U2's JOSHUA TREE: Performed and Surmised

songs 10 & 11 EXIT & MOTHERS OF THE DISAPPEARED - U2'S JOSHUA TREE Performed And Surmised

Thompson and Blythman

photo: Alistair Hamill 

Here’s another of the songs that I have had to wrestle with for tonight. Exit is definitely Bono looking into the darkest parts of the dark of the world around him.

The lyrics were inspired by Norman Mailer’s 1980 novel The Executioner’s Song, which was based on the serial killer Gary Gilmore. Bono is looking into the world’s darkness but linking it closely with preachers and religion. 

Interestingly in the new live concerts the song is prefaced with a piece of a Western TV show from the 50s. It is about a guy called Trump who tells his town that he is going to build a wall to protect them all and how some are convinced by his ideas and others not so sure. It hasn’t been dubbed or edited apparently. The truth is stranger than fiction!

The song is another about building and burning down love that we had in Where The Streets Have No Name. In some ways it would be easy to use it to ask at what point a suicide bomber  crosses the line between genuine religious belief to the psychosis of wanting to murder. 

It is a strange use for the hands of love…   



When I was figuring out who would play what in this evening of performances I was immediately drawn to Dave Thompson and Michael Blythman to cover this one. They had made a great job of Sunday Bloody Sunday at a previous U2 evening. I could hear Michael’s saxophone filling the mood drama and Dave doing a great job with the vocal. Of course they did. Different but powerful in opening up the clash of darkness and light in Bono’s intentions.

Caroline and Peter U2 JT

photo: Gary Burnett

I asked Caroline Orr to lead us into the last song. We had thought of reprising I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For to bring some light to rather bleak ending to the evening.

Caroline rightfully said that this was how U2 wanted the record to end so we should go with it…

BUT… Caroline did add "el pueblo vencerá” at the end. U2 added these words when they played the song in Chile and Argentina in 1998. The words mean “The people will overcome,” which seemed a great way to end the evening. 

Caroline shared how she has sung the song with some the actual mothers of the disappeared in El Salvador. She said that as she sang it in rehearsal, she realised that it could be about Mosul… Belfast… Aleppo… London… Manchester… showing I guess why U2 feel that these songs resonate 30 years after they were written, recorded and released!



A powerful and poignant finale to an amazing evening. Peter Greer brought a tear jerking guitar motif to build an atmosphere of sorrow as Caroline emotionally sang for the mothers. 

“In the wind we hear their laughter

In the rain we see their tears

Hear their heartbeat

We hear their heartbeat”

When she got the crowd to stand and sing "el pueblo vencerá” it was as though we were punching a hole into the night. Hairs on the back of the neck time!

Song #9 One Tree Hill - U2'S JOSHUA TREE Performed And Surmised

U2 jt one tree hill

photo: Alistair Hamill

When news broke that U2 were going to take Joshua Tree on tour thirty years later there was much debate if they would do the album end to end or mix it up. I think we in Fitzroy declared that we would do it start to finish even before the band!

Of course the problem seems to be that the track listing of Joshua Tree put all the big hitting songs out front. Well, this weekend one of the recent concerts right through on YouTube and it would seem to me that to get around the fact that the album seems to splutter out hit song wise that the band have out the most emotional energy into the last three songs!

Those songs begin with One Tree Hill and Bono introduces it with the words, “This one is personal.”

The first night that U2 arrived in New Zealand one of the sound crew Greg Carroll took Bono up One Tree Hill. Greg was soon part of the band’s inner circle, working for U2. He was very close to Bono and his wife Ali but one evening doing Bono a favour, on Bono’s Harley Davidson, a car pulled out in front of him and Carroll was killed instantly.

