Somewhere Over the Rainbow
Record Mirror by Mike Gardner (1980-11-01)
Mike Gardner on U2’s quest for the pot of gold at the end of a European tour. (Pix: Virginia Turbett)
Contray to the popular consensus of those who have seen U2 in concert or heard the masterfully executed ‘Boy’ album, the band cannot run faster than a speeding bullet, stop express trains with their bare hands or leap tall buildings with a single bound.
What they can do is far more impressive. The band take the conventions of straightforward pop, strip it bare, leaving the essence of the accessibility in that music and then build, with atmosphere, raw emotion and a forceful passion, a sound that’s as sturdy and powerful as it is fragile and moving.
The sound is epic without being lumbering, yet flexible enough to swell to mountainous emotional highs and swiftly but delicately shade the evocative quiet. The whole affair is conducted with an inventive infectious attack. To call them refreshing is an inadequate description for music that inspires the lift and optimism U2’s work can release, whether in their erratic, chancy live experience or on the elegant ‘Boy’.
It was after a five hour haul through the motorways of France, Belgium and Holland that photographer Virginia Turbett, Island press officer Neil Storey and myself end up cruising the streets of the picture postcard Dutch town Appledoorne looking for the penultimate U2 venue on their first European jaunt. We make one circuit of the main streets and are then stuck at some traffic lights, trying to find a native who can direct us.
A gaggle of males approach us and shadow gives way to the features of drummer Larry, bassist Adam Clayton, vocalist Bono, guitarist The Edge, manager Paul McGuinness and sundry crew. The usual greetings and pleasantries are interspersed with directions until the group saunter off towards the venue.
Adam Clayton leans on the car door and peers through the open window, with a quick dart of the hand he cuts the motor and the return motion take’s the car keys with it and he zips off down the road with his trophy. Neil Storey attempts to see the funny side, while being more than aware that several cars have got stuck behind us. Neil’s shouts for Adam to return the keys pierce the night’s silence containing a fair element of anger, and fatigue mixed with the inevitability that the keys will be returned.
In the dressing room the band are warm and hospitable, more than eager to break the ice which they do with an abundance of enthusiasm and interest. Neil Storey has brough the first finished copies of ‘Boy’ with him for their inspection and there’s the expected glee at holding the proof of the band’s growth to date.
The hall is small and seedy and totally at odds with the Toytown / Legoland ambiance of the neatly pressed town. But as the aching strains of The Edge’s guitar pierces the soft lull of Larry and Adam Clayton’s rhythm patter on ‘The Ocean’ the large adjoining bar is left unpropped.
‘The Ocean’ segues into the latent intent of the intro to ’11 O’Clock Tick Tock’ which explodes into the colour and passion that makes U2 in flight as potent and dramatic as an eagle swooping on its prey. The band play with tension as the bass pins down the flighty skinwork of drummer Larry with the shadowy stabs and prickles of The Edge’s guitar simultaneously dancing and slicing through the throbbing power while the expressive and expansive Bono commands, focuses and embodies the energy.
‘I Will Follow’, a passionate but impressionistic examination of the loss of security, thunders while the Dutch heads nod and bodies succumb to the insistent rhythm.
The fluid but latently evil ‘An Cat Dubh’ has the loping bass and forthright rhythm igniting the spiky fretwork of The Edge while Bono calls on and articulates the hidden terror of the temptation and seduction the song speaks of before journeying to the moving ‘Into The Heart’ which is committed without stifling the spark that makes it their most vital composition.
The Edge has some problem with his guitar and Bono is forced to attempt some patter to the Dutch audience which wasn’t as smooth as Terry Wogan, or as witty as Les Dawson, but it sufficed. During ‘Twilight’ there is a re-enactment of that hoary old Hollywood scene where the starlet is thrust into the spotlight as the lead actress is ill and the hostile audience are broken down one by one by the natural charm of the newcomer, until they rapturously accept her. The Appledorne crowd need no such bait as one by one they start physically bending, moving and bopping to the music.
