Greg Carroll: The Heart of The Joshua Tree
Original Story by Harry Kantas / Aaron J. Sams (2017-06-09)
One of the names you hear when any discussion of The Joshua Tree comes around is that of Greg Carroll. The album is dedicated to Greg. Carroll worked with the band starting in 1984, and who was involved in a motorcycle accident on July 3, 1986 in Dublin. He was taking Bono’s bike back to his house on a rainy night, and a car pulled out in front of him. Carroll hit the side of the car and did not survive. Carroll was only 26. It was Carroll’s death and U2’s attendance at the subsequent funeral, or “tangi” as they are called by the Maori that lead to the writing of “One Tree Hill”.
Carroll was born in New Zealand. In 1980 at the age of 20 he started to work in the music business, with the band Straight Flash from Wanganui. The band was made up of Tony Johns, his brother Andrew Johns, and Dave Maugher. The band were a new wave band and had only minimal success locally. But the band would reform in various incarnations over the years. Tony Johns who worked with Carroll in these different bands was happy to do an interview with us regarding his time in the bands, and his friend, Greg Carroll. He spoke with Harry by phone for this interview.
Harry: Hey Tony, it’s good to talk to you, how have you been?
Tony: Hey Harry, All good, all good. We’ve had a lot of rain here in New Zealand, the last couple of weeks have been horrendous, warm, but very wet. But yeah, everything’s all good. How’s your weather over there?
H: Not great. Well, you know, it’s Dublin. It’s never great, is it?
T: Yeah, good point.
H: So I guess a bit about me to start off. I’ve been living here in Dublin for the last 10 years, but I’m originally from Greece, which might explain the funny accent, so I’m still not used to the bad weather here but I’m working on it. I see you’re originally from London, is that right?
T: Yeah, I am originally. I was brought up in Essex, which is basically London anyway, and then we moved to West Ham I think, then moved back to Essex, which is Central London, I don’t know if you know..Yeah, and I came over here in the ‘70s.
H: What was that part of the world (New Zealand) like back then? Was it much different than Essex?
T: New Zealand was completely different back then. Completely different. New Zealand has gone up really quickly in the last 20-30 years, and caught up with the rest of the world… in fact, it probably surpassed it by a lot of the things actually. Yeah, there wasn’t much of a music scene, I mean there was, but most of the music , there weren’t many original bands. Most of it was artists singing other people’s songs, say there was a hit in England or America, an artist here would cover it, and then they would get a hit from it, you know what I mean? The music scene, and the pub scene and the restaurant scene and everything, has gone up so quickly, so it’s really good.
H: I’ve yet to visit New Zealand, soon hopefully.
So, let me do a quick fact check with you, if you don’t mind. I think it was “Straight Flash” and then “Lix” and then “The New Entrants”, and finally “Blond Comedy”, the bands with yourself and Greg. Is that right?
T: Yeah, that’s interesting. You’ve done a bit of a research.
H: We tried, yeah! It wasn’t easy!
T: No, that’s interesting that you’d go all the way back to “Straight Flash”. So interesting.
IMAGE: Greg Carroll hard at work (Photograph courtesy of Tony Johns)
H: So, I guess the first question is — How did you come to know Greg? I think he answered an ad of yours in the newspaper, is that right?
T: Yeah, we put an ad in for a sound man, basically, my brother and I. We were forming a band and we decided we needed someone to mix us, basically, so we put the ad in the paper. If memory serves me correctly, I don’t think Greg actually answered the ad, we knew a guy called Bower, I don’t know if that was his actual name, I think he mentioned to Greg and then Greg came down to my house. That was the start of it, really. I mean, Greg didn’t know much back then, in fact none of us did, actually. But, he was such a nice guy. He could make you laugh, you know… So we hit it off. And then, I think it was Straight Flash, I can’t remember, we’re going way back here, there was a band called Lix, they were after a drummer. My brother played drums and I played the guitar, and they were after a drummer and a guitarist. They were touring New Zealand. They were a covers band. We did a try out and got on really well, so we decided, if we’re gonna go on tour, what are you doing with a sound man? They said they don’t need one. “Greg is basically our sound man and he’s in the band. He comes with us, or we’re not interested”. So, that’s how we started touring.
And from there.. yeah that was interesting, by that time I started writing my own songs, and things like that, and we bought this massive PA system, Cerwin-Vega. And the lead singer, John, he wasn’t interested in doing originals, he was more interested in covers. So we sort of got up and left and moved to Auckland. So there was Andrew, my brother, myself and Greg, and I think Dave Maugher, the bass player, and we all moved to Auckland. We found a place and looked for the guitars which we got . Then we started touring under the name Blond Comedy, started releasing songs and things like that. Greg was basically the fifth member of the band. That’s how it worked out. He got writing credits as well. We released a few singles and an EP. He was in it as a writer, as well.
