On 13th June 1987, U2 played Wembley Stadium on The Joshua Tree tour.
I was a wide-eyed 16 year old and it was the 4th gig I ever went to. I’ve interviewed some of my mates from West Sussex who were there with me that day to see what we remembered of it all.
The gig we saw was 11 months after Live Aid? What do you remember about Live aid and U2’s performance in particular?
[Jarrod] I remember both Live Aid and U2 – iconic events when most musos around our age look back. I remember Live Aid because my dad had invited family around – the event started in the afternoon and it was a good chance for me to slope off and listen to the opening act! It was also something about seeing Wembley Stadium full, both in the stands and on the pitch, crowds like that I’d never seen before. Did the Quo open Live Aid? I seem to recall that – I also remember of course Queen, the live feed with the US which was novel in those days, and the Phil Collins Concorde trip to perform at both. I do remember U2 at Live Aid and the Geldof rant. Plus Madonna, I loved Madonna when I was 16/17.
[Neil] I remember The Style Council seeming to be a little quiet after Status Quo, Phil Collins on Concorde, Geldof swearing on live TV, Bowie. U2 were awesome. One of the highlights. Bono seemed in his element. Had the crowd eating out of his hand. There always seem to be lots of rather large flags when U2 played, and I’m sure Live Aid was no exception. Bad was phenomenal!! Their set was great, but Bad was the standout, unforgettable. I think he went into some cover versions at the end of Bad, perhaps Rolling Stones. [Chorizo: he’s right you know, Bono sung lines from Ruby Tuesday and Sympathy for the Devil] I had a bootleg tape of the concert that I got from Camden Market. The quality wasn’t great, but still used to play it a lot in the car.
[Ralphy] I don’t remember a lot about Live Aid. Only Freddie Mercury geeing up the crowd and Bob Geldof swearing on TV. “Give us your fucking money”
[Pompey Mike] I think U2 ended up playing longer than they were supposed to. Can’t really remember what they played but would imagine it probably included stuff from Unforgettable Fire, so Pride etc? I think at the time Mr Bono was pre-sunglasses but definitely wearing black boots. I bought myself a pair around this time. I don’t think I was as cool as Mr Bono. This may have had something to do with wearing the boots with a red white and blue ski-jacket. Or possibly something to do with just not being cool. Think he jumped down from the stage and pulled some girl out of the audience but I might be making that up.
[Richard, Chorizo’s brother] U2, Queen and Madonna were my standout moments plus didn’t George Michael sing with Elton John Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me.
[Chorizo] It was quite a sunny day because I remember we moved the telly so we could sit in the garden and watch it. I was disappointed that The Style Council didn’t play for longer! Loved Elvis Costello’s All You Need Is Love. But I was nuts about U2 back then so the whole day was basically just building up to U2. I remember being a bit confused about what the hell was going on when Bono went on walkabout in Bad to get those girls out of the crowd. The Who were great too, I’d never heard Won’t Get Fooled Again before I saw them do it at Live Aid. I also remember Madonna. Of course we were all in love Madonna. We were teenage boys.
Madonna at Live Aid in Philadelphia and simultaneously causing a commotion with the youth of far away West Sussex
The Joshua Tree album had been out for 4 months when we went to the gig. Did you know the songs really well?
[Neil] Yep. I think we’d all been playing it nonstop since it came out.
[Jarrod] I first heard it in our school RE lesson!
[Ralphy] Knew them all really well. Sang along enthusiastically.
[Chorizo] I was properly obsessed with U2 back then so I got the train to Guildford on the day it came out to buy the album. Pretty sure some of you came with me too? I also remember the week it came out they were on Whistle Test. They played In God’s Country which was kind of alright but then they played Exit which was just fucking amazing.
[Richard] Knew about 3 of them very well, the ones everyone knows. Heard you playing it a lot though.
[Pompey Mike] Pretty well by the time of the gig. I bought it on one of those big black round discs that the kids used to buy. I seem to remember them all standing in a desert, black and white photography and I imagine some sort of headgear is in evidence.
