Sunday, 20 July 2008

1995 October - Bono at the UK Year of Literature and Writing in Swansea

The eighteen months between our Dublin trip and Swansea had been a quiet time U2-wise. some people had started getting computers and the Internet in their homes but, in the UK at least, not many people were yet surfing the Net. So we didn't really know what was happening in the U2 world.

I was still seeing my friends though, either they visited me or me them. Jane, Dianne and Debbi had become close friends who I had a lot in common with besides U2 so we still had lots to talk about in the U2 quiet times. Through someone I knew in Glasgow I got to know Dawn, who only lived 35 miles from me - it was wonderful to have a relatively local fan and we started to meet up regularly and still do to this day. These special friendships would never have happened if it had not been for U2, I often wonder if the band realise how much they have given us besides the music?

Now to Swansea. We were really surprised when we heard on the U2 grapevine that Bono was going to be interviewed as part of the 1995 Year of Literature and Writing in Swansea. There had been no publicity, which we thought was strange and only when we called The Grand Theatre in Swansea and secured our tickets did we really start to believe it was actually true!

Dianne, Jane and I arrived in Swansea around 4pm on the 30th September and went to our bed and breakfast and were shown our rooms which were nice. We noticed that there was a Mr and Mrs Hewson signed in on the register, weird coincidence!

We went to look for the Grand Theatre which wasn’t far away. Part of us was still not entirely convinced that Bono was going to be there, even since we'd booked there had been no publicity. But we found booklets in the foyer that confirmed he was appearing there the next day, only then we really believed we would be seeing Bono.

We then decided to look for somewhere to eat and found a nice Chinese restaurant, The Slow Boat, that you entered by walking over a little bridge under which was a pool with full of goldfish. We had a delicious meal and a few drinks there before returning to our bed and breakfast and retiring for the night.

The next day the weather was beautiful, sunny and warm so we did a bit of exploring around Swansea. It was a lot smaller than I thought, and, to be honest, there was not a lot happening there really. We went to the Marina area, which was very pretty, and we saw the Dylan Thomas statue and the theatre named after him with excerpts from his writings on its outer walls. We went into the plush harbourside Marriott Hotel for a snack and a drink.

Later, we met up with our friends Debbi, Jackie, Julia and Linda and waited at the theatre for Bono’s arrival. There were quite a lot of other fans waiting, many like us had travelled from other cities and even other countries to be there.

Bono arrived in a black Daimler at 7pm. He got out of the car and immediately started signing things. He looked well but had a scruffy beard that didn’t suit him at all. He wore a brown tweedy cap put on backwards, a v-necked cardigan, brown trousers – he looked like he’d borrowed the cardigan from his father! It wasn’t his coolest outfit to say the least! When he got up to us Jane, Debbi and I got a kiss from him, he smelled of a mixture of aftershave and alcohol, I’d noticed a bottled of wine on the floor of his car as he got out. He seemed a little tense but was very pleasant and patient, especially with a large, male fan that was being quite demanding and getting in everyone’s way. After about five minutes outside Bono went into the theatre.

We also went in and had a few drinks in the theatre bar before going into the auditorium. I was surprised to find that although it was a modern building on the outside, inside it was a typical Victorian theatre which held about 2000 people at the most. We were in the stalls, twelve rows from the front, and had a great view. On the stage were two green settees, a two seater and a three seater, in front of which was a coffee table with bottles and beer and glasses on it. The backdrop consisted of two open books with Irish-style writing on them.The interview was done by Robin Denselow, a music journalist and he gave a lengthy introduction that I thought was never going to end - we wanted Bono!

When Bono eventually came on there were lots of cheers and applause. Cameras started flashing and the theatre staff were not happy with that and were taking cameras off people, Jane got hers confiscated, I managed to keep mine by looking all innocent as staff came my way! Bono was clearly very nervous; he was smoking a cigar but coughed every time he drew on it. In the end he asked for a “proper” cigarette from the audience which he was duly given. All the time he was on stage he was asking for cigarettes, in the end a girl gave him a packet and he jumped off the stage and walked her back to her seat and gave her a big hug and kiss to lots of cheers!

The first half of Bono’s appearance consisted of a proper interview. He talked about lots of things, the Passengers album, his love and respect for Ali, Zoo TV, MacPhisto, how much he missed having the rest of U2 with him that evening (this was long before he started doing all the solo projects he’s involved with now) and much more. He was consistently entertaining, funny and witty. The nerves still showed a bit, he sat on the edge of the settee and was often wringing his hands.

