IT'S an episode which has somehow vanished from the public record, and even U2 fetishists seem largely unaware of it. But for some of us, the Lola Cashman court saga brought back these strange memories of another time, another case.
Back in the summer of 1979, it was U2's manager Paul McGuinness who had had enough, and who wasn't going to take any more. A Dublin fanzine called Heat had libelled him, and he wasn't inclined to let it go, just because it was a fanzine.
The fact that it was a very good fanzine may have worked perversely against it here. After all, if Heat had been a completely useless rag in every respect, it might have gotten away with it on grounds of general wretchedness.
But Heat had a touch of class. It had a strong aesthetic and a party line which fiercely championed Ireland's punk originals The Radiators From Space, along with esoteric local pop combos such as The Sinners and The Fabulous Fabrics.
It looked like something put together by professionals, but it was still, ultimately, a fanzine. And fanzines were allowed to be libellous and scurrilous and abusive, were they not?
So soon after the punk revolt, you would surely not expect a fanzine to be subjecting itself to the tyranny of fact? If they wrote some bullshit about you, surely you would just treat it with a certain lofty disdain?
Not if you were Paul McGuinness, back then, when U2 were far from being a global superpower, but were developing the attitude that would take them there.
'McGuinness (Isn't) Good For U2' was the headline, above a story which was later accepted to be wrong, this yarn about McGuinness allegedly using some subterfuge to ensure that U2 got a prestigious support slot at Trinity, bumping a rival band from the bill.
Yes folks, in the light of subsequent events, such local intrigues may seem as insignificant as the proverbial bucket of warm spit, but it didn't appear like that at the time, not to Paul McGuinness, and not to Heat when they realised that he wasn't just going to laugh it off like a good lad, in the spirit of rock 'n' roll.
And you can look at this two ways. Supporters of the McGuinness side would say that U2 became the biggest band on earth, precisely because it was known from an early date that these guys wouldn't take any crap, from anyone. That McGuinness, in defying the rock 'n' roll orthodoxy, was doing a brave thing here, demonstrating a strength of character which would serve U2 well, and which was ultimately lacking in their equally promising Dublin rivals, who were cooler than U2 at the time, but who never made it.
Moreover, in taking the hard line, he was challenging the old half-assed Irish attitudes which had always brought us down: the immaturity, the inability to get real, the waste of our best energies in character assassination.
The other way of looking at this, was the old-time rock 'n' roll way: a fanzine is a fanzine is a fanzine. It is not
'Could it be that this was in fact the defining moment for U2, the event or series of events that put the iron in their soul? And if so, how has a lifetime gone by with scarcely a mention of it?'
the New York Times, it has a licence to screw up. Don't
And this was the prevailing view at the time, as the dispute escalated to the
extent that a benefit gig was organised to finance the defence of Heat. It was held in the National Ballroom in July 1979, and as I recall, a great time was had by all.
A band was formed specially for the occasion, called The Defenders. It featured ex-Horslips Charles O'Connor and Eamonn Carr (Eamonn's brother Jude was one of the main men at Heat). Gary Eglinton played bass, Donal Broughan (now an RTE radio announcer) was on vocals along with iconic roadie the late Paul Verner, and Frankie Morgan of Sacre Bleu played keyboards. A selection of Dublin's finest rock 'n' roll characters completed the line-up, which delivered a storming set of classics such as Who do You Love? and It's Not Unusual, joined onstage by guests such as the great Steve Rapid, ex-Radiators and another of the founding fathers of Heat.
The Sinners and The Fabulous Fabrics weighed in, Rocky De Valera and the Gravediggers were also on the bill. The legendary Terri Hooley, majordomo of the Good Vibrations record label in Belfast, came down to lend his considerable moral and fraternal support.
In fact, it was such a vastly enjoyable night all round, it has settled in the memories of many as a coda to the whole punk and new wave era in Dublin, a sort of a goodbye-to-all-that gig which transcended all the unpleasantness which brought it about.
Something must have caused the amnesia which exists around this whole episode. It was such a night, it made everyone feel it had all worked out for the best.
But while this Irish rock 'n' roll moment was being savoured by all in the National Ballroom, it must have been a dark enough moment for U2. It seemed as if they had defied their tribe in some fundamental way, and that it would be a
long way back for them.
As it happened, they would make that journey in a very long and roundabout way, and in the meantime they had a lot of other places on their itinerary, where all the normal people lived, the people who had never heard of fanzines, people who thought The Fabulous Fabrics were something you would get in the winter sales at Clery's.
Could it be that this was in fact the defining moment for U2, the event or series of events that put the iron in their soul? And if so, how has a lifetime gone by with scarcely a mention of it?
The Defenders even recorded a Christmas single, entitled Happy Surfin' Santa, with a label designed by Karl Tsigdinos, the journalist and soul DJ. So it may have been just a moment in Irish rock 'n' roll, but it was quite a long moment. And when it was over, everyone moved on. Heat was gone, ground down by it all, and anyway, as a friend lamented, "Maybe the lads couldn't be arsed anymore." McGuinness was able to remain on perfectly good terms with men such as Steve Rapid, who had sung with The Defenders, but who would also design for U2. And in another odd footnote, pictures of the gig were taken by Susan Byrne, who is now an RTE newsreader, and whose picture of the bridge at what is now the Booterstown Dart station would be used for the sleeve of the U2 single, A Day Without Me. Soon all this would be forgotten in a welter of world domination.