U2 performing in Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium. Pic Peter Wallis
U2 performing in Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium. Pic Peter Wallis

Why Australia loves U2 so much

As the euphoric U2 fans streamed out of their first ever Australian concert in September 1984, the refrain of the night's final song 40 rang out through the streets of Sydney as they headed to train and bus stations for the homeward journey.

It was a scene repeated in every capital city as the Irish rockers continued around the country on the Unforgettable Fire - Under Australian Skies, thousands and thousands of voices united to repeat the chant "How long to sing this song?", all still riding the high of the gig.

Singer Bono with The Edge from U2 during rehearsal back in Australia in 2006. Picture: News Corp
Singer Bono with The Edge from U2 during rehearsal back in Australia in 2006. Picture: News Corp

Australia had to wait a few years before Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr brought their love to town.

Australian promoters had sent out feelers to the band for a tour here as early as 1982 as their October album and its compelling single Gloria climbed into the top 40.

The land of the mullet embraced a band fronted by a man with an impressive example of the staple 80s hairdo and Gloria's regular appearance on the reigning video shows of Countdown and Sounds Unlimited.

Former music critic, record label executive and superfan Naomi Dinnen, who is dedicating her PHD research at the Australian National University to U2 and religion, said Australia's adoption of the Irish band as one of their own was a "grassroots" movement.

"It happened through the record shops, through word of mouth, in those days when people would play you new records in the stores," she says.

"Kids were turned onto it by their older brothers and sisters.

"I don't remember as a kid hearing that much of U2 on radio, so it was the visual appeal via the video shows which won over fans here, seeing four cute boys singing on a barge in the Gloria clip."

"By the time they toured here, the band was an experienced live act and there had been so much anticipation for them."

SAdam Clayton, Bono, The Edge and Larry Mullen Jr from the band 'U2' during their 'Unforgettable Fire' world concert tour in September, 1984 in Sydney. Picture: Getty
SAdam Clayton, Bono, The Edge and Larry Mullen Jr from the band 'U2' during their 'Unforgettable Fire' world concert tour in September, 1984 in Sydney. Picture: Getty

The demand for an Australian tour escalated in 1983 as the War record landed in the top 10 and established U2 as a bona fide global success, going on to sell more than 11 million copies thanks to singles which remain among their most popular songs including Sunday Bloody Sunday and New Year's Day.

Well aware of their burgeoning fanbase in Australia, no doubt in part due to the Irish expat community and a smattering of their own extended family here, they planned a late 1983 visit.

But the War tour through Europe, the US and Japan took its toll and they shelved the Australian leg and headed home to Dublin to record their fourth record Unforgettable Fire.

Bono performing live onstage at Entertainment Centre on The Unforgettable Fire Tour: Picture: Bob King/Redferns
Bono performing live onstage at Entertainment Centre on The Unforgettable Fire Tour: Picture: Bob King/Redferns

They decided to kick off the Unforgettable Fire world tour in Australia in September 1984 before the album's release, heading straight into the country's biggest arenas despite having had to build their live audiences overseas in clubs, then halls and festivals.

The original six shows planned quickly extended to nine concerts and then 15 in total, with 60,000 fans witnessing them in full flight at the Sydney Entertainment Centre over five nights, the band's biggest audience in one city at that point in their career.

U2's Bono and Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd discuss aid for HIV sufferers at the Sydney Opera House on November 28, 2010. Picture: Getty
U2's Bono and Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd discuss aid for HIV sufferers at the Sydney Opera House on November 28, 2010. Picture: Getty

They would go on to play one concert at Brisbane's Festival Hall on September 11, five shows at Melbourne's Sports and Entertainment Centre, two at Adelaide's Apollo Centre and the final two concerts at the Perth Entertainment Centre.

Australians always had high expectations of the performance of international acts on our stages because of the vibrant pub scene which was nurturing the match fitness of bands including Midnight Oil and INXS.

 

 

 

"People had been crying out for this tour; they had seen what a great live band they were via the Live at Red Rocks: Under A Blood Red Sky clips," Dinnen says.

"We had this idea of what we thought they would be."

Despite the hectic schedule - the band only had one night off during their Sydney and Melbourne stints - they got amongst the city's night life and its people, relishing the opportunity to mingle with fans and peers.

U2 on one of their previous tours of Australia. Picture: Steve Pohlner
U2 on one of their previous tours of Australia. Picture: Steve Pohlner

 

Dinnen believes the intimacy they create in cavernous, often sterile arenas and stadiums and their accessibility off stage has also influenced Australia's enduring love affair with Bono and the boys.

"The other thing at play in Australia is the vast number of people I have talked to who have told me they have had a beer with Bono," she says.

"Even now, you will see pictures of them meeting and greeting fans outside the venue or at bars in the cities where they are playing.

Bono of U2 performs on stage at Etihad Stadium on December 1, 2010 in Melbourne. Picture: Getty
Bono of U2 performs on stage at Etihad Stadium on December 1, 2010 in Melbourne. Picture: Getty

"They have the rock star aura but connect with people in a really meaningful way."

Dinnen believes Australia's love affair with U2 was also forged because they reflected the social conscience which was permeating Australian rock music in the 1980s via bands such as Midnight Oil, Hunters and Collectors and INXS.

We embraced politically-charged anthems such as Sunday Bloody Sunday and sang to 40, even if the fact it was based on a psalm was lost on many who joined the chorus of singers after their Unforgettable Fire shows.

 

U2 performing in Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium. Picture Peter Wallis
U2 performing in Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium. Picture Peter Wallis

 

"If you look at the demographics of Australia then, even though we might have been identified as Christian, we had been a relatively egalitarian society for a while," she says.

"There are so many books written about U2 through the prism of Christianity but they have always had an ability to connect with people on a spiritual level."

As U2 launch the Australasian leg of their Joshua Tree tour in New Zealand this weekend, Dinnen - who has already seen it several times overseas - is intrigued as to what political or social messages they will convey through the massive video walls and via Bono on the mic.

The American leg of the tour was focused on an anti Trump message while the European concerts offered commentary and perspective on the refugee crisis.

"I think New Zealand will be different to Australia because the Kiwis are the favoured child in the world at the moment," she says.

 

U2 performing in Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium. Picture Peter Wallis
U2 performing in Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium. Picture Peter Wallis

 

"Bono's main advocacy via the One Campaign to equality for women and girls and they have been putting out calls on social media asking fans to suggest influential women to be feature din the show when they play One.

"It will be interesting to see who they choose to spotlight in Australia."

Dinnen is also staging the first edition of the U2 Conference in Australia, part symposium, part fan gathering to discuss the band's contribution to culture.

Filmmaker Richard Lowenstein, who made their Lovetown concert film in 1989 and the Mystify documentary about Bono's good friend Michael Hutchence will be the keynote speaker.

The band during their 'Unforgettable Fire' world concert tour in September, 1984 in Sydney. Picture: Getty
The band during their 'Unforgettable Fire' world concert tour in September, 1984 in Sydney. Picture: Getty

 

The Joshua Tree tour opens at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium on November 12 and then head to Melbourne's Marvel Stadium on November 15, Adelaide Oval on November 19, the Sydney Cricket Ground on November 22 and 23 and Perth's Optus Stadium on November 27.

 

For tickets and registration to The U2 Conference in Sydney on November 21, https://studios301.com/u2-conference/