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With their biggest dates ever in Ireland looming, LIAM MACKEY dips into voluminous hotpress archives and selects a small sample of what the paper said about U2 over the years
Liam Mackey, 16 Aug 2001
Another contender for the titles vacated by The Rats and The Radiators, U2 arrive on the scene with some highly influential supporters. With Steve Rapid acting as mentor, (though not manager) and interest from CBS, the north-side band have made early progress before even venturing into the better-known centre-city gigs. Their recent rise to new-found prominence is due to a victory in an Evening Press/Harp Lager talent contest.
Normally, such contests are ho-hum cabaret affairs but Jackie Hayden from CBS was one of the judges and was sufficiently impressed to pay for a short demo session in Keystone, which is where I caught up with them.
I must report that it wasn’t the happiest of sessions, the band’s inexperience showing up on what was a rush job. Their first numbers were their latest songs, which suffered as they were still getting the measure of themselves and the studio. It wasn’t till later on that their real potential came through.
U2 describe themselves as purveyors of New Wave pop although they’re wise enough to avoid the now deceased power-pop tag. However, they’ve also got hard-rock leanings, not surprisingly since they used to concentrate on that music when they went under their earlier name as The Hype. To their credit, they don’t disguise that background.
To their credit again, U2 are a young band in their last year at school. They impress as articulate, aware and hard-working individuals who are prepared to weigh up others’ advice as they embark on their vocation. U2 talk like they intend to be professionals, a primary asset in the battle for recognition. All these qualities and their youth make U2 a band for the future and one with the attitude to grow and evolve fast.
“Yep, It’s U2”, by Bill Graham, hotpress 1978.
The tension around Malahide must be palpable these days; it’s working, for God’s sake, it’s working! The project which began so ignominiously in the lives of four ambitious middle class kiddies has developed through a plethora of errors, hiccups, pratfalls, accusations, stupidities, and barely-savoured successes, into a movement.
They’ve come from Killiney and Foxrock, and also Cabra and Raheny to be here today, and they’ve come to dance, mister – and sing, and participate and only maybe evaluate. What’s more, they’ve dressed up with an unmistakable detail. If U2 are playing, there’s no knowing who might be there, right?
Most important is the fact that U2 kiddies are actually young. What with The Skids and Police and Gen. X doing the round on every turntable in the civilised world, Paddy pop kids have decided that Paul, Dave, Adam and Larry (for it is they) are cooler than death and more than just another young band. U2 are now the mentors, even father figures (gaspo!), for a new generation of attempted rises to popularity and Juke Box Jury appearances, and they haven’t even released a record. Very strange indeed.
I thought this was a great gig. Admittedly there are easier places to play than Dandelion Green – the Black Hole of Calcutta being the one which springs to mind with greatest facility.
But obstacles mean nothing to these boys now, or so it seems. They’re making everything into momentum, turning it into gravy, and they’ll probably be in your town this week. U2 have frankly gigged their butts off to be as tight and effective as their excellent set continues to indicate. When Paul Hewson, once a prat, now the frontman he’s always wanted to be, sprays “U2’ in black on the back wall, he’s being deliberate, and everyone knows it. Complete conviction and mastery of technique are slowly becoming his, and he doesn’t have to bluff anymore.
Their greatest strength, though, is in the songs, which now vindicate all the occasional obnoxiousness. ‘Out of Control’, ‘In Your Hand’, ‘Concentration Cramp’, ‘Shadows In Tall Trees’, ‘Judith’, and ‘The Fool’ will land them the record contract which, when it comes will be richly deserved, if only for courage and tenacity in the face of such a volume of criticism from the very start. But then, the best are always the most envied, which may be close to the root of things.
Dave Edge is a superlative guitarist and he’ll improve so much, being so young, being so bright, so good.
Someday soon, Adam Clayton will wake up and find that he’s Phil Lynott, which will please him fully. They’ve learnt and learnt, honing all those influences (Bowie, even Lizzy to name two) so caringly. Where others are inspired by the same people, U2 have gone that crucial stage further, and created a unique, identifiable sound of their own.
