A new band named U2 had appeared on Dublin’s music scene. I first saw them at the Project Arts Centre duing 1978. They stormed onto a very high stage – I seem to remember staring at lead singer Paul Hewson’s pointed cowboy boots – and delivered a frenetic and bewildering set.
They had something, though I wasn’t quite sure what. The youthful lead singer with his ruddy cheeks, unfashionable medium length hair and tight trousers pranced around the stage yelling into the microphone. The vocals were haphazard – frequently out of tune and croaking in the upper registers. Each of the band members seemed to be pushing the pace of the music.
In the following year, U2 would go on to carve out a respectable following on the Dublin music scene. They often did lunchtime concerts at Trinity College, where I was a modern languages undergruate (1976 – 1981). At that time I’d taken to carrying a portable tape recorder around with me – the precursor of the walkman or boombox – and taped a lunchtime concert they did on the cricket field. I have since lost the tape recorder but I still have the tape. The sound is barely containable, the vocals still croaky in the upper registers, but there was an unmistakable energy there that just needed some channeling.
U2 up through the floorboards
U2 had common origins with the Virgin Prunes. I had also witnessed their concerts, recording the sound with my portable tape recorder, so that I knew their entire set by heart. In some respects I preferred them to U2 as they were very edgy and experimental.
Having seen the Virgin Prunes live several times and familiarised myself with their material, I had strong views about them. One day in the post office near Essex Street, not far from Trinity, I saw their lead singer Gavin Friday in his characteristic pale raincoat and white face powder. I seized the chance to talk to him and after introducing myself, I gave a full and frank appraisal of the music. He seemed to appreciate my interest and nodded attentively.
I was also acquainted with the Virgin Prunes bassist Dik, brother of the Edge. During 1979, Dik lived in the room directly below mine, 28.2.2. Trinity College, overlooking Front Square. I often used to hear the latest U2 and Virgin Prunes demo tapes coming up through the floor.
I chatted to Dik a few times and occasionally went downstairs for a cup of tea and a chat. He also appreciated my interest in the Virgin Prunes. He told me a lot about U2 and Bono, including the fact that the song ‘I will follow’ was about Bono’s mother: “Most people think it’s a song about a girl but actually it’s about his mammy!”.
In bed at night, listening on headphones plugged into my portable tape recorder, I used to listen to Dave Fanning’s show on the fm pirate station Radio Dublin. The reception was hissy, but the music was great. He often played demo tapes by U2 and other bands. That was my third year at Trinity.
My second year at Trinity College – from October 1977 to June 1978 was an exciting and formative time. Punk rock had brought new energ to the Dublin music scene, which was stagnant when I arrived from Manchester in late 1976. Two years later, seemingly everyone seemed to be going to gigs and was in a band, either a real or supposed one.
The late Bill Graham Irish music journalist
An influential contact that time was the Irish music journalist Bill Graham. I often used to bump into him at various gigs, always dressed in a scruffy polo neck sweater, clutching a note pad and a packet of 20 Silk Cut cigarettes. Bill would enthuse about the lowliest and most obscure of Dublin bands as if he was giving a lecture on Jean Paul Sartre or W B Yeats. He had a genuine and passionate interest in music and local musicians. I felt lucky to have him as a friend. He would talk to me, stare at me with those wide, probing eyes set in a wide face, and listen intently to what I had to say about various bands.
Bill Graham is credited as being an early champion of U2. He introduced them to their manager Paul McGuinness and so helped to make rock history. Bill Graham went on to write many influential articles on music and other subjects for the Irish music magazine Hot Press. I was very sad to learn of his untimely death. He gave me confidence and inspiration which remain with me to this day.
Playing as one of ‘The Sinners’
At this time I was experimenting with songwriting and played in a band. We did some Buzzcocks covers, plus a few of my embryonic songwriting attempts. The bass player was Fergus Nolan, a guy who seemed permanently half-asleep, but he was okay, we got on fine. I was on vocals and lead guitar. Two guys from north Dublin were on rhythm guitar and drums. The drummer’s name was Bernard, I can’t remember the guitarist’s name. We rehearsed in a ground floor room opposite the church on Westland Row, hence the name, chosen by Fergus, ‘The Sinners’.
We played a total of about three or four gigs, one of them at the Magnet, Pearse Street – Bill Graham came to see us – another in a rough club in the town of Banbridge north of the border. Our biggest and final gig was supporting the Buzzcocks at a venue I’ve forgotten the name of on Mary Street, off O’Connell Street on the north side of the river.
It was some time in 1979. Just before our final song, Fergus broke a bass string and I had to somehow keep the audience entertained until he returned with a new string, though the bass was badly out of tune. With the last song finished, I jumped back into the audience for the Buzzcocks gig, which was very enjoyable.
