U2: Three Chords and the Truth

U2 biography

These U2 bio pages cover both individuals and the band as a whole. Click on the links below for details on a particular band member, or read this page for a history of the band as a whole.

Bono biography | Edge biography | Larry biography | Adam biography | The Daltons

In autumn 1976, drummer Larry Mullen pinned an ad on the notice board at Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Dublin, looking for people to join a band. He'd just acquired his first drum kit at the time and wanted someone to practise with. Paul Hewson (Bono), Dave Evans (The Edge), Dik Evans, Ivan McCormick and Adam Clayton joined up. The Larry Mullen Band's first practice sessions took place in Larry's kitchen, where it soon became apparent that despite their name, Bono was really the one in charge. After the name Feedback was chosen for the new band, Ivan left to join his brother Neil in The McCormick Brothers and then Dik left in 1978 to join the Virgin Prunes. In the meantime, their name had changed again to 'The Hype' before the band eventually settled on U2. They chose that name because they considered it somewhat vague and liked the fact that it could be interpreted in several different ways.

After performing in pubs and church halls throughout Dublin and Malahide, the band's first big break was winning 500 in a talent contest on St. Patrick's Day (March 17th) 1978 in Limerick. Bono later recalled that they had beaten off many technically better bands because of what he called 'a spark', which had produced a great atmosphere on stage. One of the judges that week was Jackie Heyden of CBS Records, who was impressed and arranged their first demo session. It was not a great success due to the band's inexperience and lack of studio time - but it was a start.

Their reputation for electrifying live performances meant that U2 soon built up a dedicated fan base throughout Ireland. Bill Graham, a journalist with 'Hot Press' magazine, was an early champion of the band and introduced them to their manager, Paul McGuinness. U2 have always treated Paul as a 5th member and all their contracts split their income into 5 equal shares. A three year contract with CBS Ireland soon followed, and with it the release of their first record in September 1979 - a three song EP entitled 'U2-3' comprising 'Out of Control', 'Boy/Girl', and 'Stories for Boys'. The band toured the UK but failed to make a big impression, despite Bono's confidence that they were better than anyone else in the charts at that time. Famously they played to an audience of just 9 people in the Hope and Anchor pub in Islington, London in December 1979, where they were billed as The U2s. The following night, things improved as the audience broke double figures! A second single (Another Day) was then released in Ireland, before the band signed a worldwide contract with Island Records in March 1980.

Having secured a record deal, the rest of 1980 was spent touring extensively throught the UK, Europe and North America, often as support to bands like the J. Geils Band, Echo and The Bunnymen and Altered Images. Despite this, the band also found time to record their first LP,'Boy', which received widespread critical acclaim on its release in October. A year later, after further dates across the USA, came 'October' a much more mellow and spiritual record that reflected the Christian beliefs of Bono, Edge and Larry, and built on the success of 'Boy'. Adam has said since that this was a stressful time for him in particular as he and Paul weren't happy with this new spiritual direction that the rest of the band were taking. Bono, Edge and Larry were all members of the Shalom Christian fellowship at that time and were concerned that continuing to be in U2 would compromise their faith. Fortunately, they saw sense.

After the moderate success of their first 2 albums, U2 hit the big time with the 'War' LP, which was released in March 1983. Boosted by the success of the 'New Year's Day' single, the record entered the UK charts at Number 1 (knocking Michael Jackson's Thriller off the top spot in the process) and established the band as a mainstream act. Further US and European tours followed, where the songs for the mini Live LP 'Under A Blood Red Sky' were recorded at several locations including Redrocks, Colorado. This particular performance was filmed and released as a concert video and coming at a time when MTV was becoming more and more popular in the US, it received a lot of airplay and gained the band many new fans. This record marked the end of an era, as it was the last record before Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois were engaged to work on future LPs.

