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Anger is simple. . . . That's what rock is at the moment. It's an easy thing to do: painting in black. Joy is something else. -- Bono

Dennis Sheehan

U2's Tour Manager Looks Back
U2 Magazine, No. 13

Neil: Do you often give interviews?

Dennis: Yes, occasionally. I did one a while back for someone who I have respected on the radio for a long time, Johnny Walker. I sat with him for an hour or so, reminiscing about the business back into the Sixties.

When did you first start on the road with bands? I know that there are Led Zeppelin connections, but I'm sure it goes back further than that.

Well...I grew up and went to school in Southern Ireland and after we moved to England I went to a comprehensive school in London. One day I heard one of the teachers playing an old Burl Ives song. I was convinced that I'd play like that within three months -- and I was!

So that's where the love of rock 'n' roll started?

It was, yeah. I suppose I was influenced by the likes of Shane Fenton, Cliff Richard, the Shadows -- there was no real originality, you just did covers. Our band grew from being a school band to working the club circuit. We were sort of semi-pro, I guess. It was a great time, the Sixties. The clubs dominated the music scene and the music in turn complimented the clubs. There was a tremendous atmosphere which a lot of people try to recapture now but which is missing in a lot of places. We played all over Britain and Europe until I was about 19. Then I met up with a pal of mine who was playing with Jimmy James and the Vagabonds -- along with Geno Washington -- they were THE club band, who told me that their roadie was leaving, so I took over his job.

Learning your craft as it were?

Learning how to drive actually I think, rather than learning my craft! Jimmy was tipped to be the next Otis Redding -- he was incredibly popular.

The days of the legendary Blue Boar...

Oh yeah, you met at the Blue Boar. Actually all the crews used to play football at Wormwood Scrubs, our goalie was Lulu's roadie. He told me about this Scottish band who were looking for a roadie to go to the States with them as they were just completing their second album. Anyway, I went along to see them, their manager was a guy called Mark London, saw them in the studio -- they were called Cartoone. They had a great album, appeared on Top of the Pops, and so I gave in my notice to Jimmy -- I couldn't have gone any further with him -- and took the job and, as soon as the album was finished, we went to America. That was my first time in the States, I must have been 20 or 21. At that time there were only two or three bands who were known over there. The Who was one group and we kept hearing of them being thrown out of hotels and so forth. Our tour, in fact, turned into one gig only -- after the first show the promoter didn't think we were worth keeping on so he told us to enjoy our week in New York and don't bother with the rest of the shows! I was disappointed 'cos it was my first trip to the States. One thing happened before we left; the guitarist had been sacked and he'd been replaced by Leslie Harvey...

Of Stone the Crow...

What became of Stone the Crows? It was band called Power, from Scotland, that featured Maggie Bell on vocals. Anyway, Leslie and the rest were pretty annoyed at having to go home and urged me to find out if there was any possibility of doing the gigs. To cut a long story short, I fired the other roadie, who was a bit of a dope head, took the band on the other four weeks of the tour and came back to Britain with $1,000. Within a month the band had disbanded, eventually evolving into Stone the Crow with a guy called Colin Allen on drums (who's now with Dylan) and I became their tour manager, sound man, lighting guy, you name it, I did it. We started touring, seven nights a week, 15 to 30 a month -- that was the beginning of what was to be a career for four years.

So you must have been with them when Les was electrocuted?

Yes, I was, unfortunately. It was unusual circumstances, they had changed the gig from the University building to the Locarno in Swansea because of ticket sales. Now, one of the things that we would do every night was to record each show. Les would bring me up a clean tape each night. This particular night I was onstage trying to finalise the setting up as both the support groups had run over time. Les came back saying, "There's a guy at the desk pulling out wires everywhere." I returned to the desk, threw the bloke off -- he was as drunk as could be -- pushed the faders up, but still there seemed to be no volume, jumped up on the table but was thrown off -- Les at that point had picked up the mike stand and was killed instantly because of a short circuit.

You're very lucky to be alive then...

Yes, very. We had a tremendous relationship...you get to know each other like the best of friends...

You become part of the same family.

Yes, you do. We worked very clearly over the years, it was a tragic loss.

How long were you with Led Zeppelin?

Up until Knebworth, although between the tours there were very long periods of inactivity. Our American tours were huge -- 4, 4 and a half months. We didn't do so much around Europe, they did little gigs here and there. They loved gigging but...in the interim periods I grew discontented with just putting my feet up in the office so I freelanced with the Boomtown Rats, Devo, Rolls Royce...I could go on and on!

So how did you get to meet up with Paul [McGuinness]?

Through Robbie McGrath. He called and said, "Well, Dennis, there's this **** band in Dublin and they're looking for a **** bloke like you, with his **** feet firmly planted on the **** ground." So, in between the swear words I discovered that it was U2 and I met Paul in a hotel in London. I think Paul was a bit amazed, I think he thought I'd turn up in jeans, big spliff, long hair...

The archetypal guy on the road.

Well, I didn't turn up looking clean-shaven and neatly dressed simply to impress. I'd built up my reputation by being good at my job.

So the first U2 tour you did was the one before the War tour?

Yeah, 1982. The European tour, the first time I met the band was when they arrived in London. After two weeks on the road they approached me and said, "Can we keep you?"

There's that family atmosphere we talked about earlier...

There is something extremely special about U2. Whether it be in their social lives, which they are very particular about, or in their business life, which they are also particular about -- they go for the best, and in turn the people that work for them give of their best.

Is there such a thing as a typical day in the life of...?

On the road?

