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Interview: Dave Fanniing on U2

Interview courtesy of: Tania Almeida @

When and how was the first time you ever heard of U2? (Did Adam call you in the middle of the night?) 

In 1977 I started as a DJ in a radio station in Dublin. In 1978 there was a station called Big D and I started to play local bands. One of them was U2. I can’t remember the actual first time, but I heard about U2, played their demo. I think it was somewhere in very early 78.

According to the musical scene on the mid 70’s…till the early 80’s…how did U2 face the challenges and the critics? Did they ever think of giving up from their dream?

No…they never did at all. The 2nd album, ‘October’…that was a very difficult moment for the record company and many people…most of all, for the band. And they were aware of that. I believe that if they were starting today, they would never developed like they did. Today companies don’t give so much time to bands, you know? They had a dream…they knew what they wanted…they had the will to be musicians and they tried to go as far as they could. That’s what they always wanted and that’s what they fought for.

If U2 showed up today, how do you think Ireland and the world would receive them? Do you think that the nowadays musical scenario would welcome a band like the early U2? Would they survive and succeed like they did?

I do think that they would not succeed like they did. One of the reasons for success is the time when you start. The right time. Doing it when they did it...   well, it was the right time and they became big. Elvis succeeded when he came along because that was the right time. It depends a lot on the type of music you do and the attitude. I think they had the right attitude for the time they were coming up. If they showed up today, I wouldn’t think they would not go so well and the impact would be so minimum that they would never go as far as they did.

What do you remember from the choice of Out of Control as the A Side from the U2-3? How and who came up with that idea? (The whole processes of letting your listeners choose the song?)

I can’t remember who had the idea. If it was me or Ian Wilson. I really can’t remember. We were just starting of. We were looking for young bands and we picked that band as an example of what we wanted to do. We brought the demo recorded and played it in the station. U2 was the very first band to come. The single was just released 3 months later. It was the time. They were starting of. This was the only program giving that kind of chances to new bands coming up in Ireland. There weren’t even many radio stations.

I remember that one night, I don’t know why, they showed up dressed like Santa Claus...   in June! So, that was odd. But it was funny and it caught my attention!

We played the 3 songs every night. Then they chose. Out of Control for the A Side…Boy/Girl and Stories for Boys as B Sides. Then they released both songs.

There’s always been a clash between generations. How do the many different generations in Ireland face the U2 phenomenon? (The youngest…do they love or respect their work and carrier? How does a typical Irish person from the mid 70’s see U2?)

That’s a difficult question. In Ireland people can be quiet cynical. They can come around with a big smile and a hand in your back and just hate everything you do. This is the kind of place where it happens. In America it would never happen. In America people care so much for it. If you sing they will always come around and talk to you and say how much they love your job. But in here…people don’t care. Even when U2 play here. You may know the shows sold out very quickly…120.000 tickets in 60 minutes…that’s quite something. People do love to see the gigs. But that’s all.

The idea that has been spread all over is that the Irish people know how to be very respectful (‘There…but for the grace of God, go I’, right?). Can the band walk around without being bothered? What’s the secret to earn such respect from a nation?

The fame of the band…well, then again, Spain or America…that would be very different.

Want to know how it is? Imagine…last November…I met Paul McGuiness to hear the new album. We went into a small town nearly 20 miles away from Dublin and we went to have a drink. There were normal local people …about 40 people…having a drink. 6 o’clock in a Sunday afternoon. You would probably think the band was harassed and so … but no one came over. They didn’t care. They don’t care if it’s an actor or a rock star. And that’s how it goes all the time. People come over in the same places. It’s a pub … nobody cares. It not respect…it’s just the way it is.

The band always managed to save their privacy and keep it that way. What’s the secret of such controlled behavior from the media on their personal case?

In one way, if they do anything at all that can always be news. You can read a Bono story in the paper every day. But he doesn’t have to be bothered every day. You often get articles in the tabloids, small newspapers… But…I don’t really know. They probably find it easy to do it here … than somewhere else. Adam lives in London. But the rest of the band lives here…and is very cool. They can go anywhere. They just come in…and then they leave. And they don’t have to rush of because of reporters or photographers or bring security with them.

25 years after they formed the band, they still had no members changed….released albums climb to the top of the charts…and the band remain very creative and competitive with the new fresh bands and styles of music…while most of the old bands don’t stand the test of time. Which do you think is the secret for their continuing success?

I don’t know. No band should be as big and famous and probably as creative as they are. I don’t understand. 26 years in Rolling Stones career … The big bands in the past they were big because they did it well live! Stones had the most profitable tour last year. People enjoy that. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong.

Now, about U2… their tour selling out incredibly fast…you had concerts selling out really fast, some in a matter of minutes… their albums selling out…I think that’s the phenomenon. It’s crazy. I don’t understand. But for me, the most amazing thing is, they still manage to look cool. After 25 years of career they are still cool. They don’t look like Def Leppard looked after 10 years.

Do you think Bono looses too much time with his extra projects? (DATA, The One Campaign, fighting the 3rd world crisis) And does this kind of commitment affect negatively the band and the whole creating/recording process?

