For U2’s only European gig of 1986 I did a 22 hour day. I remember Andy Anthony and I getting up for a 6.30am bus to Dublin and getting home at 4am the next morning. U2 were not the only attraction about Self Aid. Influenced by the previous year’s Live Aid, Irish musicians decided to raise the issue of Ireland high unemployment and had a twelve hour telethon gig that included anyone who was anyone in the Irish music scene of the mid-eighties. It was quite a day.
Twenty nine acts made it an extraordinary event with lesser known acts like In Tua Nua, Freddie Whiteand Cactus World News in the early half of the day before legends like Paul Brady, The Pogues, Rory Gallagher, The Boomtown Rats, Christy Moore, Chris De Burgh, Elvis Costello and Van Morrisonled us into headliners U2 before Thin Lizzy reformed as a memorial to Phil Lynott as a surprise encore. It was one special day. Bob Geldof announced on stage that it was the Rats final gig and they played their socks off and Elvis Costello married his girlfriend, Cait, then a Pogue who therefore made him an honorary Irishman.
It was a unique time to see U2 live. It was their first gig of 1986 and just a couple of months before the Amnesty International Tour on which The Policewould hand them the mantle as those concerts sped them toward the release of Joshua Tree, that would send the band into the rock music stratosphere. Still ten months from that release Ireland’s most famous DJ Dave Fanning in his introduced claimed it already, “Do you wanna see a band that you know and I know to be the greatest live rock band in the world.”
We believed it before it was statistically true. In all the legends of music on stage that day U2 were by far the most iconic. Eleven hours of support slots had the crowd in a frenzy. This, and not the protest against unemployment, was what they were all there for.
It was Bono’s hippy phase with his long hair and his brown suede cowboy jacket with tassels. He bounded on stage as one having authority, as the people declared Jesus after The Sermon On The Mount. “We haven’t got much time. Let’s make this quick,”he warned, or invited, the crowd and then straight into Eddie Cochran’s, early rock n roll classic, C’mon Everybody. In the course of the next 22 minutes or so he would quote John Lennon and Elton John as well as cover Bob Dylan’s Maggie’s Farm. The U2songs were the three chosen for Live Aid though Pride got left off that Wembley day when Bad went on a meandering in the crowd detour.
Pride was the song that gave the foundational axis of Martin Luther King’s spirituality that matured U2’s spiritual vision after their charismatic rebirth in the Shalom fellowship. Sunday Bloody Sunday was the song about their island’s Troubles. Eventually Bad about the drug riddled streets of the city this gig was being performed in became the encore, shorn of its Live Aid length.
The intensity of the limited time added to the spectacle. U2 out played everyone else and anyone at the RDS in Dublin that day knew that Fanning was right. This was the best band on the planet and they were our boys! Being broadcast on RTE all day I came home to all the videos, that someone recorded for me, and watched this performance for years to come. Maggie’s Farm was on the Self Aid album released later in the year. Millions of pounds and 1000 new jobs were also raised as a result. I remember walking back through Belfast from the bus stop in the middle of the night, exhausted but musically very satisfied.