Documentary to uncork U2’s elevation

U2 might be regarded as a Dublin band, but a new film will trace the importance of Cork to the group’s early development.

U2 Agus An Arc, an Irish-language documentary, will be broadcast on RTÉ One next month, and will trace U2’s development in the context of the thriving music scene on Leeside in the late 1970s and early 80s.

That scene was centred around the Arcadia Ballroom — a venue U2 played about nine times.

Being able to attract regular crowds of about 1,000 enthusiastic punters in Cork — more than in their hometown — meant the band would use the Arc as a showcase venue for visiting record labels and British journalists.

Famously, U2 recruited their sound engineer, Joe O’Herlihy, and other Cork members of their long-serving road crew, while playing these gigs.

The new documentary is the work of Forefront, a production company based on Douglas Road in Cork.

Documentary director, Tony McCarthy, was a regular attendee at the band’s gigs at the Arcadia, while his father Joe worked with RTÉ from the early days of television in Ireland, and was a cameraman at U2’s famous ‘secret’ gig at the Lee Fields in Cork in 1985.

“It was a great time for music in Cork, and we wanted to tell that story, as well as showing U2’s part in it. It was also a good opportunity to give recognition to Elvera Butler, who organised so many of those gigs,” said Tony.

Ms Butler, who features in the documentary, was the Thurles woman who set up UCC’s Downtown Kampus at the Arcadia, and had a major hand in nurturing the local scene, as well as bringing major acts to Cork.

Pic: David Corio
Pic: David Corio

While no footage of U2 at the Arcadia exists, the documentary makers were able to use rarely-seen pictures from a number of local sources, as well as from famed British music photographer David Corio.

The NME music paper had sent Corio to Cork for a piece by Paul Morley, who also contributes to the film.

Among the footage that is included in the documentary is of U2’s Lark by the Lee gig in 1985.

“That was organised by Joe O’Herlihy and the band partly to say ‘thank you’ to Cork,” Tony McCarthy said.

“It was kept secret because they couldn’t set up an official gig in the city at the time, and they didn’t want too big a crowd showing up at this.

“I knew about it because my dad was going to be filming at it.”

U2 Agus An Arc will be broadcast on RTÉ One on July 20.


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