Playing with the Sinners was not the most satisfying creative experience, though it was good to spend time with people from outside Trinity. To be honest, as an arts undergraduate, I felt I didn’t have too much in common with them, but they were good guys and I wouldn’t have met them if it wasn’t for the vibrant music scene in Dublin at that time.
We once advertised for a lead singer, as I felt my vocals weren’t good enough. The ad mentioned Bowie as a musical influence, and a Bowie lookalike with crazed eyes – and from the town of Monasterevin – turned up at our meeting place, Bewleys on Grafton Street. We invited him to sing, but he didn’t stay with the band for long.
How I nearly joined ‘The Vipers’
In 1979 an opportunity to join a more successful band came up. One of the bands I regularly used to go and see was the Vipers, founded by Paul Boyle, a very talented songwriter and performer. I knew all their songs by heart, so when I auditioned to be bassist, they offered me the job on the spot.
But I had a dilemma. Should I quit university and go to London to seek fame and fortune with one of the most promising bands on the Dublin music scene, or should I stay at Trinity? I was lucky to have a generous grant from my home town Stockport and I was determined to finish my Modern Languages degree. I decided to stay.
The Vipers took on another bassist and I continued to enjoy their gigs and had no regrets. Then they went to London and I tuned into their session on John Peel’s radio programme. To think that could have been me helping to record it at the BBC studios in London. But then they disappeared and I never heard anything about them again.
Around six months later, in 1979, I bumped into the drummer on Griffith Avenue in north Dublin. The band had gone to London to seek fame and fortune on the music scene there, but things had not gone well. The band eventually split up and the various members returned to Dublin separately.
It seemed making it in the music business was a very dodgy and unpredictable affair. Many bands and artists desperately wanted to make it, yet very few of them ever did. DC Nien, Some Kind of Wonderful, U2, and from Cork, Micro Disney. I enjoyed all of them and got to know their songs very well, but which one of them was going to make it, if any?
One of the places I rehearsed with the Sinners was a room in a run down Georgian terraced house on the south east corner of Parnell Square, north of the river. I was friendly with the guy who ran the rehearsal room – John Breen (thanks to Peter Breen for contacting me in Nov 2007 to remind me of his name).
He was bright and had some very definite ideas about bands he thought were going to make it. He rated a new British band very highly. They were called ‘The Police’ and thought they’d go far. Another band he was keen on was one who also practiced in his rehearsal room.
The name of that band was U2. I said I’d heard a lot of their stuff and thought they were very talented, but, and these are the ‘famous last words’ I tell everyone – I didn’t think the lead singer was good enough for them to be successful. They had some good songs, but I felt he was very shaky in the high notes, and I reckoned that sadly they would find it difficult to get a recording contract. John Breen thought differently, predicting they would be very successful. The rest is history.
In Summer 1979 I left Dublin and the Sinners. They continued without me and achieved some success. There is a reference to the Sinners on the Discogs website. Do a search for ‘Aidan O’Rourke The Sinners band’.
From September 1979 to August 1980 I was in Berlin on my year abroad, and lost all contact with the Dublin music scene. By the time I was back, U2 were well on the way to success. They had secured a recording contract in early 1980. I had their first album ‘Boy’ on tape, in addition to earlier versions of the songs recorded off air from Radio Dublin. It was about this time I used to visit Dik in the room underneath me.
Very early one Sunday morning in around April 1981 I went out on my very first photographic expedition. I had with me an Olympus Trip which my friend Kieran Sheridan had kindly lent me.
I walked down from Trinity into the then undeveloped Docklands area by the River Liffey. In my head was the album ‘Boy’, the track ‘In the Eyes of a Child’ and the glowing, golden sound of the Edge’s guitar became fused with the sunrise over the Dublin docks and reflected on the side of the Liverpool ferry which had just arrived. A new decade was well underway, my university days were nearly over, a new era had dawned.
This is just a brief summary of my early U2 Dublin memories, many of which lie forgotten in my latent memory banks. Here are some of my other Irish music highlights:
- Seeing the Clash play in the TCD exam Hall in 1978, where I later did my final examinations
- Seeing the Damned play in a venue off Grafton Street the name of which I’ve forgotten.
- Seeing the Boomtown Rats play the Trinity Freshers Ball in September 1976.
- Recording the Virgin Prunes at a forgotten venue on Stephens Green, and other venues.
- Travelling to Dun Laoghaire to see The Jam play at a dance hall venue, also unnamed.
- Witnessing Eric Bell, the genius guitarist of early Thin Lizzy – the three piece – play a lunchtime gig at Trinity College during 1976.
