Monday, April 18, 2011

Stories About Boys

Four of U2's original inner circle recall the band's eventful early days in Dublin.

Frank Kearns (Frankie Corpse & The Undertakers, The Modulators, Cactus World News)

Larry Mullen was my mate when I was in Mount Temple. When he was having the guys around the kitchen for that very first audition I was hanging around. We'd sit down and watch them come in and they'd practice, playing songs like Peter Frampton's 'Show Me The Way'. The guys were playing songs they could play easily. Then somebody brought in a distortion pedal and they played 'The Boys Are Back In Town' which I thought was brilliant.

When Ivan McCormick wasn't selected for the U2 line-up Larry said to Neil you should get Frank in too, he's learning guitar. So I contacted Neil and Ivan and said, "I'll join your band but there's one slight problem - I can't play guitar." But I practised all weekend until my fingers bled. I was more into punk. To me it was almost a spiritual experience. We did a version of Eddie & The Hot Rods' 'Do Anything You Want To Do' and we had a big debate about whether it was punk or not. We had a song that went, "I'm a punk, I'm a punk and I'm blasted on junk."

One of the strongest memories I have is myself and Dave Evans (Edge) going to see The Song Remains The Same in Fairview Cinema. I remember sitting there and half the audience were punks and half were hippies and there was a huge riot. Zep came on and Jimmy Page did his stuff and I thought, "What a fantastic guitar player." But you couldn't say that out loud. On another occasion me and Edge went to Dalymount Park to see Thin Lizzy with the Rats and we were blown away.

I had no doubt that this was going to happen for them. I said to Larry, "This is going to be huge." I understood what chemistry meant on an intuitive level. I realised how important it was to have four or five people who complemented each other. If you look at each one of the members of U2 they have a complementary chemistry.

Barry Devlin (Horslips)

Horslips were playing Wembley with Thin Lizzy in 1978 and Paul McGuinness brought over Adam to see the gig. We got on very well together and shortly after that Paul asked me if I would go into the studio with them to work on some demos. I told him that I wasn't a producer but I would do it as a friend. I actually thought punk was dead by this stage and thought Paul was mad to be working with a band like U2. I said to him, "Are you sure this is a good idea? Are you sure you want to get involved with something that is nearly over?"

In the studio I had the same experience that Jackie Hayden had on their first demo session in that Larry's dad came and took him away before the session had ended. I said to him, "Excuse me Mr. Mullen I haven't finished with the drum parts." But it made no impression on him and Larry was gone.

Whatever they were doing in the studio that night they weren't succeeding with it – it was an atrocious demo, which it has to be said was mainly down to me. I really liked them – but it was obvious that there was no point me being around them at that stage. I came from a perspective where the guitar was blues based and not the kind of style that The Edge was playing. But I remember even then that The Edge "orchestra" was already becoming apparent. It was very evident to me that there was something new about the way they played.

Hindsight is a great thing and I've been wrong about a lot of things, most things in fact. I wasn't thinking this band is going to be the biggest band in the world. But I remember saying to Paul that I don't know how they're going to do in America but they'll take Britain by storm. Of course I was wrong – it was the other way around. People forget that they got a mixed press in the UK, initially. The lads were seen as being far too smart for their own good.

Did I give Adam any tips on bass playing? There's a great story that I've told before about Adam when he said to me, "We ought to talk about bass technique." I said, "To be brutally honest I could tell you everything I know about the bass in ten minutes or less." A few years later I was up onstage at Bono's wedding with a whole group of people including Paul Brady and Adam was sitting at the front watching me play. He told me later that I wasn't lying when I said I knew very little about bass technique!

Ivan McCormick (Frankie Corpse & The Undertakers, Yeah Yeah, shook up)

The main reason I was asked to go along to the early U2 auditions in Larry's kitchen was that I had a Fender Stratocaster copy, which was considered pretty exotic at the time. We used to practice in Mr. McKenzie's music room in school and Dave Evans used to relieve me of the guitar, as his was a bit of a plank. I played with them for only about six weeks. I was still a spotty 13-year-old and they were all a bit older than me. Then I got a phone call from Adam who said, "We've got this gig in a pub." He went on to explain that I was too young to go along. It didn't dawn on me that they were also too young, but it was his way of letting me down easily. I was very upset but then Larry introduced me to Frank Kearns and I got together with him. We played the first Undertakers gig – just the two of us – in Fairview Church Hall. Frank was still learning and we played 'The House Of The Rising Sun' which had a lot of chords. Then Neil joined up on bass – he used Adam's old guitar and he could just play one string. We were a proper punk band by then and we all had punk names. I was Ivan Axe.