So we toured. We must’ve toured all over the place. We toured for years. We were all learning , and Greg got better at mixing, and stuff like that. He loved the Wall of Sound, I don’t know if you know, Steve Lillywhite type of sound. And we basically toured New Zealand. We lived in Auckland for a while. We had a flat in Auckland, but we didn’t stay there much because there was always a tour.
H: So, that was your day job, as well? You were all focused on the band and touring at the time, right?
T: Yeah, we were doing it professionally. So we got to know the industry and when we were at the studio, Greg would sort of help with the producing. One of the things in New Zealand, unfortunately, not so much now, but back then, there were no producers, you produced your own stuff. It was always a battle trying to get a really good mix and trying to work with people that were experienced and knew how to produce . Unfortunately, back then, there wasn’t much of that.
H: And you mentioned that Greg loved Steve Lillywhite’s kind of sound.
T: Yeah, I think he was working with U2 at the time. That was before they got Brian Eno onboard.
H: That’s right, yeah. Steve produced the first 3 U2 records, before Eno and Lanois joined their production team. It’s nice to hear that Greg was a fan of Steve and U2 back then, sounds like he landed a dream job then.
T: Yeah, he loved their sound, he loved Steve’s sound. Simple Minds used to use Steve Lillywhite as well. That’s where that big British Wall of Sound comes from. Lots of delay, reverb and ambience
H: Now, I have another fact check to do with you. I have here a compilation that came out in 1982, called Goat’s Milk Soap. Is that right?
T: Yes, that’s right.
H: Then, there’s a 12-inch called “Generation Day,” again, in ‘82
T: Yes, that’s right.
H: And a 7-inch, called “Rebecca,” that lists Greg as a producer. Is that all, or are we missing something?
T: Yeah, I think so. You probably know more than I do! I actually spoke to Greg two weeks before he died, to arrange to catch up when he would come over. But he was interesting. He never went out of his way to become famous. Perhaps you could say he was at the right place at the right time. But he was getting really good at his job. What happened was, when we didn’t tour, we had this big truck with all the lighting and PA system, so when we weren’t touring Greg used to go out with the truck and work. And when he wasn’t touring with that, he was helping in this place, Oceania? I think this place is still going.
H: Oceania Sound Company, yeah
T: He started working for them, just helping out and stuff. He was always sort of busy, you know what I mean? Started getting really busy. I’ve got “Generation Day,” i’m looking at it now, I see a special thank you to Greg Carroll on here. Have you seen this album, or did you just get information from it?
H: I’ve seen the cover but it was a pretty low quality picture off the Internet.
T: Yeah, it’s pretty shit actually (laughs). There’s another one we did which is called “The World is Your Wind.” A lot of the stuff we produced we went under the name Lord George.
T: When did Greg join U2 and start touring with them?
H: That was in ‘84, when U2 were touring Australia and New Zealand for their Unforgettable Fire Tour.
T: “The World Is Your Wind” is another one under Lord George. I’m just looking at these singles here.
H: So, is the Lord George stuff you produced after Blond Comedy or at the same time?
T: It was sort of at the same time. We just didn’t have producers here, so the production value was never that good. Specially when it comes to mastering. Nobody mastered back then, no one knew how to. So every time you release something and you listen to it and think ‘’oh shit..’’
T: So, are U2 coming here?
H: Not as far as I know, at least not this year. What they’re doing is, this summer they are touring The Joshua Tree again. So we thought it would be a good opportunity to introduce newer fans to Greg Carroll and the story behind The Joshua Tree and “One Tree Hill” in particular.
T: Right, I understand.
H: You mentioned earlier that Greg wasn’t looking for any of that. He was the right person at the right time. Was it a big deal at the time, living in New Zealand then going to tour the world, I imagine relocating wasn’t as easy as it is today.
T: No. Basically, what I believe happened was, as a band, Blond Comedy, we stopped recording and touring and the band never actually broke up. We just stopped touring and started doing our own things. Greg was still in the band scene here, mixing for other bands. I think he must’ve been working for Oceania, I heard he was helping out on that particular gig that U2 played there. I heard that some of the bouncers, the security guards were a bit rough on the crowd, and there were some people in distress, so Greg jumped in there and helped them out. I think Bono saw this and made note of it. After the gig, they wanted to know if he’d like to go to Australia, so he had to run and go get a passport. Back then you couldn’t just go and get a passport. Two-three days later he was touring with them. And as they say- the rest is history.