- Earlier in 1976 I also saw the Thin Lizzy – the four piece – play at the National Stadium on South Circular Road
- Earlier in the 70s, my favourite Irish band was Horslips with their haunting and visually evocative album The Táin
On summer holidays, at dances down the country where Irish showbands played, I used to go up and chat with the guitarist.
I’d just like to add my very earliest Irish music memory: Bringing home to Stockport and playing on the old Dansette record player a copy of ‘Folk Songs of Ireland’ by Irish traditional singer, musician and storyteller Seamus Ennis.
U2 changed the way the world thought about Irish music. I’m glad that what is now my most vivid musical memory is the one of U2 playing the Project Arts Centre in 1978, and also three years later, taking photographs of the Dublin cityscape to a mental backdrop of U2’s music.
This was a groundbreaking, though not especially happy time for me. I had frustrated creative ambitions, and wasn’t lucky enough to find others who could help me achieve them. Musically I wanted to do something bigger, broader, more all encompassing than traditional rock music.
The fact is that U2 went on to do what I would like to have done. And what if they’d needed a bass player, auditioned me and invited me to join? Would I have turned them down to finish my degree?
I have one regret, and that is that I wasn’t taking photos of bands. At the time I wanted to be up there, playing the music myself, not on the sidelines. In any case there seemed to be very few people around me with a camera, still fewer taking photos at gigs. If I had been capturing my experiences on film, I would now have a prime collection, both from the Dublin scene and from the equally vibrant music scene in Manchester, my home city. But there’s no point in going on about regrets. My early U2 Dublin music memories will stay with me always, and I can at least share them here.
If anyone can provide the names of people or venues mentioned in this account, or have any corrections, comments or additions, please contact.
Thanks to Matt McGee for spurring me on to write this account.
Thanks to Kieran for lending me that camera.
Thanks to Bill Graham for providing me with some early encouragement and for helping to discover U2.
Responses to “Early U2 Dublin memories”
Aidan loved your site, brings back lot of memories, Dublin in the late 70s music-wise was a great place to be.
Me and my friends saw this guy walk into Advance records one HOT
summer day in a long trench coat once inside he took it off to reveal a leopoard skin jump suit. We gave him a laugh and left, only to see him on the Late Late Show a couple of months later ..it was Bono .
Been to McGonagles more times than I can remember but I do recall that
awful white wine Black Tower, that was where the Damned played.
Saw DC Nien support the Ian Gillan band back in 78 at UCD and Sonny
Condell supported them, best concert I ever went to, show started at midnight,
and all for the princely sum of 1 pound 50 p .
I was a neighbour of Sean Hines who played bass in the Strougers. Good
local band from the Navan Rd
Great site will refer my friends
Thanks very much for your great comments – they brought that time back to me as well. I was there when the Damned played McGonagles! I think I was probably drinking flat Harp lager! Very best wishes!
October 14th, 2006 01:26 e
Brilliant account Aidan. I must have been your shadow, having been at all the concerts you were at. Wish it could all happen again mate!
December 18th, 2006 17:21 e
for the rest of the vipers story
February 16th, 2007 22:01
Hi Aidan, just stumbled onto your site, I am one of those northside blokes your played with in The Sinners the other was Tony Pugh.
Wow it’s great to hear from you, and as it turns out, Bernard has a site with his stills photography from various films, and the RTE soap opera Bachelor’s Walk. Go to www.albumen.net
March 20th, 2007 18:50
I think the venue on Wolfe Tone Street where you went to see The Buzzcocks might have been called Dingwall’s. It was pretty short-lived anyway.
April 8th, 2007 19:18
Hi Aidan I was also at a lot of those gigs and my band the Strougers (Crap name, did ramones covers etc) played a half dozen gigs in the Dandelion Market way back then. In fact I reckon we supported the Sinners there too. I also think the Sinners played in The Ivy Rooms on Parnell st on the North side of Dublin. The Damned played in McGonagles on South Anne Street, The Jam played the Top Hat Dun Laoghaire, The Prunes played the Dandelion. Unfortunately i dont share your enthusiasm for U2 who we had the misfortune of playing with in the Dandelion in 1978. I know Tony Pugh your guitar player, last time I met him he was a DJ (a few years ago). The Count Bishops supported the Clash in Trinity and just like the GPO everybody was there ha ha. They were great days man.
The Strougers? My memory must be failing me but I don’t remember that name. I remember the Dandelion Market. The Ivy Rooms on Parnell Street? Any connection with the rehearsal room on Parnell Square? Yes, I remember the Damed at McGonagles, with the white faced lead singer prancing around from stage to speakers. Also remember the trek out to Dun Laoghaire to see The Jam – I would never have remembered the name the Top Hat. I saw the Prunes at McGonagles and also at a venue on Stephens Green, not Dandelion Market, but a big hall on the south side. Well, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about U2 in the early days! The Count Bishops – another name that has almost disappeared from my memory. I remember the Clash in the Exam Hall quite clearly. I was standing quite near the band at the top. I was standing very close to Joe Strummer. Damn, if only I’d been taking photos then. I just wish I could turn back the clock!
