- 07 Nov 18
Ned O’Hanlon was charged with the responsibility of filming the Popmart tour.
“It was this over-the-top, monstrous display of kitsch...”
I was there for about half of the Pop Mart Tour in total. It was as mega as you might expect, with upwards of 150 people touring with the band. Then, on any show day, that would double, with local workers and extra security and that kind of thing. With a tour like that, it took an awful lot of bodies.
Right at the start of Pop Mart, we did a documentary, which went out on the American networks. We started in Las Vegas and the documentary was premised on the idea of gambling – and the gamble the band themselves had taken with Zoo TV. Obviously Zoo TV was ground-breaking: it broke all these records and changed the way we thought about tours. Nobody had topped Zoo TV at that stage and so U2 where saying, ‘Well, we now want to be the ones to top it’.
The album Pop, to my mind, is one of the underrated ones. I revisit it every now and again to remind myself just how many great songs there are on it. So the challenge was: ‘What can we do now to show this in the best possible light?’ They wanted something even bigger than Zoo TV. Then, of course, they dreamt up the idea for Pop Mart.
At the start of that American tour, it seemed that maybe they had bitten off more than they could chew. America didn’t really buy into the concept of the album at first. Initially, the tour in North America didn’t do that well either. So it had a bumpy start – but it did very, very well in the end. Critically it was popular, and the show itself was incredible. It was this over-the-top, monstrous display of kitsch, supermarket products, and trashy excess.
We filmed the tour in Mexico City. That, from a production point of view, was hugely challenging. For example, when you crossed from America into Mexico, you had to unload all your trucks and put all the stuff onto Mexican trucks. But a lot of the trucks we had to use were so old that they sometimes sank under the weight of things. That made the whole process a bit of a nightmare!
I remember there was a big delay because one of the trucks, which had all the motors for winching the props off the ground, failed to show up: it just didn’t arrive. Nobody knew where it was, until they got a call from somebody who told them he was was holding it to ransom! They told us they wanted a million dollars for it, but they’d settle for six tickets to U2’s show. I never knew whether to believe that story or not, but it was one of the hurdles we had to surmount along the way!
That was also the first time the band toured South America with that kind of show – so it was the first time they’d experienced all the fans coming out for them in those countries. The energy in all of those stadiums was unbelievable. Health and safety wouldn’t have been as up to date as it is now, so you’d have stadiums fit for 80,000 people maximum packing in upwards of 100,000 – to the point where the stands literally shook.
The tour finished in Johannesburg, which was another tremendous experience. I’ll say it again too – the Popmart show itself was a really great thing. It took a while to find its feet, but when it did, it was an absolute stonker.