“U2 Treats U”, by Declan Lynch, hotpress 1979.
1980, Bono writes about being in a band on the threshold:
“Where were you last night?” asked the ol’ man. “We played a concert in Trinity College.” “How did it go?” “Well,“ I said, “We had a bit of trouble from a few 16 year olds in the audience.” “You weren’t very polite, yourself at sixteen! “ he replied.
Yeh, I know at sixteen boys turn into men and get confused, I do remember. I remember I felt bullied by the need to succeed, to find a good job, and a pretty girl. Forming U2 was a way out – it was also a way in to expressing how I felt constructively, as opposed to banging my own or somebody else’s head off a wall. The fact that neither Bono, Adam, Larry or the Edge could play or sing was but an obstacle to overcome. (It hadn’t bothered Lou Reed, Bob Dylan or Bob Geldof). Just do it!
Originality is the keyword. In terms of presentation, on stage, I try to catch people’s attention; like an actor, I try to get across the atmosphere of the words and the setting. Sometimes I fail, sometimes people don’t want to know, sometimes I don’t even know myself.
In the end it’s up to you the audience to decide for yourselves, is it relevant or irrelevant, can you see the potential in U2 or not? So far you have decided yes and put our first record in the charts, “U2 Three”. Thank you.
Our debut tour in England was an incredible success; things look good for U2 and I feel confident that our February concert tour of all the major towns in Ireland will be successful too as we also release our second single here then.
In March we undertake a second English tour in time for our first record release over there. Yes, it’s an important time for me.
It’s also time for tea! “What are you doing?” asks my ol’ man. “I’m writing a piece for the hotpress”. “The who?”, “A music paper”. “How’s it going?” he continued. “Well”, I replied. “I had a bit of trouble ...”
“The U2 Way”, by Bono, hotpress Yearbook, January 1980.
U2 have signed a major international recording contract with the Island label, it was confirmed on Monday.
The contract which had been anticipated locally for some time, will entail the release of four albums over its four year duration – after which Island have the usual options – and in the first I2 months, U2 will issue no less than three singles and their debut album, the latter to be recorded in August for an October release date. It's expected that only one of these singles will also be available on the album.
U2, who already have two locally released CBS singles to their credit, will be recording their first Island 45 – the song as yet undecided – over the Easter weekend in Dublin's Windmill Studios. Set to produce the record is Martin "Zero" Hannett, whose association with the Factory label, has seen him work with Joy Division, as well as producing records for John Cooper-Clarke, The Teardrop Explodes and others. Hannett was chosen at the suggestion of U2 themselves, who were reportedly very impressed with the production on Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures album.
U2 will be handled by Ian Flooks' Wasted Talent agency (formerly Derek Block) who are also responsible for the Clash and the Police amongst others.
Live plans include a major British tour to coincide with their debut single release in May, followed by Summer dates – including outdoor concerts – in Europe. Once those commitments are fulfilled the band will be returning home for an Irish tour.
Having secured what is undoubtedly the most important international recording contract for a local band since the Boomtown Rats signed for Ensign, U2 were understandably reported to be "ecstatic", looking on the deal as a vindication that "sooner or later you get the deal you need". The band, who swept to victory in this year's hotpress readers' poll, also expressed a debt of gratitude to Bill Graham of this parish, who was not only the first media person to champion the band but who also played a small but hardly insignificant role by introducing them to their manager Paul McGuinness.
"U2 Sign To Island", News story, hotpress March 1980.
With another sweeping hotpress Readers’ Poll victory under their collective belt, the inevitable conclusion is that the U2 star is still unfalteringly in the ascendant.
Their achievement in taking the overall Best Polling Act category, as well as dominating the Irish section of the poll follows hard on an impressively improved showing in the NME poll, a highly successful sell-out Irish tour which took them up the scale to the 5,000-capacity RDS Main Hall in Dublin, and an equally celebratory brace of London gigs just prior to Christmas. It all adds up to a remarkable show of strength, carried all the more effectively because of the band’s still-explosive sense of enthusiasm and commitment.
