My first look at U2 came in the fall of 1980, just after 'Boy's release. Island Records' publicist Neil Storey shanghaied me from the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport directly down to Southampton College, where we walked in on U2 a few minutes before a gig. All four band members were twenty-one or younger: Larry Mullen, who organised the band by posting a notice at Mt Temple Comprehensive school after being kicked out of the Artane Boys' (marching) Band for wearing long hair; Adam Clayton, who Bono says, "couldn't even dance" at the time he picked up the bass; The Edge, who had quickly gone from acoustic noodler to budding guitar hero through a seemingly innate gift; and Bono, born Paul Hewson, with the slapdash good looks and unselfconscious swagger to match his drive. "It had been a long time," recalls Dublin rock writer Bill Graham of an early U2 gig, "since I'd seen a singer who went for an audience that way, all the time watching their eyes."
They went a long way on Bono's tirelessness, his fervour with a mike in his hand. "When you think, 'Oh screw it, I'm not gonna climb this mountain,'" says Adam, "he's the type of person who'll hit you in the ass and get you going. It doesn't make you a lot of friends, but it's a great ability to have."
Bono gave The Edge his nickname, but he's a bit cryptic about why. When he's asked, he grasps Edge's long, chiseled jaw and turns it in profile: "The Edge." Then, after a pause: "Let's just say he's on the border between something and nothing."
At one point during the endless rounds of touring, Bono thought he had sussed The Edge's guitar style, and attempted to demonstrate as much at a sound check: "I'd been watching. I knew all the settings, knew his machines, the chord shapes, put my fingers where he puts his, had the volume he has it at, struck it the same way - and this blluuug came out of the speakers. The road crew just burst out laughing, and the guitar roadie came up and said, 'You know, I've been watching him for the past year and I've tried every day to make it sound like he does. I can't do it.'"
"Oh gosh," says The Edge in his disarmingly angelic way when asked how he does it. "I tend to do something with the guitar sound, use certain effects to fatten it, rather than just use it clean - though on 'War', it's cleaner than the two previous albums. I use the echo in a very concise way - I try to use the repeats in time with the music. Most guitar players would use the full spectrum of the guitar to get across the power and dynamics, but by using the echo I can get away without using the bottom strings so much. I tend to use three -, maybe four chords rather than the full six and to use the top strings, the top end, which gives that distance between the bass and the guitar, and gives me a bit more freedom."
"We started out as non-musicians," Bono points out. "We learned to play after the group was formed. I mean, we started to write our own material because we couldn't play other people's. Adam couldn't slap in time when he joined, Edge could play sort of bad acoustic. Larry had his military drumming, and I started singing 'cause I couldn't play guitar."
Adam concurs. "In the past, when we went into the studio, we simply didn't know our craft well enough. On 'War' you can hear more of the arrangements coming from a bass-and-drum thing; the rhythm section's standing up. That means Edge doesn't have to play as much. On the first two albums, knowingly or not, he was covering up for a rhythm section that wasn't quite mature. We're a much tougher band now."