If you want to understand something, whatever, you have to go back the moment in which everything started. Just looking closely behind, will give a sense to what will happen later. In order to understand U2, you need to unravel Dublin’s history – and to understand – the accurate historic moment which generated everything. For this reason the first chapter of this strange journey, which hovers between history, music, photography and geography, inevitably must start from the center of Dublin: South Anne Street, one of the crossroads of Grafton Street. Here there is now a clean sidewalk, a few parked cars and a Hackett London store, an Italian brand of men’s fashion. In the Seventies there was a rather famous nightclub, the McGonagle’s, where U2 began playing in early 1978. Actually they were still not U2, they were called The Hype. It was a Friday in February, the main scheduled concert was of the Vipers – one of the cool groups in Dublin, then in tour with the Clash and Jam before splitting – and the unknown Hype were allowed to try their hand at a single track: a cover of the 2-4-6-8 Motorway of the Tom Robinson band.
“And it’s at McGonagle’s I took the first photo I published, it was a shot at the Berlin, in June 1978,” remembers Patrick Brocklebank, the Photographer who immortalized at the end of the Seventies U2 and other many Dublin artists, from Thin Lizzy to Rory Gallagher.
“Next to the nightclub, there was a shoes store where Bono always used to go to buy his special boots. We nicknamed them “Bono’s Boots”. But at that time they still weren’t U2, they took up the name a few weeks later, in Limerick, when they won that contest.” Nights of concerts, beer, cigarette butts off on South Anne Street, of hopes and soundcheck. But not only. Long before the Hype became U2, even before they decided to form a group, those four were children, like many others, children of Dubliners who survived the hardships of World War II, children of another age, children of parents who colud not afford to dream.
Brendan Robert Hewson, Bono’s father, was born on November 13, 1925 and therefore, unlike his child who at sixteen thought only of music and girls, in 1941 lived in a different way the same age, witnessing the Nazi bombing of Dublin, May 31, 1941: 34 dead and 90 injured on North Strand. After the War, one of the few places where the Dubliners used to go to have fun and forget the misery, tears and pain, was the Crystal Ballroom, a nightclub again on South Anne Street, run by a good man named Paddy Kennedy who would have managed it until the first half of the Seventies. There, in the Fifties, Bob Hewson met Iris Rankin, there the love that would later give birth Bono was born.
That place is the source of U2 and the same place – after a change of management and signboard – would become not surprisingly or randomly, never just by chance, exactly the McGonagle’s.
A father, a mother and a son, the same age, in the same place, on South Anne Street, twenty five years later. That is the source.
McGonagle’s sign, Little Dublin Museum
2016. Dublin, Ireland © Mauro Tonon