But while the band in building their audience, are making the kind of strides necessary to keep the enterprise creatively as well as financially buoyant, there have been some worrying developments over the past year. Even in this, the issue of hotpress which celebrates a new and comprehensive triumph for the band, in terms of audience commitment, the letters page sees a hitherto unprecedented wave of disillusionment with them.
In a sense this is predictable – most bands find that achieving mass support means losing some of those who championed them through the early stages. But then U2 have always been exceptional in their ability to break with the stereotypes. Their commitment is such that you feel they must want to transcend the inevitable, to find the key to the mystery of how not to alienate those who initially put their faith in the band, while attracting new support all the time.
Currently back in the U.S. of A., at the start of a strenuous six-week stint there, Bono is characteristically UP, when the poll news is delivered. “The sun is shining, The Edge is shining – we’re all feeling very good”, he says, reflecting on his exuberant torrent of words. “When I’m not feeling so good. I don’t talk so fast”.
But there is no sense, right now, of Bono being carried forward on a wave of undiluted optimism. Neither he nor his fellow U2-ers are likely to shrink from the implications of their evolving status. And though their recent Irish tour and most specifically the Dublin RDS gig represented a
pinnacle of achievement for them, they’re quite prepared to question the scale which was involved.
“What we did was quite ambitious”, the Edge says unassumingly about the RDS gig. “We haven’t ever played a venue that size in our own right before. There was a feeling that maybe the occasion became larger than us – I think that it might have been better to play some small venues as well.
“But I’d still stand by those gigs”, he adds, a theme taken up by Bono: “The concert in the RDS was the most successful concert ever of its size I’ve been at in Dublin. There was such an atmosphere of celebration, right from the front rows to the back. That kind of feeling between the band and the audience leaves me breathless”.
There were aspects of the experience about which he feels apprehensive – the fact that some people were hurt for one, though it was, he emphasises, a peaceful concert. Then there was an incident in Cork, where a group of about fifty or sixty people came autograph hunting.
“They didn’t want to talk”, he says and his voice registers bewilderment, “they wanted bits of me. They wanted me to write my name down on scraps of paper. Incidents like that did make me think about the whole thing – we’re not into that gladiators, dinosaur rock thing.
“I’m asking a lot of questions about it but what I do believe is that the band is a great live act and we’re going to continue to be a great live act”.
On their evolving relationship with their audience Edge adds, “We aren’t the sort of band you can make your mind up about and still be right in a year’s time. It’s more like a process of continual assessment. We’re going to change and we’re going to keep on changing. We’re not restricting ourselves. But audiences are into that. Audiences are into progression”.
If there is a theme in this short conversation, it’s that faith – the credence which U2 invest, some might say naively, in the quality of the ordinary people – the mass of ordinary people – who now form their audience. But in this attitude they are being entirely consistent. What has fired, and inspired their music from the word go, is an unshaking optimism, which flies in the face of so many signposts to the times, and which allows them to transcend even their own doubts, as well as the extraneous hostile forces which might have grounded their soaring vision.
What is important about this optimism is that it acts as a direct challenge to the essential bleakness imposed by those who offer youthful energy nothing more than the same old story. There is something to celebrate in the fact that where Irish youth lacked a voice for long, now there is not just one but many through which their cultural aspirations are being expressed.
Extracts “U2: Poll Winners Speak Out”, by Niall Stokes, hotpress February 1982.
Bono: There’s a guy called Conny Plank, who produced Makem and Clancy and some Irish traditional bands, also orchestral and funnily enough a lot of the new electronic groups, DAF, Ultravox, and so on. He used to record orchestras by just finding a position in the room where they were already balanced and he applies this in his thinking, in recording modern music: he finds a place in the room where it’s already mixed.
Van: I don’t know, when I started we didn’t think about that! You didn’t even think about recording (laughter).
Bono: You didn’t even think?
Van: You didn’t even know what was on the cards. One day you were in the room, they turned the tape on. After about eight hours or so, they’d say “OK tea break, it’s over .
Bob: Yeah, next song, next song!
Van. And then that was that – it was an album.
Bob: Yeah, you’d make an album in three days or four days and it was all over – if that many! It’s that long now, it takes four days to get a drum sound!
