Time Tunnel

U2 – Unforgettable in 84-85: Time Tunnel

Not content with pumping Stuart Anthony for information about Bob Dylan in Jerusalem in 1987 (he was THERE!!), we learn that he had some similar adventures in his capacity as a U2 fan

On the cusp of a flurry of U2 activity – their Songs Of Surrender album is imminent and we’ve been deep diving into the U2 catalogue (more of that to come on our pages) – Stuart has his arm twisted again to trawl his memory banks (and photo album).

Sitting down to write about Bono of the Irish rock band U2, I assumed would be problematic. Let’s see how things pan out by the end of this article…

Possibly the most marmite pop star of recent times, Bono has fucked up his own PR more times than many pop stars just think about having a decent PR platform to start with. The biggest disconnect I can detect between himself and the music-consuming public, is his perceived role as charity do-gooder and wealthy elite schmoozer, on behalf of Africans and AIDS sufferers which effectively, erodes his public image ltd as a rock star and edgy creative. People want rocks stars to be rock stars, not UN Spokesmen. Bono, along with Geldof, decided they had more important things to do and have straddled rock and charity with little care about how it affects the way they are seen.
Bono became the internet’s favourite rock star whipping boy, and those who didn’t appreciate his personal sacrifice of any cool he might have had, to shake hands with George Warlord Bush, or Iraqi Angel of Death Tony Blair, to raise money, rarely miss an opportunity to kick back whenever he appears in the media.

One of the most frequent digs is the story that Bono at a concert, said “Every time I clap my hands a child dies in Africa,” and began slowly clapping his hands. Some loud goon in the audience shouted out, “Well stop doing it then!” Oh how we laughed and thought: Yeah, that Bono, supercilious bastard, holier than thou Messiah complex twat, needs taking down a peg.

Except that story is untrue. You can read all about that one on the debunk site Snopes right here:

The other trip up by Paul Hewson (Bono’s real name) that the haters gleefully grasped was the intense criticism of U2’s tax affairs as if every other rock band in the world didn’t need any tax criticism, just this one. This one, precisely because their lead singers bang on about charity and donations to anyone in earshot, and the conclusion instantly reached is they are hypocrites. Bono’s lame attempts to sidestep this by saying they pay a lot of tax and they were ‘being smart in business’ didn’t wash. No one suggested any other band undergo the same scrutiny though, even those who also flirt with charitable causes.

I doubt the use of these stories will decrease because the engine of the joke and the accusation is pleasant to those who want to troll a figure like Bono. He is a self-made easy target, several miles wide. And yes, dear reader, I find any preaching by multi-millionaire Bono on how money should be going to the world’s poor, especially from the pockets of ordinary wage slaves like you and me, difficult to swallow, and about as welcome as a fart in a lift.

Strangely though, all the U2 hate that has become almost a keyboard industry hasn’t stopped the U2/Bono juggernaut from rolling on. I cringed when U2 appeared in Kyiv, Ukraine during the first months of the war. As if Rock was a country that sent its special ambassadors for conflicts and famines, Bono and The Edge, to create an Iron Dome of music to cheer everyone up and make a difference to the war. Nah. Sing along: “Do They Know We’ve Albums Out At All”.” All publicity is good publicity, no matter the intent.

So, Bono is a problematic arse, but there are much more important things for people to focus their ire on in the 21st Century and perhaps giving him attention through trolling, is like petrol to a bonfire.

I am here to write a memoir of my U2 fandom in the ’80s when U2 hadn’t squandered all of their capital as a great and powerful rock band, railing against a shit world like the rest of us, the way only post-punk rock can. It’s a shame I felt I had to write a qualifying opener to begin the story, but here we are in 2023 not 1983. Read on and perhaps suspend your ‘that feckin’ Bono’ angst for a few more paragraphs so you can travel in time with me back to a more naïve age.

Cue the wibbly wobbly lines as we emerge from the time tunnel to find it’s 1982.

I have a distinct memory of seeing John Peel presenting Top Of The Pops and showing a clip of the video to U2’s latest single Gloria. I have not been able to track this down, although John Peel returned to TOTP in early 1982 after a 14-year hiatus since his last stint, and Gloria was released in October 1981, reaching 55 in the UK charts. It was my first memory of seeing the band anywhere.

I forgot about them for a while but in 1983 it began to blow up for the band and they reached my 16-year-old radar this time, fully intact. A kid at my school brought in a copy of War, U2’s third album, which went to number 1 and said there’s this bunch of Irish lads who claim to be Christians, going up the charts. I looked at the cover with the face of an angry kid looming back at me, was instantly curious. He put the record on the common room record player and the military beat of Sunday Bloody, Sunday filled the space. The conflict with the IRA was all over the news in that time and this was a real direct addressing of what that meant. I’d never heard anything like it. He put Jesus in this song about a ‘religious’ conflict. Daring, revolutionary and provocative. I can assure you that was back then. Even to my naïve political mind at the time, U2 had something to say about our times and that attracted me. Then I heard New Year’s Day and the back story that connected it to more current news matters, the Polish Shipyard Trade Union Solidarnosc (Solidarity) which challenged the puppet Soviet regime. U2 was again making a statement about our times and with this post-punk musical sensibility that thrilled in 1983. Poland’s resistance was the first tear in the Iron Curtain since Prague in 1968.

