Monday, 22 December 2008

More Posts in the New Year

Just to let you know that I'll be updating this site regularly again the the New Year. I've been travelling a lot recently and now with the Festive Season madness haven't had time to write this blog. So come back in early 2009 and I'll be blogging on U2 once more!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

2001 February - U2 at the Astoria in London

For a while there had been rumours that U2 were going to play the Astoria in London as one of their mini gigs in support of the new album. When the gig was announced we tried to get tickets by phoning up and entering competitions to no avail. My friend and fellow fanzine editor Debbi said she would see if she could sort out tickets via Principle Management - seeing they gave fanzine editors tickets during tours maybe they would do the same now?

Nothing materialised and I went off on a short holiday to Dublin with my friend Julie. While I was there, one evening Debbi rang me on my mobile, after making sure I wasn't driving she told me that we had tickets for the Astoria gig! I was, for once, lost for words, it was only two days to the show, I would arrive home in the early hours of the day of the gig, how would I get to London (I live 300 miles away), what about accommodation, how would I get the tickets for the gig? So many questions raced through my mind along with at state close on hysteria! Debbi, bless her, said she would book my train ticket to be picked up at the station, she'd also organise the accommodation. She'd told Principle Management that I was in Dublin and they said to pop in the office.

Next day Julie and I went to Principle Management and spoke to Cecilia there. She said that my ticket would be waiting at the box office and that I would have to have some photo ID in order to pick it up. I think it was only then that I really believed I was going to see U2 play at the Astoria.
Later that day we set off on our journey back to the UK. I got home around 2am on the day of the gig. I had to be on the train to London by 6am so little sleep was had.

At 5am I threw a few things into a backpack, including my passport for ID, got a taxi to the station and caught the train to London Euston. As I sat on the train i could hardly believe what I was doing, but I knew it would be worth it.

I met up with Debbi and jackie and we headed straight to the venue. There were a lot of people millling around outside the Astoria and there were ticket touts everywhere with tickets selling for as much as £1000. There was a buzz of excitement, of something special happening – which of course was true! We picked up our tickets safely and it was then with that ticket in my hand that the excitement really built up for me.

The Astoria was a small venue, the main auditorium was reached by following a maze of corridors. The whole place looked a bit rundown, not helped by the fact it was painted in mainly in black. On either side of the small stage were two garishly coloured Doric pillars. The floor area was small and that was where the “ordinary” people were, the small dress circle above being reserved for celebrities. Among the people we recognised up there were Salman Rushdie and Liam Gallagher.

DJ Jon Carter did a set for about 45 minutes which seemed to last for hours, but when he started playing Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys are Back in Town” we knew U2 must be coming on at any moment and the rising excitement in the small venue was palpable.

At 9.30pm to the strains of The Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset” U2 came on stage and there was immediate mayhem! They blasted into “Until the End of the World” and the whole crowd leapt up and down, and moved around the small space. I was in the middle near the front (looking back not a wise move!) and remember at one point Bono looming above me, think he was crowd surfing which only made the chaos worse! It was the one time I wished Bono would get away back onto the stage. It scary as tall men were leaning over me and pushing me down. It was too much for me and as U2 started playing “Beautiful Day” I moved the short distance to the back of the floor where there was some space to breathe, Debbi had moved there too. As the place was so small we still had a good view of the stage.

The whole feel of this show was so different to any U2 arena or stadium gig I’d been to. It was raw, sweaty, and very high energy. It must have been a little like it had been in the early days for both the band and the fans“Elevation” was next with everyone singing along with the band, it felt like a manic party. “Stuck”, dedicated to a lost friend, followed and was very moving and beautifully performed. The next song was a surprise, it was “Gone”, always a favourite of mine. By now the crowd had calmed down a little but the atmosphere still felt electric, it was good to hear that song again. U2 cranked things up a bit again with “Discotheque” followed by “Staring at the Sun” and “New York”.

So far Bono had not talked to the crowd very much, but at this point he decided to introduce the band to everyone. He said that Larry and Ann had a new baby three days previously and that she was in the audience tonight, he appeared in awe that she was there so soon after giving birth. Bono continued, saying that Adam had the “biggest bass in the band” to much laughter from the audience. He introduced Edge as the “Zen Presbyterian”. He finished off by saying that the band was “re-applying for our job” and the job was “to be the best band in the world”, this provoked a huge roar from the crowd. Then they launched into “I Will Follow” and the crowd went mental, it truly was like the roof was going to be blown off this little venue, it was the best party I’d ever been to!

An acoustic “Desire” followed, then “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” which was dedicated to Salman Rushdie who took a bow up in the dress circle to our left. Next was “Mysterious Ways”, then a lovely version of “One” during which the gig eased into another phase.

The manic excitement calmed, and a sense of intimacy, warmth and closeness replaced it.There was a little snippet of “Unchained Melody” followed by a simply wonderful version of “All I Want is You”. Bono sang the song with a mobile in his hand, I thought maybe Ali was not able to be there and was on the other end of the line, but it turned out she had been there as she was in the car with Bono when they left the venue. He must have been missing someone else as he sang that song.

Next was the highlight of the gig for me and many other fans. As the distinctive opening notes of “Bad” rang out shivers went down my spine. Halfway through the song Bono went to the right-hand side of the stage and down into the crowd and sang the rest of the song there amongst the fans. He was illuminated by a white spotlight, I had a wonderful view and will never, ever forget it. It was so powerful and emotional, one of those moments of a show you never forget, Bono, the rest of the band and the fans were one. It was an awesome performance, showing the power of music and U2 at their best, Bono is the consummate performer and can connect with an audience in a way no other can. After a little of “Sympathy for the Devil” tagged onto the end of “Bad” the band left the stage.

Chants of “40” rung out from the crowd and soon the band were back on stage to perform – “40”. Bono changed the lyrics a little, but I cannot remember how. It was the typical low-key U2 way of saying goodbye. As in the past Bono left the stage first, followed by Adam, then Edge, and after a short drum solo, Larry. And so after one hour and twenty minutes the Astoria gig was over. It was a show of distinct moods, from a raw, energetic, rocking first half to an intimate and emotional second half. I feel really privileged to have been there.

After the show we went round to the back of the venue to wait for the band leaving. It was a bitterly cold night and on top of that it started to rain. There was an umbrella factory beside the Astoria and workers there took pity on us and gave us brollies! Debbi dropped her camera I had to pick it up for her as she because her hands were so cold. By then we were functioning on adrenalin I think.

Eventually the band came out and they all came across to the fans and chatted and signed things, though in my case my pen didn't work because it was so wet! Adam was very concerned about how cold we were bless him.

And that was it, we were flying so high we stayed up all night and next day I got the train and travelled the 300 miles home. All a great madness, I was amazed at my stamina, U2 certainly gives you superhuman strength and determination!

Every ticket tells story - my battered Astoria ticket!

Monday, 27 October 2008

2000 October - All That You Can't Leave Behind

This album was released on 30th October. I wrote down my honest first impressions song by song, so here goes!

Beautiful Day - A good album opener, not typical of the album as a whole. It starts slowly and then rocks. Very U2 and catchy.

Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of - Initially did not capture me musically, though lyrically I found it very moving. Sad yet inspiring, there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel. On subsequent listenings it really grew on me and is a song that I really love now and it has helped me through difficult times.

Elevation - Wasn't sure about this at first and still not a favourite - some of Bono's oddest lyrics, "mole in a hole" erm, yeah..... On first hearing thought it must be the opener for the next tour and it was.

Walk On - Loved this from the first hearing, pure U2. Very emotive, powerful, send shivers up the spine. Again very inspiring, gives strength in times of need, my favourite from the album on first listen and still is to this day.

Kite - Really touched me. Bono has said this is about his children and his housekeeper who died. It's a very personal song, very touching. Later it clearly was also about Bono's father, who unbeknown to us at the time, was suffering from terminal cancer. I related to it so much because at that time my mother was also terminally ill, and I was dealing with that painful reality.

In a Little While - Didn't care for this song on first listen. It seemed to be a "filler" to me and never grew on me.

Wild Honey - A surprise, very un-U2, more Beatlesque. Joyous, upbeat, liked it initially but quickly tired of it, and never listen to it now.

Peace on Earth - Bono said this was about the Omagh bombing. Very sad, all sung on one level, no crescendo. Strangely for U2 it is without hope, after the cheery abandon of Wild Honey the sadness hits you all the more.

When I Look at the World - Struck me as a heartfelt appeal to God, a crisis of faith, a common U2 theme over the years. Bono's voice quite hoarse in this one. Not one of my favourites then or now.

New York - This has been a popular song with many people, but I didn't like it much. New Yorkers say it paints a true picture of the city. I did like Edge's guitar work in this song. it seems to be about a tussle between temptation and responsibility lyrically.

Grace - A song about God's grace and forgiveness. To be honest, to me, this was the weakest song on the album and again lyrically I wasn't impressed, "Grace, it's the name of a girl" erm, yes Bono so it is!

The Ground Beneath Her Feet - A pleasant song, but somehow it did not seem to fit on this album, it felt - to me - kind of shoved on at the end.

All in all I felt this was a good album, but definitely not a great one. U2 needed to have a relatively "safe" album after the mistakes of Pop. I liked it, but at the same time it didn't blow my mind and it didn't challenge me and i was a little disappointed about that.

