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'Joined a pop group with friends.' -- A #U240 interview with Ivan McCormick

One of the original group members that met in Larry Mullen Jr's kitchen shows us his diary and talks about that fateful day.

@U2, September 01, 2016
By: Aaron Govern

 

mccormick-govern

To continue our #U240 celebration of the 40th anniversary of the formation of U2, atu2 presents an interview with one of the original six members of Feedback, as the band was initially known almost 40 years ago, before they shed two people and became The Hype and eventually U2.

Ivan McCormick was just 13 years old when he heard from a fellow school friend that Larry Mullen, a pupil a year ahead of him at Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Dublin, had placed an advert on the school notice board at the start of the new school term in September 1976. McCormick duly noted the date -- Saturday, 25th September, 1976 -- and set off with guitar and amp in hand to Rosemount Avenue and the home of Larry's parents.

I caught up with McCormick at his home in Hampshire, England, where he regaled me with memories of his time at Mount Temple, and that fateful afternoon in the late, hot summer of 1976.

And that's not all. McCormick kindly provided indisputable evidence of the actual event on that date by giving us exclusive access to his diary entry of the time!

Aaron Govern: Ivan, I understand that you and your siblings (brother Neil and sister Stella) all went to Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Dublin, which the members of U2 also attended. Can you tell us who was in each year group and class, and from your perspective, how well did you know Adam, Bono, Larry and The Edge?

Ivan McCormick: I was only 13 years old when the band started, and I was in the year group below Larry, who is the youngest member of the band. So I was two years below Dave (Edge) and Paul (Bono), and three years below Adam, but they were all known to me. Mount Temple was a very inclusive school and had a nice feeling of intimacy, for me anyway. I never felt intimidated by the big boys (and girls), and there was no established hierarchy. It was easy-going. Of course, this doesn't occur to you when you're there; it's just the way it is, and my school days were very happy.

My brother Neil was in Bono's and The Edge's year group, and our sister Stella was in Adam's, as far as I can recall. What I knew of Adam was that he was this eccentric hippy who sauntered about in an Afghan coat embroidered with flowers, openly smoking cigarettes and behaving in an overtly self-confident way. He exuded an air of assuredness which said he was the equal of any teacher, acting more like someone in their third year at university than the sixth form of a comprehensive. I guess the reason for this was that he had recently moved from England, where perhaps education was at a more enlightened stage of progression. Adam was always charming, and as far as I could tell he got away with whatever he wanted to because of his impeccable manners.

McCormick family

The McCormick Clan (L-R: Neil, younger sister Louise, Ivan and elder sister Stella). Louise became an accomplished sound engineer working on U2 records, and Stella sang backing vocals with Feedback at their first show in St. Fintan's School, Dublin, in April 1977.

Paul Hewson was known to everyone in the school -- a cool dude, strutting around the corridor in hip clothing, tight jacket, badges and straight-cut jeans whilst we were still flapping about competing with one another for having the largest flares. On one memorable occasion, Paul came in with a safety pin in the corner of his mouth apparently stuck through his cheek and attached by a chain to his ear, a horrifically provocative sight in the mid-'70s, though nowadays it's the norm to be pierced all over and dripping in tattoos! A trail of kids followed behind him and he caused quite a sensation. But despite such appearances at times, he was not some scary punk out to frighten the grannies. He was approachable, friendly and interested in everyone -- a genuinely nice guy.

Dave was known to me only as the big brother of Gillian, who was in my class, and Larry I wasn't aware of until the day I rocked up at his house for the inaugural get-together. He subsequently ended up in my year in the sixth form when he retook some exams, I think. He was the quiet one ... there's always a quiet one.

AG: I understand that teachers such as Donald Moxham and Albert Bradshaw had a large influence in helping pupils achieve their goals at Mount Temple. A lot of ex-pupils from the 1970s all affirm the way that the teachers interacted with them had a significant influence on their future lives.

IM: Donald Moxham was the history teacher at Mount Temple, and was an all-round popular guy, friendly and avuncular. He was a kind of go-to liaison between the pupils and teachers, and was also very approachable, interested and fun. I got to know him very well in my last year of school. He took myself and another friend on a trip to visit our biology teacher, Mr. Fox, who had upped sticks to Donegal to start a fish farm. On another occasion, myself and two other pupils got snowed in at [Mr. Moxham's] flat, which was on the school grounds. We'd visited for tea on a Saturday when the weather closed in and Dublin ground to a halt; it was Monday before I got home.

Donald was instrumental in encouraging and facilitating the fledgling U2 -- as he was all for pupils with initiative -- and did a lot by way of making whatever the school had available to the band, such as rehearsal space, equipment and supervision.

Albert Bradshaw was a music teacher, again a popular guy, but not quite in the same league as Donald, as no one would take the mickey out of Donald without him being in on the joke himself. Albert, on the other hand, was a little bit more aloof than that. Albert was firmly one of them rather than one of us, but still he loved music, and ran a very inclusive, enthusiastic choir and also helped and encouraged the young band.

