Growing Up With U2

Before It Was Cool To Hate Bono & His Boys

Bono screenshot - Werchter 1982

Bono at U2’s Werchter gig in 1982, broadcast on ITV, 25 June 1983 (I taped the audio from the TV onto a tape cassette recorder!) Long before the days of mass-media ridicule, U2 were pretty much ignored by everyone except their loyal fanbase. That wasn’t to last much longer…

Everybody hates U2 – or at least Bono.

It’s official.

Not content with becoming the butt of South Park jokes, being criticised for less than transparent tax arrangements, befriending Popes, trying to save Africa, hanging out with Presidents of the United States, wearing ridiculous designer prescription sun glasses, flying hats to gigs, presenting the ‘cool’ face of Christianity, naming Nelson Mandela as a ‘friend’ and being generally pretentious, the band take the annoyance factor up another level by forcing their latest album on 500 million iTunes account holders!

As for me, I couldn’t possibly comment; sure, some/all of the above could present a valid rap sheet if you want to culturally assassinate a band who went from zero to hero to ridiculed millionaires, in a space of 30 years. But my relationship with U2’s music goes way back; way before anyone could dream of Louis Vuitton ads or Dublin Docklands development.

Believe it or not folks, there was a time when U2 couldn’t get arrested for throwing a brick through a window of The Baggot Inn – and that’s what everybody forgets, or more likely, doesn’t even know. Now I’m not going to fess up to being some huge U2 fan these days as that wouldn’t be true. But I certainly owe the band a debt of gratitude for their music at a time when nobody knew them and nobody really cared.

A Boy Tries Hard To Be A Man

Threshold, August 1982

‘Threshold’, August 1982. L-R: Paul Dodd, Rob Heath, Moi, Andy Kitchinson. Photographed in Rob’s old back garden at ‘Ashestiel’, 122 Birkenhead Road, Meols, Wirral. My NWOBHM dream band, or so I thought!

It’s late summer 1982, I’ve owned my real first drum kit for 16 months and I’m already onto my second schoolboy band. We are ‘Threshold’, we play for fun and we are Rockers at heart; well, all but one of us. Driven by a creative urge that outstrips our youthful, naïve exuberance, the founding member of our troupe is plotting his move to fresh musical pastures.  Three of us remain wrapped within our collective dream bubble, as we pretend to live out musical fantasies in the lands of Iron Maiden, Van Halen, Motorhead or any of the NWOBH bands who are currently thriving. I desperately want to be Clive Burr in my own Iron Maiden utopian blueprint; but the person whom I have known the longest in our unit has moved beyond this schoolboy dreamer’s trap. He has already been taken by the growing pains that will within a few months, separate me from my happy demeanour. He has discovered the band that over the next four years, will help make sense of the confusing musical crossroads he stands before.

As for me, I fasten my blinkers down ever tighter and tunnel my vision through the pages of Kerrang! magazine, oblivious to the HGV truckload of late adolescence that is about to run me down. But for now, I have my band, my music, my image and an unwavering ambition to conquer the world of Rock. Spinal Tap, Wayne’s World, Bill & Ted are still ideas waiting to be written, yet we play out our juvenile lives as though we are the future script writers of Hollywood Rock music parodies.

It is a fertile time for semi-innocent teenage parties where small amounts of Cannabis are smoked, complemented with cans of low volume alcohol beers. Nobody gets that far out of it that they can’t walk home or catch the last bus. We are lightweights by comparison to today’s teenage drinkers ; but we also have the benefit of living in an era before alcohol marketing to youth culture has been invented. If you want hard liquor, you don’t get it disguised as a sugary, easy-to-swallow soft-drink. Vodka is Vodka, Whisky is Whisky and you learn to ‘enjoy’ the burn, if you want to be a man.

Iron Maiden 1st album sleeve artwork

This was my drumming/lifestyle Bible from 1981 until the end of January 1983. Everything changes, especially teenagers.

