- 02 Jun 17
It’s a hard auld station but Thursday night found Hot Press in the plush environs of the penthouse suite in Dublin’s Clarence Hotel for a celebratory listening party to mark the thirty year anniversary of U2’s The Joshua Tree, an album that played no small part in the restoration of the building in which we were standing. The record, played through a hi-fi setup that undoubtedly cost more than my apartment, sounded incredible. The fact that it also sounds good when it’s played through someone’s phone is a testament to the band’s achievement.
Once the business of listening back was completed, and the lads behind the bar had been carefully befriended, we were joined by a panel of experts to discuss all matters ‘Tree-related: RTÉ 2FM’s Dave Fanning, Joshua Tree art director Steve Averill, and Anne Louise-Kelly, production and management director for the band. You know, proper experts, not some bloke who once gave Bono’s butcher a lift to the airport. 2FM’s Tracy Clifford occupied the MC seat with great enthusiasm.
The first topic of discussion was the band's early years. Dave Fanning became aware of them during his pirate radio days and through DJing a few nights a week in McGonagles where the young band would play. Steve Averill’s point of contact was through Adam Clayton, who approached the then Radiator From Space for advice. It was Steve who helped out when they were picking a name. They were after, he recalled, something that sounded a bit like XTC.
Thanks to prompting from an audience member, Anne-Louise Kelly, who Dave Fanning described as the real fifth member of U2, spoke about being in America with the band at the time, how amazed she was that Las Vegas was lit up in the middle of the night when they shot the video for ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’, and how naïve they were to act on Barry Devlin’s suggestion to go across into Mexico to add some atmosphere to his Outside, It’s America documentary, only to realise that nobody had bothered to bring any passports.
Steve gave some background on the shooting of the iconic cover photo. Bono felt, as the record was coming out during the summer, the band should take their shirts off. It will shock no one to hear that Larry Mullen very quickly shot this idea down. This was Averill’s first trip to America and it’s obvious that the memory is still a special one to him. He described the dangerous beauty of the desert area where the photo was taken. There were signs everywhere saying “Don’t Get Out Of Your Car” (His malapropism “Don’t Get Out Of Your Guitar” should have been a Radiators album title).
They all felt the record was something special the first time they heard it. Kelly in particular, who heard it as a work in progress, knew the band had, if you will, found what they were looking for. Fanning backed this up, recalling how this was U2’s big moment and they grabbed it with both hands. Having said that, both Fanning and Averill were happy enough to admit that they weren’t the biggest fans of the band’s earlier work, but had their heads turned by the time of The Unforgettable Fire.
Bursting with enthusiasm, and good stories, Fanning can’t help but take over the proceedings. His brain is almost too fast for his mouth, and this is the man that Bono once referred to as “the Jimmy McGee of rock 'n’ roll”, so the mouth goes at a fair clip too. He tells us about putting a down payment on Sgt. Pepper’s in 1967 (not the last time he mentions the Beatles either), goes into great detail about the movie Zabriskie Point (“Careful With That Axe Eugene!”), marvels at how bizarre it is to hang out with U2 in Italy and Mexico, the two countries where he reckons their fans are the craziest, discusses the idea of the Joshua Tree as a double album, tells a funny story about a sweaty Paul McGuinness, and lets us know what U2 manager Guy Oseary really thinks of his former charge Madonna (it can’t be repeated, Hot Press would be in court forever). He gets a good laugh when he remembers how Bono once told him he was doing a bit of painting and Dave asked “What colour?” and disappoints all present by stating for the record that there will be no anniversary celebration of the famous naked interview he once did with the band, as he went over a wall at a recent wedding in Italy and his arse is now one big bruise. He later shows Hot Press a picture of said wall in case I don’t believe him, I was just grateful it wasn’t a picture of his arse.
He could have gone on all night, and we would have listened, but a halt had to be called. Hot Press repaired to the bar and heard a great story from Shaughn McGrath, who has worked on U2 designs in the past - it’s his handwriting on the cover of Achtung Baby. It concerned Adam Clayton’s penis and Bono’s shamrock suggestion, but that is a story for another day...