No internet back then so any idea how you got a ticket?
[Ralphy] That’s a really fuckin good question. No fuckin idea!
[Pompey Mike] Don’t know but I would guess your dad may have had something to do with it.
[Neil] Pretty sure someone’s mum with a credit card.
[Richard] Didn’t you sort it out?
[Chorizo] I think we made some of our parents drive us down to Brighton early one morning to get tickets from the box office round the back of the Brighton Centre.
What can you remember about the support acts?
[Richard] If you told me I would remember but I can’t at the mo.
[Pompey Mike] Mmmmm. Pogues? Wasn’t into them at this stage which is why I don’t remember. But it also might be that I don’t remember because it wasn’t them. Lou Reed? Pretty sure he was there. Again, wasn’t into him either so little springs to mind. Some other band as well but I can’t even remember their name let alone anything about them.
[Neil] My memory’s a bit shaky, but seem to remember Lou Reed, Lone Justice and The Pogues.
[Chorizo] Maria McKee from Lone Justice was an amazing frontwoman. I bought their album Shelter on tape after seeing them here. I’d already taped Rum Sodomy and the Lash off Neil. I remember we jumped around a bit to them. Lou Reed was really boring.
[Ralphy] I remember “Ship of Fools” by World Party and “Brass in Pocket” by The Pretenders and Chrissie Hynde shaking her arse at the crowd.
[Chorizo: this means Ralphy actually went to see U2 at Wembley the day before the rest of us did. He went with some other mates of ours but we can’t remember who.]
What can you remember about U2 that day? Do any moments particularly stand out?
[Ralphy] I remember “Where the Streets Have No Name” being the opening song. They pretty much played the whole album and the hits from the others. There were no video screens so Bono was really small. I remember being pretty pumped by the whole experience of Wembley.
[Setlist for the gig Ralphy saw here.]
[Richard] Lots of plastic pint glasses full of piss being thrown around. That was a new experience for me. I can remember exactly where we were on the pitch. Near the front and on the left. I think Bono wore blue tinted glasses. But mainly I remember all the pissy showers.
[Chorizo] They opened with a cover of Stand By Me and they played a slowed down version of The Beatles Help. Other than that can’t remember much else. There’d been a General Election quite recently which the dreaded “Thatch” had won. Seem to remember Bono making a few comments about that which went down very well.
On our way out of the gig, we were trying to work out where on the pitch certain famous Wembley goals had been scored and then re-enacting them. We did all the big hits. Ricky Villa, Geoff Hurst “some people are on the pitch”, Alan Sunderland with his big afro etc
[Pompey Mike] I remember thinking they were awesome although I don’t remember that much, definitely enjoyed it though. Long encore I think and the last song I’m pretty sure was “40” and the band left the stage one by one until it was just that Larry Mullen fella bashing his drums. A few cover versions I think but I might be mistaken. I thought Mr Bono had a great voice. I may even have been wearing my black Mr Bono boots although it was in the summer so maybe not. I think it was the first gig I had been to where people were pissing in plastic bottles and then chucking it over everyone else. Fortunately I was neither the pisser nor the pissee. Which is nice.
[Neil] I remember that we got a fairly decent spot in the crowd. Even though we were in a big stadium, we could see the stage and bands really well. A great day out. Don’t remember too much though. Although seem to remember Bullet the Blue Sky being incredible. Lots of searchlights and special effects. I think I had a T-shirt with those lyrics on that day. “Outside it’s America” He changed the lyrics at the end “into the arms of Margaret Thatcher”! Brilliant.
[Jarrod] The gig was excellent- although in the middle of the crowd I remember jumping up and down like a loon! Beer was relatively easy to access, the toilets were miles away! “Where the Streets Have No Name” was the highlight for me. The light staging was great, the sky was dimming, I was with my mates and I loved that track.
[The setlist we saw is here.]
Tell me about any other times you’ve seen U2 live.
[Ralphy] Saw U2 on 360 tour a few years back. Amazing.