Bono: Do you know the Monty Python team, they’re comedians. British comedians, Monty Python And The Holy Grail. They have a sketch that reminds me of you guys – sitting back talking of days gone by: “ you tell that to the young people of today and they’d never believe you”. But you can’t go backwards, you must go forward. You try to bring the values that were back there, you know, the strength, and if you see something that was lost, you’ve got to find a new way to capture that same strength. Have you any ideas on how to do that? I think you’ve done it by the way ... I think “Shot Of Love” that opening track has got that.
Bob: I think so too. (drawls). You’re one of the few people to say that to me about that record, to mention that record to me.
Bono: That has that feeling.
Bob: it’s a great record, it suits just about everybody.
Bono: The sound from that record (“Shot Of Love”) makes me feel like I’m in the same room as the other musicians – I don’t feel that they’re over there. Some of our records, I feel like they’re over there because we got into this cinema-type sound, not bland like FM sound, but we got into this very broad sound. Now we’re trying to focus more of a punch, and that’s what we are after, this intimacy ... I’ve never interviewed anybody before, by the way. I hate being interviewed myself.
Van: You’re doing a good job!
Bono: Is this OK? God!
Bono talking vith Bob Dylan and Van Morrison. hotpress August 1984.
It’s a long way from Limerick Civic Week to Madison Square Garden but U2 have made that transition – and in such magnificent style
It was back in 1978 that the band made their first dent on the consciousness of the world’s music-loving public by winning the pop section of Limerick Civic Week’s talent competition. It was, needless to say, a small dent – an infinitesimal dent even! But for the four school-going kids who had played only a handful of gigs previously, it was as significant an affirmation as they could possibly have hoped for, at that fledgling stage in their musical development.
Doubtless that first sweet taste of success fuelled their hunger for more. Equally, it must have fuelled their commitment to a vision which is entirely and uniquely their own. They won that contest performing original material, with a conviction that would have been rare in much more experienced outfits. That clear-sightedness and defiant sense of purpose has been a hallmark of their work since then.
As they crash into the opening riff of “11 O’Clock Tick Tock”, New York goes ape. The audience in the Big Apple is notoriously among the most difficult in the world to convert, but they’ve fallen head over heels in love with U2 and there’s no holding back now. In a seated venue, we’re on our feet from the word go and the floor of Madison Square Garden is moving a solid foot up and down under the dancing forces. It’s a wild celebration that’s sustained through ninety exhausting minutes of sheer musical fervour ...
Extracts, “The Unforgettable Fire”, by Niall Stokes, hotpress April 1985.
Bryan Adams came live but not very loud on the video from Philadelphia as, in the thick of the crowd, U2 flags were appearing. There were banners for that day from “Nik Kershaw” to “Hello Grimsby” but there were more for U2 than anyone else. Perhaps U2 just have a flag-waving audience, for they inspired the loudest welcome since Quo as they launched into ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’.
Bono, as ever, connected with the audience, leaping down an embankment to pull a girl from the crowd during an extended version of ‘Bad’ that swept into ‘Ruby Tuesday’, ‘Sympathy For The Devil’, ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ and all of rock’n’roll. There was something strangely manic and disturbing about the performance but, more than any other of the day, it transcended crowd pleasing while succeeding in utterly pleasing the crowd.
Extract, “The Great Leap Of Faith” by Neil McCormick, hotpress 1985.
Such has been the excess demand right across America, that scalpers at the concert in Hartford, Connecticut, for example, were asking $115 for tickets with a face-value of $15. And in New York, the shock to the system of Aiken Promotions man Peter Aiken upon receiving a dental bill for $600 was outweighed only by his utter astonishment at the dentist’s suggestion that he’d waive the fee if Peter could get him two tickets for one of the five sold-out 20,000 seater concerts in New Jersey. Re-write the script – an eye for an eye and a tooth for a U2 ticket.