The musical backdrop to these mild soirées is mostly steeped in the vinyl from 70s Prog/Rock artists. Everything from Zeppelin, Floyd, Rainbow, Yes, Meatloaf, Genesis, Hawkwind, Springsteen, Purple, Hendrix, The Doors, Cheap Trick, Kiss, to more contemporary Rock artists of the day finds its way onto the turntable. I will often take my beloved Iron Maiden debut album and my Mum’s dog-eared copy of Deep Purple’s ‘Machine Head’ to throw into the pile of hopeful spins.  You get a cool buzz when your records are picked…

But there’s a healthy dose of post-Punk records thrown into the spin – The Stranglers, The Police, The Clash, The Specials, The Anti Nowhere League, Motorhead, Ian Dury and a little known Irish quartet named U2 are all unleashed onto impressionable ears. Thinking back, I was really lucky to be a teenager during a period when so much cutting edge music was being gifted to the youth of the day. I cannot begin to imagine where I would look for inspiration if I were that age in 2015…

Referring back to that little known Irish band, it was doubting band member Rob, who stealthily introduced me to the current works of U2. He’d already bought the ‘I Will Follow’ single and had invested in both of the (unsuccessful) albums they had released – ‘Boy’ and ‘October’. Having known him since I was about 6 years old, I’d always been on the receiving end of Rob’s musical tastes, spending many an hour in his parents lounge where the best turntable we could access lived. Over the years, Rob had introduced me to every Beatles album (including post-Beatles member’s solo albums), ELO albums, Genesis albums and U2 were the next in a chain of evolution. I’d suspected something was wrong in our band, but I was too wrapped up in my own world to realise he was progressing musically beyond the confines of Threshold’s Rock/Metal limitations. He’d quietly suggested that I seriously check out the U2 stuff as it was a new direction in guitar bands, though never directly saying that this would be his new musical pathway. Being heavily into British Metal bands, it would have been easy for me to dismiss these new semi-mulleted upstarts, but historically respecting Rob’s musical opinion, I gave them a fair hearing.

Sure, they had some raucous cutting guitar work, though nothing to match Thin Lizzy or Iron Maiden, but I certainly agreed they had something about them. Unfortunately, my ears weren’t ready for change and we saw out the rest of 1982 at quietly brooding, musical loggerheads. I was sixteen going on seventeen, but unbeknown myself, my own sound of music was about to change.

All Is Quiet On New Year’s Eve

The Tube with presenters Jools Holland and Paula Yates

‘The Tube’ presented by Jools Holland and Paula Yates kicked some real ass when launched in 1982. It went on to break many an underground band into the mainstream, including U2 and The Smiths. They simply don’t make ’em like that any more.

Friday 31st December, 1982; I’m looking forward to another New Year’s Eve party with my band friends and their extended social circle but there is TV to watch first. The barely out-of-nappies Channel  4 has a groundbreaking music show that my generation has never seen the likes of, having been raised on the tame, cardigan wearing BBC’s efforts to pacify the unwashed upstarts of Britain’s teenage populous. ‘The Tube’ is brash, anarchic and totally exciting. No one knows what’s going to happen, it’s a live 6:30pm broadcast and they push Margaret Thatcher’s electorate’s sensibilities to the limit; Mary Whitehouse hates it, but we love it.

At some point during the broadcast, we are given the first airing of the video for U2’s next single, ‘New Year’s Day’. The song has a haunting piano, distinctive Bass line and that echoey guitar sound I have heard on their previous records. They are riding horses through snow in freezing conditions, somewhere in Sweden, so Paula Yates informs us. It’s a million miles away from Iron Maiden, but there’s something about it that hooks me in.