[Neil] We saw the Achtung Baby tour at Wembley as well. I remember him ringing Kosovo and the Big Heads! The stage had those odd Trabant cars hanging down. They had a booth where fans could go in before the gig and record their messages. I just remember this one person smoking a huge spliff and blowing the smoke towards the camera. Another great gig.
[Pompey Mike] Saw them once more, Zooropa tour with you and Neil.
[Chorizo] Yep, that one you’re talking about was the best U2 gig I’ve been to. They were playing the Achtung Baby / Zooropa songs which I love and 24 years on I still don’t think I’ve seen any gig as visually astounding as that. PJ Harvey was supporting too and playing lots of the “Rid of Me” album. Seen them twice more since then, went to Earls Court in 2001 but it wasn’t very good. Then, thanks to an unbelievable slice of good fortune which I should probably write about in full on this site sometime, Mrs Garbanzo and I were given free tickets to see them in the MGM Arena in Las Vegas on the last night of our honeymoon. Bono was at his sanctimonious worst for much of that gig and they played quite a lot of songs I don’t particularly like. But… but… but.. Mary J. Blige man! The highlight of the gig, and indeed one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in 30+ years of gig-going, was when Mary J. Blige came on for “One” and sang it like this.
What do you think of The Joshua Tree now? Do you have any kind of physical copy in your home right now?
[Richard] Nope. Don’t have it anymore.
[Ralphy] I still like it. Don’t have a copy any more. Think I bought it on cassette. Doh.
[Chorizo] Still got the vinyl I bought on the day it came out and I’ve also got it on CD. I thought I had “With or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” on 7 inch. But I just went to look for them and they’re not there which means I’ve Ebayed them.
[Neil] I still remember it fondly. A bloody good album. This chat has prompted me to give it a listen after all these years. The vinyl is in my dad’s attic where it’s been awaiting transportation to New Zealand for the last fourteen years. Really must get that sorted…
[Jarrod] Still got it on vinyl. I have a lifetime top 10 albums – Joshua Tree is in it along with Doolittle, The Queen is Dead, Substance, Seventeen Seconds, Heaven or Las Vegas, Love (The Cult), The Bends, Leftism & The Stone Roses.
[Pompey Mike] I have a big box of vinyl in the basement including Joshua Tree. I will have a cheeky look in a minute as I think I also have the CD somewhere. I haven’t got round to putting them in the basement yet as I am not a downloader person. Still like it although I can’t remember the last time I listened to it but I think it’s still a good record. Or CD. Or downloady thing.
“couldn’t get in the loft to find the vinyl version but I’ve got it on Spotify!”
Favourite song on The Joshua Tree?
[Chorizo] Favourite is Exit, 2nd favourite Where the Streets Have No Name
[Ralphy] Where the Streets have No Name is one of the best album opening tracks of all time. (There’s an idea for a segment!)
[Pompey Mike] Dunno. With or without you? Bit predictable I suppose but Mr Bono sounds good on that. I can’t sing it to save my life. Is there one called Exit as well? I think that was good too.
[Richard] With or Without You
[Neil] I really like Bullet the Bullet Sky because it’s different to the others. But I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and With or Without You are hard to beat. One Tree Hill has more of a relevance with me now because we often go walking up the actual One Tree Hill in Auckland.
Do you still buy U2’s music? If not at what point did you lose interest?
[Ralphy] I don’t buy U2’s music. Haven’t since Rattle and Hum which I didn’t particularly like.
[Neil] Not much past Pop I’m afraid. I got that free album they released on iTunes (as did just about everyone else presumably) but never really gave it a good listen.
[Chorizo] Rattle and Hum is pretty crap apart from All I Want Is You which is up there with their very best songs. I really like Achtung Baby, Zooropa and Pop. Especially the last 2 tracks on Pop. I own the next 2 albums after that, but I only like about 3 songs on each of them. Didn’t buy anything after that.
[Jarrod] Joshua Tree was the last U2 album I ever bought. I guess most critics would say arguably it’s their best work!? I liked War, The Unforgettable Fire but then it seemed U2 got too big, maybe too commercial and I lost interest a little.
