Timmy Ryan’s weekly column for the Waterford News & Star
IN my last column I took a little detour off memory lane in an attempt to shed a glimmer of light on an elusive moment in the colourful music history of Waterford. Having long been familiar with the, by now, near mythological appearances in the city of the legendary U2, I was hoping to unearth some concrete information about the gigs. Hundreds claim to have seen Bono and the boys in action back in 1980 at either the Showboat or the old RTC. The myth seems to be greater than the truth sadly and I’m not convinced very many got to see the lads at all.
I asked that if anyone reading was actually at one of those gigs that I’d love to hear from them.
I’m delighted to report that your humble scribe received a few communications and I had a most revealing phone conversation with someone who definitely was on site and present at a U2 visit to Waterford. Many thanks to Aine who got in touch with a few band nuggets, despite not being able to throw any light on the Déise search.
‘I can only wonder how much Bono’s bowler hat would be worth in today’s market. It’s hard to foresee the potential in some things at the time.’
Aine reported that while she lived in Dublin in the 1970s she had regularly seen them when they played lunchtimes in the Dandelion Market on alternate Saturdays. ‘Zebra’ was a reggae band that played the other Saturdays. In those days it cost the princely sum of 50p to hear the band play and there was huge competition as to which band would get the first record deal. Well there’s no mystery there as to who won that contest; I don’t think many of us have ever heard of Zebra.
She also recounts that she saw them in McGonagles in South Anne Street early in 1979 and, I quote, “I did come home with Bono’s bowler hat that night. No idea where it went.” Aine moved to London in mid 1979 and continued to follow them there. She admitted that while they weren’t great musically they had a certain energy and she has very fond memories of that time and the raw musical landscape of those early years. I was delighted to get Aine’s email and thoroughly enjoyed her stories of those early years. I can only wonder how much Bono’s bowler hat would be worth in today’s market. It’s hard to foresee the potential in some things at the time.
A big thanks also to John who emailed and informed me that he wasn’t at any of the band’s appearances in Waterford either, but alluded to a rather interesting story about one of the gigs in the Showboat. Before I get in to that, John also told me, “U2 played a short, unsuccessful residency of Tuesday nights in Carrick-on-Suir in the late 1970s, probably sometime between 1975 and 1978.” Unfortunately the pub has been gone for many years but John recalled that it was at the top of Kickham Street in Carrick and run by two Kiely brothers apparently. Fascinating stuff. Thanks John for contacting me and I can’t help but wonder if anyone in Carrick remembers those nights?
Back to the Waterford story. Another John comes into the picture; John or Johnny Daly. I’ve known Johnny since the 80’s and he’s known to many as the bass player with Simon and to others for his involvement with folk trio The Shamrocks.
I rang Johnny last week and it was great to reconnect as we hadn’t chatted in yonks. In our conversation, he mentioned another band some of you may recall, The Future, featuring John Lennon lookalike Tony Higgins and ace guitarist Mac McCarthy. Johnny fondly remembers them supporting the mighty Irish legends Thin Lizzy and Horslips. Phil Lynott and the Lizzy lads were great craic apparently and very likeable, down to earth guys. Principally though, I wanted to know the truth behind the U2 story involving Johnny. For years there’s been the great tale of Johnny being asked to join U2 back in the day and I wanted to put it to bed once and for all. Was it merely an urban myth or was there truth in it?
Johnny had no hesitation in informing me that the story has indeed sprouted legs over the decades and that he had not been invited to become a fully fledged member of the group, but the real story is still very impressive.
So let’s set the record straight. As things would have it, at the famed Showboat, one night many years ago, Johnny took himself along to meet a friend. For whatever reason U2’s bassist Adam Clayton was incapacitated or at least unable to play that night and the lads were in a spot of bother being down one member. There’s no suggestion that Clayton had had a row with the boys, but that possibility can’t be ruled out. That said, either way, the band happened to mention their predicament and asked Johnny, as he was a bass player, if he’d fill in.
In our chat, Johnny told me that the ‘rock’ sound wasn’t really his thing at the time and he couldn’t be bothered. A glittering future snubbed perhaps? Did he turn down the chance of a lifetime? The perpetual joke amongst some Waterford wags was that Johnny could have ended up with Naomi Campbell (future paramour of one Mr. Adam Clayton). I asked him if he regretted declining the offer and I got a resolute “No”. Johnny was well set up at the time and was gigging left, right and centre and really enjoying it. He’s a bit vague on whether Adam eventually played that night or if the lads carried on sans bass player, because, as he told me, they were deafeningly loud, so much so that he didn’t go in to the bar after opening the front door and hearing the din. Hotfooting it out, he therefore wasn’t able to confirm Mr. Clayton’s presence or absence. He reckons though that at one stage, there were little more than 20 people in the Showboat.
One has to at least fantasise about what might have been. Could we have seen Johnny Daly at Live Aid? Would he now be a millionaire rock star who most certainly woudn’t be picking up the phone to talk to the likes of me? We’ll never know. A bit like the folks who actually were there to see U2 in Waterford, whatever gig they graced, they too may have to remain as rare as hen’s teeth.