THE Lovetown Tour of Australia in 1989 sealed my love for U2.
Aged 12, I heard Angel of Harlem on the radio the previous year and was instantly intrigued by the lyric “eyes swollen like a bee sting”.
A school friend gave me a mixed tape (remember them?) of some U2 tunes borrowed from his older brother.
That tape, a mashup of songs from Under a Blood Red Sky, The Unforgettable Fire and Rattle and Hum, was played incessantly.
I was really digging this band.
Months later, U2 announced a tour of Australia and my brother and his then girlfriend (and today his wife) took me along.
We sat behind the stage, three rows from the very top of the Tennis Centre in Melbourne on October 16.
I’m yet to experience a buzz like it. The crowd was incredibly raucous and U2 sounded pristine.
I was sold – from that moment, I was happy to proclaim to anybody willing, and unwilling, to listen that U2 was my favourite band.
It still is.
I had many an argument at high school protecting U2 from the throng of pimple-faced peers caught up in the hip hop craze.
Their loss I suppose.
Every time I think about that Lovetown Tour show, my first memory is walking up the stairs into the arena and seeing the spotlights reflecting off the instruments on stage as Weddings Parties Anything (WPA) rocked the joint.
They were the first of two support acts (the other being BB King) who traveled the country playing all 23 shows.
In this U2 Australia exclusive, WPA singer Mick Thomas, drummer Marcus Schintler and agent Niall Geoghegan give us an insight into the experience. From marveling at U2’s work ethic, to playing pool with David Bowie, it’s all here.
U2 AUSTRALIA: Cast your mind back to the 1989 Lovetown Tour. What’s the first memory that pops in your head?
MICK THOMAS: Playing pool. With everyone from our band, to U2, to David Bowie. We couldn’t seem to play enough in those days and I get the feeling U2’s management had decided it was a good way for them to connect with other people and recapture some of the social life of a normal rock band they might have missed in their quick, early ascent to fame. They even went out and played in various Sydney pubs from memory. They weren’t that good (at pool). Marcus, our drummer, pantsed The Edge and he was a good sport and dropped his strides.
MARCUS SCHINTLER: Having played a few big supports, we didn’t really think that much about this one (supporting U2). We’d played with Stevie Nicks and a few others and didn’t get much from the shows and didn’t get to meet the acts we’d support. So my first memory is a feeling that this wasn’t (going to be) such a big deal.
U2 AUSTRALIA: How did Weddings Parties Anything get the gig? Was it pretty much a “yes” from the start, or did the band think it over?
MICK THOMAS: We got it on the recommendation of the Pogues manager (Frank Murray). We did actually think twice about it as we had an album just out we were really proud of (The Big Don’t Argue) and wondered if we shouldn’t have been touring that ourselves. The benefits of the exposure on that tour were quite delayed and so at the end of the run, we actually thought we might have made the wrong decision. Down the track I know it was totally beneficial. When they wanted to check us out the week before the tour The Edge and Bono* came to the Paddington RSL incognito, but they fooled nobody.
*WPA agent Niall Geoghegan remembers Larry Mullen Jr and U2 manager Paul McGuinness also attended the RSL gig.
MARCUS SCHINTLER: We’d played with the Pogues and had a really good time with them the year before. I believe U2’s management contacted the Pogues’ management to get some advice on possible opening acts for the Australian tour and we were recommended. Our management was contacted and an offer was made for one show. We’d already organised an Australian tour and I seem to recall we were going to be on the other side of the country when U2 were to play the show we were offered. So we met with our management about it and decided to go back to U2 and say we’d take the whole tour if it were on offer, but we had our own tour organised already and thanks anyway.
Not expecting to hear back, you could imagine our surprise when they contacted us again. This time they put the understandable view that they normally shared the opening spot around with many local acts, something I’ve got a lot of respect for. However, this time they were prepared go against that rule and offer us the whole tour, but they wanted to see us play first. The stakes were raised and we accepted. We had a show booked in Sydney at the Paddington RSL and arranged for their names to be put on the door. To be honest, I didn’t really expect them to turn up and had forgotten about it when part way through our show the full house we were playing to turned around to see U2 come in the room. Well, playing to the backs of your fans shows you your place in the scheme of things. Fortunately we passed the audition and were given the whole tour.
U2 AUSTRALIA: Which lineup of Weddings Parties Anything played that tour?
MICK THOMAS: Marcus Schintler on drums, Peter Lawler on bass, Squeezebox Wally (Mark Wallace) on accordion, myself on guitar and vocals and it was the last tour for Richard Burgman on guitar who was in the band for pretty much a year exactly.
U2 AUSTRALIA: I saw the October 16 gig in Melbourne and vividly remember the tremendous noise of the crowd. I had never heard an audience like it, and have never heard anything come close to that night. It could be that the mind of a 13-year-old always amplifies what it remembers years later, but did you think the crowds were overly noisy?
MICK THOMAS: Yeah, it was noisy which suited us well as we were a noisy band, especially at that time.