That’s why this song is personal. It begins as a lament, a grieving catharsis:


“We turn away to face the cold, enduring chill

As the day begs the night for mercy love…”


Interestingly the “enduring chill” is referenced from a book by Flannery O’Connor whose writing was a big influence on Joshua Tree. O’Connor used the phrase to describe the Holy Spirit

One Tree Hill is a seriously beautiful song of hymn-like pastoral tenderness. In perhaps one of Bono’s most successful pieces of poetic lyric until this point in U2’s career, he draws the sense of place of Gregg Carroll’s native New Zealand but also takes us back to the moment of the tragic accident, on a wet night in Dublin, with the mourning wail of:


“And when it's raining

Raining hard

That's when the rain will

Break my heart

Raining, raining in the heart

Raining in your heart…”


Ultimately this is a song of hope, a funeral song that sees death as not the end but another land mark on the eternal spiritual journey “like a river runs to the sea,” closely paraphrasing one of their favourite bands at the time, The Waterboys whose 1985 album’s title track went:


“Once you were tethered

Well now you are free

That was the river

This is the sea!”


The Waterboys were one of U2’s favourite bands at this time. Indeed, my friend Brian Scott had a conversation with Bono about The Waterboys that afternoon at the Kings Hall record of The Old Grey Whistle test in March 1987.

Like at any funeral of a spiritual believer, hope shines through the rain and the pain, Bono turning to the Book of Revelation chapter 6 where the apostle John sees the moon turn red and falling stars in his vision of this world’s end!


“I don't believe in painted roses

Or bleeding hearts

While bullets rape the night of the merciful

I'll see you again

When the stars fall from the sky

And the moon has turned red

Over One Tree Hill”


Just this last week, Bono has used the “I'll see you again when the stars fall from the sky” in his message to Ariana Grande’s One Live Manchester concert. Belief. Hope. In the midst of this world’s pain.



I felt a certain sense of embarrassment over my riches as this one was being performed. It is 9 songs into the evening and when surely we cannot have any more good players or singers in Fitzroy we bring out a band whose back line have all recorded albums and eps and add to that the astonishing harmonies of the sisters Claire Nicholl and Laura Campbell. The sadness and hope of One Tree Hill have really sounded more sweetly bitter, full of sorrow and hope blended in melodies of reality.

Song #8 I Trip Through Your Wire - U2'S JOSHUA TREE Performed And Surmised

Jonny Fitch u2 JT

photo: Gary Burnett

Joshua Tree was almost a double album. Many of the songs that would have been on it became b-sides for the Joshua Tree singles; Walk To The Water, Luminous Times and Spanish Eyes to name three.

The biggest hit that was left off was Sweetest Thing. Bono had written for Ali after he had forgotten her birthday. Oh that all of us men could get out of such a jam with such a melody!

Ali Hewson though is a clever woman. If it was indeed written or her, she argued, the royalties should be hers too. She donated those royalties to her charity, Chernobyl Children International!

It seems that there was a decision between Sweetest Thing and I Trip Through Your Wires, as to which would end up on Joshua Tree. Both it seems are love songs. In my opinion the one that best fits the record is indeed I Trip Through Your Wires though Ali did better in having the royalties from Sweetest Thing.

So, I Trip Through Your Wires is a love song. Is it about Ali? Maybe. It is about a loved one who rescues and holds together the singer. Ali has been doing that since she met Bono as a young teenager in the mid seventies. To me she is the rock of the rock star. If I could write one biography it would be hers but she is so private a person…

When Bono writes about God and Ali together in the same song it is not that he has set her up as a divine idol, though idolise her in a husband's way he does! It is that for Bono, Ali Hewson is the conduit for God’s working in his life.


“Still shaking

Still in pain

You put me back together again

I was cold and you clothed me honey

I was down and you lifted me honey”



Jonny Fitch was the perfect choice to cover this one. Recorded in one take in a big house in Ratharnham. It has a loose buskers feel. Jonny did so well with The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone) at our last U2 event that he converted my daughters to U2. He did another masterful job with this, bringing his own youthful vitality and unique artistic character.

Song #7 In God's Country - U2'S JOSHUA TREE Performed And Surmised


In God’s Country has been the song that I have been most reflecting on in the days since Trump’s election as America’s President last November. Surely it is the song that U2 feel has come back around after 30 years and been one of the main reasons that they are taking Joshua Tree back on tour:-


“Sad eyes, crooked crosses

In God's country.”


