With album sales exceeding 140 million and 22 Grammy Awards in their trophy cabinet, U2 have provided a most remarkable soundtrack for many who have walked this planet over the last 30 years. They are, without doubt, a Dublin band. From a rather tenuous historical perspective, their bond with the Dublin Docklands goes back to the 1770s when the Hibernian Marine School was built on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay. During the 19th century, the Marine School was relocated and renamed, ultimately becoming the Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Clontarf. And it was at Mount Temple that, in 1976, schoolboy Larry Mullen Jr posted an ad on the school bulletin board looking for musicians to join his band. As Mullen put it, ‘it was ‘“The Larry Mullen Band” for about ten minutes. Then Bono walked in and blew any chance I had of being in charge’. Among the others who signed up were Adam Clayton and Dave ‘The Edge’ Evans. On Saint Patrick’s Day 1978, U2 won a talent show in Limerick that set them on the road to fame and fortune. Their debut single ‘Three’ was released the following year.
One of U2’s proudest Docklands moments came in July 1982 when, taking some time out from their long ‘October’ tour, they performed a free and unannounced gig on the rooftop of the Sheriff Street community centre. This was at a time when not even the Gardai dared go to Sheriff Street and the mood was somewhat ominous from the outset. An inebriated woman stumbled off the rooftop and had to be carted away. The tour manager advised band and crew to abandon the event. Sensing that a cancellation might entail a riot, both band and crew voted to play on. Slowly but surely U2 managed to woo the crowbar-toting crowd. Bono later recalled how a docker, ‘who looked six feet wide, just walked onstage and stood in front of me. ‘Let’s twist again like we did last summer’, he said. ‘Play it’. The whole crowd quieted - this was the confrontation: were we chicken or not? I must admit, I was chicken. I just stopped the show and star ted to sing, no accompaniment,‘Let’s twist again, like we did last summer...’ And I looked at the crowd, and all the kids, the mothers, fathers, the wine and whiskey bottles in their hands, started singing and dancing. And the guy smiled’.
Just up Sheriff Street was the sorting office where Bono’s father, the late Bob Hewson was employed. Bob did not retire from his job until the year U2 played their first Croke Park concert, declaring rock ‘n’ roll to be ‘too noisy and overpaid’. Bono wrote ‘Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own' in tribute to Bob, who passed away in 2001. The video was filmed on Sheriff Street on a cold December morning. Bono sang the entire song live, without a cut. Director Phil Joanou described it as‘the best single-take performance that I have ever had the honor to film - incredibly powerful’. The song debuted at No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart and won ‘Song of the Year’ at the 2006 Grammy Awards.
When based in Dublin, the band members’ preferred turf has traditionally
been the Grand Canal Docks. Indeed, look carefully at the album cover
for ‘October’ and you will see those very docks just behind the band.
Many of their videos were also made in the Docklands. In ‘Gloria’, the
band play upon a barge moored in the middle of the Grand Canal Basin.
One of the their favourite haunts was the snug of the dearly lamented Docker’s pub on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay where they were frequently to be found huddled around frothy pints of Guinness. Their recording studio was in an old stone warehouse on Windmill Lane behind the pub. U2 recorded or completed eight of their studio albums in Windmill Lane, including ‘War’ which debuted at No 1 in the UK in 1983, and‘The Joshua Tree’, which was then the fastest-selling album in British chart history. By 1994, they were primarily operating out of a stylish new studio on Hanover Quay, designed by architect Felim Dunne, where all subsequent albums have been recorded or finished.
In 2001, the Hanover Quay studio came under threat of a demolition order but still survives to the present day. In 2003, the band announced plans to relocate its recording studio to a new skyscraper, the U2 Tower, to be sited on Britain Quay close to where the old Hailing Station once stood. Work on the 120m-high U2 Tower will commence after 2011.