Wednesday 21 March 2018

Radio: When Bono met Tony for a stroll down memory lane

Bono and Tony Fenton
Bono and Tony Fenton
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Tony Fenton, who passed away a few months ago, was best-known as a pop-music DJ and, latterly, host of an afternoon show on Today FM. What tends to get forgotten is that Fenton was passionate about all sorts of music, and had been for decades.

He gave many up-and-coming Irish acts a break, and was a steadfast U2 devotee from the outset.

Appropriate enough, then, for his last interview to be with the single biggest figure in Irish music for 40 years: Bono.

When Bono Met Tony (Today FM, Mon, 3pm) was a revealing and very sweet interview between the two men, which took place this January. Tony had arranged for an interview to mark the band's last album release, but his cancer precluded that.

So Bono, to his credit, graciously invited the broadcaster to his Killiney home for a chat.

That word is instructive: this was the furthest end of the spectrum from the usual kind of thing you get when a musician is doing press to promote new work.

The two men chatted - nothing more than that, and nothing more was needed.

Tony's famously rich tones sounded weaker, due to illness, but the good cheer, curiosity and love of music were as evident as ever. Bono, meanwhile, sounded warm, engaged and, most strikingly, relaxed.

He's a cool guy in a lot of ways, clearly very intelligent, with a lot of fascinating things to say about music, art and more besides. However, you often can't shake the feeling that he's always "on": playing the role of Bono, throwing out snappy soundbites and quasi-profound aphorisms.

Here, we had the real Bono. I suppose being in the presence of an old friend - especially in those sombre circumstances - is guaranteed to bring the authentic self to a conversation. If you didn't know the personalities involved, you'd almost have thought this was just two pals catching up.

They grew up around the same time and within a few streets of each other, so we had a lot of reminiscing about those days and times. Dublin's Northside sounds like it was a rough enough place back then, with a fair bit of - to quote Bono - "mad shit" going on. There was a real fondness to be heard, though, in both their memories, of that faded youth.

I also liked hearing Bono talk about the art and craft of touring. The plain mechanics of it, whether such-and-such a stage will fit inside such-and-such a venue - as someone who always wanted to be in a band but was too lazy to bother, I find all this stuff engrossing.

He also recalled how punk bands of his era used to scoff at the notion of playing big venues, partly because it would remove them from the audience.

U2, clearly, have come a long way from tiny clubs and an incestuous, unambitious "scene" - but in some essential ways, Bono struck me as the same hungry, fired-up kid he once was.

Indeed, the whole interview transformed both men - middle-aged, one faced with impending mortality - into the kids they once were. A lovely tribute and fitting send-off to Tony.

By the time you read this, the results of this week's UK general election will be known, though possibly not the make-up of a new government. As teased out by Pat Kenny (Newstalk, Mon-Fri, 10am) and Channel 4 news veteran John Snow, the numbers are awkward.

No party, all going according to polls, will have enough to form a government on their own. Thus begins the horse-trading, with the Scottish National Party likely kingmakers for Labour and Ed Miliband. Or we could have the slightly surreal scenario of a coalition between Tories, DUP, UKIP and God knows who else. (Luckily, God is on the DUP's side, so he'll give them the heads up in good time.)

Snow remarked how it had been a pretty dull campaign, with half-hearted campaigning and a sense of weariness and apathy in the public and some of the politicians. Even David Cameron seems like he won't cry a river if his time as prime minister is to end.

God be with the days when British politics was peopled by colourful, larger-than-life, often patently barmy characters like Mrs Thatcher, Neil Kinnock or Michael Heseltine. Ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís…

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