This is the song that Bono has been saying is about the geography of America and that includes the spiritual geography.

Bono has always spoken about the American idea. The idea that there is place where the refugee can go and find a home. The possibility of freedom and equality and justice. 

On the current tour he has been quoting the poem on the Statue of Liberty: - 


"Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


This is not a country to build walls around or to close the doors to the wretched or homeless. Bono sings of the liberty that rescues but of how vanity and gold have corrupted the faith and hope:


“She is liberty

And she comes to rescue me

Hope, faith, her vanity

The greatest gift is gold” 


For me the main message of this song, and the entire album for our time and place, is that whatever political transitions we are in as a result of Brexit or Trump or May’s new hung Parliament “we need new dreams tonight”.

I wrote this inspired by Joshua Tree, some phrases Bono is throwing out on this current tour and some lines Brian Zahnd preached in Fitzroy this morning:


We need new dreams tonight

To see new dreams, and visions

Where the wounds of Jesus cross

Heal and bridge all human divisions

We need tanks turned into tractors

We need bomb silos filled with grain

We need shalom across the city

Where the streets have no name

We need judgement but not judgemental

We need grace as the judge and jury

We need schools for every girl on earth

We need refugee mothers without a worry

We need new dreams tonight

We need every child on the planet fed

We need to take the “f” in profit

And put a “ph” in there instead

We need new dream tonight!



Of their three songs this was the very best of all the Radiator Blues Band versions tonight. Hicks and Mitchell's rhythmic groove and Pete Ryan's keyboards gave a foundation (dare I say a desert floor) for John Trinder ringing guitar and Pete Clendinning did indeed punch a hole right through the night. It had all the vitality for dreaming new dreams.


Song #6 Red Hill Mining Town - U2'S JOSHUA TREE Performed And Surmised

U2 JT Andy

photo: Gary Burnett

March 8, 1987 I was coming out of Church and mentioned to a few folk that the new U2 album was going on sale at midnight in Belfast.

A later of us took off in a couple of cars and joined the string crowd outside Makin' Tracks. Before we knew it the band had arrived and we were getting a first listen to the new songs standing beside Edge and Adam. We left with signed copies.

I headed home and started a practice that I have maintained ever since. I listen dot the record, all the way though without a word. Just listened.

I said that because that evening at this juncture I had to get up from my chair, walk across the room and turn the record over.

Welcome to side 2!

The next song has been the most talked about in the lead up to the new 30th Joshua Tree Anniversary Tour because U2 had never played it live before.

It is a song about mining. Margaret Thatcher was having stand offs with the Mining Unions.

In many ways it might find its origins at Slane Castle where in July 1984 Bono joined Bob Dylan on stage. Bono wasn’t really aware of Dylan’s back catalogue. He struggled to sing along with Blowing In the Wind. I cannot even imagine his attempts at Leopard Skin Pillbox!

However, it might be where Bono started to discover folk music. That day that they turned up to sign my brand new Joshua Tree record U2 were recording a session for BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test. As part of that they sang Peggy Seeger’s Springhill Mining Disaster though he might have learned the Luke Kelly version!

It is not a huge leap from Springhill Mining Disaster to Red Hill Mining Town.

U2’s mining song attempted to reach into he soul of the decisions made about mine closures. They were looking beyond the statistics and numbers of employment and monetary costs lost or saved. They were interested in what it did to the morale and identity of those made redundant, coming home to spouses and children without jobs or wages: -

“We’re wounded by fear
Injured by doubt
I can lose myself
But I cannot live without…”

I do not think they achieve their ambition on this the way say Martyn Joseph (playing Fitzroy November 16th 2017 - shameless plug!) does in his song Please Sir but here is…


Apart from Pete, Pete and Jonny from the Radiator Blues Band and Danny playing with Shannon all tonight's performers are Fitzroy folk. We are rather blessed! Andy Patterson is also a guest. He is a go to of mine when I need an extra voice. On Red Hill Mining Town he showed why. He has an amazing voice, the tenderness of a Brian Kennedy with a wee bit more robustness. He took Red Hill Mining Town back to its folk roots and with just an acoustic guitar reinvented it, without losing the familiarity - tender souled protest!  

