U2’s First Demo Session Uncovered

Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2022-02-28)

In March 1978, U2 appeared at the Pop Group ’78 contest, held at Limerick’s Civic Week. The band and a large number of friends attended the show. Judging of the bands took place on three days, March 16, 17 and 18. Jackie Hayden, one of the judges recalls U2 performing on the 18th and then later returning for the competition show.

U2 played three songs in the contest, all originals, “Life on a Distant Planet”, “Street Mission” and “The Television Song”. Eight bands made it to the final, and U2 won the competition. One of the prizes? A recording session with CBS Records. The session took place in April 1978. U2 only had a few weeks to prepare after the competition. The producer for the session was Jackie Hayden, who had met U2 while judging the talent competition in Limerick. Sessions took place at Keystone Studios. We’ve tried to piece together what U2 recorded at that session a number of times throughout the years, however we were unable to conclusively say what was done at this session until now.

AUDIO: A snippet of U2’s “The Television Song”

Thanks to Jeremy Fudge, a U2 collector who recently had an opportunity to obtain a copy of the demo cassette we can share that the band recorded ten tracks that day in Keystone. These included eight original songs, and two covers:

  • “Don’tcha Hang Up” (02:49)
  • “She’s My Girl” (02:49)
  • “Street Mission” (03:42)
  • “Concentration Camp” (03:22)
  • “The Television Song” (02:22)
  • “Inside Out (Oh No)” (02:40)
  • “Drive On John” (02:16)
  • “Night Flight” (02:19)
  • “Neon Heart” [Cover] (02:22)
  • “2-4-6-8 Motorway” [Cover] (02:09)

Jeremy has shared the following about the recording:

U2 recorded 10 songs in the 32 minute session, mostly playing the songs immediately one after another. Before half of the songs, Bono introduces the name of the song, as if playing live. The performance is indicative of a very young band and certainly not what you would expect from a professional demo. Individual mistakes abound with all three instrumentalists as well as Bono missing notes, and the band are not tight together as a unit. The ending of “Drive On John” is a total mess, with Bono remarking rather annoyed that “it doesn’t matter if we make a mess of them, does it?” They also play very fast, perhaps nervous energy, with the longest song (“Street Mission”) clocking in at a mere 03:42.

YouTube: U2’s Recording of “Inside Out” (Snippet)

Jeremy continues:

Still, Bono’s energy comes through and some of the early musical attributes of the band can be heard even in these earliest of days. After laying down the eight tracks there’s then over two minutes where they think if they have any other songs. After some time, Bono says, “I think that’s about it actually. We could run through some half-ish numbers but I don’t think there’s any point.” Someone suggests recording some covers and the band think through options and then lay down two popular covers of the day: “Neon Heart” by the Boomtown Rats and “2-4-6-8 Motorway” by the Tom Robinson Band.

Notably, during “She’s My Girl”, as Edge gets ready to go into a guitar solo, Bono says, “alright Dave” – surely one of the few recorded times where Bono calls him by his given name. Curiously, in the 2 minutes before the covers, Bono asks about the Beatles song they played second – which would have been “She’s My Girl” – perhaps he meant is in the sense of it sounded like a Beatles song.

YouTube: U2’s “Concentration Camp (Demo Version)” (Snippet, called “Night Fright” for years in error)

There has been some confusion about “Concentration Camp” in various sources. It has sometimes been called “Tonight” or “Live My Life Tonight” because the word and the phrase are both repeated in the chorus, but this is one of the songs which Bono introduces and clearly calls it “Concentration Camp.” He is also clear in saying “Camp” not “Cramp,” although a later version of the song appears to have morphed into “Concentration Cramp,” as evidenced by the lyrics Bono submitted to the museum exhibit at the Hot Press Music Hall of Fame in Dublin. What is clear is that “Night Fright” or “Night Flight” – which some thought was the same song perhaps as “Concentration Camp” – is in fact an entirely different song. And the lyrics attributed to “Night Fright” are in fact the first lyrics of “Concentration Camp.”

Hang on, I lost something
My mind is telling me I can’t go on
Lost it, a single mission
I want to worry, but it’s never the one

Of the sessions Jackie Hayden shared “Some of the band have since been understandably critical of aspects of that session. However, I don’t think that they fully understood that the practical intention was to record about eight or ten numbers live, so that CBS could assess the band’s repertoire in a way that would not be possible if we’d spent too much time concentrating on just two or three songs. After all, it was their first recording date, they were extremely nervous and no one was expecting miracles. And for the record: subsequent claims by Bono that the band were not allowed into the control room are pure fantasy. (Sorry Bono.) Anyway the evening ended quite abruptly when Larry Mullen’s Dad arrived to take an indignant Larry home. Larry was only 16 at the time and his Dad felt that school next morning was far more important than this recording session.”

These early songs faded from sight over the years. Few have been heard outside of a few bootleg recordings. The one exception is “Street Mission” which the band continued to work on and was one of the songs that they recorded in November 1978 when they returned to Keystone Studios to cut a more professional demo tape with Barry Devlin. That session has been released as part of “The Complete U2” although remains unreleased outside of that set. As mentioned some of the clips of these songs have appeared on bootlegs, and shared on the web. In September 1982, radio host BP Fallon did a two part program on U2. As part of that feature, he played a number of short clips from U2’s demo recordings, including this demo from 1978. Each of the songs played aired for about 1:30 before fading out with interview footage over top. The program was aired on RTÉ Radio 2. The clips embedded on this page come from that radio program.

Not all of the titles were forgotten though. Bono throughout the Boy tour kept a notepad where he would work on song ideas. These were due to be used for the recording sessions for October. One of the pages from that notebook has a list of song titles including “Concentration Cramp”, “Inside Out”, “It’s Just Night Fright” (Fright is crossed out), “Street Mission”, and “Drive On John”. But we now know that some of these are titles of songs that the band had previously developed, and had recorded at this CBS session. (This notepad was part of the contents of the briefcase that Bono infamously lost during the Boy tour, later returned to him decades later.)

The two covers recorded at the end of the session include a song by Ireland’s own Boomtown Rats. The song “Neon Heart” was released on the Boomtown Rats 1977 self-titled album. The other track, “2-4-6-8 Motorway” was released as a single by the Tom Robinson Band. The track was developed by Tom before he had a band set up, and would play it with whatever friends were available on any given night, so he kept it simple enough to learn in a few minutes. Definitely a reason for a young band like U2 to be drawn to the song.

Some of the original songs continued to appear in shows late in 1979. “Inside Out” and “Concentration Cramp” were both heard at shows in December 1979. “Street Mission” was last known to be played in August 1979. But once the band started working on new material for singles and the album Boy many of these songs dropped out of the set lists, and were replaced by the newer songs.

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