Friday, 17 October 2008

2000 March - U2 Being Given the Freedom of Dublin

When we first heard about U2 being granted the Freedom of the City of Dublin we thought it would be brilliant if we could go to see them receive the honour. The only problem was getting the tickets! They were free but you could only get them in Dublin. Our friend Declan managed to get some for us, but we were still two short for Julie and Sharon. Then our friend Elizabeth told us about an offer at a restaurant – have a meal there and get tickets, so Julie and Sharon were booked in for a meal there - we were all set!

The ceremony was at Smithfield Civic Plaza, an area just north of the River Liffey. The Plaza had just been renovated; it was a large cobbled rectangle with twelve 26 metre high poles with huge, as yet unlit, gas braziers at the top. There were also wing-like protrusions about 2/3 up these poles to catch the light. At the end of the plaza was a small stage with a video screen suspended from a crane to the left of the stage. The first two thirds of the plaza was a cordoned seated area, the rest a standing area. To the left of the plaza were newly renovated buildings, on the other side old Dublin still survived, though much of it derelict. Such a contrast between old and new there.

Kelly and Ping’s (wonderful name!) the restaurant that had the ticket offer, was amongst the new buildings, in the equally wonderfully named Duck Lane. I went in the restaurant with Julie and Sharon as I wanted to see what it was like. I heard someone calling my name and some U2 people from America I knew (and had tipped off about the ticket offer) were already in there, I had a chat with them before joining Julie and Sharon. The meal and wine was good - I was official taster - and the girls felt their money was well spent.

After the meal we went onto the plaza, we ended up quite near the back and, being small, I couldn’t see over people’s heads to the stage, but I could see the screen ok. Our friends who had queued up while we were in the restaurant were further to the front.

The entertainment started at 6pm. First on was Juliette Turner who I found a bit boring, next was Belle x 1 who were really good. Dara were next, so-so, and finally Ronnie Drew who was, well, Ronnie Drew!

At 8pm the Civic ceremony began. The gas flares were lit and looked very impressive reflected on the poles’ “wings” gently lighting up the area. The moon, which was almost full, hung above O’Neill’s Hotel to the left of the plaza. The councillors, Aung Sang Kuu Kyi’s son (she was also getting the Freedom of the City that night) but was still under house arrest in Burma so he was representing her, and U2 sat on seats behind the Mayor, Mary Freehill. She talked about the freedom of the City and what it meant. She appeared very nervous and was not a good speaker.

She then talked about Aung Sang Suu Kyi and there was a film of her thanking the City of Dublin for the honour. A beautiful Waterford Crystal eagle was then presented to her son.

Then it was U2’s turn. The Mayor talked about them both as individuals and a group. When praising Bono for his tireless work for Jubilee 2000 he looked both pleased and embarrassed at the same time, shuffling about on his seat. The crowd was really behind them and cheered loudly. The band was then presented with their scrolls and Waterford Crystal Joshua Trees that I thought were ugly! Hope the band liked them.

Then each band member gave an individual speech. Edge thanked loads of people including his first wife Aislinn which I thought was rather nice. Larry started by saying something in Irish, then he got part of his speech mixed up which was funny, but he dealt with it well. Adam’s speech was short but sincere. Bono’s was long, also sincere and witty. He said U2 was for everyone not just for Dubliners, which was rather nice for us foreigners to hear! He spoke of tolerance in all aspects of life and for all people. Then at the end he said they were going to play a few songs – the place erupted, we’d all been hoping for that.

They started with a lovely low-key version of All I Want is You. Then they launched into Desire. Bono dedicated the next song, The Sweetest Thing, to his long-dead mother Iris, it was the first time it had been played live. Bono’s voice was not 100%, he found it hard to reach the high notes, but it was still a treat. The final song was One which was dedicated to “John Hume, David Trimble, Gerry Adams and Big Ian”. There was a wonderful atmosphere, almost like a proper concert and the love of the Irish crowd for “their boys” was clear to see and feel. I wanted it to go on and on, but that was the last song and people soon started drifting off into the night.

I felt extremely privileged to have been there, and was grateful to our Irish friends who made it possible. It was an experience not to be missed and one I’ll never forget.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

1999 January - Chilly Dublin and a Larry Miracle!

Jane and I decided to have a three day break in Dublin in mid-January, not the best time to go to that part of the world, but hey, we're Northerners, we're tough!

On our second day, our only full day in the city, we went into the city and walked to The Ferryman for lunch. We were going to meet my friend Rosie at HQ later that day. Then I saw someone who fitted Rosie's description walking past I ran out into the icy pouring rain and shouted "Rosie!" and the woman turned and came back. I'd got to know Rosie, who was from Northern Ireland, through my fanzine and we'd arranged to meet for the first time here in Dublin.

We had a lovely chat in The Ferryman, she was so nice, very softly spoken and gentle with a great sense of humour, we all got along really well immediately. Rosie is still a very good friend of mine to this day.

We braved the weather and ventured out and walked the short distance to Hanover Quay. It was cold and damp and it is at these times that you ponder on your sanity! there was one other fans there a Dutch girl who talked incessantly and was a bit of a pain to be honest.

Luckily we didn't have to wait long for the first arrival, it was Adam, who smiled and waved but went in without coming over to us - we never go to band members, we leave it up to them and so we know that when we get meetings it's because the band members want to meet us not because they have been forced into it.

Next came Edge, he posed for a photo by his car when he saw Rosie with her camera, what a sweetie! In those days they didn't park their cars in the garage like they do now.

Next arrival was Bono, on the phone with the car windows all steamed up. He sat in the car chatting and as he did so Larry arrived. He stopped near us and was happy to sign autographs. Rosie had old records that Larry had asked for in Propaganda. He carefully looked through them all and said he had them all but very politely thanked her for bringing them.

Jane then congratulated him on the recent birth of his daughter and said. "Can I ask you what you've called her?" Larry smiled and replied. "You can ask but I'm not going to tell you!"

At this point Bono got out of his car came across and said jokingly to Larry. "What's this Larry, Christmas?" We thought he was probably alluding to the fact that it is very rare for Larry to stop for fans.

Larry completely ignored him, then looked at me and said. "Are you wanting a photo?" I was stunned into silence for a few seconds, Larry asking me if I wanted a photo?! "Er.... yes please." I said and gingerly walked across to him. He stood like a statue beside me no touching, Jane took the photo, then Rosie also got a picture with him. I'm pretty sure Larry did that to piss Bono off because he's made that quip - we hadn't asked for a photo. He looked stunningly handsome on the photo - I cropped myself off because it's such a terrible photo of me!

I must admit that I was quite glad when Larry left because I wanted time with Bono, but of course couldn't ignore Larry when he was being so sociable! The Dutch girl talked at Bono constantly (she'd said nothing to Larry) mostly about Gavin Friday. We could hardly get a word in for her and she often rudely interrupted too. She did ask Bono a U2-related question, enquiring what they were doing in the studio and he replied. "Knitting, embroidery, a bit of weaving......."

We got some things signed and Bono was very pleasant and obliging. Rosie asked for a photo with him and he said yes, then I asked and he was the opposite of Larry, he put his arm firmly round my shoulder and pulled me in close, he smelled lovely! He looked really well, dressed in a leather jacket cap and awful orange tinted black-framed shades. He was chatty though at times he was having difficulty concentrating because of the constant interruptions by the Dutch girl who stood back the whole time, strange.

After he left we went back to The Ferryman to warm up and reminisce. Rosie left at 4pm to get her train back to Northern Ireland but we stayed on to meet up with our friend Declan later. We hadn't seen him since his wedding so it was great to catch up on things with him. He was keen to hear about our meeting and we had a long chat before we went our separate ways.

Next afternoon Jane and I flew back to the UK. It had only been a short visit so we had been incredibly lucky to have those meetings. And to this day it's the only time I've met Larry and had my photo taken with him at Hanover Quay!

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

1998 September - Dublin, The Sweetest Thing Video Shoot

It was the 20th September 1998 and my friends and I were on the second day of our weeks holiday in Dublin. I remember the date precisely because it was my birthday! We listening to the radio as we were having breakfast when something caught our attention. The DJ said that U2 were making a video with Boyzone somewhere in Dublin NOW! Well, breakfast was forgotten, and we were out of the house and in the car in in record time having no idea where we were going as the location of the video shoot had not been mentioned.

In the city we picked up our friend Declan and just cruised the street looking for any signs of action. We first went down to the Docklands area around U2's studio and office, nothing there. So we just decided to drive all around the city centre hoping to strike lucky. As it was a Sunday the traffic was lighter than usual so that made the driving a little easier than it usually is in Dublin! We drove around manically (not that you'd notice that amongst Dublin traffic that’s the norm!) and the wrong way through a few one way streets for about an hour then suddenly Declan shouted. "There's Shane from Boyzone getting into a van, follow it!" That was the bit of luck we needed, I'm a bit embarrassed to say we followed a van with Boyzone in it round Dublin, but we did, and by doing that we found U2 and the video shoot.