Song #5 Running To Stand Still - U2'S JOSHUA TREE Performed And Surmised

Shannon and Danny
photo: Alistair Hamill

The title of the next song came from a comment that Bono’s brother made about how is restaurant business was doing. “It’s like I am running to stand still,” he said!

In the end Bono used that phrase to write Bad Part 2, as Adam described it. Bad, from U2’s previous album Unforgettable Fire, was about drug addiction and written about Andy Rowen, a childhood friend of Bono’s who would have Raised By Wolves written about him 30 years later.

I love this one particularly because I am from Ballymena - “I see seven towers/And I only see one way out.” LOL!

It was of course about the seven tower blocks in Ballymun, close to where Bono grew up in Dublin. Sadly, my beloved Ballymena became a bit of a drug centre too. Not so funny.

The lines that tugged like a dog at my heels for these 30 years are:-

“Sweet the sin
But bitter the taste in my mouth.”

We all know that, do we not. That sin that was sweet but then there is the after taste of guilt and regret.

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:6)

Sweet indeed…

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Genesis 3:7)

Bitter indeed…

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3: 8-9)

Bitter indeed…


The angelic, pure and almost classical voice of Shannon Clements brought a beautiful melancholy to this with the persistent rhythms of Danny Moore on acoustic guitar. Wow!

song #4 Bullet the Blue Sky - U2'S JOSHUA TREE Performed And Surmised

U2 JT Trinders Feet

photo: Gary Burnett

From the Africa of Where The Streets Have No Name, U2 now shift continents and we find Bono in Central America.

As well as their trip to Ethiopia, Bono and Ali also did a short tour of Guatemala and El Salvador with a guy called David Batstone and Central American Mission Partners. Batstone was an alumni of the Christian Westmont College in Santa Barbara and is now Professor of Ethics at University of San Fransisco.

While on that trip Bono and Ali were shot at going into a rebel backed area. Batstone told them to just keep walking, that they were only trying to frighten them. Bono said that that had worked!

As Bono watched the American government sponsored mortars coming down on peasant farmers his anger raged and when he came home he asked Edge if he could put the anger of Central America trough the amplifiers.

Though it never became the Biblical epic that Bono had intended there are hints of that direction in his thinking:


“In the locust wind 

Comes a rattle and hum.

Jacob wrestled the angel

And the angel was overcome”


In the end the last lines are clever, poignant and prophetic. U2 have used this song in a various of protest spoken words over the last thirty years: -


“See across the field

See the sky ripped open

See the rain comin' through the gapin' wound

Howlin' the women and children

Who run into the arms

Of America.”



Surely the toughest task, of many, that I gave my musicians tonight. The Radiator Blues Band rose beyond the task and John Trinder did shove all Bono’s anger through that amplifier. Again the Pete Clendinning's vocal was strong and the Rattle and Hum version of the spoken word part of the song reminded us of how U2 have used that so effectively for different purposes and tonight’s rant against TV evangelists was perfectly placed; at the front of a church!

song #3 With Or Without You - U2'S JOSHUA TREE Performed And Surmised

U2 JT Pete RBB

photo: Gary Burnett

With Or Without You was the first big single off Joshua Tree and one of my least favourite U2 songs! That is probably because I could never pin down a spiritual meaning! 

Late last night I was on Facebook with John Trinder (guitarist in Radiator Blues Band) debating what it might be about. 

In the end with this one I am going to leave it to Bono himself. Here is quotation from U2 by U2:

“I was at least two people: the person who is so responsible, protective and loyal and the vagrant and idler in me who just want to run from responsibility. I thought these two tensions were going to destroy me but actually in truth it is me. That tension it turns out is what makes me as an artist. Right in the centre of some contradiction, that’s the place to be. 