Thanks very much for contacting.
April 9th, 2007 14:53
Hi again just to let you know that there is a guy in Dublin that is putting a book together about the punk/new wave scene in Dublin plus other cultural/musical phenomenon eg, skins/mods/hippies etc. from way back when. He has spoken with me and other geezers who were active on the punk scene in Dublin in the 70’s. He is still looking for photos/anecdotes/stories etc. His name is Gary and his e-mail address is email@example.com
PS. There is a website that features most of the irish punk/new wave bands from that era plus the 80’s. The strougers and the sinners are included. Its a step down memory lane
The website is www.angelfire.com/indie/irish/_punk_wave/index.html
Thanks very much, I will contact Gary. It was a great time, but I’m not sure if I would like to relive all of it.
May 8th, 2007 09:03
If I recall correctly, The Clash also did a matinee before the evening gig in the Exam Hall.
ALSO, the Ivy Rooms went on to become Fibber’s. It was a real hellhole.
Nov 1 2007 19.00
I well remember those days my brother John Breen had rehearsal rooms on Mountjoy Square a full Georgian house remodelled and soundproofed with sand from Dollymount in the sash windows. He also played with a band called the School Kids with Dave Lee on vocals. Lots of bands rehearsed there Rocky de Valera , the Atrix, U2 and so many more that I cannot remember. Heady days to be sure
Keep on rockin
Yes, I remember your brother very well indeed, and that fateful conversation about U2’s chances of getting a record deal – a very switched on guy
You asked for some info for names or places you couldn’t remember.
The Venue you saw the Jam at was .. The Top Hat Dun Laoghaire .. We
played support to both .. The Jam and The Clash at The Top Hat.
Charlie Hallinan .. Ex Drummer Berlin
Great to hear from you. It was a long trek out to Dun Laoghaire, but worth it!
Great site. I was one of them punk rockers in that time. The Dando market, hangin outside Advance Records South William Street. That band the Strougers I remember the lead singer wore a pair of teddy boy shoes. There was the band Sidefx. Rocky was the bass player. The band the Threat the lead singer was Morris. The Damned played McGonagles as the Doomed. Drinking cider in the green. Way back in the day in a simplier time..r.i.p Lenny who we lost at Slane Castle 1984.
I still have no recollection at all of the Strougers! – I remember the Damned at McGonagles quite clearly, the white-faced lead singer prancing up onto the speakers and all around the venue. I don’t think there were many people at that concert. I also saw the Virgin Prunes at McGonagles and recorded the entire set on my bulky portable tape recorder and radio. I still have that recording somewhere, along with the ones of U2.
I enjoyed your piece on Dublin music scene in the late 70s, brought back some great memories. McGonagles, Toners, Bruxelles, the Buttery and a bunch of other places I have long forgotten. If you haven’t been to this website there is loads of band info from that time http://www.irishrock.org/index.html
Here’s what I remember:
The Dandelion Market, Sir Walter Raleighs for rainbow skins, The Alchemists Head to get copies of the Freak brothers magazines, seeing U2 and The Atrix (I think I still have a copy of “Treasure on the Wasteland”) for 50p in the underground parking lot off Stephens Green, Hijax wine bar on O’Connell street to score hash, Saturday nights in Bruxelles followed by McGonagles and walking home because both of the cities Taxis were nowhere to be found. Having “One from the wood” in the snug at Kehoes, Reggae at the TV Club on Fridays, sneaking in a take out 6 pack to The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Stella (Midnight Express and Taxi driver in Cork), Abracababra at 2.00 in the morning, the Rock in Stephens Green, outrage when a pint went over a quid, The diary of Adrian Mole on the radio, the Letters of Henry Root, Mulligans for the best pints, John Cooper Clarke, Micro Disney, Firstenberg and Colt 45, 24 hour shop in Rathgar, Johnny Foxes during mushroom season, rat fink Haughey, the 5000 quid giveaway on Radio Nova, Nova Park, “Ta said ag teacht” Arran island Guinness ad, Wine coolers, Snake bites, Durban poison (yeah!), nightclubs on Lesion St., The Pink Bicycle…
Don’t remember much else but a good time was had by all!
The attached was a great gig.
Cheers for stirring the memories
That’s fantastic, thanks – I remember quite a few but not all of what you mentioned! Funny how each of us has our own ‘version’ of how things were. Many thanks for contacting and sending the poster!