Not long after the programme finishes the doorbell rings and Rob is here to pick me up for the party. We walk to the next town along a boardwalk that creates a border between sand dunes and beach, discussing the highlights of tonight’s TV. We both gravitate in agreement that the new U2 song is a winner and carry on to our destination. From there onwards, the night grows fractious, as we mingle with friends, band members and ex-band members. There’s something wrong; Rob isn’t happy, there’s an air of tension in the background and it’s band related. I down a few drinks and try to stop myself sinking into his mindset, but all is not well. Sometime between 4 & 5am, I creep into my bed, wondering what earthquakes would come in January after the night’s tremors.

A Change Is Going To Come

Nick Lauro - self-portrait, January 1983

Long hair…check – black leather biker jacket…check – Iron Maiden badge…check – tight jeans…check – believe it or not, this is Art college homework for January 1983 – self portrait photography. Trying to look cool in standard issue NWOBHM regalia of the time, within 2 months I would start the first of many self re-inventions.

January 1983 is a miserable month. I am unhappy with my college course and within the first week of going back to study, my band are down a guitarist. Rob has dealt his blow of disloyalty and I am not a happy bunny. Then comes the second kick-in-the-balls and it’s not entertainment; my world implodes as I read the words from a page in ‘Sounds’ newspaper: “Burr Quits Maiden”. The single, biggest drumming influence in my life over the past 12 months had been ousted from the band I loved, seemingly without any obvious valid of fair reason. Furthermore, I am not exactly overjoyed with his replacement, Nicko McBrain, formerly of French rockers, ‘Trust’. What I can describe only as a complete feeling of emptiness descends over me, leaving me wondering where my future lies in drums and music.

Matters are not made any better by my personal conviction that I am completely repulsive to the opposite sex and my hormones are further adding to the self-ass-kicking I seem to excel in giving myself. But salvation is only a cold, January, Friday night away, when ‘The Tube’ broadcasts highlights of 1982’s Gateshead Festival featuring performances by The Beat, headliners The Police and the up-and-coming Irish boys, U2.

The Police I have long covertly admired from afar and if the truth be known, there’s a lot of popular artists releasing songs I like that should be an anathema to the long-haired Rock tribe I have affiliated myself with. But the whole Maiden/Burr episode has simply stirred natural evolution up a gear and my subconscious is looking for a new musical clan to bond with. U2’s performance at Gateshead is electric; I am glued to the energy coming from the stage, in particular, the effervescent charismatic young front-man, ‘Bono’, as he is referred to. It is impossible not to stay focussed on his antics, running across the stage, climbing the lighting scaffold, using the precarious elevation as a pulpit to convert any lost souls into the clan. Disillusioned within the darkness of this New Year, his band offer an open door into their brightly lit unknown, as I take a blind leap of faith away from the music I deem to have let me down. Rob has already seen the light and is sowing the seeds of a future project I will eventually spend the next three years idealistically pushing as my opening bid for superstardom. But for now, there is unfinished business with my band and the matter of a new guitarist to find.

The Tube Pushes Me Over The Edge

Threshold makes it through February into March, looking like we have a replacement for Rob; the band are a quartet again and have decided to learn ‘I Will Follow’ for the new set. As if by coincidence, ‘The Tube’ feature U2 live on their show, no more than 6 weeks after the Gateshead footage. The band are preparing to go out the road to promote new album, ‘War’ and it seems that Malcolm Gerrie and his crew are at the start of a relationship that will eventually, help break the band in America. The broadcast shows ‘Gloria’, ‘New Years Day’ and ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’  in a performance that gives birth to a new musical genre and will become a long-running cliché in the band’s career – ‘Passionate Rock’. The band is on fire, playing every song as if sheer exuberance and energy were a life-saving currency. I sit alone, watching in my Mother’s front room, becoming a full-on, Friday night convert.