There I was. Loyal but in my imagination filled with wanderlust; a heart to know God, a head to know the world, rock star who likes to run amok and a sinner who needs to repent. All of that was going on but I didn’t understand at the time that is actually it!”

So perhaps, a song about the contradictions within us all…



If I didn’t mail the meaning, The Radiator Blues nailed the song. Bold guitar work from John Trinder and a very strong vocal from Pete Clendinning… The band drew out Bono’s contradictions perfectly. They made me recant my thought that this was one of my least favourite songs. 


song #2 I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - U2'S JOSHUA TREE Performed And Surmised

U2 JT Choir

photo: Alistair Hamill


So, we come to the hymn of the evening. 


U2 producer Daniel Lanois suggested that Bono wrote a Gospel song.


When it came out it had evangelical Christians around the world convinced that Bono had lost his faith. All of us are too fast to judge a book by the cover, an press article by the headline or a song by one line out of context. 


With a lazy surface reading of this song many said,  “How can you be a Christian and not have found what you are looking for?” 


I always see it as a song based around Paul’s testimony in his letter to the Philippians. In chapter 3 Paul tells the Philippians that he has found grace - a righteousness part from the law - and that that grace is in Christ. He goes on however to say that he hasn’t found what he is looking for. 


 “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”  (Philippians 3:12)


So at the heart of this song Bono tells us where is belief is rooted: – “You broke the bonds/Loosed the chains/Carried the cross and my shame/You know I believe it.” However, Bono hasn’t found in his own life or int he world he lives in the holiness or shalom that Jesus calls him to.

Another line I love in I Still Haven’t Found… is: - “I believe in the kingdom come when all the colours bleed will bleed into one.” 


Those words took me immediately to South Africa where the colours needed to become one. Somehow Bono sees the blood of Christ’s cross as the power for that political change, much as in Sunday Bloody Sunday he had seen Northern Ireland’s answer - “and claim the victory Jesus won…”


My favourite version of I Still haven’t Fund What I’m Looking For is when black South African trumpet player and anti-apartheid campaigner Hugh Masekela, who had been exiled for years, came on stage with U2 in Johannesburg and blew his trumpet sounds over these words. Spine tingling.


So as we listen… have you found what you are looking for in your own life… in your church… in your world?




With Peter Greer’s awesome Edge guitar and Caroline Orr’s strong vocal, Chris Blake conducts a choir of all ages to add the hymn-like spiritual sounds that this song needs… they took it to Church… even though we were in Church!

song #1 Where The Streets Have No Name - U2's JOSHUA TREE Performed and Surmised

Chris JT

The opening song on Joshua Tree is about culture shock.

In 1985 Bono and his wife Ali visited Ethiopia after Live Aid, spending five weeks in a refugee camp. Like all of us who have had that experience Bono has spoken about being more culture shocked on re-entry. Going to somewhere like Ethiopia is one thing. Returning home having soaked up that different way of life is more disconcerting.

So, actually Streets begins in Dublin, with Bono feeling the spiritual barrenness of the city. In this dessert of the soul, that is probably a result of the culture shock of coming home, he thinks back to that real geographical dessert place. Again a familiar experience for those who travel to Africa is the sense of joy and love in the hearts and smiles of the poor. Bono is drawn back here from the impoverishment of soul that he finds in Dublin.

Finally, Belfast is in there too. Belfast is a place where your name, the school you went to or the name of the street you grew up on will give away whether you are are a Catholic or Protestant. Bono is imagining… hoping… and even praying… for a place and time where that division has disappeared; peace and shalom.

As Bono comes home to Ireland, after his time in Africa, his spiritual senses are sharper to the poverty of soul going on around him. He longs to go back to that place where he found a deeper sense of the spiritual, in the midst of materialist poverty.

He now sees the world around him as one that is “building and burning down love… building and burning down love.”



Chris Fry takes the song and shifts its mood, giving it a Mark Koselek slant. Imagine Red House Painters covering Streets!