"Music expresses the inexpressible. All our songs are about that, about inarticulation."
We Can Do Whatever We Want
We hang out with U2 to discuss bad backs, morphine, pagans and wandering incognito around Glastonbury
August 01, 2011
After a serious back injury nixed U2's 2010 headline slot, last Friday they finally made it to Glastonbury and delivered a belting performance. We caught up with them to ask them about the show.
What went through your mind when you had to pull out of Glastonbury?
Bono: I was in a lot of trouble. It was on my birthday, and my daughter shares my birthday, so I didn't want to say I was in an awful lot of pain. I did an MRI and sent it to this genius German physician called Muller-Wohlfahrt. He said, "You're in great danger and we have to operate on you tomorrow." It was quite dramatic. And it was sad. I got the documentary on Glastonbury instead and watched it on morphine.
Edge: It was a major disappointment for us. This was something that we had our hearts set on.
How did you feel when Gorillaz were announced as your replacement?
Bono: I wasn't worried. Gorillaz have made a couple of great records and I'd always enjoy a performance, especially with the guests they had, but it's a different thing. They make studio records, while our albums have never been as good as the band is live. Love us or loathe us, live is where we live. Something goes off when you put us with our audience. Or with someone else's -- we're not fussy.
Edge, how did it feel last year making your Glasto debut last year, playing "Where The Streets Have No Name" with Muse?
Edge: It was absolutely brilliant. It was an incredible way to do Glastonbury for the first time -- I had the afternoon off to hang out, see some great acts and wander around, then I got to jump on stage with Muse for five minutes. I blended in when I was wandering around in my baseball cap. I didn't think I could. A couple of people sussed me out but most of the time I was under the radar.
Do you enjoy playing festivals? You have less control than you would at a gig...
Edge: We loved doing them early on. The great thing about festivals was it was like doing an opening slot. You get to condense your thing into 40 minutes, maybe an hour, really punchy. There's not much pressure on you because there's other bands on the bill. Festivals were some of the most fun times we had as a band.
Adam: We were doing festivals from a guerrilla stance. It's gladiatorial. The one we enjoyed the most was Werchter. It was always an interesting bill of contemporaries. One year it was Talking Heads, Eurythmics and Simple Minds. We got on very well and we were at the same level. In those days people tended to hang around after their set. Now it's more isolated.
Why did it take you so many years to commit to Glastonbury?
Edge: When you're doing your own stadium shows it's difficult to go back into the festival way of thinking. It's not that I'm not interested in that, it just never seemed like the right time.
Bono: The top reason was television. It's hard to surrender that control. Eventually we found a BBC director who can spend the time with us. Some great people were constantly in our ear about it. If our music is about community, then this is the music community. To play to people, some of whom not only may not love our band but may actively dislike us, reminds us of how it used to be. We've always enjoyed that.
Glastonbury's a very spiritual place. Does that appeal to you?
Bono: This is where I'm going to sound like an old hippy. I'm fascinated by the place. I'm fascinated by the little white flower that grows there twice a year. [Forthcoming U2 album] Songs of Ascent is about pilgrimages of one kind or another, and this is a pilgrimage for 150,000 people every year. It's for people who see music as a sacred thing. I'm less into Stonehenge and more into the fact that the earliest Christian site in Europe may have been here. Most of my friends are pagans and are going for Stonehenge but I'll be the one guy looking for the white flower [laughs].
What about the setlist?
Adam: We had a concept last year and then we dusted that concept off. This is the year we're re-releasing Achtung Baby and we wanted to honour that release in some way in the set.
Edge: Because it's a one-off event for us we can be a little bit indulgent. It's not like we've got a new record to promote. There's a freedom. We can do whatever the f**k we want. It's really in the spirit of, What would blow our minds? It's about setting the right tone that connects with the spirit of the event. We don't want to come in like some arrogant big band. Glastonbury is its own thing, its own culture. There's no real headline act -- Glastonbury itself is the headline act. You just become part of what’s happening. I love that.
How was the show for you?
Bono: It was incredible. We were nervous until around "One." And the stage was so wet up there, I couldn't move. But I wanted to sing "Jerusalem" because not a lot of people know that it was written about Glastonbury. It was just extraordinary to see all those flags, the city in rain. It was a beautiful thing.
© Q Magazine, 2011.