[Pompey Mike] Pretty much lost interest permanently after Zooropa. And then got annoyed when their album appeared on my phone without me even asking.
Favourite U2 song?
[Neil] Bad or Sunday Bloody Sunday or Pride or One
[Chorizo] Bad, Until the End of the World and All I Want Is You. But honourable mentions to New Years Day and Sunday Bloody Sunday, the 2 songs that made me such a fanatic in the first place. They’ve been opening their gigs on this current “The Joshua Tree 2017” tour with those 2 same songs. The old “band coming on one at a time” trick is still a brilliant way to start a gig.
What other gigs you went to around that time stand out in your memory?
[Neil] Sorry, all a bit of a blur!
[Ralphy] The late 80s was gig heaven. The Pogues, The Alarm, Billy Bragg, Style Council, Pixies…
[Richard] Big Country at Wembley Arena, top gig!
[Pompey Mike] Who else was I seeing at the time? Probably The Alarm quite a lot. In those days I remember being quite upset that they didn’t have massively big hits and get to number 1 all the time, or indeed ever. Things like that were important then. I do remember leaving what I think was my fifth Alarm gig and deciding that I hadn’t really enjoyed it and I never saw them again or bought any more records.
[Chorizo] I remember that exact gig. It was at the Kilburn National Ballroom. All of us came out of that gig feeling the same way. Up to that point The Alarm had been one of our favourite bands. But then after that gig, we all simultaneously came to the same conclusion, that they were shit. It must’ve left us feeling a bit empty inside and we had no capability of dealing with those kind of complicated feelings because we smashed up the train compartment on the way home and threw all the light bulbs out of the windows. That wasn’t really the kind of thing we usually did!
The difficult 3rd album!
[Pompey Mike again] Housemartins at Portsmouth Guildhall, Billy Bragg soon after and a lot. And of course the mighty Wedding Present many many times. However first gig was Sister Sledge at Brighton Centre. At various stages since, this has been embarrassing/cool/embarrassing/cool quite a few times.
[Chorizo] All the ones already mentioned. The Pogues many times, Billy Bragg many times, The Wedding Present many times. The Waterboys! Depeche Mode! Green on Red! 10,000 Maniacs!
One that particularly stands out for some reason is The Style Council at Crawley Leisure Centre. It wasn’t a particularly good gig. In fact it was shit. Weller wasn’t even playing guitar at gigs by that point and the venue was a fucking leisure centre. But never mind the actual gig, I remember it being a fucking great day out. Bloody loads of us went to that and we had a right good piss up!
[Pompey Mike] My actual gig memory is so hazy but there are a few key things I will never forget about those gigs. I remember seeing the Pixies at Portsmouth Guildhall and everyone was leaving at the end of the gig when they came back on and played Wave of Mutilation with all the lights still on. That was awesome. But most stuff I forget. Getting old I suppose. But still a lot younger than fucking Phil Collins. Fuck off Phil.
Do you think that music / gigs / experiences you had during your formative teenage years influence you for the whole of your life?
[Richard] For the big events it definitely does. The Beautiful South gig we went to at that time is a big one. Seeing you sing “The Tracks of My Tears” with your band in back room of The Crown is a big one for me too!
[Chorizo] I think my outlook and my politics are all still hugely influenced by the music of my youth (and Musical Youth)
[Pompey Mike] I think most bands are important to you for certain periods and then become an irrelevance at some point after those formative years. But then the older you get the more permanent your tastes become…I think. But is it because they “lose it” or we just change? Was Mr Bono really heroic and he then became a cock? Or was he a cock all along? He got all preachy and sunglassey all the time. It’s raining Mr Bono, take the fucking things off!
U2 and Mr Bono : nah, not any more.
Billy Bragg: not really. Still love the old stuff though.
Weller : in and out. Watch a lot of him on YouTube, but only for modern takes on old songs. Check him out doing a pared down version of “Ghosts”, takes me right back to the good old days.
The Wedding Present / Natalie Merchant – always!