IMAGE: Greg Carroll, Second from Left (Photograph courtesy of Tony Johns)
H: Did you guys keep in touch when he moved here in Dublin to work with U2?
T: Yeah, absolutely, because by that time I released an album called A One Day Different, under the name National Anthem. Greg said he heard the album and he was very impressed with it. He called me about two weeks before he died, we had a long chat.. just what he was up to, and what we were up to, things like that. Yeah, we kept in contact. He was very, very close to his parents and his sister as well. That one moment, the act he did, changed his life, the direction he was heading to. A right place, at the right time, you know what I mean?
H: I’m assuming you’ve heard the U2 song, “One Tree Hill.” As someone who knew Greg all that well, what do you make of it? Do you think it’s a fitting tribute to Greg? What are your thoughts on it?
T: It is. Absolutely. I mean, there’s only one place in New Zealand called One Tree Hill. In that respect it is. I went on to become a director, I did music clips and stuff like that. At that stage when Greg died, they wanted photographs, which I supplied, not many, because back then we didn’t have any cellphones. I helped with some of the music clips I believed only played in New Zealand. I also believe that “One Tree Hill,” the single that U2 released was only released in New Zealand as well.
H: That’s true. It was only released in New Zealand and Australia , because it was the Festival Records label , I don’t know if you remember them?
T: Right, yeah. I think so. The only thing about that, the “One Tree Hill,” there’s been a lot of controversy over the years, someone chopped it down, and someone planted another one, and it got chopped down again.
H: Yeah, I heard about that.
T: But I think it was good. I was along with, I think it was The Edge and Bono, I was one of the pall bearers as well. For them to travel all the way here, obviously they were very close to Greg, I really appreciated that, you know what I mean? Not just me, a lot of people did. Greg was 27 when he died, I think?
H: 27, yes.
T: That’s pretty young. The only thing is, and I thought about this quite often, I knew Greg really, really well. After he died there was a lot of media attention, and a lot of people saying they knew Greg, but they didn’t, they were just jumping on the bandwagon. That was a bit upsetting, to be quite honest.
IMAGE: Greg Carroll helping offload a truck (Photograph courtesy of Tony Johns)
H: I can understand, yeah.
T: But he was a lovely guy, Greg. He had a wicked sense of humour and he was probably the slowest eater I have ever met.
H: The slowest eater?
T: Yeah, when we’d sit down to have a meal, we’d go to a restaurant, he would eat most of the night, tiny little pieces on the end of his fork, and each mouthful he’d take, he really appreciated it. It was really quite weird and it was one of his little traits. Everybody would be finished and Greg would be half way through. He wouldn’t rush at all, he took his time and really enjoyed it.
T: And the other thing. A lot of interesting times. He went to the bathroom once, he went into the bath fully clothed.
H: Haha, are we talking after a busy night out here, or just a normal school day?
T: Well, he always used to wash his clothes. The thing about Greg, he was always a good looking lad, but he was always smart and clean. And he always looked cool because he always wore cowboy boots, i don’t know if you knew that. “The way I see it, if you’re having a bath, you may as well wash your clothes at the same time, saves water, saves more time”, he’d say.
H: Fair enough, can’t argue with that!
T: The other thing with the band, when we were touring. Greg had a wicked sense of sarcasm and I think that’s why we got on so well because the British are good at sarcasm. You’d take something very sarcastic, then you’d have to come up with something stronger for your next line. There was always a sort of a competition through the band, of sarcasm. It’s been many years. 30 years, I can’t remember..
T: I got contacted a few years ago. It’s interesting, the thing with Greg…He died too soon. I wasn’t quite sure what he could have been up to. He might have taken up producing or become a really good stage manager. Unfortunately, since he died relatively young, he really hadn’t a set career.
H: Of course, 27 is way too soon.
T: People might still remember Greg, but he’s slowly disappearing from the next generation. Most people in the industry would know who Greg was, not so much now, because of the time..In that regards, it’s really good that The Joshua Tree is coming up.
H: Yeah, for us U2 fans, who haven’t been to New Zealand, we don’t know the real story. We only know the stuff we heard from the band, and the band always speak so highly of him. I think it’s a good thing to try and , i guess educate, newer fans more about Greg. I think it’s a good thing in the long run. And I don’t know if you remember, but in Live Aid, you can clearly see Greg on stage with U2. I don’t know if you ever noticed that?
T: Oh yeah. I have. Absolutely. Was he working just for U2 that day or..?
