A recent old school friends reunion, always delightful, memories, old music, new music, fashion ‘n’ flares. Past lives, tastes, changes, pop in and out of chatter, face to face, cheek to cheek, Facebook to Facebook moments. Music-obsessed youths, three or four overlapping tribes. Sneers at leftfield tastes, or worse… Mainstream tastes. One of us liking… Slade, another, me, The Carpenters. Long left behind youth, choices, and people, long slipped into a hazy, (and it’s not booze, definitely NOT drugs), memory.
This year, the talk is of the cost of living, while most of us are still ‘keeping music live’. Me in the North East, others across the UK, pubs, clubs, halls, and stadia, the gang had been to them all this year. Coldplay at Wembley, to some, unnamed, duo in a pub back room somewhere in Somerset. You bands? You gotta start somewhere.
Somewhere over pints, crisps, laughs, darts, pub skittles, more pints, burps, belches, spilled beers, conversations swirled and turned to ‘Bands we’d seen BEFORE they were BIG’. It’s a big question. A couple of us had seen The Specials in The William IV in their hometown, someone else, Terence Trent D'Arby’s first UK date, for me it was Irish mega Stadium Superstars “U2” yeah, that lot.
U2, they’d done the hard, hard miles, been scouted, and were promoting a soon-to-be-released debut LP. A few in the small crowd knew some songs. Me? Hadn’t a clue mate. First time I’d heard most of the songs was that night. 40 plus years on, few clear memories slip out of the fog shrouding the time. A college, think big school hall, the stage about waist high, a few red, yellow, and blue lights, a couple of light poles at most, a basic set up. There was support, an opener, some local band, perhaps, they went on to greater things, or maybe they ended up at the Building Society, or Benefits Office. No memory, zero impression whatsoever, probably sipping in the outside bar. I was here for the headliners.
I’d read reviews in Sounds or Melody Maker, praised in one or both, so, a local gig, a weekend, money in my pocket, I’d give it a go, and maybe get the album later. Thing is, I’d never seen a critically acclaimed band at that stage of their career, so nothing to compare with. Seen loads of new wave, punk bands, second tours, but there’s a world of difference, pre-release, to post second album. Working an audience, for a start, building a set list, rapport, presence, delivery, winning an audience. Stagecraft.
Anyway, no clear memory of songs, but awful sound, bare-walled hall acoustics, knackered college PA, ‘come on impress me’ audience. Working hard for so little reward, looking back, a hard way to earn a living, (if they even were). Bono memories? Voice ok, no stage presence, definitely no Bob Geldof, miles from The Boomtown Rats. Rats had been at the game for a few years more. U2, vaguely remembered, no sense of rock star style, certainly no lizard glasses. No thunderous drums beating the rhythm, no singing, nor razor guitar slicing through a mix of mushed, clotted, muffled music.
Perhaps it was just me, there was no adoring crowd upfront, no huge roar as they ambled onstage. The bar, familiar faces, cheap lager. No traveling fans’ army. No slow drift to the outside bar away from the band, (a telling a popularity test) - so lots there lapped U2 up. Me? It’s all ok, they play well, it was all a bit… who was breaking then, Simple Minds… Others stepping out of the dark New Romantic shadow. Probably a sense of ‘nothing new here to hear’, no sense of being in at the start of something special. Didn’t expect I’d be able to boast “I saw them when…”, and “I remember them before they filled Wembley”. I do remember, growing roars, louder calls “more” “more”. Someone knew something and it wasn’t me. Arms waved, air guitars flashed, growing approval, verging on adoration. A couple of classics, “G-L-O-O-O-R-I-A, G,L,O,R,IA”, their music, is passionate.
This was raw, rough and ready, rock n roll, excitement guaranteed. But were they gonna become the biggest band in the 90’s and fill stadiums worldwide? I’d have laughed into my watery pint if you told me that in 1980. A good UK rock band maybe, but Thin Lizzy, or The Clash? You’re having a laugh. Not even one good album wonders. But hey, that’s why, I ended up a council worker, and not an A&R exec, much to the music industry’s relief, and other bands’ good fortune.
A mate at that U2 gig did go on to head A&R at one of UK’s leading new wave record labels.
Main Image by Remy - U2 performing on the Joshua Tree Tour 2017 in Brussels, Belgium on August 1, 2017 Wikipedia.