From that moment onwards, they have me, hook, line and sinker. My vinyl collection increases by three as ‘Boy’, ‘October’ and ‘War’ come home with me from HMV. The listening begins with ‘War’, continuing in a backwards chronological order. I know the singles from ‘October’ and ‘Boy’ but the albums as a whole, contain deep messages that connect with the scrambled adolescent turmoil that inhabits my frustrated mind. ‘Boy’ in particular, finds every raw emotion that taunts my growing pains, offering me empathy, answers and the hope that one day my emotionally fragile teenage existence will soon make sense. It weaves a picture I connect with through song threads about growing up, trying to find acceptance, identity, wondering who I am, what I’m here for and whether or not I will ever see my wildest dreams come to life. ‘Boy’ soothes the troubled post-pubescent psychology that has been the source of much angst over the past year and offers hope for my unknown future.

‘October’ I will find out later, was their ‘difficult second album’. It is more overtly religious than its predecessor and the question of whether or not I have a belief in God and Jesus presents itself. My mind starts to speculate whether I need to have the same Christian beliefs as three-quarters of U2’s members; will it make me feel better about myself and give me extra inner strength? After all, I’ve just turned my back on a band who sing about the ‘number of the beast’ and all the dark satanic fantasy connotations spewed forth during EMI’s marketing campaign. Without a doubt, I am still mentally vulnerable, far from having the courage of my own convictions and thus, proceed to try and read the New Testament.

Certainly there’s a story of an admirable person here, but by the time I get to ‘Revelations’, it all starts to look like the cover of an Iron Maiden album and the whole integrity of the book starts to fall apart. So while I can empathise with Bono’s lyrics inspired by his own personal religious beliefs, it’s clear that I belong in the secular camp of Adam Clayton.

Aside from my own doubts about religion, I do have sympathy with Bono as ‘October’ addresses the pain he experienced losing his Mother at a young age. That, I cannot comprehend so hell yeah, if he needs the support of a religion to make sense of the grief he is experiencing as a motherless young man, then what right have I to question whether it’s right or wrong to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve as part of the healing process? Besides which, the band at this impressionable point in my life are more than just being about a smattering of religious lyrical content. However, the uncomfortable down-side of being in the ‘U2 club’ at that period was exposure to evangelised teenagers who had tagged onto the band for purely religious reasons. Not being a Christian, conversation was awkward and I often found myself wishing an old Iron Maiden T-shirt emblazoned across my chest for the duration of these chance meetings.

Notwithstanding the odd run-in with the Billy Graham fraternity, ‘October’ had earned its musical place in my ‘Boy’ and ‘War’ audio sandwich. ‘War’ being the current album release at the time, this certainly covered newer ground with its interesting palette of semi-funk textures and some more of that genius Steve Lillywhite production. Yes, there were some religious references, but the subject matter was harder and a little more mature. During 1983, the threats of an IRA bomb or world nuclear holocaust were never far from the minds of British teenagers. We were more politically motivated than any other generation of youth culture that would follow us, possibly the last of our kind, carrying the torch left by our revolutionary predecessors from the last 2 decades. ‘War’ was certainly an album that dealt with ‘the now’ and a far cry from my previous listening diet of harlots, torture and Satan’s dastardly deeds. The only thing missing to complete my U2 conversion process was to see the band live and as luck would have it, the ‘War’ tour was only weeks away…

Ticket For One

U2 UK Tour Dates, 1983

The last theatre tour U2 did in the UK. If you saw them then like I did, consider yourself one of the lucky few.

It hadn’t occurred to me what I must have looked like as I stood outside the Royal Court Theatre box office waiting for the doors to open. February 1983, I was still in full-on NWOBHM dress code – long (bushy) hair, skin-tight jeans, white Basketball boots, tight sleeveless T-Shirt and the ubiquitous black leather biker jacket. A bystander could innocently assume that I was waiting to buy tickets to see Thin Lizzy who were about to embark on their final tour with Phil Lynott. In fact, one such person waiting with me did actually ask, “you here for the Lizzy tickets mate?” to which, I replied my intention to purchase tickets for another Dublin band! (Still to this day, I regret not taking my last chance to see Lizzy with Lynott.) As it was, nobody in my immediate circle had any real interest in going to see U2, not even my friend Rob, so the band’s 3rd March Liverpool gig was very much a solo affair.