I would have to say he doesn’t. That’s what he does. That’s what and how he is. He can’t be the band 365 days a year.

It’s a phenomenal. But he does it. Many other artists did a few things I remember Sting…but Bono is like that 24 h a day. When he is not in the band, he is absolutely committed to other stuff not U2. I’ve seen pictures of him with Nelson Mandela one day…other day is in another point of the world with w president…and then again he is back home…It’s brilliant. And it’s so easy to laugh at it, you know? To think that he’s just doing that because it looks good, and to be in the spotlight…and to look like something he is not.. But you do have to admire it, cus that’s just the real way he is. It’s quite amazing. You could say that’s just because I know him, and I contact with him… but I genuinely do believe that he is a phenomenal person. I truly admire him.

Is there a sign of U2’s ending? Or are they still ‘alive and kicking’, not willing to end so soon?

I really don’t know. You have to get money to make things work. Big tours take a lot of money to happen…and than there is Principal Management here in Dublin, that they have to run as well…but then you can also think: how much money did they get for the iPod connection with Apple? A lot of money. A car company in America wanted to use ‘Where the streets have no name’ in an add….I can’t remember which car it was…but it would be seen in the whole world. 23.5 million pounds. That’s what they offered the band…and they refused. They don’t really need it.

If they are going to sell it has to be with a purpose and for a reason. In 1988 Paul McGuiness was in a seminary in NY and they didn’t felt like selling their soul like Michael Jackson did with Pepsi. But now…with the beginning of a new technology…and Apple seems to be the very beginning of something special…they want to be there. If they manage to associate an iPod with the release of a new album…it’s very good promotion for the album. It’s very hard to get your music across these days. And you know what’s the real proof that it was a good thing? 4 months after it was released…from a band with 27 years… HTDAAB sold 9,5/10 million copies. SO, it’s not stupid.

They do love to be on stage. That’s where they live. But I would say that they won’t be always on stage. Well…it’s a possibility. But not like Stones…they may choose not to go on tour. They can be 65, 70, 80….and rock musicians can get old too.

A new tour is about to start. There has been a lot of talk around it. Best sound system ever…the lighting…the hugeness of it all…it has been called the greatest tour ever. Are U2 bringing a new Zoo TV (or at least a spectacle on the same scale?)

I know nothing about it. I know it’s not going to be as low key as it was back in 2001 with the ‘Elevation Tour’ but I think it won’t either be as big as Zoo TV and Popmart were.

We heard you are going to broadcast from San Diego on the tour kick start. What do you expect from this upcoming tour? A world blast?

I don’t know yet if it will happen for sure. There are still some things that need to be decided. I have to go to a wedding…can you believe it? There’s a little problem. I don’t know what to expect. But a band like U2…it doesn’t take much to do a great tour. All they got to do is to play a few new songs …and play a lot of the old ones…they have a lot of hits. And that will keep the regular listeners happy with it.

Do U2 still reach you for advice or discussion on their new songs and projects?

No. Not really. They let me see their work. Maybe from time to time they can do 1 or 2 questions about which songs I’d pass in the radio, which ones would sound better. But they don’t ask for my advice.

             Which was the most remarkable U2 moment in your life?

HUM…maybe the summer of 85. The radio station where I worked for used to put on free concerts with local bands. It was very good, cus worked as promotion to the radio station and the bands. We did it in Dublin and we did one encore with some local bands. And we had scheduled a surprise for the end of the concert. It was around the time ‘Wide awake in America’ had just come out, ‘UF’ and UABRS had just been a great success. They had a truck but nothing huge. Just because it was a surprise. We had never given anything away. Nobody knew a thing. When I announced U2 …and they came on stage … it was complete madness. We had an ambulance ready to give assistance if necessary, and in 30 seconds…20 people came out because they fainted. It was ridiculous. They could not believe it. 12,000 people to see local bands for free and they get U2 in the end. And the band just did a brilliant stuff. I don’t know…there are a lot of events’…but I think that’s maybe the best one.

There are stories of an interview where the band ended up totally naked in the studio. You want to tell us about it?

Actually…it was not really like that. At the beginning they were already naked. Not completely. Maybe Bono was. They come here every year for an interview. That day things just went off. Bono came in, it was in 1987 somwhere in the middle of the Joshua Tree Tour. It was summer…and it was hot. Bono came in and just said: ‘Let’s do something different.’ Bono gave the ideia. They weren’t totally naked…maybe Bono was. I have photographs…(laughs)

And now last…but not least…would you please leave a message to U2Portugal and the Portuguese fans?

Well….what can I say? I really don’t know. I don’t know much about Portugal.. I followed the European of football last year. I remember Greece won Portugal in the finals. I’ve been to Portugal 2 or 3 times but I don’t remember that much.…I think it was Algarve or somewhere near that….Lagos…!

But…well, it wasn’t in Portugal, but I remember one concert, Bono left the stage, Adam, Edge and Larry . We got inside a car to go from the stage to the hotel. Which was kind of 25 miles away. And Bono was just saying how different Europe is for fans. He didn’t say Portugal, he mentioned Spain…that Spain was really big and that Italy was a really madness for fans, you know? So…but about Portugal, there’s not much I can really say.