U2 - Just Beginning
U2 have always maintained that because they were friends before they formed a band and because they formed a band before they could play their instruments and because they started writing their own material because they were so bad at playing other peoples -that, somehow, it's a combination of these factors which essentially has moulded the dynamic thrust and unique passion of U2's increasingly experimental sound. They have reached the point where, unlike just about every other of the world's major acts they constantly manage to create the sort of atmosphere that one associates with a club, whether it's in front of fifty or sixty thousand at an open-air festival or the ten to twenty thousand-seater average on their triumphant forty-date U.S. tour, a few months back. By Dave Fanning
When they got together as a band nine years ago they had one kit of drums, one bass without an amplifier, one borrowed electric guitar and a borrowed amplifier. Like the first day in the army, everyone was knocked into shape telling everyone else what to do and because it was Larry's kitchen, he was in charge. But since he was only interested in playing drums it eventually winnowed down from four lead guitar players to three, then two and then Bono started to concentrate on vocals. Adam used to pretent he could play the bass using technical words and phrases to baffle the others. Because he had the only amplifier the others never argued with him. They thought he was a great musician who really knew what he was talking about until they discovered one day that he wasn't even playing the right notes.
It was part of the prevailing punk manifesto of the time that anyone could play an instrument, anyone could be a star. And no matter how sloppy some of U2's early gigs were, there was always something about their performances which made them seem more important than those of their contemporaries. For me in those days it wasn't Adam or
Larry's backbeat nor the emergence of The Edge's powerful guitar runs, but Bono's histrionics which gave U2 an air of more substance than was suggested by the evidence of their overallperfonnance.
Their early demo tapes were put together with a lot more care and attention than those of many of the bands today who enter the recording studios for the first time, but for me particularly it was the course of the late night rock show interviews on 'Big D' radio off Parnell St (and by late '78, early '79 in Stephen's Green), where insomniacs all over Dublin could quite clearly see U2's unique passion, committment and dedication to the idea of the potential of the song as something heartfelt and special, and the upplifting power of live performance.
"Half of me says I know I can't change the world and there's another half of me that, every time I write a song, I want it to change the world. I don}t know if that's naivety or stupidity in me but I do know that music has changed me. I don't try to change the world, I don't even try to change people but in the same way I've changed, I think other people change too. That's what is important. The individual, that's where you start. Revolution begins in your heart, in your refusal to compromise your own beliefs".
For detractors this typical Bono quote is just too corny.
For the fans or those who simply believe that music can have more soul and power than most other forms of artistic expression, it's consistent with everything Bono has believed in and said over the past seven years.
In Sept '78 the band released their first single - 'Out Of Control' was the main track of 'U23', a three track E.P. In the last month of the seventies they played their first London concerts at venues like The Rock Garden and The Hope and Anchor, where nine people turned up. In 1980 the band released four singles (including the song which is still the favourite of Irish fans, '11 O'Clock Tick Tock'), they signed to Island Records and spent most of the summer touring Britain.
I saw them with a crowd of around sixty people at this time when they were third on the bill at the Nashville Rooms in London. I don't recall the names of the other two bands. By the end of that year they had released their debut album, 'Boy', played shows in Europe and on the U.S. East Coast and by Feb '81 seven hundred people were locked out of their headline gig at the Lyceum in London.
For the next eighteen months U2 consolidated their British scucess playing bigger venues with each new batch of dates, releasing chart singles and their second album 'October', ending the year with dates in Cork, Galway, Belfast and Dublin. Travelling on the U2 bus to each of the venues on that 4-date Irish tour, I spent a lot of time listening to the soon-to-be-released third album 'War'. While it most obviously was a major progression for the band it never really occured to me that it would so quickly elevate U2 into the major league in the States.
In its first week of release it entered the U.K. album charts at number one and within a month it had earned the band its first U.S. Gold Disc. Two years later along with their fourth album (a live set) and their most recent, the experimental 'Unforgettable Fire', it's still on Billboard's Top 200 best-selling albums. And in midd'85 from record sales to live shows from Tokyo to Sydney, New York to London, the band's record-breaking statistics worldwide are quite staggering.
It is above all the success of the commercial gamble of 'The Unforgettable Fire' coupled with that single factor which makes them unique and allows endless possibilities for their future development, that could see them rise to new heights on this, the beginning of the second phase of their career where they still do everything strictly on their own terms.
That single factor is that special bond between themmselves and their audience which is almost non-existent in today's money hungry, star-tripped society. The fans see U2 as being equal to their audience because they have the outlook that the fans are what makes the group, not the group who make the fans. U2 has no particular style of clothing, no trend to follow. They've always tried to break down the barriers that exist between the band and the audience. In a nutshell, their attraction is to a large degree the fact that they are what their audience would like to be. They're young, bright, idealistic, optimistic, honest, sincere, relevant, having fun, rock stars not afraid to be themselves. And they're human.