This was a first for me, going to a gig on my own – and looking very out of place. However, the U2 crowd were an undiscriminating bunch and no one gave me a second glance. The atmosphere was truly electric and I can honestly say, the gig was a life changing experience. For a teenager who had lost his band, musical direction and sense of belonging to the Classic Rock tribe that had been home for the past few years, this was a new door opening for a lost soul. U2 were on the verge of breaking big and little did I know, this would be the last theatre-sized tour they would undertake as they propelled themselves from fiery support band, to stadium headline rookies.

All Change

By the beginning of April, had there been Facebook in 1983, my status would have been as ‘In a relationship’. My fortunes had changed in the girlfriend department and a new makeover was desperately needed to reflect my newfound position in the ranks of my teenage peers. The obvious thing to do was to tame the unruly Rocker Barnet Fair, long overdue for an early 80s restyle. My immediate instinct was to get a Bono cut, which was currently touching the uncomfortable but fashionable outer zones of Mullet. However, I opted for a bit more shortness in the neck area, unwittingly pushing more towards the girlie/gay pop-idol imagery of the day, rather than my seriously intended New Wave-Indie-Rock look…

Wham, Bam – I’m Not – A Man!

Wham! 'Bad-Boys' single cover

Oh dear…looks like these chaps favoured my type of leather biker jacket – and so what if I did coincidentally get my hair cut shorter just as this was in the charts? Me, a Wham! boy? Get out of here!

Having a budget of zero £ for clothes, the NWOBHM togs pretty much had to stay as a fixture for the time being, bar the obvious band T-Shirts and any badges/studded leather accessories that gave away previous allegiances! This left me with a minimalist choice of jeans and plain T-Shirts, inadvertently creating an identical style to that of an annoying new pop duo going by the name of Wham! Getting off the bus late one night, I stepped into a group of ex-school contemporaries sitting on the old Hoylake YMCA wall, who’d previously known me as an objectionable Metal head. With my shorter, fashionable haircut, tight jeans, white T-Shirt and black leather biker jacket, I had innocently adopted the current look of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, respectively! This extorted hails of approval from the crowd who less than a month before, would have berated me for my lack of current fashion sense. Despite their enthusiastic comparisons to a pair of what I considered to be pop losers, there was a spring in my step as I walked the few yards home, elated in the knowledge that acceptance within a wider peer group was growing.

As the year went on, I fell deeper in U2-worship. Any new clothes would have to reflect what the band wore on their pre-War release promo shots and I grew my hair in pursuit of the Bono advancing-Mullet style. My band, ‘Threshold’, had recovered with a full line-up and started to include ‘I Will Follow’ in their set list, plus gaining more gigs. By early summer, my perceived U2 self-styling must have morphed into current pop culture again, judging by comments we received after a gig at ‘The 81 Society’, a ‘social gathering to appreciate the Arts’, as it was billed. (It was basically an attempt to integrate the 6th form girls of West Kirby Grammar School with the 6th form boys of Calday Grange Grammar School by using performing pupils from both schools as the entertainment.) Due to the fact that we were the most accomplished act on the bill and the ratio of female audience members vastly outnumbering the males, we managed to attract a few backstage admirers. Much to my disappointment, even well educated 6th form girls came complete with blinkered teen-idol perception. Rather than seeing us as some cool underground New Wave Rock band, they applauded our similarity in style to ‘Duran Duran’, instead of the ‘serious’ bands we sought comparison with. Instead of looking a gift horse in the mouth and take the compliment, I chose to laugh it off, hiding my antipathy at their favour of style over substance.