By the helter skelter effervescence of ‘Out of Control’ they are totally in the grip of the U2 magic. Their applause and appreciation is, at first, muted and restrained but they end up fighting to show the band that a few encores wouldn’t exactly bomb.
The next day is changeable, varying from a dank grey drizzle to a warming sunshine that settles for drizzle the closer we get to Brussels, their last date before going back to Britain and Eire.
We see only two windmills throughout the whole journey, while soundtracks of Robert palmer, Pauline Murray and Stevie Winwood ease the tedium of travel. Our conversation veers from puns unlimited to a healthy volley of witticism till we settle on the subjects of the mucis press, bands and motivations, sexism and cameras while holding a sweetie orgy of peardrops, jellies, mints and nuts and occasionally drifting off to sleep.
When we get to our hotel we meet up with three lads of a new generation of the Bromley contingent, Rick, Mick and Patt, who had blown a sizeable chunk of their income to go to Belgium for the one show. They had just given up all hope of finding the gig when we bump into them in the lobby. You can’t help but admire their adventure and enthusiasm.
There is only time for a quick lump of cheese and a drink and a few snapshots around the hotel before we pile into the van with the ever-increasing U2 family and head for the gig five miles away.
Nearly two hours and numerous wrong turns later we arrive, thoroughly exhausted, at the Klacik club, Bono’s sniffles have taken on a more sinister tone and road manager Tim Nicholson is considerately concealing the fact that flu will knock him flat on his back back within the next six hours.
The sound check is a weary affair, with the usual mixture of laboured graft and mischievous tedium. Everybody wanders aimlessly, searching the nooks and crannies of the club while the Bromley boys sit and stare intently at the stage while the band play half-hearted fragments of their set.
We are all more than pleased when it’s over and we can go and hunt for a proper meal, since it has been some 10 hours since breakfast.
We settle in a restaurant and on goes the tape recorder…
“The Dutch are a very interesting people. They are very aware of British music,” claims Bono “We played the Milky Way in Amsterdam which is seriously in the sixties. It hasn’t changed. It’s a time warp.”
“Outside a girl collapsed in front of me and smashed her head on the pavement. Her boyfriend didn’t seem to mind. He was smashed too. They were junkies just hanging around…a very sick sight.”
“You can see the sordid side to Amsterdam. At first sight it’s beautiful, innocent, even a naive city. There’s shop window prostitution and it’s the European centre for the drugs market. It’s like one of the songs on ‘Boys’ called ‘An Cat Dubh’ which describes a cat as a symbol of temptation. At first beautiful, the shape, you know, seductive. In the daylight it destroys a birds nest. Not for food, but for the enjoyment and at the same time it comes up and strokes the side of your leg. Amsterdam is like that. It’s beautiful, it’s people are beautiful, but…”
“They’re surprisingly well informed,” interjects Adam. “By no means at this stage, have we cracked England. Even for a band with our present status in England we’ve done surprisingly well. They know about us, they’ve heard our records, they’ve seen our pictures and they want to know more.”
“ I Think they thought U2 were a post-industrial funk band, very arty, very cultural but when they saw us as an aggressive performance act, when they saw the the explosion of our personalities and our instruments on the stage they were taken aback,” says Bono.
“The promoter said they were confused. They tried to compare us but we were just U2 and they had to make up their own minds and that’s what U2 are all about.”
Part of what makes U2 so important is a determined belief in their destiny to become a noted and powerful force in contemporary music.
“I believe we combine the aspects of contemporary music that I find exciting.” opines Bono. “Which is performance, aggressive live rock music, that is at the same time lyrical, because we mean what we say. We are talking. We are not just writing on topics, like say XTC, we come from the heart.”
“Our overall impression is optimism, uplift, power, elation which very few acts, like The Who and Springsteen possess. I believe U2 should be there because there’s a lot of dross, a lot of unworthy music in our place. There are a lot of bands who should finish now.”