The shoot was in the Fitzwilliam Square area of Dublin. We parked close by on Leeson Street and walked to where the action was, not sure what to expect, or even if we would be able to get close or stay to watch. It turned out we could just hang around to watch, and so began a long day, but the weather was lovely, warm and sunny, and it was such a unique opportunity to be able to watch U2 make a video. The first thing that caught our eye were three banners strung across the road saying "I'm sorry", "I'm really sorry" and "I'm really, really sorry". At the time there was no sign of U2 but we knew we were in the right place. There were lots of young girls dressed in Irish dance costumes, and also an elephant that was very patiently hanging around with it's keeper. There were lots of people milling around that were involved with the video shoot but not that many members of the public.

We saw a carriage coming down the street with cameras and lights attached to it and as it got closer we realised that Bono was in it playing to the camera in front of him. Boyzone appeared out of nowhere and jumped onto the back of the carriage, then shortly after Boyzone got off the three other members of U2 (who had been in a hotel on the street) got on. They also sometimes drove in a car alongside the carriage. The Irish dancers, a chef, a boxer and the elephant also took their turn to do their bit near the carriage. Through all of this we were free to wander about and watch as long as we didn't get into shot.

At one point a TV crew arrived and wanted to interview some fans, Jane, Dianne and I shrunk back to avoid that, but Declan answered some questions - afterwards when we asked what he'd been asked he couldn't remember! And so it went on, hour after hour, on a now very warm day, repeating the scenes, the dancers were getting a bit frazzled and I felt sorry for the poor elephant who was very patient. Bono had it hardest because he was needed for all the scenes. But the other three band members regularly disappeared into a hotel on the street inbetween their takes. It must have been quite tedious for the band going over and over the same stuff, but we found it quite exciting, though it did make me realise that making a video is not very glamourous and takes a lot of work.

Then Bono gave an interview for the TV same crew, I was quite near, but due to the hustle and bustle of people around him I couldn't hear much of the questions being asked or what he answered, though I did manage to get a few close-up photos. Bono took it all in his stride and wasn't phased by the commotion around him, just another part of the job for him. The other band members didn't give interviews, they were very focussed on the job in hand, (especially Edge) and inbetween takes stayed in the hotel.

After the interview it was back to work. We saw Ali come out of the hotel (looking as lovely as ever with minimal make-up) and walk up the road, and when the carriage came down the road the next time she was in it with Bono.

The next time Larry came out of the hotel Declan plucked up courage and stopped him and asked for a photo, surprisingly, the often camera-shy Larry said yes. Declan had photos of himself with all the band members, but not with his favourite Larry, so this picture was very special to him. I was the closest to Declan and Larry so I got the job of taking this long awaited photo! I was so nervous as I knew this was important for Declan and didn’t want to mess up, I took ages, Declan was nervously saying "Come on Sue", then Larry said. "Take the photo Sue" with a smile. I took it and it turned out fine (phew!) and it made Declan a very happy man!

By around 7pm things were starting to wind up, Bono ended up surrounded by fans as he sat in the carriage, he looked really tired, but was patient and signed autographs and chatted. The other band members were milling about too. I didn't ask for anything to be signed I just stood back and watched.

We then realised how tired, hungry and thirsty we were ourselves. We hadn't finished our breakfast that morning, and had nothing else to eat or drink during the day as we didn't want to leave and maybe miss something! But it had been worth it, we had been so lucky to stumble on this video shoot, and lucky that we could just stay and watch it unfolding. It was so special to see it on TV afterwards and think "I was there! It certainly was one of the very best birthday treats I've ever had!

1997 August - Popmart Edinburgh, The End of the Tour for Us

Jane, Dawn and I drove up to Edinburgh for our final Popmart show on September 2nd. The show was at Murrayfield stadium which, thanks to Dawn, we found easily.

Somehow Dawn and I got seperated from Jane ( we found her agian after the gig had finished). We ended up on the barrier behind the front enclosure which we really regretted as the show ent on. We were failt close to the B-stage so it was good from that standpoint but the crush was really bad at times.

The audience were very up for U2 as they always are in Scotland. The show was good but nothing out of this world, I think we had been spoiled by the last Dublin show and, looking back, ideally that would have been the best show with which to finish our Popmart Tour. As I said the crush got really bad, and I had terrible bruising on my tummy and arms in the days following the concert. The things you go through for U2!

All in all Popmart, had been fun as all U2 tours are. Personally I could have done without all the lemon paraphranalia, I know what they were trying to do with that, but I found it pointless really. U2 don't need gimmicks like that, the music speaks for itself. I was pleased to see that for the tours after Popmart U2 dropped such gimmicks.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

1997 August - Popmart Dublin 2, U2 Love and the Death of a Princess

August 31st. I was woken up by knocking on my door, it was Jane, I opened the door and looked at her with bleary eyes (I'm not good in the mornings). She told me that she'd heard on the radio that Princess Diana and her boyfriend Dodi Fayed had been killed in a car crash in Paris. We were all stunned, especially as more news trickled through that they were being chased by the paparazzi at the time. I wasn't a massive fan of Diana, but as Bono said later that day sometimes you are surprised just how much an event can shock you.

The weather was cool and wet. Dianne wanted a lie in, Sharon and Julie were going into the city and Jane and I decided to join the queue. I drove Sharon and Julie into the city and ended up doing a Bono - I went up a one way street the wrong way! I found three lines of traffic approaching and at the front of one of them a Garda car. The Guard was very stern when she approached, but when I opened my mouth and was obviously a tourist she was ok with me. I turned dropped the others off and went back to join Jane in the queue. Jackie, Julia and Linda were with her. It started pouring down, and the bin bags we bought at the Spar that morning came in very useful! Julie, Dianne and Sharon soon joined us and eventually we were let into the stadium. We managed to get a nice place right along the catwalk which we were very pleased with.

U2 came on at 8.45pm and it was evident that the rain had damaged the screen as parts were out of focus, the wrong colour or just not working. At Lansdowne the screen was not protected by the stadium wall and got all the rain hitting it directly hitting it - and boy was there a lot of rain that day! The screen did improve a bit as the show went on and the rain eased off.

It felt like this show was going to be a special one for two very different reasons. There was a sadness that hung in the air about the death of Diana that felt palpable, yet this was also a triumphant homecoming concert for the band.

Right from the start there was a great energy and emotion that bounced back and forth between the band and the crowd. The set was pretty much as usual but half the time the audience was singing so loud it drowned out Bono and he'd just stop singing and stand and watch the crowd with a big grin on his face. At the end of Pride Bono was crying, and there was such a mutual feeling of love between the band and audience, it was so intense.

During Until the End of the World Bono put his guitar down on the stage in offering to Edge then he put his arm around him, held him close and sung for around a minute. Bono and Edge's "duel" was acted out right in front of us, so close we could almost touch them.

A rousing version of Dirty Old Town got everyone singing along. The acoustic Staring at the Sun was lovely, though before they started Bono got annoyed at some idiot who was shining a laser pen into his eyes, "You wouldn't want me to get angry now would you?" he said pointedly before adding something about "people's little toys." The rain was really heavy now but caught in the lights it created a lovely effect. A bit of a technical hiccup at the end saw Bono fade out with, "Joe, Joe, Joe, Joe......."

Tonight's karaoke was Whiskey in the Jar which was great fun - Edge had to read the words off the screen. He is so confident nowadays and that's so nice to see. Please once more was a pivotal point in the show and of course has great meaning to the Irish. I love the way it morphs into Streets and I love this updated version , the screen adds to the overall effect brilliantly too.

Next it was lemon time. We were right beside the catwalk and so the nearest to the lemon we had ever been. It actually stopped right beside us and the combination of being enveloped in dry ice and the sparkling of the reflective mirrors on the lemon really created a weird effect for us. All I could see was smoke and flashing lights and it was quite disorientating. It clunk to a loud stop and the band came out but I couldn't see anything of them because of the smoke which was being blown right at us by the strong wind. Didn't see them either during Discotheque and Jane and I had a fit of the giggles in amongst the smoke.

Hold Me was accompanied by the usual theatrical which I found absolutely fascinating, especially when Bono briefly turns into MacPhisto as he stares into the camera. His whole face just changes and for a short while Bono is gone and the Old Devil is back.

Bono finished Mysterious Ways on the B-stage, something he normally doesn't do. He stopped right in front of us and started to sing MLK and Diana's picture appeared on the screen. There was a respectful clapping and then almost complete silence as Bono sung, "Sleep, sleep tonight and your dreams will be realised.....". At the end Bono was crying, so was I and many, many other people.

An emotional One and lovely Unchained Melody finished the concert. As the lights came up Candle in the Wind was played for Diana (later it was re-worded and re-released by Elton John in memory of Diana). It was hard to say anything, I felt drained emotionally. It had been an incredibly happy and painfully sad show with every emotion inbetween. People have gone on about the technology and all the money it takes to put on this show, but when it comes down to it the main components of a brilliant U2 show are, the music, emotion and communication. That's what it's all about and I know of no other band that can that can combine these like U2. This night was one I'll never forget.

After the show we met up with our friends and waited for the band to leave. It was cold and windy but mercifully the rain had stopped. There were around 40 people waiting. Scott, Edge's bodyguard came out and said he would tell the band people were waiting and it was up to the band whether they stopped or not. We were told up to line up and stay like that if a band member came across. We were not to approach them, they would approach us, "Is that clear?" Scott said. "Yes" said 40 voices already neatly lined up. It was funny really, almost like being at school, but we knew the score, if you are calm and behave there's a chance to have a meeting.