Under A Blood Red Sky

During the summer of 1983, ‘The Tube’ made a broadcast intuitively titled, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Tube’ on which, they featured 15 minutes of a gig that would go down in history as the performance that broke U2 in America. With its huge backdrop of Sandstone, the Red Rocks Amphitheatre was the perfect host to complement the dramatic pomp already evident in their music. The brief broadcast had our gathering transfixed to the TV screen on a heady, June night, as the party we attended took a temporary break in proceedings to watch the show. Being the only one there who had actually gone to see the band at their earlier Liverpool gig, a sense of smugness fell over me as people started to vocalise their regret at not going when they had the chance.

Indeed, the footage was spectacular and we knew we were watching a band turn a huge corner in their career. On the back of this performance, the band released a mini-LP and eventually, a video of the whole show. By the time their next studio album ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ was released, U2’s days of playing intimate venues were well and truly, history.

“Bop Hope, & No Hope!”

For those of you still resenting U2 as a corporate, monolithic, self-righteous, gargantuan, stadium-eating, 3-decades past their sell-by date money-making machine, it is worth remembering that at the start of 1983, the band were heavily in debt to Island Records and were yet to recoup Chris Blackwell’s investment. In 21st century terms, the band would be deemed as a total failure and have been long dropped by any modern cash-conscious label. However, these were drastically different times and the man who signed Bob Marley, clearly had vision enough to keep investing in these fledgling Rock stars.

A funny anecdote is a tale told by ex-Teardrop Explodes drummer Gary Dwyer, who recounts what he said about the band as they accompanied Cope & company as support on an early tour. Unimpressed by the Irish quartet’s efforts at warming up the Teardrop’s stage, Gary’s final judgement on them was quite simply:

This band has got two hopes – Bob Hope and no hope!

In a twist of supreme irony, by the time the Teardrops were disintegrating into oblivion, U2 were on their way to recouping their advance monies and building a brand-name empire that would dominate future music media at the highest possible levels.

Although I didn’t realise it at the time, the bigger the band would get, the further I would drift from their cause.

To Let It Go & So To Fade Away…

From 1983 to 1987, pretty much everything U2 did would dominate my life – albums, magazines, singles, TV appearances – I was still hooked. Historically, ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ was a departure in sound and became the album that would establish their footing in the arena touring market. ‘Live Aid’ truly announced U2 on the World’s stage, resulting in the masses suddenly ‘discovering’ a band I’d been raving on about for the previous 2 years. Despite my continued dedication to the band, I refused to go and see them in any of the arena venues they would perform in from then on. As far as I was concerned, I’d seen them at a level I wanted them to stay at; but success invokes big change and promoters realised the lucrative rewards from cramming 20,000 people per night into 10 venues, rather than the costly intimacy of booking 30 dates in 3000 seater theatres.

Me - Berry St Recording Studios, 1988

1988, Berry St Recording Studios, London. The look of innocence in the studio kitchen as I am captured making coffee by Western Promise Bass player, Dave King. All signs of Mullet hairdo long gone, my reinvention takes on another phase as I leave U2 behind. Tony Prescott (ex Cook Da Books) slumbers in a chair, dreaming of 6-figure publishing deals we won’t see…

By 1985, the U2 live experience for me, was over. Still to this day, I refuse to attend gigs of artists I admire, played in buildings that were specifically built for playing sport rather than projecting the finer points of music. Despite my dislike of attending arena gigs, this didn’t stop me from wanting to be sitting on the other side of the money fence. By the beginning of 1984 my musical pursuits had taken a turn for the serious, as I found myself back together with my errant guitarist friend, Rob, as part of his plan for musical world domination. For the next 2 years, our band Splinter Group, would impetuously try and become Liverpool’s answer to U2, until we realised the music industry of our schoolboy dreams was an apple we didn’t have the teeth to bite or chew on.

