What a treat! I suddenly became aware that BBC Four were doing a St Patrick’s Weekend Irish music evening. As I flicked through I could hardly believe my eyes. Stiff Little Fingers and U2 in The McMordie Hall, Queen’s University, Belfast in 1981! I was sure that this tape was lost. I am sure I had asked at some stage and been told so. I remember watching this at the time. I was a big Stiff Little Fingers fan. I had heard of U2 but I wasn’t paying much attention.
The McMordie Hall was a legendary venue in the Queen’s University Belfast’s Students Union. It is a dark dingy cellar like basement hall. You might even call it Belfast’s Cavern! Over the decades band like The Clash, Snow Patrol, Mumford & Sons and Ed Sheeran played their early gigs as they set out on successful careers.
In 1986 the The McMordie Hall controversially changed its name to The Mandela Hall as Queen’s students joined so many across the world in solidarity with Nelson Mandela. On July 28th 2018 the curtain came down on The Mandela Hall. After 50 years it held its final gig because it is collateral damage in a new Students Union development. Quality local acts, David C Clements, Ryan Vail and And So I Watch You From Afar assured a fine send off!
My own highlights include Belfast’s own Energy Orchard when they looked to be the next big thing, more recently Jake Bugg and best of all Radiohead in a secret warm up concert for their OK Computer Tour. The fascinating thing about that Radiohead gig was that they banned the press, so when the BBC were doing a documentary on the evening almost 20 years later they discovered that the only review of the night in the entire world was the one I wrote the next day, for this very blog!!
Watching these 1981 McMordie Hall concerts, almost forty years later, is fascinating. U2 were recorded one night and Stiff Little Fingers the next, the two shows then spliced together, song about.
I found myself wondering how Stiff Little Fingers didn’t become as crucial as The Clash. The power punk pop of Alternative Ulster and Suspect Device are blisteringly brilliant. Belfast’s finest were a division above the upstart gatecrashers from Dublin at this stage of development but no more promotions were achieved. Where did Jake Burns muse go. Did it remain in Belfast when they relocated to London?
U2, of course, didn’t relocate. They stayed in the city of their youth, if not in the same neighbourhoods. Having said that U2 were only setting out on the search of their muse. Yet, I was struck by the fact that the producer of this television show chose two songs, Electric Co and Out Of Control, that the band would be still delivering live, forty years later. Not that these performances would have convinced anyone of the longevity ahead!
However, there were a few fragments in this show that gave glimpses of the future. Bono’s charismatic front man magnetism is already very much in evidence. His energy and the intensity of his engagement with the crowd. He’s a star, in his own mind, long before he actually becomes one! Though at times his voice is ragged, there are subtleties, particularly during 11 O’Clock Tick Tock, that suggest the singer he would become.
Edge on the other hand is fully formed. Oh he would build on the technique and the number of sounds on his guitar palette but here he is swaying side to side, walking back and forwards as if the guitar is an extension of his body. He is a master of sonic subtleties already. It’s natural, it’s cool, and already utterly unique and rock ringingly beautiful. With Adam and Larry pounding out a thumping beat there was surely potential but when this was aired only potential.
Seeing this again was indeed a St. Patrick’s weekend treat. These are the songs of innocence that we can only watch through the lens of experience… and wonder…