Yeah, well, the buck really does stop with you, doesn't it?!

Mmmm! Well, being called a tour manager doesn't quite encapsulate all that I do nowadays, purely because of what the music business is like. But a typical working day...It's dependent on where we are, where we are going to, how we're getting there. One of the things I do have to do is pre-plan everything, so that by the time the band is on the road, I'm following my own itinerary with that degree of flexibility that there has to be because of the band's lifestyles.

Adam?

No names, but Adam is a prime offender! Partying to Adam -- it's not like everyone comes along and fills the room and "let's all get drunk" or what have you -- Adam's just an extremely late social person! He'll quite happily spend the night talking to you or me or whoever, and go to bed an hour before he's due to get up. It does cause the odd problem from time to time.

It's just the way he operates, isn't it...?

It is, yes. You get used to it! It's very important knowing each member of the band, their likes and dislikes. My job is dependent on an awful lot of people being cooperative at all times. There hasn't been an occasion when we've missed a flight -- you never miss a bus because buses can wait, but missing a plane is a bit different...

They don't wait...

No, and I think everyone has been guilty of wanting to shoot off to the loo just before the plane was due to leave. We're not an unusual group, we've never missed a gig. Anyway, I tend to get up a couple of hours before the guys, I'll give the band wake up calls. Adam needs a little longer to wake up...generally he likes a call one hour before he leaves so that he's got time for a few cups of coffee before we're off. Much as they seem like stars to other people, they actually do pack their own suitcases.

The luggage is then picked up -- it generally goes out to the airport before the band do -- we'll leave, fly to wherever, are met at the other end and then it's another hotel. We're normally talking on a day like this of getting to the other place no later than 1:30 or 2:00 in the afternoon. That gives us time to check into the hotel and get those cases open...

And unwind as well as get ready for soundcheck...

Yeah, and about 3:30 we'll leave for soundcheck. We normally finish that by about 5:15, we'll eat at the gig with the crew while the support band is getting set up and then it's back to the hotel for about 6:30. It's a very important time of the day, it's when we can all socialise, because we really don't see enough of the crew; they have their own lives, which are very different from ours. The band will then relax at the hotel, get spruced up and we'll leave again for the show to arrive at the hall about 20 minutes before we go on. The band then gets ready, we have a close period of 10 minutes before the band goes on stage when no one is allowed in the dressing room at all.

That's just the band and yourself...

Generally just the band and occasionally myself.

It's a time for them for mental preparation for the show.

It is, yes...it's a very important time for them all.

What's the best U2 show that you have seen?

That's extremely difficult to say. I always spend time onstage during a show 'cos as we keep our staff to a minimum, I've also got a job to do out there as well. Each show is very different, I don't think I can mention one...I enjoyed Phoenix Park last year, I think it was because it was our hometown and we'd taken a large part in the whole production of the show from the very beginning. And I love the change from the small venues to the large auditoriums.

You were able to transport that feeling of playing a small gig to a large hall?

Yeah, and I suppose for America last year too, the US Festival was exceptional. U2 happened to be one of the few bands on there that carried their performing name with them. U2 are a working band and did really well there...

It's where their reputation stems from anyway...

That's right, and then, of course, there was Red Rocks...

In which you have a starring role...

[Laughs] Yes -- we had two days of rain, it was a challenge that I think only an exceptional band could have made a success of. I feel very happy to have been a part of it. As I said, the band are really particular about the smallest of things, and again when they come off stage they have a rest period to unwind after the show, and then there's a really important part of the evening to them -- meeting the people.

It must be getting harder because of the numbers...

Simply because of the larger venues that we're now doing. But when there are only 3,000 in the hall and 400 want to meet the band, that's not too bad, you can commit yourself. Our crew used to take the mick out of us last year, especially on the British tour, because every night they'd be back at the hotel, all packed up about an hour before we were.

Purely because they are there, sitting, talking to the kids...

That's right...

Do you think it'll ever get to the stage with U2 when it's straight off stage and back to the hotel...like, maybe it was with Led Zeppelin, they have an extraordinary trust bond with their audience...

They do, yes...But, well, there's the unpredictable tiny minority of the audience who don't seem that concerned with just being near Bono. When he was going into the audience with the white flag, they wanted a piece of him, they wanted to rip his clothes, they wanted to break the flag to bits and so on. It's in circumstances like that you start feeling...I really don't know whether they will be able to continue to meet the audience after shows, simply because there'll be far too many who want to meet them. When we are on the road we're working an 18-hour day...

It's a difficult transition period, then?

I think it is at the moment. It's been so important during the band's growth -- and don't forget they are still growing, they'll be an exceptionally big band in time, I'm convinced of that. I just feel that there will be times when they're going to have to sit down and say, "Well, look, there are times when we are going to have to leave the venue straight after the show. If people want to meet us then we're going to have to create other circumstances for them to meet us." I mean, they do go out shopping and so on...Must tell you a funny story. Last year, as always when we're going to go anywhere we have to have visas and pictures taken for them. Bono and Adam didn't have pictures so I took them to Woolworth's in Grafton Street, no problem, got into Woolworth's and went up to these two machines. Bono in the colour one and Adam went into the B&W one. So, Bono's waiting there and we're chatting away and looking at the goods on sale and this guy comes along, about 15. Bono takes his picture out of the machine and this guy sort of looked at them as well and says, "Hey, Mister, that really looks like the singer out of U2." And Bono turned around and said, "Yeah, it does, doesn't it?" And the guy turned and walked off...The laugh at the end is definitely what U2 are about.

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