The world didn’t need another U2 – or another Big Country; or another Simple Minds; or another Alarm! With my dreams of superstardom smashed into pieces, the natural progression of musical evolution saw me take on new journeys as U2 drifted further away from the new music infiltrating my social circle. Come 1987, the horrific Mullet hair I’d grown matching up to Bono’s very own hideous mane, simply had to go. Besides which, Larry looked cooler with his 1950s quiffy flat-top and the times, they were a-changing…

The Inevitable Reinvention

By 1991 my musical interests had changed to a point where U2 had been relegated to the background of my regular listening. Sure, I bought ‘Achtung Baby’ and welcomed their reinvention as a band prepared to walk on the wild side and throw away their innocence; but it wasn’t in the same league as my current preoccupations. I’d moved on, having found Grunge and its fringe circle of artists, which covered everyone from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, to Faith No More, to Fishbone to my faves of the moment, Living Colour. Probably out of sheer loyalty, I was still in the U2 fan club, which also happened to allow members the opportunity to buy pre-sale gig tickets. In a fit of madness, I decided that I’d like to catch up with the band and experience the ‘Zoo TV’ extravaganza. The nearest gig was the gargantuan Roundhay Park, Leeds in August 1993; so I ordered, acquired and waited for the date.

Being almost a one-day festival type gig, I had no interest in seeing any of the acts supporting, having had an unpleasantly sodden experience at the Genesis/Peter Gabriel reunion gig at Milton Keynes Bowl in 1982. No way was I standing in a field for 8 hours again waiting to see the headline act, trying to find toilets, food and keep my pitch in front of the stage. So we arrived about an hour before the band came on – big mistake…

Roundhay Park, Leeds, circa 1989, original image by Kevin Rogers

Roundhay Park, Leeds 1989 (photo not from the U2 gig). Note the hillside where we stood for the Zooropa gig in August ’93, except extend the pic much, much further to the right…(Photograph taken by Kevin Rogers, found on a U2 forum, if there’s a copyright problem let me know.)

Unbeknown to me, Roundhay Park was a 100,000 capacity open-air venue and arriving just before the main act meant being ‘seated’ at the back – or in reality terms, standing about 1000 ft away from the stage up the side of an embankment. Trying to push to the bottom was the least attractive option, so we stayed on the hillside, spectators looking on at an audience watching a U2 gig. It was such a disembodied experience, that it was possible to have a quite audible conversation, whilst watching huge video screens displaying the unsynchronised movements of the band with a sound that had to travel so far, it was beyond a distance to match up visually. From a drummer’s viewpoint, this was extremely irritating, watching every one of Larry Mullen’s backbeats land, to hear it a millisecond later. Such was my annoyance, I suggested a swift exit after three songs, but was persuaded to stay by my better half.

Thanks to the fan club publishing details of the current set list, I already knew that if we didn’t start the hike back to the car by the time U2 were one verse into ‘Love Is Blindness’, we could look forward to a horrific gridlocked driving experience back to the motorway. So we bade our silent farewell to the event and for once, got ahead of the game; and that was my final, disappointing, U2 live U2 experience. I doubt very much there will be another.

A Short Goodbye & Tentative Rediscovery

Following the Roundhay Park gig, my interest in the band went to near zero, having well moved on in finding new artists and genres to influence me. It wasn’t until 2004’s ‘How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb’ that I actually purchased another U2 album, notably due to some of the songs weighing heavily on the experience of Bono losing his Dad. So soon after the death of my own Mother (who also enjoyed the band’s early music) and having heard Bono talk about the album song-by-song during a radio show, I felt it needed some further investigation.

By 2004, it was ubiquitously fashionable to mock the band (especially Bono) at every opportunity and to quote one Radio DJ, admit to ever having liked their music as being “a guilty pleasure.” As someone who had enjoyed the band at their most commercially unpopular, “guilty pleasure” doesn’t really wash with me and as for the recent backlash over the so-called forcibly imposed iTunes download of ‘Songs Of Innocence’, well, I find it all a bit media-circus pedantic. Maybe it’s out of convenient design, but people inexplicably choose not to identify how blatantly the likes of Coldplay have repeatedly plundered ‘New Year’s Day’ for the backbone of their piano and guitar sounds for their entire career, or how Kings Of Leon lifted just about every backing vocal technique used on ‘Boy’ and ‘October’ on ‘Use Somebody’. But Coldplay and Kings Of Leon are of course, ‘cool’…so their lack of original ideas can be excused by everyone; myself excepted.

