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Tightlipped, enigmatic outsider also the most rock'n'roll member of U2

Irish Independent, July 07, 2012
By: John Meagher

 

Even in the sobering environs of the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, Adam Clayton cut an effortlessly cool figure. Tanned, sartorially elegant and with just the right degree of laissez-faire about him, he stood out among the passers-by on Parkgate Street.

Ever since U2's earliest days, when he sported a long Afghan coat and a mop of blond curls, the bass player has exuded cool.

Much of the appeal of rock stars has hinged on that indefinable notion and somehow Clayton has retained it, long after his bandmates lost theirs -- if indeed they ever possessed it.

He has always appeared a man apart.

Not for him the new-age Christianity that U2 clung to in the early 1980s or the save-the-world campaigns that Bono seemed born to champion.

Novelty

While his bandmates proffer their views on just about anything, Adam has been reserved; so when he chooses to address a subject publicly, in that languid Anglo-Irish drawl of his, it's something of a novelty.

Even on stage -- in the stadiums that U2 call home -- there's no sense of self-aggrandisement. While Bono and the Edge boast consummate showman qualities, Clayton is more content at the back, laying down the rhythmic bedrock with Larry Mullen.

You sense he's more comfortable there, hard at work but not appearing to be busting his gut.

Clayton was a crucial figure in the embryonic U2 and served as manger of the group before Paul McGuinness arrived on the scene.

He pushed his colleagues in those fledgling months -- the very period when would-be bands can so easily fall apart despite the lofty intentions.

Without his initial vision, it's highly unlikely U2 would have become the force they are today. The U2 that strode the 1980s like colossi could be a tedious bunch, especially in that earnest, irony-free period when they took to the stage with white flags and Bono first learnt the art of sloganeering.

Outsider

Yet, Clayton's outsider status was never in doubt -- while his mates were more interested in prayer, he was being caught in possession of drugs. His consumption of alcohol was more akin to the hard rockers that had gone before.

And while the rest were settling down with wives and kids, he was hooking up with one of the world's most celebrated women, Naomi Campbell.

But the engagement would be short-lived, and despite a string of romances, there's something of the eternal bachelor about him.

By 1993, his drinking had got so out of hand that the unthinkable happened -- he failed to show up for a show in Sydney which was being filmed for a future video release.

The gravity of the situation dawned on him quickly, not least when the band insisted that he would be dispensed with if such unprofessionalism arose again, and he hasn't touched alcohol since.

It is said that his sobriety has made him less comfortable in certain social situations, and I was struck by how incredibly shy he appeared when meeting him at the band's Dublin studio shortly before the release of the 'How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb' album in 2004.

While Clayton may not number among the all-time great bass players, his importance to the U2 sound should not be underestimated even if one of his most famous basslines -- for 'New Year's Day' -- evolved from an attempt to play Visage's 'Fade to Grey'.

His assertive playing style and his kinship with Mullen has been an essential component of the band's muscular, anthemic songs.

The Carol Hawkins trial laid bare Clayton's jet-set lifestyle, yet the judge praised his kindness as an employer.

It's a view that tallies with those who know Clayton the man -- inherently decent, loyal, a bon vivant and very, very cool indeed.

(c) Independent, 2012.

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