to persuade them it wasn’t going to happen very often and “all my mates were going”. I was only allowed down for the afternoon to help out setting up. Luckily they had never heard of Slayer. The day of the gig was the first time I’d seen heavy metal dudes. All leather denim and patches. I was intrigued already. I was outside heading home when the music started but it was still amazing hearing the music and seeing into this metal life. Looking back now I can’t believe how close to Slayer’ on the South of Heaven tour, it still kind of upsets me I didn’t get in.
A few months later when Metallica came to the Top Hat it was a similar story. Only this time it was 2 nights and the band’s gear was being left in the venue over-night. Some of my teenage workmates were asked to stay overnight to keep an eye on the gear from a venue point of view!! I wasn’t allowed in and was out-side again when the music was starting. Metallica in my home-town playing my all-time favourite record (controversial I know) and I was nearly there.
Then it finally happened, another gig was coming and I was going to be allowed work. The gig was Suicidal Tendencies with support from M.O.D. And it was crazy. The crowd was a big crossover scene and there was fighting from the moment the doors opened. It was a sold-out show and the place was packed. The energy was amazing the music was loud, fast and I was hooked. After the show, the road crew gave us a case of beer. So now I had music, girls, and beer all thanks to the Top Hat and I was still only 13.
I stopped cutting my hair that night and was straight out to get me some metal T-shirts. Over the next few years I worked at lots of classic gigs. Probably the most infamous shows of that time was the half Anthrax gig. They had been booked in for 2 nights but it was changed to just 1 night. As a result the place was sold out again. The show started off well and the place was rocking. After about 7 songs the music stopped, and the band told people if they didn’t stop spitting they were walking off. Cue, loads of spitting and the band walking off. Loads of chanting and sitting protests got everybody a 50% refund but we wouldn’t see another Anthrax show for many years.
The Faith No More show was memorable because the band were recording Top of the Pops and didn’t arrive at the venue till very late. The support band was Prong they were amazing. Then we had about an hour to wait till Faith No More turned up. They played a killer show and were amazing but didn’t finish till around midnight. On a school night. There was a lot of lads having to ring home for lifts after missing all the public transport, but it was definitely worth it.
The Kreator and Death show was another eventful night. The singer from Death didn’t show up and one of the road crew had to sing. I loved that show. Kreator were excellent that night too. Sepultura touring beneath the remains and riding a huge wave of support was another highlight. Max was hanging around all day and was super cool.
I also worked at some shows I didn’t enjoy as much. The Jesus and Mary Chain gig was my first experience of “cureheads” and the Waterboys was a bit trad for me at the time. There was also a few skinhead ska shows that I as a long-haired metal dude was intimidated at but they ended up being fun too.
Then the last show was probably the most famous one ever held at the venue. Sonic Youth with Nirvana as support. The roller disco had stopped for a while at that stage and I was asked to go in and clean the place up a bit because it has been closed for so long. I went in and met rats the size of small cats. The bands turned up and I was chatting with the lads from the support band as I was cleaning around the place. Their drummer was on stage bashing the shit out of his kit for hours. They all seemed like nice dudes. They played their show and it was grand, nobody was very excited, and Sonic Youth played a great show. Now everybody says they were at that gig and it was amazing and they knew Nirvana were going to be huge.
I do still tell people who wear Nirvana shirts I spent a day with the band and see their heads explode.
So today I’m a 44-year-old bald bearded dude who still loves going to metal and punk gigs. Travelling all over the world to see amazing shows and it all started at a roller disco in the top hat.
I enjoyed remembering this stuff.