The second half of the interview consisted of questions from fans that Robin had written down on a bit of paper. Very annoyingly, he often either didn’t give Bono a chance to answer fully or cut him short. It must have been annoying for Bono too as in the end he asked the audience just to directly ask questions and this turned out to be the best part of the evening. Bono visibly relaxed, he was in his element and a wonderful rapport soon built up between him and the audience, he thrives in situations like that. The questions were very varied, funny, and serious.

Are you part of the Dublin scene?

"In Dublin I think people hate our guts and that suits me just fine. When a band gets as big as U2 it can be a pain in the arse for people who have to put up with it all the time."

What do you think of Supergrass?

"Supergrass? Keep smoking."

After visiting Graceland, do you think, when you pass away, your house will be open to the public?

"It's funny because we're actually working on a Bono ice cream and I just brought some with me. Erm, absolutely."

The questions kept coming and it amazed me how quickly Bono responded, after all he didn't know what questions the fans were going to ask. He seemed to be really enjoying himself.

If, in the event one of the members of the band being tragically killed, could you see yourself recording in 25 years time with some long-lost tapes?

"Anything that's even kind of good has been released. I hate the idea of someone releasing stuff like that."

Would you play in Omen 5?

"Omen 5? Now you're talking! It's funny, my mother used to call me the Antichrist." Lots of laughter.

Do you like grunge music?

"I find grunge music desperately boring. Offspring, that's heavy duty. I can get into Offspring but I have to be really pissed off."

Is it true that during the Zoo TV tour you woke up in a room one morning surrounded by prostitutes and with a boa constrictor across your chest?

"It was a python, not a boa constrictor. It's funny the things that happen to you on tour. You see people when you travel the world and some of them keep pythons, but that was a sign and that sign said "Go home". So I did."

Who's closer to God, Blur or Oasis?

"Well first of all, I am God. And Liam is my only son. I think they are both good songwriters and everything but I do think that when that guy Liam sings that there is something, there's some sort of ache, as well as the anger, and it's the ache that separates some music from others. It has to be magic. His band is great."

Bono talks a little more about his lyrics which are, he says, the only place in his life where he is completely honest. He is asked about religion

"I don't really go in for it myself. I am a believer. But I am a really bad advert."

It was all very informal and it amazed me how Bono could be so sharp and witty for such a long time, he never seemed uncomfortable nor out of his depth, only in the last ten minutes did he seem to be getting a little weary. All in all he was on stage for one and three quarter hours.

Afterwards we left the theatre and went round to where we had been waiting earlier to see if we could catch Bono leaving, there were other fans there too. There was a journalist asking fans questions, I avoided him but Jackie spoke to him. I later found out he was from the New Musical Express.

We waited quite a while but it turned out that Bono had left from the deserted front entrance of the theatre. It was now after midnight and we wanted something to drink, I looked around and saw the red neon sign of the Marriott Hotel shining in the darkness and suggested to the others that we go there as most other places in Swansea would be closed by now, they agreed and we set off for the hotel.

It wasn’t a long walk and it was very mild night, the streets were deserted and a half moon hung low in the sky. As we got closer to the hotel we saw a car parked outside, as we got closer still we realised it was the Daimler Bono had arrived in earlier, its engine was running. We literally just got to the hotel when the doors opened and Bono came out! He looked at us and we looked at him and mutual expressions of surprise were exchanged, then he gave a big smile and came straight over to us. “We only came for coffee!” Jane said, which was perfectly true, we weren’t following him and we didn’t want him to think we were.

“How was it?” Bono asked looking intently at each of us in turn.We said that it was really good and that he’d done very well. Bono admitted that he had been “terrified” and when Dianne asked if he would do it again he exclaimed, “No, never!”He said that he had agreed to do this a year and a half previously and then, “Pow”, and punching his own hand, “It was here!” He said that there was a good atmosphere in the theatre and that usually in these situations only the media is involved and he thought it was a good idea to do something for the fans.

He was now very relaxed, informal and quite mischievous, and very chatty. Jane asked if she could take “Just one photo”

"Yes," he responded then proceeded to cover half his face with the fanzine that Debbi and Jackie had just given him. Jane said, “That’s not fair!” and Bono laughed and moved the fanzine and put on his most mischievous look, I got an excellent photo of that moment.

everyone else took a few photos before he said that he had to go because he had a plane to catch. He got in the car and as it pulled away the driver tooted the horn and Bono waved goodbye. We stood there in front of the hotel waving too with big grins on our faces and watched the car disappear into the night.

It had been quite a day – seeing Bono in a totally new environment being interviewed in the theatre, meeting him, the second time being totally unexpected, an amazing coincidence, that red sign in the night sky led us to him! Sometimes things are just meant to be. And we never did get that cup of coffee!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was at Grand Theatre that evening, and I also met Bono at the entrance to the Marriot hotel. He drew a picture and signed my new U2 book - it was lovely to meet him!!