After quite a while Bono surprised us by suddenly coming around the corner. there was a ripple of excitement amongst the fans, but everyone remained in line and were well behaved (gold star teacher?). Bono didn't sign much, rather he talked and shook hands with people. He got to me and took my freezing hand into his warm, soft hand and looked up at me. To my surprise a flicker of recognition crossed his face and he smiled and said, "Hi, how are you?" I said I was ok and he then leaned over, still clutching my hand, and kissed me. I'd been hoping to say how much I'd enjoyed the show, but I was now totally lost for words! He moved on, Debbi said, "Can I have one of those?" and she got a kiss too. I watched him work his way along the line-up, so patient and attentive. I realised he was wearing an anorak, what's with this Oasis vibe?

Next Edge came along next and he spent even more time with the fans, signing and chatting. I think we are very lucky to be fans of a band who are so accessible to their fans, it means a lot to us. And the smiling faces Bono and Edge left behind on that chilly, windy night bore testament to that!

Sunday, 14 September 2008

1997 August - Popmart Dublin, A Sort of Homecoming and Aching Feet!

August 29th saw Dianne, Jane, Julie, Sharon and I on a plane headed from Leeds to Dublin. It was great to be on my way back to my favourite city. Sharon and Julie hadn't been there before so we gave them a quick tour of the U2 places - Dockers, Principle Management, Hanover Quay - before heading to our accommodation in Dun Laoghaire. Unfortunately we hadn't been able to stay at Ken and Elizabeth's because the house was already booked, but we stayed at a really nice B & B just around the corner.

We drove into town and to Principle Management where I had to pick up the tickets that I had been allocated as a fanzine editor. Julie and Sharon went in with me. We went up the marble stairs into the open plan office. The place was in chaos, people darting about everywhere, visitors arriving, phones ringing. I gave my name at the reception desk and said we were here to see Cecilia. We were asked to sit on large comfy black leather settees nearby and wait for her. I noticed that there were large wooden beams across the ceiling and like last time I'd been here the fax was in over-drive!

Soon Cecilia arrived , she was very nice and at first said she had no tickets left, but then offered me two VIP seated tickets that were not together. She apologised profusely that they were separate, but I didn't mind. I had already bought a ticket just in case these didn't materialise so they were a bonus. As I wanted to be near the front with my friends I ended up selling these tickets for cost price to two Aussie fans who were so upset they didn't have tickets and couldn't afford the prices the tout were asking. They were very deserving of the tickets and very grateful, the girl was in tears!

That evening we went for a walk on Killiney beach which was as peaceful and beautiful as ever before going into the Court Hotel for a meal for the Library Grill there. Our friends Declan and Mary joined us and we had a lovely night of good food, good company and delicious Irish coffees!

We had decided that we would try to get into the front enclosure for this first Popmart Dublin gig so that meant getting in the queue early - we were at Lansdowne Road by 9am, we really must be mad. Sharon and Julie had to wait by another entrance so I was queuing with Dianne and Jane. We would take turns to nip off to nearby hotels to use their toilets or get some food and drink. After a few hours we were herded into "pens" and still had another two and a half hours to wait before we were let in to the stadium at 5pm.

Our wait was worthwhile as we got a great position right beside the B-stage. I looked at the clock, it was 6pm which meant there was another three hours before U2 would be on stage. It's at moments like that when you are in a good position that you can't leave because you'll never get back in, you can't sit down, or go off for food or the toilet, that you wonder if you'll ever last to see U2 on stage!

The support was Ash who I didn't enjoy (though they I did like them a lot more over the years since this gig) The stadium erupted and there was a brilliant atmosphere. The show was good, no great changes, I think they decided to play safe for their first night in their hometown. The karaoke was the Irish Eurovision Song Contest winner from the 70's All Kinds of Everything which Edge dedicated to his favourite publican Paddy the landlord of Docker's.

Bono sang a lovely version of Molly Malone accompanied by 40,000 other people! He remarked that the local residents wanted fans to keep the noise down and that he wouldn't want the crowd in his back garden!

Hold Me..... was very theatrical with Bono laughing demonically at the beginning. There was a new ending with him on the B-stage pretending to impale himself on the mike stand. He did this right in front of us so I got great photos. Staring at the Sun was dedicated to, "George Harrison and everyone at the Sunshine Home for the bewildered." Bono patted Edge playfully on the bum at the end of it. One was dedicated to the journalist Bill Graham and they finished with MLK.

All in all it was a great concert and it was great to be in such a good position to see it all. I was amazed by the amount of sweat that poured off Bono, he must lose pounds during every concert.

After the show we went round the back and met up with our friends and waited. We didn't think we would get the chance to meet anyone after the chaos there had been at the RDS four years earlier. But this night there weren't that many people waiting so we hung on. My feet were killing me and my back was aching, this concert business is hard on the old body! We passed the time doing yoga exercises that Dianne taught us to ease our aching backs.

Bono came over to the fans briefly but he was quickly surrounded and didn't stay out long. Things were a bit calmer when Edge came out and he came along the line of fans chatting and signing autographs. Larry and Adam didn't stop.

After Edge left we headed home. I felt so tired and my feet were burning I couldn't wait to lie flat and take the weight off them, I don't think I have ever stood so long before or since. We got burgers at the Abra in Dun Laoghaire and I ate mine lying on my bed giving my poor feet welcome relief!

Monday, 8 September 2008

1997 August - Popmart, Leeds Magic and Mud

August 28th saw me in Leeds once more, I'd stayed overnight at Jane's, Dianne was already there. On our way to the venue we picked up Julie at a nearby hotel. I had known Julie since 1990, she got my fanzine and every few weeks would give me a call. She had asked if she could join us for this show, and so, this was the first time we had actually met. She is a quiet person, but very kind and caring and we are still good friends.

As in Zooropa in 1993 we parked the car at Jane's boss's house and did the trek down country lanes, stiles, woods, golf course, up and down hills. We sat at the cafe by the lake as we had four years earlier and had a drink. Jackie came along and said she was going for her photopass at 4pm. I thought that was too early, but said I'd meet her at the box office at that time. This time fanzine editors got one photopass which I was using here, and 2 tickets which I was going to pick up in Dublin. No hospitality passes this time.

At 4pm I took the long hike up and down hills to the box office and met up with Jackie. No one there had heard of any photopasses. So we went to the box office at gate 3, no passes but they expected some, so we waited and waited. Press passes arrived but nothing for us, a member of U2 staff said our passes should arrive soon. At 6.20 we were told to go to Gate 17 by 6.35 for the passes. This gate was at the other side of this huge venue, memories of the trauma of getting our passes four years earlier came back to me.

We headed off there as fast as we could, they knew nothing of passes there and sent us to Gate 14. We were getting well stressed by now, no one seemed to know what they were doing, including us! At Gate 14 again no one knew anything about passes and said we should go to Gate 3! There was no way we were trekking all the way to the other side of Roundhay once more, we were now getting angry as well as stressed. By now quite a few professional photographers had gathered at Gate 14 so we decided to stick with them. One of the photographer's mobiles went off and he passed on the message that we all had to go to the nearby Gate 17 for the photopasses. There were two women from RMP there, I recognised one as Sandra. At long last, and much to our relief we got our passes, why oh why is it always so stressful?

Shortly after getting the passes the heavens opened and there was a ginormous thunderstorm. Jackie and I tried to shelter under a spindly tree. Jackie who had no mac got soaked. We saw the other photographers had sheltered under a nearby trailer so we joined them. It was really funny seeing all these men bent double under the trailer. It wasn't too bad for me, I only had to bend a little, sometimes being small has its benefits.

When the rain stopped Jackie went to buy a tee-shirt to change into as she was soaked. I stood under the trailer in front of her holding up my kagoul to protect her dignity!

Later we were taken into a VIP entrance and into the backstage area. Again it struck me how unglamourous it was - especially today in its sodden state! We could stay for the first four songs and were allowed to wander freely along the front pit and the walkway half way up the b-stage catwalk. I saw Julia and Linda near the front and gave them a wave.

The show started at 8.45 and before I knew it the band were past me as they walked along the catwalk. I moved to the centre point in the front pit and snapped away. The position was not as good as last time, we were at floor level so the band were high above us and the monitors often got in the way of photos.

Before I knew if the opener Mofo was over and the band were into I Will Follow and then Even Better Than the Real Thing with Bono in his muscle shirt. He seemed to notice me at this point, he looked right at me and went into a pose. Then he got that wicked look on his face and came forward still looking at me and posed once more just two feet away from me.

He talked about George Harrison (who apparently had said something not too good about U2 recently). "Good people of Yorkshire, you're not supposed to be here, George said so!" He said and then gave the finger - I got a good photo of that moment!

All too soon our time was up and we and we had to leave. this time we weren't able to slip into the crowd at the front like in Zooropa. We had to go out of the back entrance and enter through a gate with our tickets. I had some trouble gettng in with my camera, but eventually managed and we found at good spot about two thirds up the hill on Edge's side.