The first full Frankie Corpse & The Undertakers gig was supporting The Hype in the school basement at Mount Temple. We played for half-an-hour and did songs by The Vibrators and The Ramones and one of our own songs. I do remember The Hype playing '2,4,6,8 Motorway' by Tom Robinson and the Pistols' 'Anarchy In The UK'. I seem to remember at that gig Dave Evans borrowed my guitar again.

Later, when they were U2, we used to play gigs in McGonagle's with them. They had mime sections in their act, all sorts of theatrical stuff. I remember that polo neck with the nipples cut out that Bono used to wear. That was strange.

I have to say from the very early days I always thought they had something – they were very emotional, those early gigs. Bono or Paul even had it in school, strutting around the place with people following him. He was a leader; he had a lot of charisma. One of my big memories is how he used to prance about with a microphone plugged into the school hi-fi. There was a feeling of excitement and I felt this was the best band I'd ever seen. I remember him on his knees in front of Dave trying to make him play better. He had a way of driving the whole thing and creating excitement. The whole band was grasping in the dark. Larry was a solid drummer but Adam pumped out a driving root note on the bass and I remember well into U2's career he was still making mistakes. But it allowed Dave to do a lot of fancy stuff on the guitar. Their limitations were what made them in the end.

Jackie Hayden (CBS Ireland, Hot Press)

I don't know how I allowed myself to be talked into sitting on the panel for a Limerick Civic Week pop/rock competition on St. Patrick's Day 1978, but I did. After listening to about twelve appalling acts, only a couple had something to offer, including four kids from Dublin. They called themselves U2 and they exuded a determination to play and perform. I remember Bono impressing me most with a superbly confident stage presence, while the rest of the band looked serious and went about their respective jobs in a workmanlike fashion. I gave them the nod.

Some weeks later, Adam Clayton and Paul Hewson (now Bono to you and me) called to my office looking for a CBS recording deal. Since they had no manager at the time, I sent them a copy of a standard CBS Ireland contract for them to consider. In the weeks that followed, I had several more meetings with the band and got to know them. They joked about the fact that it was originally Larry's band, explaining that when Larry had asked Bono to join, the singer had refused. I also learned that their name had been suggested by Steve Rapid, whom I knew from the Radiators From Space.

They would ask me questions, written on the back of envelopes such as, "How do you make money from songwriting?", and "Who decides what gets played on the radio?" Most bands wouldn't have wanted to admit that they didn't know such things and I've no reason to assume I was the only one they asked questions of. I continued to go to see U2 as often as I could, and I can remember some really good gigs at the Project Arts Centre, The Baggot Inn and the now legendary Saturday afternoon shows at the Dandelion Market off St. Stephen's Green.

Eventually it was agreed that CBS would send Chas de Whalley over to Windmill Studios to record some serious demos. I felt we were getting somewhere at last. When I heard the demos of 'Boy/Girl', 'Stories For Boys' and 'Out Of Control', I was astounded. In fact to this day the opening bars of 'Out Of Control' are as spine-tinglingly exciting as they were then. During the next week I spoke to more CBS people trying to convince them that this was a real buzz and not just hype.

Then I had a shattering phone call from CBS in London. "We're passing on U2," they said. I couldn't believe it. Back in Dublin an urgently arranged meeting with Paul McGuinness took place. We discussed the Irish market and the role it might play in launching U2 onto the international scene. We talked about the various marketing ploys currently being used in the UK, including multi-coloured discs, see-through vinyl, oddly-shaped discs, twelve-inchers, the lot.

I suggested that we should put out a three-track twelve-inch limited edition of one thousand copies, with each record individually numbered. I argued that since CBS UK had paid for the three-track demos and were no longer interested, they could give those tapes to CBS Ireland for us to release, which they did.

When stock arrived from the local pressing factory, I personally set about numbering each individual copy from 1 to 1,000. Three days later, 'Out Of Control' became the biggest selling twelve-inch record ever in Ireland. Radio 2 DJs right across the board got behind it, Hot Press put U2 on the cover, and soon all 1,000 limited-edition pressings were sold and the seven-inch was beginning to sell in high quantities.

Soon after the success of the single, U2 signed to Island Records. For their part, what CBS did do was to give U2 an initial footing on the ladder that eventually led to their international success. But they also turned down the biggest rock band in the world.

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