The next record to be released, 'The Unforgettable Fire', was much more complex in style than the bolder anthems of the War album. Prior to its release in October 1984, U2 had negotiated a new contract which gave them full control over the rights to their songs, which was pretty much unheard of in the music business at that time. It's still pretty rare. Despite a few teething problems incorporating songs from the new album into the band's live set, the material was well received on the subsequent European and US tours. It was at this time, in April 1985, that 'Rolling Stone' magazine dubbed U2 "The Band of The Eighties". The mini LP 'Wide Awake in America' was released in May 1985 and comprised of 2 new studio tracks (The Three Sunrises and Love Comes Tumbling) and 2 live recordings from the European leg of the Unforgettour (A Sort of Homecoming and Bad). It was originally released only in the US and Japan but was so popular as an import in that it still charted in the UK.

That summer (on 13th July) U2 played the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium in London, where their performance turned out to be one of the highlights of the day. Only Queen's set could be said to have had the same sort of impact. The band had already taken part in the Band Aid single 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' which had been organised by Bob Gelfof as a fundraiser to help the famine in Ethiopia at that time. U2's set was particularly memorable as the song 'Bad' over-ran to about 12 minutes. (!) During the song, Bono spotted a girl in the front row of the crowd who was apparently having trouble breathing due to the crush, and motioned to security to pull her out. As they were attempting to free her, Bono jumped down from the stage to help and ended up slow dancing with her in the area between the stage and the crowd. The audience loved it and photos of Bono embracing the girl were all over the newspapers the following day. However, the rest of the band weren't so happy as they later said they had no idea where Bono had gone...or even if he was coming back! They played on regardless and were very relieved when the singer eventually returned to the stage.

Bono actually considered leaving the band at that point, as he feared that he had ruined the set for the rest of the band - the overrun on Bad meant that Pride (which was their biggest hit to date) had to be dropped from the set due to lack of time. If you watch footage of the performance now, you can see that Bono has a face like thunder as he's walking off the stage. He went into seclusion for several weeks after the concert, genuinely feeling that he had made a fool of himself in fromt of 2 billion people and ruined U2's reputation. Only when a close friend told him that Bad was one of the high points of the day did he come round. Looking back now, that performance is what really catapulted the band from an up-and-coming arena band to stadium fillers and they've never looked back. The following year U2 headlined the Self Aid concert at the RDS stadium in Dublin, which was a benefit for Ireland's unemployed. They also played the 6 concerts on the Conspiracy of Hope tour organised by Amnesty International in the US. At the end of the last show in Giants Stadium, New York, The Police took off their instruments and handed them to U2 - an act which to many people symbolised that they were now taking over as the 'biggest band in the world'.

The Joshua Tree', another Eno/Lanois collaboration which was released in March 1987. This was to be their most successful record to date, becoming the fastest selling record ever in the UK on its release, and reaching number one in 22 countries. Ad midnight on the day of the album's release, the band turned up at Makin' Tracks, a record shop in Belfast at the time. I would have been there myself but for some idiot on Radio 1 who had announced (wrongly) the day before that the release had been put back by a week. Bah! The accompanying tour included over 100 shows, and cemented their reputation as what 'Time' magazine called "Rock's hottest ticket". It was on the European leg of this tour that I first had the privilege of seeing U2 live, on 24th June at the King's Hall in Belfast (the smallest venue on the entire tour). On the 3rd leg in the US, U2 even opened some of their own shows while posing as a country and western band known as The Dalton Brothers. During the tour, director Phil Joanou was chosen to put together a film which would capture the live shows, and also depict the band's perceptions of America. Filmed chiefly in Denver, Colorado and Tempe, Arizona, the resulting movie ('Rattle and Hum') and the LP of the same name were released in October 1988. Taken from this LP, the single 'Desire' gave U2 their first UK mumber one single. Other songs on the record, such as 'When Love Comes to Town', featured blues legend BB King, and he joined U2 on the Love Town tour which concentrated on Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Critical reaction to Rattle and Hum was mixed, to say the least, with some reviewers accusing the band of becoming much too self-indulgent.

