"Music expresses the inexpressible. All our songs are about that, about inarticulation."
30 Years of War: 5 Questions with Steve Wickham
February 25, 2013
It wasn't the first time U2 brought in someone else to play in the studio with them*, but it was the most noticeable at the time.
Just about eight seconds into "Sunday Bloody Sunday," the opening track on War -- the album that first lifted U2 to the top of the charts -- there's a high-pitched sound that is clearly not U2. It's an electric violin, and it plays an important role throughout the song, often embellishing Bono's vocals in the same way that Edge's guitar does on many U2 songs.
Steve Wickham is the guy who plays that violin, and it wasn't just on "Sunday Bloody Sunday"; he's also there setting the mood on "Drowning Man."
Although he played electric violin on those two tracks, Wickham is most well-known as a fiddler. After playing with U2, Wickham and friends started the Irish band In Tua Nua. In the mid-1980s, he joined The Waterboys and continues to tour and record with them today. Wickham has also released a solo album, Geronimo (in 2004), and writes and records with his own band, No Crows.
As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of U2's War album, we invited Wickham to answer five questions about his time in the studio with U2.
@U2: You're credited with playing electric violin on two songs from War -- "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Drowning Man." How did that happen?
Steve Wickham: I was waiting at a bus stop in Dublin, on my way home. The Edge was at the same stop. I didn't know Edge personally, however, I recognised him. I asked if he needed violin on their record. I gave him my telephone number as he was climbing on the bus.
Unbeknownst to me, U2 were deep in their new record, War. Edge called the following weekend.
How familiar with U2 were you at the time?
I was familiar with them -- we were all from the north side of Dublin. I had seen them play in my school when they were starting out. They were all in a band called Feedback and had a girl flautist (who was in my class at school) -- but that band weren't really U2.
I had heard Boy about a month before we met and really liked it.
What do you recall today about the studio sessions?
A feeling that something was happening here, an energy. It was more than just the collective enthusiasm.
The band were set up live in the studio. I played along in the control room and after a take of "Sunday Bloody Sunday," everyone seemed very happy and probably very relieved that the stranger from the bus stop could actually play.
I was hired and the Edge played another track "Take My Hand" (as its working title was then). I went home with a rough mix and worked up a part for the following week.
Myself, the Edge and Steve Lillywhite layered violins to make one violinist sound like a string section. I learned a lot in those few days.
Did the band give you direction on what they wanted you to play, or did you have freedom to do your own thing?
Both of the above.
"Sunday Bloody Sunday" was U2's first real statement song. What were your thoughts about it while you were in the studio?
To be honest, I was just trying to stay in tune and on time and give it a bit of passion.
(c) @U2, 2013.