In the course ofa year I meet so many musicians and attend so many gigs that very few register at all let alone remain firmly embedded in my memory. However. I very vividly remember my first meeting with U2 in August 1981 in Edinburgh. when they played what was then known as Coasters.
The local rep for Island Records introduced me to The Edge (real name Dave Evans. guitar). Adam Clayton (the one with the glasses. bass) and Larry Mullen Jr (drums) after their soundcheck. ()ur small group then made its way to an Italian restaurant at the rear ofthe venue.
It was only as we passed through the door that my eyes first met those ofthe singer Bono. staring at me intensely. obviously wondering who
‘Built around a spark”
l was and what the hell I was doing hanging around with them. After introductions the ice broke and eventually we were getting on like a house on fire. Nevertheless. for those few seconds. I fully understood why he sometimes admits that he is ‘not always a pacifist'.
It would seem that I wasn‘t the only one to find him mesmerising. Paul McGuinness. the former camera operator who has managed the group since 1978. remembers that when the band started out ‘they couldn't play. It wasn‘t really the songs I was interested in. but their energy and commitment when they played live was incredible. Bono would run all over the place and force the audience to look him straight in the eye.’
Now U2 are playing some of the largest stadiums in the world. a group so massive that they are seriously threatening to knock Bruce Springsteen offhis perch. But the group had ramshackle and amateurish beginnings typical of many a hopeful group of the punk era. Larry Mullen (the ‘junior' was tagged on later to avoid further persecution of his father by the Dublin tax office) started the ball rolling when he put up a card on the notice board at Mount Temple. his Dublin school. looking for musicians to get a band together.
‘The guy with the flag‘
Amongst the hopeful virtuosi who showed up the following Saturday to murder a few Rolling Stones tunes. the drummer soon noticed that ‘The Edge could play. Adam was already behaving like an old pro‘. Bono. laughing at the memory. adds. ‘Adam behaved like he knew all the tricks of the trade but he couldn't play at all. He was two years older than us. so we believed him.’ As for the singer. according to Larry. ‘he was supposed to be playing guitar. but wasn‘t very good at it and started singing. Not that he was any better in front of a microphone. We suggested management. but his charisma was such that within ten minutes he took over what was supposed to be my band.‘ He admits this without the slightest trace of resentment.
‘We built U2 around a spark.‘
Dublin’s U2 have reached success their own way. Pierre Perrone outlines their development and discovers that lead singer Bono still hasn’t found what he‘s looking for.
Bono is fond ofsaying. The spark was visible. but unfocused. in the early Irish-only singles the band released. but live shows were a conﬂagration. It was at the point when they were just breaking into the live circuit in Britain that Chris Blackwell of Island Records started to show an interest; though he admits it was Rob Partridge of the press office who heard about them. . Says Blackwell. ‘We sent one ofour A (S; R men to Ireland to start negotiating. I then went to see the band in London. and I soon realised
that they were winners. They already
knew where they were going and what they wanted. which was to build up their career slowly but surely.‘
Their sound was nurtured and defined by producer Steve Lillywhite. the sessions resulting in their first LP. Buy. one ofthe finest debuts ofall time. A few months later Bono was to describe it to me as ‘not really a concept album. but rather a collection ofchildhood memories. and ofsongs about the loss of innocence which happens when teenagers grow up.‘ His interviews already depicted a tortured soul. fiercely believing in rock ‘n’ roll‘s ability to transcend barriers'.
The band‘s love of rock and its cliches nearly led them into a vicious downward spiral before their career had even taken off. Appearing in larger and larger venues. and developing a fascination with America after repeatedly touring there. U2 were losing their delicacy and falling prey to rock bluster. Tours promoting the following
albums. October and War were to saddle them with a reputation they have never shaken off. After seeing Bono. white banner in hand. climb to the top ofthe giant lighting rig above the stage at (iateshead in 1982. l was still having my doubts.
Five years on. Bono admits that at that point ‘we were ready to jack it all in. Rock ‘n’ roll was becoming a contradiction for us. To those fans 1'” always be the guy with the flag in his hand.’
‘Energy and commitment‘
At about that time things started to change. U2. one of the most insular ofgroups. often comparing themselves to a school gang. started to open up. and their sound. the result of rejecting outside influences. consequently changed. The individual musicians were working with others outside the band on different projects: The Edge with I Iolger (‘zukay and Jah Wobble. then working on the soundtrack to the film (‘apu've with Larry (who also plays on some tracks by Irish singer-songwriter Paul Brady). and Bono. who has opened up hungrin to blues and other traditional music. has sung with (‘lannad on the hit song ‘In A Lifetime‘. and been coached in the blues by no less than Keith Richards and Ron Wood. Within 2-1 hours of being introduced to the music of Robert Johnson and Howlin' Wolf. Bono had written his first blues song. ‘Silver and Gold‘.
The band's growth became evident on their fourth studio album The Unjbrgettable Fire. a record ‘that the
4 The List 24 July — (1 August