If you have any interest in music, its theory, birth and progression through the past five decades, then this book is a must read.
As a non-academic, one may be initially wary of the prolific depth and detail, but McLaughlin and McLoone’s vast knowledge on the subject will capture the imagination and draw you in. The detail is immense but very accessible and worthy of the effort. Don’t be put off by the title - U2, like Marmite, can elicit a major reaction of ‘love it or hate it’ amongst the most open minded of musical aficionados. There is so much information packed into this book that only a fraction is touched upon.
The various early music influences on Irish rock and pop are presented in some chapters, from Irish Traditional, Southern Blues, through to the Beatles - naming but a few. There was an instinctive reaction against the ‘showbands’ of the time who dominated the music scene with their safe cover versions of well known hits from across the water. Early examples of the new rising stars are the likes of Van Morrison, Rory Gallaher, Horslips and Thin Lizzy. In one particular revelation-of which there are many-Tony Visconti, the Producer of Thin Lizzy’s iconic double album Live and Dangerous, reveals that the majority of the record was in fact rerecorded in the studio.
Approaching the mid to late seventies the Irish Punk scene is explored. In certain parts of the British Isles at that time, elements of youth were just playing with the genre while in the North of Ireland; it was very real with some literally risking life and limb. The aggression against the Punks, from all sides in the conflict, was palpable including the security forces (the British Army squaddies tended towards the Mods, for obvious reasons). I was almost shot on the way to an early U2 gig in Newry Town Hall, 1980. The main bands of the time included here are the political anti-establishment brashness of Stiff Little Fingers contrasting with the teenage pop angst of The Undertones.
The Boomtown Rats are also there and we are later reminded of Bob Geldoff’s 1978 intelligent and articulate tirade on RTE (Irish national television) against the state of the nation, which was joyous. A sign of things to come from the same man but on a greater world stage. It was also good to see two major issues in Ireland in the past explored, such as women’s and gay rights which are highlighted in separate chapters. These focused on the contributions of both Sinead O’Conner and Gregory Gray. The former was much more controversial with her numerous verbal attacks on the Catholic Church vilified at the time. However, the recent revelations of child abuse from elements of that same church over the years seems to have justified O’Conner’s rage.
So what of U2? Well if you are a fan, then this is a fascinating account of their rise to mega stardom. All of the various elements of the band are covered from the early days of their first offering, ‘Boy’, through to the fantastic, ‘Joshua Tree’ and beyond. Bono’s involvement in world poverty politics is already well documented but Rock and Popular Music in Ireland: Before and After U2 gives us a further insight into what makes the man tick.