U2 have the unswerving faith that they have a right to the Madison Square Gardens and a saturation of the airwaves that success will bring eventually and while that sounds more than a little immodest, a little naive to others, the sentiments do strike a chord with those who have sampled the character and sturdiness of their chosen type of musical expression.
“Some have said that U2 music is for the head and feet,” recalls Bono, “but I think it’s music for the heart as well. It combines the three. Every night is a struggle to communicate. We try but that can go wrong, it can go over the top.”
The precarious nature of their music does add the vital edge as they search and invent with sometimes too much enthusiasm and the occasional lapses of confidence. Their ambition is to become successful in terms of bringing out the best in each other for the collective good rather than the usual material acquisitions. They are steadfast in the belief that their music is wanted by the people as much as by themselves and point to the fact that they have virtually strolled away from their home base whereas the Rats used a vigorously strong determination to leave Dublin.
The focal point of the band, as Adam points out, is Bono’s lyrics and melodies. So why the success?
“It’s the real emotion,” explains Bono. “We aren’t used to real emotion. Contemporary bands sell their emotions on pieces of plastic at supermarkets and then bend their emotions to suit a market and only the rare bands feel emotion like Dylan. Leonard Cohen, The Who, Spnngsteen, and the Clash.”
“We are tour expressive people and it had to come out somewhere, I’m an extrovert The most powerful contemporary expression that we have today is rock music. Music Is a very Important pan of our everyday life and it’s only natural and logical that people will turn to this medium to express themselves.”
“The Irish knock themselves too easily. They have an inferiority complex because of their inheritance of being under an English landlord and then after that a Priest. They didn’t develop as a business race, but as a creative race lacking ambition in commerce. The Irish are naturally musical, it’s a musical environment.”
Manger Paul McGulness interjects, “There are more musicians in Ireland The population can support more working musicians because of the Irish tradition of going to concerts and gigs. People won’t buy records. It’s a respectable lob unlike in England where It’s considered a total waste of time.”
“We will never leave Dublin. the people we trust and love are there. It works out much better for England. When we come over for a month’s tour we put all our energies Into that period. We come In like a fist, like a punch to the gut, BOOM!, and then we leave and take it out,” continues Bono. The “fist”, the passionate naivety, the forceful maturity of U2 has needed some help from this side of the Irish sea to aid the nourishment of their work. Not least was Island. “A lot of people came with money”, says Bono, “Island was the only one that talked in terms of music. A lot of companies are like the civil service, like CBS or EMI, It’s like a factory and the people themselves become part of the machine and they seem to lose personality. But Island are more like people working in a factory.” “The sticking point was always whether they’d let us deliver the records without any opportunity to refuse them and there are large companies that just can’t handle that, the whole corporation has a hiccough. They imagine the,worst.” adds Paul McGuinness.
“The album is totally our design, even to the labels in the middle: No company at this stage of economic hassle would do that for you. Why Island? Because 99 per cent of the company have made the effort to see us. Sure they are a company, money, is the root of what they are going for. They have to make money or they don’t exist. We are aware of that, that’s the game we have chosen to play,” continues Bono.
“We are not like naive children putting up their hands to big Daddy. We tell them what we want and they do it and It’s a good working relationship.”
The other partnership U2 have entered into were those with producers Martin Hannett, who produced their first English single ’11 O’Clock Tick Tock’, and Steve Lillywhite, who takes the production credit for ‘Boy’. Bono again flicks out the opinion “Hannett brought Hannett’s sound and it was a struggle to make It U2’s but I think we did it on ’11 O’Clock Tick Tock’. Steve Lillywhite brought us the brains of the technology to get what we wanted out of the studio. Steve was an open enough personality to tell us how to do what we wanted, so that ‘Boy’ is exactly how we wanted it. Hannett’s sound would have been an easy road to take but we had to do it our way.”
So what is your way trying to achieve? “We want to beat the music business at its own game by being successful and important within the industry without sacrificing one ounce of integrity or our honesty by doing it our way.” The Edge puts it more succinctly “You could say that we want to beat the music business at OUR own game.”