I feel like I had a very privileged childhood growing up in Dublin and going to Mount Temple School, which was a secular and progressive institution compared to the church-run alternatives filled with their religious prejudices and small thinkers who were more interested in spreading republican propaganda than opening up young minds to the possibilities of the world. I went to one of these so-called "Christian" schools before Mount Temple and experienced first-hand the bigotry and indoctrination that they offer. Despite that, Dublin was a safe and friendly place to grow up and offered young people enormous freedoms.

AG: So how did you get to meet up with the others in Larry's kitchen on Sept. 25, 1976?

IM: A mutual friend of ours, Peter Martin, got me involved. I had an electric guitar. Peter knew Larry was trying to put a band together, so he brought me along to Larry's kitchen that fateful Saturday afternoon in September. Here's what I wrote in my diary that evening about this most momentous of gatherings: "Watched T.V. Joined a pop group with friends. Had a rehearsal, great."

Ivan McCormick Personal Diary Sept 1976

Ivan McCormick's diary entry for September 25, 1976. He had unknowingly recorded history in the making!

The infamous noticeboard note never came to my attention, as Peter Martin encouraged me to go to the rehearsal, though he wasn't there himself.

Larry's parents' house was a typical semi-detached in a residential neighbourhood, on Rosemount Avenue. I remember their kitchen was small, but nevertheless we were crammed around his drums. Paul was there; Dave, Adam, Larry obviously, me and I think Dave's brother, too -- Dik Evans. We used Peter Martin's Falcon amplifier, which had four inputs, I think. Adam no doubt had his own amp -- he was way ahead of us in knowing what was what when it came to rock music. I can't remember what we played -- probably Bay City Rollers, they were huge at the time. Maybe some T-Rex. Maybe Led Zep. I honestly can't remember.

What I do remember is both the excitement and the confusion in what we were doing. It was noisy and incoherent and great fun. As for the girls gathering at the back door and Larry turning the hose pipe on them ... I really don't recall; possibly they did. I'd imagine the racket we were making might have caused anyone to stick their noses in!

AG: So the first rehearsal took place in the kitchen. What happened next?

IM: Peter Martin never returned. I don't even recall him being at the first gathering, but I may be doing him a terrible injustice there. I was the youngest, by two years, and I felt it. The big boys had reference points and banter that I just didn't get. However, they were nice to me and I felt like a part of what was happening. I probably had the best guitar amongst them, a sunburst copy of a Fender Stratocaster which I'd got for my birthday the year before. It cost 55 pounds in 1975, which was a lot. 

The next rehearsal was in Mr. MacKenzie's music room at school on Saturday, 9th October, 1976, and then again on Sunday 10th -- both dates are noted in my diary. My memory of these is that Paul, Dave, Adam, Larry and possibly Dik were all there. We had the school hi-fi amp, through which Paul sang on a pencil mic with a sponge pop shield on it! I plugged into something, probably Peter Martin's amp again -- I borrowed it a lot and eventually bought it for 15 pounds. I can't think what we played, but we did riff over various chords, with Paul singing lines from "House Of The Rising Sun" or extemporizing when he didn't know any "real" words.

I was impressed by him. He had an energy and enthusiasm for it which got everyone excited and he was very open and giving. Adam was cool and Dave was able. Paul concentrated his efforts on Dave. It was as if he heard music in his head and was using Dave's fingers to try and let it out. An abiding memory I have is of Paul almost kneeling in front of Dave's guitar, gesticulating his fingers over Dave's strumming hand like a magician might over a hat hoping to draw a rabbit out of fresh air, willing him on to make the sound that was somewhere in the ether tantalizingly close by.

The age gap between 13 and 16/17 is a cruel one -- a small boy in a room full of young men. And it was soon apparent that my skills, such as they were, were not needed. I don't remember any more rehearsals with myself involved. There may have been some after school in the following weeks, but soon enough I got a call from Adam, who was already acting as the band manager. Adam informed me there wasn't really room for me in the lineup. In fact, the way he put it was that they had got a gig in a pub and I was too young to legally be admitted into a pub. Of course it didn't occur to me to point out that, apart from Dik, they were also too young ... ha-ha. Anyway, that was it. My stint in what was to become the world's biggest rock band was over!

I was upset for a few hours but clearly not devastated, as shortly afterwards, as it says in my diary, "started a new band with Frank Kearns from school," and within weeks we were up and gigging. Punk rock was exploding onto the scene and there we were at the Irish vanguard, Frankie Corpse and the Undertakers, "ready to take you away," as our catchphrase went!

Ivan McCormick

A young Ivan McCormick. "This was my guitar that Dave coveted. He used to borrow it off me when we shared the billing at gigs, usually when The Hype were supported by Frankie Corpse and the Undertakers."

AG: I note you use the names Paul and Dave, so at this point the names from the Lypton Village period were not in use?

IM: No one had punk names back in 1976. It was definitely in the years that followed. Suddenly Paul announced he was Bono Vox. Dave was The Edge -- that amused us for a loooong time. Frank was already Frankie Corpse and I was Ivan Axe. We were out-and-out punks. I didn't know Guggi and Strongman, Gavin and the others from the Village. They weren't at Mount Temple or any part of the gang I hung with. 