At the end of the 1980s, U2 played the last 4 concerts of the Love Town tour at The Point Depot in Dublin, culminating with a show on New Year's Eve which was broadcast live on radio throughout the world. I could have been at that show if my friend Malcolm from university had had my phone number with him when he speculatively turned up at the venue on the day of the concert and asked if there were any tickets left. To his amazement, there were and he was able to buy one - for less than face value because the box office didn't have the right change! He told me later that if he'd had my number handy, he would have bought a ticket for me, too. This was in the days before mobile phones and email, of course. Darnit. During the 3rd of the 4 shows on 30th December, Bono announced on stage that it was "time to go away and dream it all up again". Some feared that this meant U2 were splitting up, but those fears proved to be unfounded as Bono had only meant that the band needed to find a new direction.

They found one with the release of 'Achtung Baby' in November 1991. A much more electronically processed record than their earlier releases, it marked a new beginning in U2's career. The album was recorded in the Hansa Ton studios in Berlin where artists like Iggy Pop, David Bowie and Depeche Mode had earlier recorded. The Berlin wall had just come down in November 1989 and the band felt that the optimism and excitement in Berlin would inspire them as they worked on new material. As it turned out, this was a particularly difficult time for the band and it seemed at one point as if they might split up after all, as recording sessions were stressful and unproductive. Bono has often said that U2 are friends first and a band second, and if being in U2 were ever to threaten their friendship then the band would have to go. Edge was going through his divorce at the time too, which didn't help. The song which is credited with saving the band was 'One', which suddenly came together out of nothing and convinced them that it was worth riding out the storm. The subsequent ZooTV tour was a huge extravaganza which used giant video screens to create a stunning visual spectacle, and at the end of each show of the tour Bono attempted to call VIPs such as Bill Clinton, Pavarotti, or Princess Diana, usually without much success.

On a break from the tour, U2 recorded 'Zoooropa' which was released in July 1993. Less commercially successful than previous releases, it was U2's most experimental work to date. Several of the songs on the album were featured on the Zooropa tour but none went on to become regular fixtures in subsequent tours. It was around this time that Edge became involved with Morleigh Steingerg, who appeared as the belly dancer during Mysterious Ways each time it was performed. It was to be 4 years before their next LP was released, although they continued working on various outside projects, such as the soundtrack for Batman Forever which yielded the single 'Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me'. Larry and Adam worked on the 'Mission Impossible' soundtrack, while Bono and Edge worked on the James Bond film, 'Goldeneye'. U2 also donated songs to good causes such as the AIDS fundraiser 'Red, Hot and Blue' and 'A Very Special Christmas'.

In March 1997 U2 released 'Pop' which Edge described as being "about as far away from U2 as it is possible to be". Yet another massive world tour followed, which utilised the world's largest video screen at 150feet wide and 50 feet tall to show live pictures of the band performing, along with computer generated animation sequences.Other props included a giant rotating lemon shaped mirrorball (from which the band would emerge for the encores) and a hugeolive on a 100 foot high cocktail stick. The band had to rush the completion of the album in order to make the deadline for its release, with the result that early shows on the tour were under-rehearsed and poorly attended. However as the tour progressed, the quality of the shows improved dramatically and most shows ended up being sold out. According to recent reports, this was to be the last tour of such proportions that the band would undertake. Because of the rush to complete the album, the band always felt that many of the songs weren't as good as they could have been. All the singles released from the album included several remixes, which are said to be much closer to what the band really wanted them to be.

A new LP entitled 'All That You Can't Leave Behind' was released on the 30th October 2000 (31st in the USA). At the time, manager Paul McGuinness stated that because of the high price of CDs in the UK and Ireland and because U2's earliest fans came from those countries, there would be a bonus track (The Ground Beneath Her Feet) on the UK release of the album. The new LP reached number one in the British album charts in its first week of release but did not manage the same feat in the USA, where sales were not quite what many had hoped. The album was in many ways a return to the more traditional guitar/bass/drums sound of the band after the more electronic sounding Achtung Baby, Zooropa and Pop albums and it sold well overall. It also spawned the hit singles Beautiful Day, Elevation, Stuck In a Moment You Can't Get Out Of and Walk On.