This show was absolutely stunning. It had that special "magic", it was full of fun, Bono did lots of ad libs and talked a lot. He noticed someone in the crowd with flowers and said he always saw them and said that they must be "From the Internet - I can't even work the hoover - don't laugh!" He also talked about a club in Leeds called Tiffany's with it's plastic palm trees where U2 had played in the early days. Jane remembered that club and the palm trees. Bono also said, "Did it really rain?" Oh yes, boy did it rain, but you weren't in it!

Last Night on Earth was great, Bono changed the lyrics from "she" to "we" rather appropriate I thought. There was an extended ending to Streets like in San Diego which was fabulous! Please was amazing with added wails that were so pleading it brought a lump to my throat. A little bit of Whole Lotta Love was tacked onto the end of Discotheque.

By now it was cold and when Bono kissed the camera the the end of Hold Me.... it steamed up! During Mysterious Ways Bono was very touchy feely with Edge, and he added a few lines of Something and My Sweet Lord (a nod to George Harrison) on the end. The karaoke was the very appropriate Singin' in the Rain - what else could it be this night? After a beautiful One the final song was a complete and very nicely done version of the Beatles' Rain.

By the end of the show I had a big, proud grin on my face. U2 had touched every corner of this massive venue. The show was full of spirit, passion and fun, one of those magic U2 shows that just take your breath away. When U2 are at their best it is one of those experiences you never forget and this was one of those nights.

After the show we happily plodded through the deep mud, scrambled up the slippy hills and slid down the other side of them, and got very muddy and wet on the trek back to the car, but it didn't dampen my spirits in the slightest, I had that grin on my face all the way home.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

1997 August - Popmart Wembley Two

I woke up feeling rotten, that terrible pain of a migraine along with regular vomiting. I had felt unwell on the way back to the hotel from the concert the previous night, I now knew why. All I wanted was quietness, darkness and my bed. I told the others I wouldn't been going to the concert as I wasn't well enough (Jane later said that it was only then that she appreciated how bad a migraine must be if I would miss a U2 concert because of one!). the girls said they would sit in the same area and keep a seat for me if I decided to come later.

I was relieved when everyone was gone and it was peaceful and dark in the room. Because it was so warm I had the window open and could hear the music from the nearby stadium. I gradually started to feel better and at 7.30pm decided I was well enough to go to the concert and set off on the relatively short walk to the stadium. The others were where they said they would be and they were pleased to see me. Although it was hot and muggy the walk and fresh air had made me feel better too. I was so pleased I didn't have to miss the concert.

U2 came on not long after I arrived. The gig was good, and again from this vantage point the effect of the lighting was really brilliant. At the end of Until the End of the World Edge played a bum note - he didn't get annoyed, he just smiled broadly. Miami menacing, the karaoke was Daydream Believer before which Edge said, "This is not rock 'n' roll, this is suicide." The final song this time was Wake Up Dead Man. A good show, but quite a predictable one, nothing out of the ordinary.

Again we went round the back after the show and met all of the band except Adam once more. Edge was very sweet, Dianne said that she thought the Bullet solo was wonderful except that it was too short. Edge Smiled broadly at her and said, "Thanks." Larry was also very pleasant and patient signing lots of autographs for people. Bono was the last out, doing the, "I'm not worthy" routine which got everyone laughing. He mostly shook hands with people. He looked well, better than he had in the US, he'd put weight on and looked more like himself once more.

We wandered slowly back to our hotel, the night air was warm and we were still high on the adrenalin from the show. Our London Popmart was over now, next stop Leeds!

Sunday, 31 August 2008

1997 August - Popmart Wembley One

Our First Popmart show in the UK was on 22nd August at Wembley Stadium. I met up with Jane and Dianne at our hotel close to the venue. We headed off and walked to the stadium as we went up Wembley Way we could see the top of the Popmart arch peeping above the stadium. We went inside at 5pm and at first got near to the B stage but not at the front, I couldn't see a thing so we moved back at bit and finally ended up in the first row of unreserved seats at the back - it proved to be a good position.

The support was Audioweb and The Longpigs, I quite enjoyed the latter band. U2 came on quite early, 8.30pm, Pop Muzik blasted out of the huge bank of speakers and POP came up in red on the screens. the band came on from the left hand side and walked through the aisle between the enclosure and the main area of the pitch. they were dressed the same except for Bono wearing a blue robe rather than a white one. The first few songs were Mofo, I Will Follow, Gone the difference from the early US shows was astounding, the band was very together. The new songs were well received by the audience.

A lovely extra in this show was All I Want Is You, Staring at the Sun was acoustic done by Bono and Edge on the B-stage, very nice. Please was just fantastic, it's a highlight of this tour for me. Hold Me.... is done very differently form in the US, very theatrical and dramatic. Towards the end Bono took off his glasses, and without make-up, turned into MacPhisto again - his face just totally changed. He looked into the camera, his gorgeous blue eyes looking straight at us on the screens, and then he kissed the camera and put the shades onto it, then a picture of MacPhisto appeared on the screens. Wonderful stuff, and brilliant performing.

The images on the screens are great and really complement the music and never over-powering it or the band. From the back of the stadium where we were we saw the full effect of these images and colours.

After the end of the show we went around to the back of the stadium to see if we could catch the band leaving. We met up with Julie, Linda, Karen, Serena, Jackie and Sharon there. I also met up with online friends Michelle, Rory and Clare there too, that's one of the lovely things about U2 tours you get to bump into old friends!

Adam was the first to leave but he didn't stop, just waved from the car. Next was Edge who did the meet and greet, very politely shaking hands and signing autographs for fans as he worked his way along the row of people. He's such a sweetheart!

Third one to leave was Bono, as he came across an Australian girl shot over the barrier like lightening and grabbed him. He didn't look too pleased and she was gently removed by security.

It just shows how fast things like that can happen, luckily this girl was harmless.

Bono shook people's hands, chatted and signed autographs. He wasn't as organised as Edge, and was going back and forth along the line in a rather chaotic manner. I didn't get too close to him because there were people in front of me but I got some photos. It was still just nice to see him.

Last but certainly not least, was Larry who was an absolute star. He signed autographs for anyone who wanted them. He was happy for people to take photos and was so pleasant! I got my Staring at the Sun CD cover signed by him. I thanked him and he looked me right in the eye and said, "You're welcome" with a dazzling smile, what a charmer! When Larry does decide to meet the fans he really can be so nice, I wish he would do that more often.

So that was the end of a long but very enjoyable day in London. We'd seen a great show and met three of the band, not bad going for the first show of the UK leg of the Popmart Tour!

Saturday, 30 August 2008

1997 May - PopMart Phoenix, The Sun Devil

8th May saw us heading south to Phoenix where we would be seeing our next PopMart show the following day. We heard it was 100 degrees there, things like that remind you that this is the desert with pockets of humanity scattered in it - humanity that wouldn't be there if it was not for air-conditioning!

We passed through gorgeous Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon on the way south. We stopped off at Montezuma's Castle, which is a twenty room, five storey structure built into a natural recess in a white limestone cliff about 70 feet above the ground. There are steps and ladders connecting the various rooms. This was the home of Sinagua Native American tribe who farmed the this land between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. Some time after this time they moved on from the area. It was boiling hot there, the sun seemed to reflect off the white cliffs and I found it unbearable. I'd been there a few years earlier and I remembered it was mind-numbingly hot then as well.

I was glad when we got back into the comfort of our air-conditioned car and drove the last leg to Phoenix. As we entered the city I loved seeing the banks of the highway full of cacti, very Arizonan! We found our hotel, the Fiesta in Tempe, easily. As we walked in we saw Sam O'Sullivan from U2's crew come out - it turned out that U2's crew were staying in the hotel, small world! Of course U2 themselves weren't there, probably a bit too down-market for them, though I thought it was a lovely hotel.

We ate at the hotel and had a few drinks in the bar. Then we decided to go into the pool and jacuzzi. I remember lying on my sun lounger at 11pm amazed at how warm it still was at that time of night. The stars shone above and the lights around the pool reflected and rippled in the water and onto the trees, it was beautiful.

Next day we set off for the Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe - it was again 100 degrees. We sat in the meagre shade of a straggly tree outside the stadium. The water we had with us was soon warm, then out of nowhere a man appeared selling ice cold water - we could have kissed him! It got too hot to keep sitting there, so we decided to look for somewhere to eat nearby. We bumped into waterman again and he told us where to go. We had pizza and cooled off a little which was a relief for me, I really find it very hard to cope with such heat.

We headed back to the stadium and went in to our seats which were really good, ninth row in the field not far from the B stage. The show was one of peaks and troughs. Edge did a brilliant guitar solo during Until the End of the World. Do You Feel Loved was the best it had been so far on the tour, Adam was watching Bono perform it on the B stage with a big grin on his face.

Bono referred to the Mecham speech he did in this stadium ten years previously and said, "I like it here. Let's go to church but leave out the religion."

With or Without You was performed beautifully and Bono added a little of Love Will Tear Us Apart on the end. By the encore Bono seemed to be getting tired and was feeling the heat, he was literally pouring water over himself. For us in the audience it wasn't too hot now as darkness had fallen and it was just pleasantly warm. Bono was also often holding his ears as if in pain. Something we had also noticed on this tour was that he was quite thin, which is not normal for Bono, he certainly wasn't 100% at this show. So as I wrote earlier, it was a gig that had it's high and low points, but we still enjoyed it very much.