AG: What did you think of the Dublin music scene? The likes of Thin Lizzy and Rory Gallagher had already had some relative international success, and The Boomtown Rats had also broken as the first "punk" band from Ireland. Did this influence your own musical career?

IM: As for successful Irish bands of the time, I was not into Thin Lizzy or Rory Gallagher. I knew their music, of course, but it was old hat as far as I was concerned. My personal taste, until punk happened, was for The Beatles, Kinks and The Who, or else the teeny pop music of the charts: Slade, The Sweet, Gary Glitter. I hated "prog rock" or anything that went on for more than three minutes.

After punk it was The Ramones all the way, closely followed by The Boomtown Rats, The Jam, Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols and The Stranglers. Punk was an all-enveloping influence which had me totally enraptured. The Rats were a big influence as were all the others mentioned.

AG: So I imagine punk happened when you were still at Mount Temple, after the U2 members had left school. I understand that you went straight into the music industry yourself and played in a number of bands, flirting with making the big time with your brother Neil -- the subject of the period covered by his book Killing Bono: I Was Bono's Doppleganger, and the film based on the book, Killing Bono.

IM: I didn't leave school until 1980. Frankie Corpse had been and gone. I'd been through new wave, power pop, and, as 1981 dawned, so, too, came the New Romantics and synth bands. I was at university and this fit in very well. Yeah! Yeah! was our band then and went from being four jangly young poppers to a synth-heavy duo aiming at the point where Tears for Fears meet Wham! and have a weird baby, twins even ... Neil and Ivan McCormick, Ireland's answer to Hall and Oates!

I could write a book (but why bother, Neil already has) on the excruciating highs and lows of Yeah! Yeah! and then Shook Up!'s years of knocking on the doors of success: being admitted, being chucked out, going round the back, getting in through a bathroom window, treading on some broken glass and getting chucked out again. It was amazing and it was maddening. Friends right, left and centre seemed to be breaking through.

U2 themselves were becoming the biggest band in the world and I was so assured it would happen for us, but alas, it never did, and eventually I gave up. I was 26 and, I thought, far too old to want to be a pop star -- and not 100 percent convinced that it would necessarily happen. I have since changed my view. I think we probably still had a strong chance, but I was hungry for something else by then: love and adventure. I wanted to travel and get some of what I'd been missing through my early 20s whilst I'd been so focused on pop music success.

AG: Going back to Mount Temple, it seems remarkable that, while it opened in only the early 1970s, a remarkable number of critically and commercially successful artists -- whether film, music, painting -- went on to greater things when they left Mount Temple. What has made the school unique in this respect?

IM: Mount Temple's contribution to the success of U2 and others is incalculable. Its secular standing was at the heart of it, I'm sure, and the people who worked there were obviously freethinkers and enablers. Otherwise, why would they be there? An ethos like that must feed off itself, and positive people create more positive people. I have no doubt whatsoever that the nurturing and enthusiastic help that the school offered enabled a lot of its pupils to, if not fulfill, at least follow their dreams. A very, very valuable effect: Better to have tried and failed than never to have tried and to live with regrets and what-ifs. A lifetime is a long time to spend wondering.

AG: Have you followed U2's career?

IM: U2 have long been and always will be one of my all-time favorite bands. I love their music. It's original. It's inspiring. It's clever. It's thoughtful and, especially at their gigs, very exciting. I am always deeply moved when I see them play -- they really know how to do it, and they've done it in their own unique style. I think as a group they are extraordinarily talented.

My favorite songs are "Where The Streets Have No Name," "Even Better Than The Real Thing" and "Vertigo" for the sheer driving excitement of the music. I love "Stuck In A Moment" for the beautiful guitar parts and rich lyrics, and my all-time favorite is "Beautiful Day," which I think represents all the best qualities about the band. It is a song that is poetic, original and exciting. When I first heard it, I felt that it could never work as a piece of music. The drumming and bass lines are unusual -- so unconventional for a rock band. But somehow, through the sheer force of will that the whole group has become, they manage to pull it out of the ether, like the song Bono was always after as he grasped at the air just above the Edge's hand 40 years ago in Mr. MacKenzie's music room at Mount Temple School.

AG: Tell us about your life today.

IM: I am very happily married to Lou. We have three gorgeous kids -- our eldest is 17, and the youngest is 13. I live in the U.K. and have a successful business with my band 29 Fingers, which began in Val D'Isere, France, where I settled in the early '90s after traveling the world. We play about 100 gigs a year for weddings, parties, birthdays, festivals, corporate events, sports events -- anywhere a gathering of people might want to be entertained. The band is a LOT of fun and we play all sorts of great music, including some U2 songs. We don't record, we don't sell anything, we just play live for a fee and we all really enjoy it. Have a look at our Facebook page.

(Photos provided by Ivan McCormick.)

(c) @U2/Govern, 2016.



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