U2 - 'Boy' album sleeve art work

‘Boy’ – probably my favourite U2 album, still to this day. Even my mum loved this album to the point, she reproduced its cover in an incredible pencil drawing that hangs in my hallway, much to the envy of many visitors. “There’s a place I go and I am far away…”

I’ll say it loud and proud; within my top ten favourite albums of all time are the first three U2 records for which I make no apologies. What those recordings mean to me in relation to part of my early life is set in stone irrevocably, and I will defend to my dying breath, their place as three of eight gramophone records allowed with me as a castaway on Roy Plomley’s desert island. As for ‘Songs Of Innocence’, it doesn’t set my world on fire like the days of ’83, but as a freebie from a band with whom I have history, it deserved my listening time against a tide of ladies protesting too much, methinks.

At the end of the day, U2 still make a better job of imitating themselves than any of their modern contemporaries, who won’t even notch up the same numbers in career years or album sales. Indeed, U2 came of age at a time when there was a dominant music industry extremely capable of building a behemoth universal brand name. These days, a young band will be given one chance to prove themselves and be dropped if they fail at the first album hurdle. It seems unlikely that there will ever be another music business platform capable of launching a career on a par with U2. Like it not, those days are gone, so make the most of ridiculing the dinosaurs while you can, because it likely won’t be happening again.

So what is my final analysis in defence of a so-called, guilty pleasure?

Well, U2 remain a band to revisit at times when I want to reminisce about what may well have been, the best time of my life; a time to be young, naïve, full of limitless hope and nervous confidence, driven by the arrogance of ambition. Despite numerous errors of youthful judgement made at the time, I wouldn’t have played it any other way. The U2 nobody remembers today, were a band in another lifetime, who inspired me through my most difficult teenage years, helping me to cross bridges, making sense of the intimidating transition from boy to man.

‘Boy’, ‘October’ & ‘War’ – never a guilt, always a pleasure.

5 thoughts on “Growing Up With U2

  1. Excellent piece. I share your fondness for the post-punk era U2 and the creative peak that was the late seventies/eighties UK music scene. I like to think the creating stuff is still being made but you can forget finding in any popular music chart or on any mainstream radio station.
    Keep up the good work. Cheers, T

  2. Thanks for the comments, I do get why the band are ridiculed 30+ years later, but I think most of it comes from people who weren’t there at that time and will never experience the diversity of music that was being made on limited budgets and even more limiting technology back then. Today we are saturated by high-quality home-made music, but it lacks the roots of desperation and the naivety that comes from living in a pre-internet world.

  3. So many memories and to my shame yes I shared the mullet experience as part of Splinter group.. Do you still have the promo shot we did on Thurstaston Hill. # howembarrasingwasthat!. I still occasionally have a guilty listen to the bootleg tape of pre fame U2 songs you made all those years ago.. So raw but somehow brilliant in a way which captured our imagination at the time..trash trampoline…… Glad your talent prevailed and you stuck with it while the rest of us became very boring… .Cheers Nick!

  4. I’ve still got the whole roll of that photoshoot on negative…could scan them all but far too hideously embarassing for public consumption!

    I don’t remember that tape I made – but I guess I must have made it – though I’ve forgotten more than I can remember, period. Believe me, if I could have givenup playing drums and forgotten all about and lead a ‘normal’ life, I would have done. But that isn’t the deal when it’s a part of your DNA constantly prodding you to keep playing music. It’s not negotiable and can sometimes be a very lonely place, especially when the frustration to keep playing is the driver. For whatever reason, my brain wouldn’t allow me to let go of my dreams that easily so me and music are tied together until death parts us.

    After that happens, who knows? I may even get another chance at it, or have a quiet life as an accountant.

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