The very first phone call of the week doesn’t bring great news. I’ve been promised U2’s only Irish press interview in advance of their upcoming Dublin shows. It’s supposed to be happening in London tomorrow night, but their schedule has apparently changed and a face-to-face is now looking in doubt.
Monday bloody Monday!
I really miss Galway Airport and the daily Aer Arann flights to Luton. Now that it’s been closed, I usually have to factor in an extra six hours travel for every return trip to London.
The three-hour Go Bus journey to Dublin Airport is made almost unbearable by the leather-clad, middle-aged woman sitting in front of me babbling incessantly and indiscreetly into her mobile. By the time she gets off in the city centre, I know more about her colourful social life than her poor husband seemingly does.
Time is tight. When my British Airways flight lands at Heathrow Terminal 5, the pilot makes much of the fact that we’re ten minutes early. Unfortunately, because there’s no ground crew available to guide the plane into its parking space, we’re stuck aboard for a full 40 minutes.
When it’s finally parked, there’s then a problem with the gangway. I’m sitting at the very front of the plane, but they open the doors at the back. When I finally disembark there’s a bus waiting. It drives around the terminal for about 10 minutes before arriving right back at the plane. Infuriating!
There’s no time to check into my Covent Garden hotel so I have to dash straight to the O2, lugging a heavy laptop bag, to make the pre-show party. Any chance of a face-to-face interview is now totally scuppered.
Tonight is the last of a sold-out six-night run of new tour iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE, and there’s a big black marquee called the Cedarwood Lounge set up backstage.
Bono, Edge and Adam Clayton are all there, meeting and greeting the guests, but Larry Mullen isn’t around (he’s rumoured to have travelled to the O2 by Tube). Other celebrities enjoying a drink before the show include the likes of Noel Gallagher, producer Paul Epworth, Guggi and assorted members of One Direction. Gallagher made a guest appearance onstage the other night, performing 'I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For' with the band, but according to U2 manager Guy Oseary there won’t be any special guests this evening.
A youthful-looking 43-year-old, Oseary has been managing U2 for the last two years, taking the reins from the redoubtable Paul McGuinness in November 2013 in a reputed $30million deal. He tells me that he’ll be returning to the US in the coming days to take care of some Madonna business (he has been managing Miss Ciccone since 2005), but he’s hoping to make the last U2 show in Dublin.
“I somehow managed to get a ticket,” he explains. Surely he’s joking? “Believe you me, it was actually a lot harder than you’d think,” he sighs.
Damn you, internet! Back in the good old days, a rock journalist could go to a gig on a Tuesday night, party on for 48 hours, fall in the door on a Friday morning, and only start thinking about writing his live review on Saturday afternoon.
Nowadays, everything is instant. I bash out my review of iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE in the hotel room by 9am. By the time I’ve returned from a stodgy breakfast, it’s already up on the Hot Press website.
I pick up the new Esquire at Heathrow. There’s a terrifically entertaining interview with Noel Gallagher in which the Oasis founder has a serious go at modern pop stars – singling out One Direction, in particular, as the object of his ire.
“Fame’s wasted on these c**ts today,” he said. “Does anybody give a fuck about what any of these current pop stars are up to? Who gives a shit what fucking one Direction do? C**ksuckers, all of them in rehab by the time they’re 30.”
Warming to his theme, Noel continued: “Harry Styles has got nothing to say for himself – nothing. ‘You alright, mate?’ ‘Uhhh.’ That’s it. The gig will never die because you can’t download it. And, so, for the likes of me who persevered from an early age to play the f**king guitar and write songs and practice and practice and practice, I’ll be fine. God help f**king Zayn Malik!”
Such a shame the interview didn’t appear yesterday. The U2 backstage experience could have been so much more lively.
I pick up my seven-year-old daughter, Layla, from her swimming lessons in Leisureland. She has a One Direction swimming bag. I tell her that I was in the same room as some members of the band two nights ago. She’s impressed. “What were you doing there, daddy?” “I was with a famous Irish rock band called U2,” I explain.
She pulls a sceptical face and asks, “They’re not more famouser than you, though, daddy, are they?” “Of course not, darling,” I assure her.
Incidentally, she is still under the impression that Eric Clapton wrote the song ‘Layla’ in her personal honour. That’s another one that will eventually catch up on me.
The Edge calls me at home around lunchtime. U2 are still in London, but are heading to Glasgow for another show tonight. The interview is mostly about music and the tour, but we do occasionally stray into other areas.
The guitarist is open but diplomatic on the Repeal the Eighth Amendment: “Well, I’ve always - as in a general rule - am pro-choice. I’m not pro-abortion. I don’t think you have to be to be pro-choice. I just don’t feel comfortable with the idea that you take that monumental position away from a woman. I think it should be their decision. So, that’s my take.”
Go Bussing again. I’m headed to the inaugural Metropolis Festival in the RDS, where I’m moderating a panel discussion on the state of the Irish film industry with director Paul Duane and actors Ruth Bradley and Antonia Campbell-Hughes.
It’s a lively conversation. Duane cites the classic documentary Rocky Road To Dublin as his favourite Irish film. “It’s the most brilliant film about Ireland ever made,” he opines. “It nailed Ireland in 1968, and it nails Ireland in 2015.”
The spoken word area is only a small aspect of Metropolis, which is essentially an electro music festival. Later that night, as 12,000 ravers dance to Hot Chip, I leave the RDS and go for dinner with legendary punk poet John Cooper Clarke and former Clash tour manager Johnny Green.
JCC is a dead-ringer for Rolling Stone Ron Wood. So, despite the lateness of the hour, getting a restaurant table doesn’t prove a problem.
Back to the RDS where I’m doing a public interview in the main hall with former cannabis smuggler and bestselling Mr Nice author, Howard Marks. I’ve known the lovable Welsh rogue since 1996, but we haven’t seen each other in eighteen months.
A lot has changed in the meantime. Now aged 70, Howard has been diagnosed with inoperable bowel cancer. He has already endured 25 bouts with chemo (a record for Leeds Hospital) and hopes to have at least another year of life yet. Still, despite his obvious ill-health, his spirits are good and the interview is a real blast. He tells me that he says himself as “living with cancer rather than dying of cancer.”
Backstage, I spot Drugs Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and invite him to come over and say hello. The last time Howard met an Irish minister was on The Late Late Show in 1997 (I was also present). Mary Harney wasn’t impressed, telling Gay Byrne that she considered him to be “Mr Evil.”
Ó Ríordáin is far more pleasant and open-minded, later tweeting a picture of us all together along with the comment that it was “Great chatting.” What a difference 18 years can make…