To borrow from Americanese, the bottom-line is that at least for the duration of this first leg of their US tour, which began in Tempe Arizona on April 1, U2 are the biggest thing in rock in America, triggering off a massmedia landslide in the process. By the time they’ve finished up in Meadowlands, New Jersey on May 16, the band will have topped both albums and singles charts, seen all their elpees re-enter the Billboard Hot 100, appeared on the covers of Time and Rolling Stone, been featured on the major TV networks, become the top grossing live act in the country and played to a pocket-calculator knows how many people while thousands more rued their misfortune at missing out on a certified highlight of the 1987 touring calendar.
Extract, “Rockin’ all Over The States”, by Liam Mackey, June 1987.
“Would you like a cup of coffee, Olaf?” whispers the stylishly attired and always polite Adam Clayton, when he steps into the room and notices the blue of my cheeks. “Why are you whispering?” I whisper back with a grateful nod. “MTV are filming in the next room,” he explains, before nipping off to the kitchen to fetch me a much-needed hot beverage.
Today is a busy promotional day for the band – the room is full of PR girls, the BBC have just left, MTV are here now, Edge is downstairs talking to Rolling Stone on the telephone, and RTE’s Uaneen Fitzsimons is due any minute. There’s a charge in the air, a frisson of big-band excitement that it’s impossible not to be sucked into.
Already, the first single off the album – the surprisingly straightforward but still infectiously catchy ‘Beautiful Day’ – has crashlanded into the British charts at Number One. The new album is being released in a fortnight and the word on the industry grapevine is that it’s going to be huge. There’s a feeling that this record may catapult U2 right back to the dizzy heights achieved by The Joshua Tree, when they dominated the charts and shifted over 20 million units. The buzz is that this is a record that takes U2 back to their roots – and which will reeconnect them to their original audience. Now, following two gruelling years in the studio, U2 are finally coming out to play and switching back into media mode.
“How long have you had the album?” Adam asks, when he returns. I tell him I’ve had it for about four days and immediately he’s full of questions.
He sits down and chats, showing me the artwork for the album sleeve (featuring some very tasty black and white Anton Corbjin airport shots) and contemplating the hectic promotional tour they’re about to embark upon (Paris on Thursday, Los Angeles on Saturday, New York the next week, and lots more world travelling besides).
“Sounds quite gruelling,” I remark. “Well, I’m kind of looking forward to it,” he smiles. “But then, I’ve been stuck in a studio for the last two years. It’ll be nice to get out for a bit.”
Extract, “Boy To Men” by Olaf Tyaransen, October 2000.
Bono insists that he doesn’t really want to be known as the man who saved the world. He would much rather be someone who serenades it.
“I think pop music is the greatest. It’s the most extraordinary thing. You read a book or see a film once, maybe twice, but you can keep coming back to songs forever. They’re like pieces out of peoples lives. When people are screaming in some stadium or arena, they’re not screaming at you, they’re screaming at themselves and the moment that song represents.”
I am reminded of a moment when I witnessed the astonishing power of song to unite people. It was after a U2 concert outside San Francisco in 1997, when Noel and Liam Gallagher shared a minibus back to the city with Bono and the Edge. Noel was pressed next to Bono, clutching the singer’s knee, as he babbled with excitement about the concert and enthused about U2 songs he admired. And then, with startling synchronicity, the minibus radio, tuned to a late night station, began to play U2’s hit, ‘One’.
“This is the greatest song ever written!” yelled Noel. And he and Liam begin to sing it at the top of their voices. Swept away by the brothers’ exuberance, Bono and Edge joined in. And as we rolled down a San Francisco highway, long after midnight, four of the world’s greatest rock stars raised their voices in an impassioned, impromptu rendition of a song of unity and brotherly love.
As I recall, we wound up in some drinking establishment owned by one of Bono’s many friends, with the U2 singer clambering onto the bar to deliver an operatic aria.
“I’m having the best time of anyone I know,” says Bono, chuckling at the memory. “You’re not supposed to have it both ways, I understand that. But I’ve been really lucky, I’ve been able to live a life, the family’s grown up and it’s been fun and music and of course sadness and heartache and the only thing I can put up my hand and say is at least I did this. I didn’t miss it, do you know what I mean?”
Extract, “Confessions Of A Rock Star” by Neil McCormick, December 2000.
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