I bought my first U2 record, however, in early 1984 after seeing the band’s live video Under A Blood Red Sky:Live at Red Rocks (Denver, Colorado) on The Tube. I went out and bought a live album the next day, as a full U2 convert.
I started buying the back catalogue when funds allowed and got my fill with albums Boy and October. They touched on all the adolescent angst and self-identity crisis that I felt at the time. Their Irishness was key to that, as my Nan at the time was filling me in on my own family history, and I realised I came from an Irish/Liverpool family on my mother’s paternal side. I was at that age where I would latch onto identity markers like that in a flash.

Late 1984, my friend Ian, who had a job, a rare thing for a youth then, could afford to go to gigs and bought two tickets to see U2 on their Unforgettable Fire Tour at London’s Wembley Indoor Arena. We’d both bought The Unforgettable Fire album which was a brilliant step up for the band, and helped cement them as a must have. Brian Eno’s production and the sheer inventiveness of the album broke the mold and promised an interesting future. I used to cycle down the local river park path on my racing bike with my cheapo Sony Walkman copy, cruising along to A Sort of Homecoming. Stereo sound whilst cycling was new and radical then. Probably dangerous too, but I didn’t care. The effect was too good. I couldn’t afford the ticket on my meagre dole money, but Ian said I could pay him back bit by bit, so I did. In fact, I think I sold some unwanted records to help fund it.

Stuart (or is it Bono?) pre-gig, doing the tourist thing…

November the 14th 1984 was the day and we caught the National Express coach to London Victoria from Southampton and wandered around Kings Road and Soho till the time came to get to Wembley. We both wore U2 T-Shirts and had made a flag with a bamboo cane and some old ripped bed sheets. We rocked up to the venue and joined the queue. Did I mention this was my first proper gig?

The Waterboys were the support act. I hadn’t really tuned into them before the gig, but I was suitably impressed by their set, and I remember seeing Karl Wallinger, later of the brilliant World Party, backing up Mike Scott and the band on keyboards. The crowd was loud and buzzing and U2’s 4th of July came across the PA as the intro piece for the band. We were in the gallery, side on to the stage on the left. We didn’t care. U2 were on and the place went nuts. It was a thrilling gig and we had a ball, singing out till our throats hurt. The gig came to a close with U2 playing 40 based on the Psalm of David from the Old Testament. It was a major tradition for the band for years to end this way. It always seemed to fit as an outro. Everyone sang along and carried singing it long after the band had left the stage.

We stepped out into the cold November air not really dressed for the cold, but so buzzed up that we decided we would try and get round the back and see if we could see the band leaving and maybe get an autograph. We had made no plans about getting back home or staying anywhere. We had open return coach tickets and decided that it was worth the risk of being stuck in London, homeless overnight in order to meet rock stars!

We made our way and found the rear entrance which was way behind a mesh fence. We stood there for about an hour with a few other fans, feeling cold and wondering if we had missed them, but there was some kind of after show thing going on, as we kept seeing people being let in by security. I turned round to watch the next person get let in, and it was Nick Beggs of Kajagoogoo. I felt a bit deflated. They weren’t cool in our book.

After about an hour and a half of hanging around, we spotted the unmistakable Bono hat in the distance and started shouting for him to come and talk to us. Someone opened a car door for him and he was about to get in, but heard our shouts and signalled to his driver to wait. To our amazement, Bono walked towards us, about 100 metres, and stepped right up to the fence and put his hand through a gap and shook hands with me. I told him how much I liked the show and he replied in a very croaky voice and apologised. He sounded like he had been drinking gut rot whiskey. I asked if he would sign my programme and passed it through the fence. He duly did so. My head was a bit light. My first major rock gig and here I was chatting to the singer.

I was in a band at the time, just a teenage wide-eyed effort with no gig history and just bedroom dreams and a few mates. “I’m in a band too,” I said, as if there was some equivalence. He looked me in the eye and said in his hoarse voice “Don’t give up. When we started the Edge knew three chords and that was it. If we can make it, you can.” I said “Wow. I promise I won’t.”

“I’m in a band too…”

I was trying to think of something else to say, and mentioned the name of the kid on the cover of War. “That’s Peter Rowen isn’t it?” showing off my U2 knowledge. “Yeah,” said Bono. “He’s my friend’s little brother.” His friend was Guggi of Irish goth band The Virgin Prunes. “Oh cool,” I said. “Will he show up on any other U2 covers?” “Maybe,” said Bono. In fact, he was used again, 14 years later, appearing on 1998’s The Best Of U2 1980-1990’album wearing a soldier’s helmet. “Ok I gotta go now,” said Bono. “Have to do it all again tomorrow night, right here.

