U2 Conquer London in 1980: Eyewitness Dateline: May 22, 1980 - September 29, 1980
Q Magazine (2002-09-08)
Nick Stewart – Head of A&R at Island Records
Andy Phillips – IRS Records press officer who, after meeting U2, became a rock photographer
Neil Storey – Island Records press officers
Chas De Walley – Rock Journalist/CBS Records A&R man
Steve Eagles – Guitarist for The Photos
Jack Barrie – Manager of London’s Marquee club
When U2 visited the capital in the summer of 1980, their intention was to play a handful of low-key club shows. Three months, a Marquee residency and an excursion to the fantasy land of “Lipton Village” later, and U2 had conquered London.
Although they had formed in Ireland during 1976, U2 very quickly abandoned any vestiges of the punk revolution and established themselves on home territory as a charismatic mainstream rock band of considerable power. Despite an Irish Number 1 with their EP (through CBS) in 1979, they were making little headway in the new wave/new romantic-dominated U.K. Five months later they were signed to Island Records following a small scale U.K. tour in December. Then, in May 1980, Island brought U2 to mainland for their first concentrated burst of touring to promote their debut single, “11 O’Clock Tick Tock.”
May 22, 1980
The band settle into London and a U.K. tour begins at the Hope & Anchor, Islington, London.
Neil Storey: They rented a house in Orme Square, just off Bayswater Road, next door to Jeremy Thorpe, the leader of the Liberal Party, largely because it was cheaper then staying in a hotel.
Andy Phillips: I was working as a PR for Miles Copeland at IRS Records, and I popped up to see my friend Chris Westwood who was a journalist on Record Mirror, and he introduced me to the guys from U2 who had just come over from Ireland. They wanted to go shopping, and see a bit of London, so I took them around.
I always carried a camera with me, so I used it as the day went on. We started around lunchtime. We’d had some rain, then it turned into a hot summer day. We walked around what was then a flea market in the old Covent Garden. That’s where the shot of Bono checking himself out in the mirror was taken. Bono was really keen to shop for clothes. He was trying on various jackets and he did buy one, but they didn’t have much money at all between them. I had to buy Edge a pint of Ruddles because he didn’t have any money.
When it got to music they’d become very serious but, at other times, they were like a bunch of little kids. There was a lot of humour especially about Lipton [sic] Village, which was a mythical place they’d invented along with the Virgin Prunes [fellow Dublin band], the fantasy world that they came from. They were always having little private giggles.
Nick Stewart: I had been impressed by U2 when I first saw them in London during 1979, so I went to Dublin, saw them again, and was immediately determined to sign them. Chris Blackwell, who owned Island, wasn’t convinced at first. He wanted to sign Spandau Ballet, which was admittedly a more obvious prospect for the immediate hits given the fashion for electronic pop, but I saw U2 as a long-term prospect, a guitar band that could become a Led Zeppelin for the 1980s
Even in the Hope & Anchor — a very confined space — Bono was very charismatic, climbing up the speaker stacks and leaping into the crowd.
May 23, 1980
“11 O’Clock Tick Tock,” their first single from Island records, is released. The band play the Moonlight club in London.
Bono: We didn’t release the single with a view to selling thousands of copies. It was just a song both we and Island liked, which we thought would be a good introduction for a major label.
Neil Storey: Their rise was much more of a press-led thing and partly word of mouth thing. People just told their friends and brought them along. It was a very packed night. The only place you could move around was right at the back of the room by the wall.
Andy Phillips: They were playing stuff like “Out of Control,” “11 O’Clock Tick Tock,” “I Will Follow.” They didn’t get encores but they won the audiences over very quickly and built up a following after just a few shows.
May 24-26, 1980
U2 play Sheffield University and New Regent Club, Brighton.