MARCUS SCHINTLER: I don’t recall the crowds being overly noisy but they were certainly into it. In fact, in Brisbane the crowd stormed to the front of the Entertainment Centre and I remember security guards having to move rows and rows of seating out of the room. After the show the crowds waiting outside for a glimpse of U2 were so big that we couldn’t leave the venue for about three hours.
U2 AUSTRALIA: Did you have the opportunity after your sets to watch U2 play? If so, what stood out about their performances?
MICK THOMAS: Every night we watched them. I loved their dedication and constancy of effort. On a technical level the whole thing was up a notch from anything I had ever seen (or seen since I might add). Purely the attention to detail from the crew and the amount of people working on the show that had to be co-ordinated each night. One day it would be a discussion about the switching of guitar effects. People would have to be in agreement over who was doing the particular jobs and at one stage they sent to LA to get a particular guitar effect The Edge required. And then it might be a lighting cue that had to be signed off on. Bono started a thing where at a certain point he would run up one of the side ramps, jump in the air and then click his heels, at which point there would be a concentrated flash of light. On top of all this, don’t forget there were about a dozen people that ascended rope ladders each night and spent the show floating about in control of follow spotlights. They stayed back pretty much every night and watched a video of the gig, which I think is a little over the top. It was an organisational marvel for a band (WPA) who had survived with a maximum of two crew until that point.
MARCUS SCHINTLER: Yes we did see them play several times. I really enjoyed the mood they created when they played. Those kinds of venues aren’t known for their warmth and the band went to great lengths to make that work.
U2 AUSTRALIA: Did you get to hang out with the band or crew? What were they like? Any particular moments that come to mind?
MICK THOMAS: Heaps. They were really friendly. One night a few of our guys got stuck out at the gig in Brisbane and they gave them a lift back in in their Tarago. They were good guys.
MARCUS SCHINTLER: They had 200 people on the road with them so there were a lot of calls on their time, but we did get a couple of games of pool in and they were really good blokes. I got to play a couple of tunes with The Edge at the end of tour party and he’s a very gentle person that seems to come to his fame and music without an inflated ego.
Their crew took a shine to us and, at the last performance, placed signs on the stage that said, “WPA we love you, no matter what happens don’t stop playing”. When we played our last song one of the crew walked out onto the stage dressed as the Grim Reaper and started taking our gear off bit by bit with the help of a growing number of their crew. Drums, amps etc were removed mid song. It was very funny and a memory I cherish.
U2 AUSTRALIA: The U2 organisation has a reputation of treating its support acts very well. Is that true? Was there anything that stood out in that regard?
MICK THOMAS: We were treated very well. They gave us a good drink rider and fed us. They were pretty generous with the production side of things as well.
MARCUS SCHINTLER: There’s no one thing that comes to mind, but we were looked after very well indeed and that’s a credit to them and the way they go about their business. We were made to feel welcome and were treated with respect.
U2 AUSTRALIA: You also had BB King and his band on the tour. Were you able to spend any time with him?
MICK THOMAS: Not with Mr King, who we only spoke to briefly, but we hung out with the band a fair bit. A few good friendships were formed there. They were real American session muso types and really had no problems making friends with another bunch of players on the road.
MARCUS SCHINTLER: I shared a drum kit with BB’s drummer to make the change over of acts a bit smoother and they were not only a great band, but great guys too. We met BB in his dressing room and all huddled around him for a photo (wish I had copy, come to think of it). Our bass player’s girlfriend took the photo and BB said to her, “you better make sure that flash is working little lady, these guys are a lot whiter than me”. He was very funny and very welcoming.
U2 AUSTRALIA: U2 had to postpone some shows in Sydney after Bono contracted laryngitis. The shows were rescheduled a month later after the band returned from the New Zealand leg of the tour. What was the mood among the bands/crew after you heard about the need for postponing the shows?
MICK THOMAS: I think it only added to the intrigue and prolonged the whole scenario which was ultimately a good thing from our point of view.
MARCUS SCHINTLER: I saw Bono struggling on stage and he came off that night really upset about it. But it’s a professional outfit that just did what they needed to do to get things right and come back and finish the tour for the fans.
U2 AUSTRALIA: With Bono recovered, the rescheduled show of November 18 was marred by a bomb threat and the Sydney Entertainment Centre had to be evacuated. It’s reported U2 played an energetic set afterwards, considered the best of the tour. What are your memories of that night?
MICK THOMAS: Pretty much the same. There was a head security guy we had become friendly with – an ex-MI5 dude who really went into overdrive that night. It was impressive and again, only added to the overall drama and intrigue which we were a part of.
MARCUS SCHINTLER: Funny you ask that because I’d forgotten about it. Yes, they did play a spirited show and by that time were really starting to hit their stride. You have to recall that this was the first time they’d played in about two years*, if memory serves, so it was going to take a couple of shows to blow the cobwebs out. Not that you could really tell unless you’d been there every night like we had.
*U2’s last full concert was on December 20, 1987, at Tempe, Arizona, in the US.
U2 AUSTRALIA: The previous night, David Bowie attended the show and caught up with U2 afterwards. Did you get to see Bowie? If so, what was that like?