*U2 did two nights at Wembley Indoor Arena. The following night to my eternal annoyance, the live version of A Sort of Homecoming ended up on a U2 12”, Wide Awake In America, mixed by Tony Visconti, so I missed my chance to be on a U2 record as a screaming voice. Years later I found myself on Tony Visconti’s Facebook friends list and sent him a link to the Nov 15th recording and he said, “The silly buggers never used me again. This recording is terrific.” And then said “Wait…I don’t remember this at all. Oh, of course, it was the 80s!!

Back in 1984 Bono walked back to his car, and another car, a nice limo pulled out of the gate. Inside was The Edge and he flashed the two-finger peace sign (definitely not the other one) as he glided past. Bono glided past in another limo next, waved at us and vanished into the London night. Me and my mate Ian were elated and a bit giddy but soon sobered up when we realised the next coach home wasn’t until 9am and we had nowhere to stay. We wandered around Wembley all night, freezing our asses off trying to find a sheltered spot to just snooze or something. But we didn’t care. We had met Bono, seen U2, had an autograph and our bragging rights with our mates back home would last a good while!

The following week I went to a regular record fair in Southampton Town Hall and there was always a good bootleg section. To my delight, a bootleg of the last week’s gig had already made it onto cassette and I snapped it up. I rushed home and relived the gig. I still have that tape but the recording has also shown up on Youtube. You can hear the gig from that night, 14th November 1984, complete with my screams here:

In 1985 I saw U2 again, this time at Milton Keynes Bowl, June 22nd ‘The Longest Day’ with the seemingly impossible bill of U2, R.E.M, The Ramones, Billy Bragg, Spear of Destiny and The Faith Brothers. That also appeared on bootleg and is now available on Youtube: https://youtu.be/Bct1ZMP3ji0

It was a brilliant gig but it rained a lot! I got nowhere near them this time.

Finally in 1987 I visited Dublin on a kind of family ancestry/U2 pilgrimage and found myself outside Windmill Lane Studios where the band recorded, handing in a dodgy demo tape of my band, to a long-suffering receptionist, that probably slid straight down to the bottom of demo mountain. The Waterboys were also there recording Fisherman’s Blues and I think I caught a glimpse of Mike Scott. I headed back to Dublin city centre, down the side of the River Liffey and saw a helicopter land on the opposite side of the river. Four men stepped out, one holding on a large cowboy hat in case it got swept up. Yep it was U2, now helicopter rock stars, heading for the limo again, but they wouldn’t hear my shouts this time. I went into town and found an open mic in one of the pubs, and played U2’s Party Girl to an appreciative Irish crowd. I got a pint of Guinness for my troubles.

by Stuart Anthony 27th January 2023

POSTSCRIPT – Ed’s notes from Mike Ainscoe

Like Stuart, my first experience of U2 was around the same time. Under A Blood Red Sky and Gloria on The Tube were the triggers. Buying the double 7″ single of Pride and The Unforgettable Fire. Being puzzled over Elvis Presley And America. Being knocked out by Bad (even though Bono, in his Surrender book, admits to it being ‘unfinished’) and then slipping down to the box office at Manchester Apollo one lunchtime and walking straight to the counter to buy tickets for the show on 10th November 1984.

That gig was, like the fire, unforgettable. U2 walking on to the ambient strains of 4th Of July; the reference to Martin Hannett “a Manchester man“, producer of the first single and opening track 11 O’Clock Tick Tock that saw Bono on guitar. The UTBRS songs – Sunday Bloody Sunday, Gloria, Electric Co, all coming to explosive life and the highlight of the evening for me – Surrender. And for the new songs, the excitement on the first hearing of the extended outro to Bad

There was a point sometime too when taking a moment to pause and take it all in, that I realised that up in row P of the balcony – everyone standing of course, that the balcony was moving. Actually bouncing!


It went without saying that the following year, the trek to Milton Keynes Bowl in the Summer of 1985 was a no brainer.

I’d been back in October 1982 for the Genesis/Peter Gabriel reunion – Six Of The Best, the WOMAD benefit. It had rained, nay poured, all day so suffering in the rain on ‘The Longest Day’ was not a new experience.

Memories? R.E.M not going down too well – Michael Stipe in raincoat and hat and no eyebrows (as I found later in the music press reviews). Quite enjoying The Faith Brothers who were first on but then the day became a bit of an endurance test. Not being able to recall anything at all about The Ramones – probably on a walkabout for food/drink/shelter. Most didnt bother with the loos, preferring a plastic bottle which they could then lob at R.E.M – unimaginable really!

And then U2 came on and saved the day with songs and the Guinness joke while the intro to Bad was sorted and “a song for the day – Edge do you know any Beatles songs?” Of course they did an improvised Rain, but I would have preferred it dry.

One found online, taken from the banks of the bowl. Not dissimilar to my view and clearly before the rain…


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