As U2 tune up for tomorrow’s The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 in Croke Park, Dublin, Olivia Kelleher meets their biggest fan.
U2 super fan, James Coughlan, has seen the band in concert 39 times, has a number of U2 tattoos, and disappeared from home for a day as a teenager when he heard a rumour that the band would be playing at the “Lark by the Lee” festival in Cork.
James, who is from Kilrush, Co Clare, was in Croke Park in 1987 when he was 17 for the Joshua Tree tour. He will also be up the front for the special 30th anniversary album gig at the same venue.
James runs his barbershop to pay for his U2-related activities and says he can’t remember a time where he didn’t have a passion for the band.
“I will never forget the first time I heard U2. It was a bootleg tape of Under the Blood Red Sky and straight away I was mad in to it.
I had all the U2 badges on my jackets. I remember I used to hitchhike to Limerick in order to get badges at Golden Discs. I just love music.” James hitchhiked to Cork when he was a teenager after he heard the band were playing a free gig as part of a festival there.
“It didn’t exactly work out. They were playing all right but by the time I got there it was over. I come from a big family so they didn’t even notice I was missing ! I met my sister and thankfully she said Mam hadn’t missed me.” James says Bono and the boys have changed his world and have been with him for all the pivotal moments in his life, both positive and negative.
“One of things about being at a U2 show is that no matter what is going on with your home life they transport you on a journey. They were there for me when my wife died. I am now remarried.
"I asked Svetlana to marry me at a U2 gig. I had everyone surrounding us in the pit when I proposed to her during ‘With or Without You.’ I had met Bono and I told him I was going to propose to her. When the song came on the fans made a circle around us. It was so special.”
The music lover has met dozens of friends from all over the world arising out of his passion for all things U2. He is often frustrated at the feedback he receives from Irish people about the group.
He says unfortunately there is a bit of begrudgery towards the band and they don’t always get the acclaim they deserve in their home land.
“Ireland doesn’t embrace U2 the way it should. But U2 always fly the flag for Ireland. I don’t generally discuss U2 with Irish people because they end up talking about their tax affairs. I get irritated.
“U2 put on the greatest show on earth. When they play here the feeling of pride is unbelievable. I have great friends from attending U2 shows around the world. The Spanish and Italians particularly love them. They really love their music. When U2 come on stage in my home town and I am surrounded by all these people from abroad. Well that is an amazing feeling.”
James says people also don’t realise just how massive U2 are in America.
“They went from playing bars in Dublin, to playing the amphitheatre in Red Rocks Arizona to playing stadiums.
"They went from being an arena band to a stadium band overnight. They put so much into their tours. When you look back at Zoo TV, well that was ground- breaking. They made a lot of technological advances that other bands copied. Bono and the Edge are great businessmen and they invested in pixilated technology.”
Teenagers are fickle creatures but James says once he discovered U2 he had “his band.” He will never forget his first experience of U2 at the Joshua Tree tour in 1987.
“ I was so excited. I had blagged my way on to the top of the pitch. I told people my dad was up there and I got right to the front. It was a really hot day and they were hosing us down.
"Mind you there would have been more power in a garden hose. They started playing ‘Where the Streets have No Name’ and everyone started jumping. #
"It was like the tsunami of a wave. I will never forget that moment.” James has had several memorable meetings with the band and says the group members are never anything but courteous, warm, and kind.
“I am the biggest Irish U2 fan that I know. I remember being camped outside a stadium in Italy and Bono and the Edge brought out pizzas. I’ve met Bono in Dublin. We were invited guests of Gavin Friday’s when Bono turned up. Bono told me to drop by the studio the following day.
"I also drew a picture of Bono on a door outside the recording studio and he came out to me. I got a few photos. Adam and Larry are also very good to fans.” James says Bono, the Edge, Larry, and Adam have survived in the business because they are loyal to their core and treat everyone who works for them like family.
“Here you have four school friends who conquered the charts. I am always struck by the loyalty of U2. U2 never earned a lot from touring because they invested so much in it. They are very loyal to their fans and we are loyal to them.”
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