MICK THOMAS: A good guy. We played pool and hung out. No pretence from our perspective.
MARCUS SCHINTLER: We met David Bowie at the end of tour party. I was playing pool with our agent and somehow we ended up playing doubles with David and a friend of his. I got to spend some time chatting with him and he was a lovely bloke. I said we might put out a rumor that he was going to do a couple of songs with us at our next Sydney show and he was happy for me to run with that. Of course I didn’t. You’d be pretty unhappy if you’d turned up to see David Bowie and he didn’t play.
U2 AUSTRALIA: At the time of the tour, Weddings Parties Anything was enjoying a burst of success in Australia, winning some awards, getting frequent radio play. Did the tour boost the band’s popularity in a noticeable way?
MICK THOMAS: As I said, not so much at the time and after they had gone home it was kind of like Walt Disney’s The Prince and the Pauper. We were once again a shit-kicking rock band trying to find a new guitarist wondering if it had all been a dream. I think the benefits of it took some years to become evident as a lot of the crowd were pretty young (ie: too young to get into pubs). It was the first time my wife saw me play.
MARCUS SCHINTLER: It certainly helped the profile of the band. Bono did an interview where he said that he really envied our band, because we played songs that old men could sing in pubs and young people could dance to. He said in the interview that he’d been trying to do that for years. That kind of thing goes a long way and was a really big compliment to get from him.
U2 AUSTRALIA: What are you up to musically these days? Any upcoming gigs etc?
MICK THOMAS: I am busy and, in spite of not being in the general public’s eye, have not stopped. There is a compilation of stuff out on Liberation Music in the new year and even a book of songs and stories through Melbourne Books. mickthomas.com or Mick Thomas Music on Facebook is how to keep across what I am up to.
MARCUS SCHINTLER: I’m currently the chair of the Northern Rivers Conservatorium of Music in Lismore NSW. I’m also playing a little bit with a great young songwriter named Thor Phillips. It’s a three-piece country outfit that I’m really enjoying working with.
U2 AUSTRALIA: Are you a U2 fan? If so, can you list your favourite album and song?
MICK THOMAS: Not so much these days to be quite honest. I think it’s just that I have stayed in one area of music and the mega stuff has been something that doesn’t concern me that much these days. I am really glad we got to do it (the tour) and really grateful they were such a good bunch to be involved with.
MARCUS SCHINTLER: Yes, I’ve always liked the band. I really enjoyed the early singles like New Year’s Day and I love Beautiful Day (I used to live under the flight path in Sydney). It’s the mood thing they create that I mentioned before. Really, I just love songs with the word day in them.
U2 AUSTRALIA: Trading Post Agency booking agent Niall Geoghegan was also at the end of tour party. Here he tells us why David Bowie wouldn’t get up on stage to jam with the others.
NIALL GEOGHEGAN: David Bowie was in Sydney recording an album with Tin Machine at the time. Marcus Schintler and I ended up playing three games of pool (doubles) with him and a female friend.
The Edge saw Bowie was there and got up to jam with some band members and Stan Armstrong (part of the Weddings Parties Anything crew) and they started playing Suffragette City.
As I had been playing pool with Bowie, I approached him pleading for him to get up on stage with them, but he said that he had been chastised by the Musician’s Union of Australia earlier that week when he sang live briefly somewhere else.
As his visa only allowed him to be in Australia for recording purposes, he was not allowed to perform live. Unfortunately for us all, he stuck to his guns and didn’t get up with The Edge and the WPA guys, but it was fun watching The Edge playing a few songs with those guys anyway.
U2 AUSTRALIA: Niall remembers the night U2 turned up to watch WPA perform at the Paddington RSL and gave them the thumbs up to be a support act.
NIALL GEOGHEGAN: There were four band members at the Paddo RSL that night (The Edge, Bono, Larry and Paul McGuiness, their manager in those days – unfortunately Adam didn’t make it) and as a fan of both U2 and WPA, I decided to chance my arm a bit that night when I approached Paul McGuiness and played the “I’m with the agency for WPA (which was true) and I just want to get some feedback on what the band think of the Weddos” card.
Paul McGuiness was very friendly and said that I would have to ask the band members themselves so he pointed them all out for me and I approached each one to ask for their feedback, which was gushing to say the least. They were very impressed.
Actually, I had to have a word with each of their security guards who were standing next to them before I could speak with them directly. Bono and Larry were full of praise about the band, but not particularly chatty, but the Edge noticed my Irish accent and after telling me how great he thought WPA were, asked me where I was from.
When I told him that I was from the same town he grew up in, Malahide (true – Adam Clayton also grew up there), he was very relaxed and chatted for a while. It was a great night and the Weddos were in top form. I further enjoyed every one of the five nights at the Sydney Entertainment on that tour with one of the best line-ups ever – WPA, BB King and U2.
LOVETOWN TOUR DATES – 1989
Weddings Parties Anything played support at all shows, according to Pimm Jal de la Parra’s book U2 Live – a concert documentary. Marcus Schintler recalls WPA did not play the Adelaide shows.
Click on dates below for full set lists.