In support of All That You Can't Leave Behind, the Elevation tour started in Florida in March 2001 and covered North America, Europe and then back to the US and Canada, where the shows seemed to take on a new meaning in the wake of September 11th. Most dates were at indoor venues and unusually, general admission tickets were available for those who wanted to stand rather than sit. The inclusion of a heart shaped enclosure directly in front of the stage was a first for the band and those who were lucky enough to get inside it got a particulary close up view of the show. Unfortunately, Australasia and South America missed out on the tour for economic reasons, as the weakness of the currencies in those regions meant that a tour was not financially viable. On 3rd Feb 2002 the band appeared at the halftime show of Superbowl XXXVI where they performed Beautiful Day, MLK and Where the Streets Have No Name to the backdrop of a touching tribute to the victims of September 11th. The third leg of the tour had kicked off in North America on October 10th, 2001, just a month after the attacks took place. Many other bands were cancelling concert tours at the time for security reasons but U2 decided to go ahead, feeling that they owed it to their American fans not to disappoint them.

A second Best Of CD was released in November 2002, which included The Hands That Built America from the soundtrack to The Gangs of New York, which was nominated for an Oscar in March 2003. Another new album, 'How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb' was released in November 2004 with its first single named 'Vertigo' being released in September. Bono described the album as the band's first rock album and Adam commented that its emphasis on guitar harked back to their earliest days. In conjunction with Apple, a special edition iPod was released to promote the new release. It came pre-loaded with U2's entire back catalog but some fans complained that buying it meant they were effectively being forced to pay again for songs they already owned. The band hit the headlines in July 2004 when Edge's CD demo of the new album was stolen in the south of France. Despite a detailed investigation by French police, it was never found but on the plus side, it was never leaked on the internet either.

The Vertigo tour kicked off in San Diego, California at the end of March 2005, after the band had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Bruce Springsteen just 2 weeks before. It has been widely speculated that the tour was delayed for a month due to the health problems of a family member of one of the band and Bono later said onstage that it might not have happened at all but for some people who did everything they could to save it. A European leg followed during the summer before a return to North America in September. The fourth leg of the tour took the band to South America in February and early March of 2006 and the fifth and final leg saw them visit Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Hawaii in November and December the same year. That part of the tour had been rescheduled after a delay of several months due to the afore-mentioned health concerns over one of the band's children. This was the first time they'd visited the southern hemisphere since the Popmart tour in 1997.

U2's twelfth studio album, No Line On The Horizon was released on 27th February 2009. Much of the recording for this release was done in Fez in Morocco, which was supposed to result in quite an "experimental" sound. In the end this sound was not as evident as fans might have hoped and the album didn't sell as well as its predecessors. Having said that, a lot of fans felt that the album was more of a "grower" and would go on to be seen as a great U2 record. The band ran into some controversy when it was claimed (in Parliament, no less) that the BBC were wasting licence payers' money helping them to promote the new album. They were featured on multiple TV and radio shows and even performed a short set from the roof of Broadcasting House in London, which some observers claimed was the kind of publicity money couldn't buy.

The first leg of the U2360 tour began in the Nou Camp stadium in Barcelona in June 2009 and finished in the Milennium Stadium in Cardiff on 22nd August. The band then had a short break before the next leg in the United States, beginning in Chicago on 12th September. Further legs through Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America and North America followed It was initially thought that the band would release another new album, possibly in early 2010 if not in late 2009 after Larry's drum tech, Sam O'Sullivan, had been quoted as saying that there would be a new release called Songs of Ascent. Surprise, surprise, that didn't happen and the band were then quoted as saying that they would be taking a break from touring to work on a new album, which now looks likely to be released some time in 2013. This is pretty much par for the course where U2 are concerned: Bono told fans in 2001 that U2 had a lot of new material and would have another album out "very soon". In the end it took 4 more years! An official book chronicling the U2360 tour was released in October 2012. It's modestly titled, "U2360: The Official Story of the Greatest Spectacle in Stadium Rock History".

Random U2 lyric:

"The songs are in your eyes, I see them when you smile" - Miracle Drug

My U2 ramblings:

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