Neil Storey: Sheffield University was a long narrow room. What struck me about Bono was that he was always asking questions, very inquisitive and analytical. We sat and chatted about a Rolling Stones video, and he was remarking on how Mick Jagger worked the audience. Bono wanted to be the best and he wanted to learn from the best.
May 27, 1980
U2 perform at the Rock Garden, London
Nick Stewart: They were very loud at the Rock Garden, and Bono was very in your face, but that was the point, I think, when journalists started to notice that the Edge was a great guitarist, with a very different style from most.
May 28-30, 1980
U2 play Bristol, Birmingham and Nashville in London.
Dave McCullough (From Sounds review): The esteemed U2, a murderously good and genuinely subversive young pop group, played this converted cocktail centre and, yeah, it was a bummer. No communication, no interest, no fun, no vitality, U2 did their turn and went away.
June 7, 1980
U2 play the Half Moon pub in Herne Hill, London
Chas De Whalley: I’d tried very hard to get U2 signed to CBS in the U.K. before Island got hold of them. But I remained in touch with them afterwards, so I went along to the Half Moon to see them. I remember having a conversation there with Neil Spencer of NME, telling him that this band was going to be huge.
July 10, 1980
U2 play the Clarendon Hotel, Hammersmith, London
Bill Graham (Hot Press review): The audience have come to measure U2 against their building reputation as “at least this week’s thing” and won’t be willing into enjoyment.
Nick Stewart: That was a slightly worrying gig, and I started to wonder briefly if it might not be harder than I’d imagined to get this band across.
Bono: It was cold — it was a peculiar place upstairs in a hotel, a large dance floor with lamp shades at the same time bare. It was the unknown, and the unknown is always very interesting.
Bill Graham (Hot Press review): Despite a small crowd bopping around the front, Bono just can’t feel the audience. Suddenly, out of the unsettled climate wafts a moment of sublime dignity. A sequence of guitar chords — the linking passage between two new songs — “An Cat Dubh” and “The Heart of a Child” [sic] — steadily spirals upwards and for once the acoustics assist. Soothing, a peace offering, this version of unwanted youth transforms the mood and when the song is over there’s a muted, sighing cheer of recognition.
July 11, 1980
U2 return to the Half Moon, Herne Hill.
Andy Phillips: The reviews were coming in, they were being championed by the press, so the crowds were getting bigger and then, that night in the Half Moon, the place was just sold out, which was the first time they’d done that at a U.K. gig.
I got a lovely shot, a silhouette of Bono, taken from the side of the stage. They had this total conviction among them, but without arrogance, that what they were doing was right.
July 12-13, 1980
U2 play the Moonlight Club and the Marquee in London, supporting the Photos.
Andy Phillips: They’d arrived in London with a number of gigs booked but their manager, Paul McGuinness, made sure that everybody knew they were available if any more gigs came up. Because McGuinness had put them in that house in Orme Square, they were slap bang in the middle of London, from where they could hack off quickly in any direction to pick up gigs at the drop of a hat. So, one Sunday afternoon, we were sitting around doing nothing and a call came from a booking agent because a support band had dropped out at the Marquee — 15 minutes later, we were there.
Steve Eagles (The Photos): We shared the same agent, Ian Wilson, and I’d seen them a few days earlier and was completely knocked out by them. Before the gig, while the Edge was sound checking, I remember Bono thanking me profusely for letting them play. Unfortunately they weren’t as good on the night.
September 8-29, 1980
U2 take up a Monday night residency at the Marquee.
Jack Barrie: By the time they came back in September they knew they were in a stronger position. They came to Nigel Hutchings, who was the Marquee’s booking manager, with the idea that they should have a regular Monday night residency. This used to happen often in the ’60s with bands on the way up, but it had stopped, so U2 would be seen to be the first band to get a Marquee residency in many years. Across those four weeks, you could see the build-up in interest as the buzz went around.
Neil Storey: The first two nights at the Marquee didn’t sell out, but the second two did and by then they were the hottest new act in Britain, the band everybody had to see.