The end of this show saw the end of our US leg of PopMart. It had been a ball! We'd seen four U2 shows and travelled over 2000 miles through amazing landscapes. It had been a fantastic experience and I am so lucky to have been able to do something like this.

Monday, 18 August 2008

1997 May - Canyons and Craters

This post doesn't really have anything to do with U2, except for the fact that if it hadn't been for U2 I wouldn't have even been in the US then and also would not have known the great people I was with. So yes, this post would never have been possible had it not been for U2!

We had a few days for travelling after the Salt Lake City gig, so we decided to explore more of Utah before heading into Arizona. We decided to base ourselves in Parowan again as it was fairly close to the areas we wanted to visit - plus we had all got quite a soft spot for little Parowan!

Four hours later we rolled into Parowan and checked in at the same motel. After settling in for a short while we headed for nearby Cedar City to look for somewhere to eat. We found a place called Sullivan's, which appropriately had an Irish theme to it. The food was good and boy was there lots of it! As we drove back to Parowan the sun was setting making the mountains around the town look a deep red, a beautiful sight.

Next morning we breakfasted on coffee and biscuits in our rooms. We checked out a route to Bryce Canyon and then set off. The weather was pleasantly warm and we headed up into the Wasatch Mountains towards a place called Brian Head and snow was beginning to appear. As we drove there was more and more snow, the road had been cleared and huge piles of snow flanked each side of the road. Then, suddenly we were met by a wall of snow at least ten feet high! We couldn't believe it! It was also very cold and all we had on was summer clothing. Later we found out that Brian Head was Utah's highest ski resort.

We turned back and noticed another road going off to the left that was not marked on our map. My internal direction radar "felt" it was the right way to go and as my radar is usually accurate everyone was happy to go with it. This road soon started going downhill so we knew we would not meet another snow block for a start! The road steadily continued downhill in the direction wanted, and before long we were in heat of the canyonlands. Boy does Utah have varied landscapes, in a few hours we'd gone from temperate Parowan, to alpine, snowbound Brian Head to the heat of Bryce Canyon National Park.

Bryce was absolutely gorgeous! The canyons were striated in many shades of red (caused by the oxidation of the iron in the rock) with lots of solo pinnacles that were known as hoodoos. The formations almost had the appearance of lace at times, they could be incredibly delicate. There were trees growing within some of the canyons that were a contrast to the rocks. To me Bryce Canyon is much more beautiful than the Grand Canyon (as amazing as that is!). Bryce is smaller scale, more delicate, and the colours are astounding, plus it is not as touristy - where we stopped there were no other people. I loved it.

We headed back "home" via Cedar Canyon which itself was very pretty. We passed Navajo Lake which was still partially iced over. I marvelled at the beauty of this southern part of Utah.

Once more we stopped off in Cedar City to eat. This time we found a really nice Italian restaurant with delicious food and amazing curly breadsticks! We drove back to Parowan and sat and relaxed on the balcony looking out over the peaceful, rural scene in front of us. We chatted and drank some more of the Southern Comfort we had with us, the end of a great day.


Next morning we had tea and the remnants of the curly breadsticks for breakfast and took our leave of Parowan. We were quite sad to leave the little town behind! We headed south on Interstate 15 for what was going to be a long day's driving. We left the main road and went east towards Zion Canyon. It was very hot at Zion and dozens of lizards darted through the scrub and around the numerous cacti. This canyon was lovely too, again a lot of the rocks were striated in shades of a rusty red. The part of Zion we saw did not have hoodoos and the delicate almost laciness of Bryce, but it was beautiful too.

We stopped briefly at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary near Kanab which was a place that offers a home to any animal that needs it. We continued on the long lap of the journey that took us out of Utah and into Arizona, the first stop being the Grand Canyon. Dianne and I had been there before but the others had not. We went to the Bright Angel viewpoint and even at 5.30pm it was unfortunately still very busy. It is a stunning place, you can hardly believe what you are seeing, shame about the crowds. For me Bryce Canyon is the place. While we were there some deer were roaming amongst the people and the biggest rooks I've ever seen were watching from on high.

It was getting dark as we left the Grand Canyon and headed south for Flagstaff where we were staying for the next two nights. Once darkness fell I noticed the sky was incredibly clear because of the lack of light pollution and we could see the Hale-Bopp comet clearly visible just above the horizon.

Our hotel at Flagstaff was nice but right beside a railway line so there was a regular cacophony of train noise and hooting. But we'd had a long day and were exhausted and quickly fell into a deep sleep.

Next morning we set of early once more and headed towards the Little Painted Desert which is 20 miles north of Winslow, Arizona. As we entered Winslow we had Take It Easy by The Eagles blasting from the car stereo, "Well, I’m a standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona..... " this is what an American road trip is all about! We drove along a straight, deserted desert road and pulled into the empty car park for the Little Painted Desert.

It was absolutely beautiful there, very hot but a cooling wind blew regularly taking the heat off a little. The site consisted of small multi-coloured cliffs and canyons arranged in a horseshoe shape, in the middle were little colourful hills. It did look like someone had taken a paint brush to the landscape, I'd never seen anything like it. We all wandered off in different directions and enjoyed the beauty and complete silence. Little purple, white, orange, yellow and white flowers growing everywhere.I don't follow any religion, but in places of such natural beauty like The Little Painted Desert, I feel a spirituality, a connection.

It is in the middle of the Navajo Indian Reservation, and the mesas of the Hopi Reservation were visible to the north. In the distance to the east I could see the snow-capped San Francisco Mountains that surround Flagstaff. It was an ethereal place and I could have stayed for hours. We eventually tore ourselves away, and as we left the car park another car arrived - good timing!

We went into nearby Winslow for a meal. I noticed a large percentage of the people there were Native American, there were also a lot of stores selling their traditional art and jewellery.

There was so much to see in that area but we couldn't do it all and we had to give The Painted Desert a miss which was a shame. Our next stop was Meteor Crater, somewhere I have always wanted to see ever since my childhood when I wanted to be an astronomer! The crater was created around 50,000 years ago by a meteor 54 yards across made of nickel and iron. It's landing would have created a cataclysm that affected all of the Earth. The crater was bigger than I expected - it is 4000 feet wide and 570 feet deep. It was so weird to see this huge crater suddenly just being there in the middle of the flat desert plain. It was also an incredibly hot place, the sun was unrelenting and I was soon wilting, so we went into the museum to cool off and learn more about the crater.

Our next stop was to be Walnut Canyon, close to Flagstaff, but it was late afternoon now and it was closed. So we headed back into Flagstaff, washed the desert dust off, and went for a delicious meal and cocktails in a Thai restaurant right beside our hotel.

I'd absolutely loved these few days of travelling, discovering the stunning sights of Utah and Arizona. I loved the feeling of freedom, driving along those long, straight roads, stopping off where we wanted along the way, and seeing the most amazing things. So, our tour madness really paid off big time!

Sunday, 17 August 2008

1997 May - PopMart Salt Lake City Part 2, Mudslides and Bomb Threats

May 3rd. We had breakfast in the hotel, I had my favourite American breakfast, hash browns and fried eggs. Later we headed for the stadium which wasn't far away, we parked the car and, as the weather was pleasantly warm, sat on some grass near the stadium.

We listened to the soundcheck, Bono did a wonderful ballad, accompanied by acoustic guitar, which had a very Irish feel to it. They also did another new song, more uptempo, no vocals and they tried various versions of it.

We got talking to Mike who was from Las Vegas who said he was a millionaire. He had a large cigar in his hand that he never lit. He was quite a character and his favourite phrase was, "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you might be in Utah". He said that Salt Lake City "Would be ok if it wasn't for the Mormons". I was hoping none of the local was eavesdropping on the conversation! He was supping Jack Daniels liberally, he was taking a risk because drinking in public is against the law in Salt Lake City and the place was swarming with police!

Mike then got out a bottle of thick brown liquid that he called a Mudslide and insisted that we try it. We tried it while glancing around for the police, it was quite nice really, God knows what it was!

The gates opened and we nervously went in hoping our tickets were genuine - they were, huge sighs of relief! Sharon was stopped by security who asked, "Have you got anything in your fanny bag?" Sharon, Jane and I fell about laughing, it was one of those situations where the Brits and Americans are divided by a common language, "fanny" having very different meanings in those countries!

The stadium was small by US standards, 39000, well organised, lots of women's toilets and polite well-behaved fans - there's something to be said for Mormons, Mudslide Mike!

Eventually the moment came and Pop Muzik blasted out - and went on and on and no U2. Pop Muzik stopped and the screen showed the male belly dancer whilst playing Lemon. The audience got a bit restless and wondered what was going on and so did we. After around ten minutes Pop Muzik came on again and this time the band appeared on cue. Later we found out that a woman had run the stadium to say there was a bomb under the stage. As that area had been secure for a few days it was unlikely to be true but police had insisted on checking the area before the show could go on. Of course it spoiled the effect of the start of the show but they had to be sure everything was safe.

