Paul McGuinness On The Importance Of Performing Live

Paul McGuinness (third from right) attends a party thrown by Island Records with label founder Chris Blackwell (second from right) and the members of U2 in 1980. Lester Cohen/WireImage

From Billboard:

What were some of your early wins in managing U2?
It was very hard to get a record deal. I thought they were so good, and it was so obvious that they would develop, that it surprised me greatly that pretty well every record company in London passed on them. We had some success getting A&R men to see them, but we had either bad luck, the shows weren’t very good or the A&R guys just didn’t see it. It took a surprisingly long time to get a deal, and in the end the deal we got from Island was the only one on offer.

U2’s first three albums were critically acclaimed but less than blockbusters, and during that time the band really developed its performance chops. Did you always consider the live thing as a critical part of a band’s career?
We always realized that there were two parallel careers: one live and one on record. We felt instinctively in the early days that it was important to be a great live band so that we were not dependent upon the success of the records. The first album [“Boy,” 1980] was, as you say, critically well-received, but didn’t have any hits. The hits off that album came much later. The second album [“October,” 1981] was recorded in a bit of a hurry and, looking back on it, quite weak. The third album [“War,” 1983] was a No. 1 album in the U.K., and ’round about that time the live album we did at Red Rocks [in Colorado, “Under a Blood Red Sky”] and the accompanying film [“Live at Red Rocks”] really did a lot to break the band in all countries. “Unforgettable Fire” in 1985 went to No. 1 in most European countries and did respectably in the U.S.

It was then that we started to play in arenas in the U.S. We had built up a very strong live base in America. I believed that was very important, and in the early ’80s we would spend three months of every year in the U.S.

One of the most important connections we ever made was with [agents] Frank Barsalona and Barbara Skydel at Premier Talent, [who] really believed in the band. They could see that it was a great live act. I learned an awful lot just from talking with Frank. I used to sit in his office until late at night when everyone else had gone home, and Barbara was our responsible agent. They were both major forces in the success of the band.

In Europe and other territories outside North America we had an equally brilliant agent in Ian Flooks and his company Wasted Talent — the hot agency in Europe when we started out. They picked up on U2 right at the beginning, and we did every date we ever did in Europe for either them or an agent in Ireland called Dave Kavanagh. And we worked with promoters like Leon Ramakers and Thomas Johanssen in Europe since day one, as well as Michael Coppel in Australia.

Working with agents was fundamental to the early success of U2. The band wanted to be good live, and they were prepared to put a lot of time and effort into touring, and so was I. We were not prepared to be the kind of routine visiting English punk band. I attended pretty well every show they ever did.