H: He was working just for U2.
T: Ok, cool. But he was good. He was very conscious of what was happening, he was always trying to be one beat ahead of everybody else, when it comes to stage and things like that. When we were touring, I think we had a gaffer doing our lights, and we had a couple of people helping us out, things like that. Greg was always a hard worker.
H: And a problem solver, by the sounds of it.
T: Yeah, absolutely, he was always soldering speakers and things like that. He worked hard, but he played harder. He was a party animal!
H: Tony, you are now with Music Sweets in New Zealand, is that right?
T: Yeah. I actually have a band that we just got started, called Barrel House
H: Is that just a brand new band, what kind of music are you working on these days?
T: It’s all original. There’s only two tracks which are getting issued next week, actually. So if you look at barrelhouse.nz, there’s just two tracks there at the moment, and like I said we just started gigging after a long hiatus. And the bass player, Tony, there’s two Tonys, he used to tour with The Cure and played with Ella Fitzgerald, he’s a really good bass player. So we just started playing again, so we’re going to lay some tracks next week, or the week after.
But yeah, Music Sweet, that’s a sideline that I do, I write music for documentaries and commercials, and things like that.
H: And the footage you provided for Greg’s video, One Tree Hill, is that also a part of Music Sweet? Or was that not established back then?
T: No, All I did really, I helped put it together and just applied some of the footage. I think , If I remember rightly, it was a music clip.
H: There was that video you’re referring to, and the song was in the background, with images of Greg. There was also a music video later, of a live performance of the song.
T: I can’t remember, but I know I was contacted if I could help them because at that time I was in a production house, I had just started directing. So that’s how I was involved in that. We didn’t supply many photos because there just weren’t many around, you know..
H: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me about all this. This is a great info. Like I said, it was really hard to dig some stuff out after all these years, especially since there was no Internet back then to store the information. So, thanks so much for that, we all appreciate it.
T: Cool. I wish I could tell you more . Like I said, the years flew by. The things that you remember, stay. I’m sure he would still be wearing his cowboy boots, he was mad about them. We were doing a gig, and he left them in the back of the truck and someone knicked them. He was so distraught when he phoned up his sister to send him some money, because we were all skint back then, so that he could go buy some new boots.
He didn’t really get upset or show his emotions much. He never got in moods. I think that’s what made him a bit special, to be quite honest. His mood was always the same. And he took each day as it came. He had no hang ups. I think that’s what may have been attractive to people and why so many people liked him.
H: That’s definitely a good quality to have in that line of business.
T: When he did have money, he’d spend it with a couple of band members, which we won’t mention, on partying.
H: No money, but when he did have money, he’d spend it partying? Are you sure he wasn’t Greek?
T: Hahah, I know, I heard U2 were quite Catholic and they weren’t in that kind of stuff, anyway. In some degree, Greg being in that environment probably helped him as well. It wasn’t as if he was an addict or anything.
H: Sounds like he was in his 20s, worked hard, and liked to party. Nothing wrong with that.
T: That’s exactly that. He was a good party animal.
T: Alright, it was great to speak to you Harry.
H: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me. Much appreciated, and talk again soon.
H: Cheers, bye!
Greg Carroll worked as a sound man for the following groups in New Zealand, but was considered part of the band:
- Straight Flash (Tony Johns, Andrew Johns, Dave Maugher)
- Lix (Tony Johns, Andrew Johns, John ?)
- The New Entrants (Tony Johns, Andrew Johns, Dave Maugher, Craig Smith-Pilling)
- Lord George (Tony Johns, Andrew Johns, Dave Maugher, Craig Smith-Pilling)
- Blond Comedy (Tony Johns, Andrew Johns, Dave Maugher, Craig Smith-Pilling)
Greg Carroll was involved in the following releases from those bands:
- Goats Milk Soup Compilation (RPR 005, Mandrill / Ripper Records) features “The Kids are Crying” – The New Entrants (Carroll not credited)
- “Generation Day” 12-Inch by Blond Comedy (BLOND 1, Mandrill / PolyGram Records) featuring “Generation Day,” “3 Times This Week,” “Kids are Crying” and “Evil Eye” (Carroll mentioned in special thanks)
- “Rebecca” 7-Inch by Blond Comedy (K 8969, Mushroom / Festival Records) featuring “Rebecca” and “The Time of My Life” (Carroll credited as producer)
- “The World is Your Wind” 7-Inch by Lord George
AUDIO: “The Kids are Crying” by The New Entrants
(Special thanks to Amra Merdanovic for her assistance with this article.)