Bono thanks the crowd for their patience and then added, "For fourteen years" which was how long since U2 had played Salt Lake City. The set list again was almost the same as at Las Vegas. The sound was not 100%, it was a little muffled. Edge, Adam and Larry seemed to be really enjoying themselves, smiling a lot and Adam applauded Edge after his rendition of Daydream Believer. Bono however seemed a bit under the weather, lacking energy and often got the lyrics wrong. We found out later that he had been suffering from throat problems.
I still enjoyed the concert, Please was wonderful and this time at the end of the song flags of different countries came up on the screen. Miami to was excellent, for me it works a lot better live than on the album. One was stunning. People closer to the band said Bono was crying as he sang it, I couldn't tell, but from the emotion he put into it I'm not surprised.

I was surprised there were no songs from Zooropa so far in the tour, maybe some of them will come later. In my view some of the songs from Pop such as If God Will Send His Angels and If You Wear That Velvet Dress do not transfer well to the live situation and usually the opposite is true of U2 songs. But that could change as the tour progresses and the songs develop.

We had a bout of tour madness and travelled 750 miles to see this show and it was worth it. On our way we also saw amazing scenery we would never had seen had we kept to our original schedule. Our next show was in Phoenix and our travels there from Utah (which I'll write about in the next blog) saw us passing through some of the most stunning countryside I'd seen in the US - so our madness paid off in more ways than one!

Saturday, 16 August 2008

1997 May - PopMart Salt Lake City Part 1, Road Trip and Tickets

1st May saw us heading north on Interstate 15. Soon we had left San Diego and were in a hilly desert full of Joshua trees. We stopped for lunch at Barstow, approximately 100 miles north east of Los Angeles. It seemed a God-forsaken place in the amidst a stark desert in the middle of nowhere, the kind of place I wouldn't want to live in.

We drove on through the wide open spaces of California's desertland, roads as straight as the Romans would have built, seemingly going on forever. For someone like me from a small, green island this was a totally new experience, with its seemingly endless horizons and unyielding landscape . The sky was pure blue and you could see the shimmer of the heat haze as the sun shone relentlessly, it was not a place you would want to break down in.

You could drive for miles and see no hint of humanity, which I thought was great! Nature still rules in the desert. Well, that is until you drive over into Nevada and see Las Vegas shimmering like a strange, colourful anomaly in the brown desert, but that is only a small blip of human encroachment in this big country, we by-passed the city and continued heading north.

As we drove into the north western corner of Arizona the landscape changed, now there were lots of red hills and mesas. We passed through the impressive Virgin River Gorge (photo to the right) which took us into Utah. The peaks of the Wasatch Mountains rose to our right, they would continue until we reached Salt Lake City. The landscape now was less desert like and south western Utah proved to have a varied countryside.

We pulled off the I15 at Cedar City, we'd driver over 400 miles and decided to have a stopover here. We looked for accommodation but nowhere had enough vacancies to take us in. One hotel though was very helpful and found out there were vacancies at the Swiss cottage best Western in the town of Parowan twenty miles north. So we got back onto the I15 and drove the short distance north - Parowan turned out to be a small, sleepy town. The hotel was expecting us and we soon settled into our rooms.

We were really hungry so Sharon and I set off in the car looking for some food. Parowan was a nice little place but it seemed to be "shut" we could find nowhere to buy something to eat. So we drove to the nearby town of Paragonah, but no luck there either! Back in Parowan we eventually found a garage that sold pizza and snacks that you could heat up in a microwave. So we bought our stuff, heated it and rushed back to the hotel before it got cold. It turned out to be quite nice, especially as we washing it down with southern Comfort!

Next day it was another early start, before we set off I stood for a while on the open corridor looking out over Parowan, horses were grazing in a field close by, it was so quiet, peaceful, I really liked this little town. Also for the first time since being in the US it felt cool, that was nice to feel.

The landscape was more alpine now. It was a pleasant journey, Utah I realised was a very beautiful state. As we passed Provo it looked really lovely surrounded by jagged snow-capped mountains. We closed in on Salt Lake City, which was flanked by huge mountains.

We found our hotel, the Olympus, easily and were soon phoning ticket brokers searching for U2 tickets! One had four good tickets which cost $150 (expensive in those days - how times have changed!). We went for it and walked the short distance to the broker's office. When we got there Sharon started panicking about getting the tickets and if they would be genuine. I couldn't believe it! We'd driven over 750 miles, agreed to buy them after the phone call and now she wasn't wanting to buy the tickets! The rest of us wanted to go ahead and in the end Sharon was happy to as well, sometimes you have to take risks in life. We felt elated to have tickets for the show in our hands.

Salt Lake City was a very clean, neat and organised city. Less frenetic than many other US cities and it felt very safe. Even our hotel was really quiet. We had an early night as after all our driving we were tired and we went to bed excited at the thought of seeing another U2 show the next day.

Monday, 11 August 2008

1997 April - PopMart Tour Madness

We had a couple more days in San Diego after the gig giving us a chance to get to know this lovely city a bit more. We went to the famous Balboa Park and met up with Milton at the Museum of Art where he worked and chatted for a while. We wandered around the park which is full of museums in the decorative Spanish architectural style.

The park was full of lush tropical vegetation, and meandering pathways. There was an artist's community of adobe buildings and cobbled roadways which was lovely to wander around. Balboa is a beautiful park, a very relaxing place to visit.

Later that day we hit the shops, with prices generally cheaper than back home it was hard to resist!

That evening Dianne and Sharon went to bed early and Jane and I went to the hotel's bar and had a good evening drinking margaritas and eating popcorn. We discussed the mad idea of maybe adding a gig at Salt Lake City to our itinerary......

Next day we all headed off for Torrey Pines Beach just north of San Diego. It was a beautiful place, a sweeping bay backed by cliffs and hills topped by Torrey Pines - one of the rarest pine trees in the US.
The beach was very quiet and relaxing, the weather pleasantly warm, the climate in this area really suited me. We sunbathed and chilled out. Later, for the first time, all four of us talked about maybe going up to Salt Lake City for the PopMart gig there on 3rd May. It turned out we'd all been thinking the same thing! We decided to go - even though the gig was sold out and hope we'd get tickets somehow once we were there and we'd find accommodation en-route.
We had planned on going back to Dianne's for a while before heading to the Phoenix gig on 9th May, but now we were going to do something completely different and go on a road trip of 750 miles to Utah. But sometimes it's good to be spontaneous and throw caution to the wind and have a bit of an adventure!

Torrey Pines

Sunday, 10 August 2008

1997 April - PopMart San Diego, Flowers and Hotel California

April 26th saw us at Dianne's home for a short stopover before heading out to San Diego for the next gig. It was the first time I had been to her house, it was lovely, set in a quiet neighbourhood, single story, and very big.

The back garden was beautiful, it had a pool and jacuzzi. There was a towering saguaro cactus that woodpeckers had bored into and made their nests. There were lots of cacti (I'm a big cacti fan and Arizona's the place to see them!) palms, mesquite trees and colourful flowers in the garden. Bird treats hung in the trees attracting a plethora of feathered friends. Hummingbirds came to nectar feeders, tiny, luminescent, swift birds that could disappear in the blink of an eye. I'd never seen hummingbirds before.

There were little hidden areas to sit all over the garden and it was really relaxing to sit there once the heat of the day was over. We met Dianne's husband and her grown son, both very welcoming and friendly. I felt very at home there.

Next morning we were up early ready for our drive to San Diego. We put The Joshua Tree on the car stereo as this was true Joshua Tree country and much of Outside It's America was filmed in this area. As we passed Picacho Peak (an unusual rock formation by the highway between Tucson and Phoenix) In God's Country was playing just as it had in the TV programme, magic U2 moment!

Like U2, we stopped at Gila Bend (founded 1872) - there was nowhere else to stop! It was a very small town in the middle of this amazing barren landscape. I found I loved the desert, stark and unrelenting, jagged mountains, it was nature in charge, and had a awe-inspiring beauty about it.

Gila Bend was a one street town, you could almost think you were back in the old Wild West! It was hot, dusty and run down. We wanted to go into the bar U2 had ten years earlier, of the two bars that we saw, one The Owl, was boarded up, the other, Shelby's was open so there was no choice, Shelby's it was! We walked in and it was full of men who all seemed to turn to look who had arrived, I suppose you don't get a Canadian and three Brits walking into a bar in Gila Bend very often! It wasn't the bar U2 had been in and we drank our Cokes, and left and headed on towards San Diego. (Picacho Peak - Photo © by Jeff Dean)

The landscape became more boring as we approached Yuma which seemed a God forsaken place and we were glad to leave it behind. Eventually, we arrived at San Diego, it was cooler there and I immediately liked the city, not too big, flowers everywhere. We checked in our hotel and then decided to find the Jack Murphy Stadium as we had no idea where it was! We found it quite easily and got talking to two fans Milton and Chelsea. They were really nice and suggested we go to the world famous Hotel Del Coronado (known locally as the Hotel Del) for a drink. As we had nothing planned for the evening we said yes. Chelsea said she would guide us and just to follow her. It was my turn to drive that night and it seemed miles and miles to the hotel, Chelsea drove fast and I spent most of the trip verging on a panic attack as I tried to keep up with her and not cause an accident! I was so relieved to arrive at the hotel!

The Coronado opened in the early 1890's and has been popular ever since with the rich and famous. It has featured in quite a few films over the years. It is a rambling, many turreted hotel with white walls and red rooves situated right beside the Pacific Ocean. As we arrived at night we couldn't see it in all it's grandeur, but our approach was lovely enough, with the old building floodlit giving it a fairytale appearance and the sound of the Pacific's waves crashing on the shore nearby.

It was very grand inside and we found some seats in the lobby and ordered extremely expensive coffee, we couldn't afford anything else though we were hungry! The building's history was well preserved which was good to see.

After a while, Dianne and I went downstairs to where we could hear music playing. An Eagles tribute band was on stage and we really enjoyed listening to them. I never forget when they played Hotel California thinking that yes, I was in the grand old lady of hotels in California, it was so appropriate, it was one of those magic "moments" you get in life that you never forget.

We also went outside on a walkway facing the Pacific from which there would have been a glorious view if it had been daylight. Smelling the salt in the air and hearing the waves break on the shore was still very pleasant though. I vowed then that one day I'd come back to the Hotel Del as a guest. I haven't managed that yet, but maybe during U2 Tour 2009?

After an enjoyable time at the Coronado we headed off for our hotel. Chelsea was going to guide us back there as we had no idea where to go! Luckily Jane was driving on the way back so my nerves were not frazzled and I got the chance to appreciate San Diego at night and it looked wonderful, I really liked this city.

Next day April 28th was show day! We weren't sure what to expect of the second show of the PopMart Tour after the near disaster at Las Vegas. But we needn't have been, right from the start it had the magic! Bono seemed driven, probably smarting from negative reviews from Las Vegas.

Last Night on Earth rocked. Bono dedicated Pride to his daughters "Jojo and Evie" which I thought was sweet. It was a night of dedications as "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" was for all the fans who had stood by them all through the years and through all their "mutations". We all smiled at that, nice to have our dedication recognised by the band.

The set list was much the same as Las Vegas except that "If You Wear That Velvet Dress" wasn't played - phew no hugging a dress on a stand! The new songs were performed much better too, they must have been rehearsing like mad over the last few days.

At the end we all looked at each other and smiled, the U2 we knew was back and I felt that familiar high after a good U2 show. We were relived they'd got it together after the shaky start to the tour. The U2 magic and passion was back in a big way!

Sunday, 3 August 2008

1997 April - PopMart USA, Las Vegas, Fantasy and Disappointment

April 23rd and I sitting on a plane to Las Vegas with Jane and Sharon - this is the start of our PopMart Tour, and the start of U2's too, the first gig of the tour was April 25th. After twelve hours in the air I looked out the window as we descended towards Las Vegas. The views were stunning, below was desert, canyons and jagged mountains, a brown, parched land with a stark beauty. Then suddenly there was an expanse of azure blue, Lake Mead, sparkling like a sapphire with tentacles of blue reaching into the barren land around it.

As we stepped off the plane we were hit by the desert heat, a bit of a shock to the system. We got a taxi to our hotel, the Flamingo Hilton on the Strip, all typical Las Vegas, flashing lights and gambling in the lobby. It had lovely gardens with palms, exotic flowers and flamingos.

We met up with Dianne there and then had an easy going evening and an early night to give us a chance to get over our jeg-lag.

Next day was another restful day, we spent most of it relaxing in the hotel's beautiful gardens or swimming in the pool. That night we decided to explore the Strip. I'd been to Las Vegas before, but it had changed a lot since I was there only three years earlier. We walked into the lion's mouth entrance of the MGM Grand, gawped in amazement at the New York skyline (complete with the statue of Liberty) of New York, New York. We passed the fairytale castle of Excalibur and on to the huge, glistening pyramid of Luxor laser beams shining into the night sky from it's peak.

Las Vegas is like falling into another dimension, a fantasy world. Much of it is tacky, it's noisy and flashy and there's nowhere else like it. I'm not at all interested in gambling and after a few days there was glad to get away from the noise of the machines. But, for me, for a short while it's a fascinating place to visit, you feel like a child again, full of wonder at the over-the-top place Vegas is.

Next day was show day and we were really excited at the thought of seeing U2 play live for the first time in four years. We got a taxi to the Sam Boyd Stadium, it was a long way, stuck in the middle of nowhere surrounded by harsh desert which in turn was fringed by brown jagged, cracked mountains.

We sat out at the back of the stadium as there was really nowhere else to go. It was very hot but luckily there was a gentle wind blowing which cooled things down a little. We sat in the shade of some spindly trees and waited. U2 were doing the soundcheck so we listened to that as we waited.

While we were waiting a guy that Sharon nicknamed The Queen of Las Vegas came up to us and started unzipping his jeans and began putting tubes down them! Noticing our astonished looks he told us they were glow sticks and he'd been told that for some reason the authorities would not let him take them into the stadium and he was determined to take them in. He stuffed quite a few down his jeans then did them up again and asked, "Can you tell?" Surprisingly considering how many he's put down them we couldn't tell there was more than, erm, himself down there. He then tried to pick up something he'd put on the ground, "Oooh, oooh OOOH!" he shouted with dramatic gesticulations. We just fell about laughing hysterically, he was hilarious. To ease his suffering we picked up the things for him and he said goodbye and wandered off glow sticks and all. Later during the concert we saw lots of glow sticks and wondered which were those of The Queen of Las Vegas.

We made the mistake of going in to hear the support act Rage Against the Machine (sorry Rage fans!) Every song sounded the same and were all peppered with frequent four letter swear words, horrendous. We avoided them on the other gigs we saw in the US.

The PopMart Stage was much as I'd expected from the rumours we had heard. A huge yellow arch reminiscent of the MacDonald's symbol. What was a bit like an orange supermarket trolley within the top of the arch. There was a red "stick" with an "olive" on the end (I never did work out the relevance of that!). Behind the arch was a massive screen. To the far right was the large lemon.

The 70's hit Pop Muzik by M blasted out really loud and we knew this was the start, but it went on and on and nothing happened on stage. then we realised by the commotion in the crowd that the band were entering the stadium from the back through the crowd. But it wasn't U2 as we knew them - Edge was all in black with rhinestones and cowboy hat, Adam in an orange boiler suit and gas mask and hard hat, Larry was Larry and Bono the fighter throwing punches in the air, in a white silk boxer's robe with it's hood up. All a bit bizarre and I never saw the point in it all.

They went straight into Mofo which worked well as a starter. Next was I Will Follow which surprised me initially, then I realised they were linked, they were both primarily about the loss of a mother - as seen from different eras of a man's life.

Next was Even Better Than the Real Thing and I did a double take on Bono, at first I thought he was naked on top and had suddenly got a really well toned body! Then I realised it was a flesh coloured tee shirt. Do You Feel Loved was very ropey to say the least, they really struggled with it. Last Night on Earth and Gone were performed fairly well, but the audience didn't seem that interested in them.

On the b stage they did a stilted version of If God Would Send His Angels. Then Staring at the Sun went disastrously wrong, Bono stopped the song and they all had "words" with the others, especially Larry who Bono lunged towards pointing a finger almost in his face. Bono said to the audience that they were having a "Family row". They started the song again and just managed to get through it.

Please was performed really well (one of the few new songs that was) and it gained a new life in the live situation, fabulous. Bono put all he could into it and the symbolic colours of green and orange flashed on the screen. After that the screens turned red and of course it was Streets, which was wonderful and the crowd erupted!

After the short interval smoke started seeping out around the giant mirrorball lemon (it's yellow cover now having been taken off). It moved slowly forwards then stopped with a loud clunk and the top half opened. Inside were the four band members standing in a line arms folded. They did a military-type salute which just looked stupid to be honest - I never saw them do it again thank heavens! They came down from the lemon via steps and then launched into Discotheque. They struggled a bit with this song too but managed to get through it. All the while the lemon was rotating and the lights being shone onto it reflected back into the stadium like hundreds of sparkling diamonds, good effect.

The next song was If You Wear That Velvet Dress. It didn't work live at all, too low-key. At one point a sparkling white dress (couldn't tell if it was velvet!) on a stand was plonked on the stage and as Bono approached it I though, "Oh my God he's going to hug the dress!" And he did, it was truly cringingly embarrassing to say the least. We all just looked at each other with our mouths open, what were U2 doing? This was another thing we never saw again in a live show on this tour, so they must have realised the error of their ways.

A beautiful With or Without You followed and we were whisked into U2 heaven for a while as they performed a few U2 oldies. They finished with One, but, for me, that didn't seem the right song to finish with.

And that was it, the end of the opening show of the PopMart Tour. For a while we were unable to say anything to each other - we'd never been to a U2 concert that was well below par and this certainly was that. We were disappointed. As it was an opening show of the tour we expected them to have some problems, but this was more than that. It was clear that they were under-rehearsed, it was mainly the new songs they struggled with. I actually was quite annoyed with them! What I expect them to give me are good albums and good live shows, that's the deal, anything else is a bonus, but I don't expect more. At this gig in the warm desert night they didn't fulfill the good live show part and that annoyed me - and my friends. Years later they did admit to being not ready for this tour and I think this extremely shaky start was the cause of the poor ticket sales for some US stadiums later in the tour. But I'm pleased to say this is the one and only time I've been disappointed in a U2 concert - they usually exceed my expectations.