Slane Castle and Hot Press: two of the enduring institutions of modem Irish popular culture. Hot Press, Ireland’s first rock culture magazine, was just six years old when, in 1981, the legendary Irish band Thin Lizzy headlined the first ever rock festival in the natural amphitheatre of Slane Castle, a stately pile of land sweeping down to the river Boyne, about 50 miles from Dublin. That Lizzy concert was notable too for the appearance further down the bill of a then rising young Dublin four-piece by the name of U2. One year later, in the summer of 1982, Slane Castle’s place on the international rock festival map as confirmed with an appearance by the Rolling Stones in front of a crowd estimated at 80,000 strong. Since then, the field below the Castle has played host to many of the biggest names in rock, including Bruce Springsteen, Queen, REM, Guns N’ Roses, David Bowie, and, perhaps most memorable of all, U2 themselves, who returned home as world-conquering heroes to play two massive shows at the venue in 2001. But back in 1984, that level of success was still ahead of U2 when Bob Dylan arrived in Ireland to headline that year’s Slane Festival. A friend of Hot Press, as well as one of it’s cover stars, since U2’s inception, frontman Bono willingly donned a guest reporter’s hat to file this account of a backstage meeting with Dylan and Van Morrison, two veterans of the sixties who had briefly collaborated on stage that day during Dylan’s performance. And who, clearly, as the transcript reveals, had some words of wisdom for a young singer who would himself go on to become one of the most recognizable rock icons of the 80s, 90s, and the new millennium.
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BONO: You have been to Ireland before, haven’t you?
DYLAN: Yeah, I was in Belfast and in Dublin, and we travelled around a little bit too.
BONO: Have you ever spent any time here? Have you ever been here on holiday?
DYLAN: Yeah, well, when I was here, we travelled by car, so we stayed in different places—but Irish music has always been a great part of my life because I used to hang out with the Clancy Brothers. They influenced me tremendously.
BONO: Yeah, they have so much balls as a sound, you know, when they sing, it’s like punk rock.
DYLAN: Yeah, they were playing clubs as big as this room right here and the place—you couldn’t put a pin in it, it would be so packed with people.
BONO: You could smell their breath?
BONO: I bet you could. They blow you over with their lungs! God, I’d love to sing like that.
DYLAN: Yeah, I spent years with them running around, 61, 62, 63.
BONO: Greenwich Village?
DYLAN: All over the place, I played on the same bill with them once.
BONO: Get their autographs? (laughs)
DYLAN: No, I didn’t get their autograph. But you know one of the things I recall from that time is how great they all were—I mean there is no question, but that they were great. But Liam Clancy was always my favorite singer, as a ballad singer. I just never heard anyone as good, and that includes Barbara Streisand and Pearl Bailey.
BONO: You got to be careful here!
DYLAN: He’s just a phenomenal ballad singer.
BONO: Yeah, you know what I envy of you is that my music, and the music of U2 is like, it’s in space somewhere. There is no particular musical roots or heritage that we plug into. In Ireland there is a tradition, but I’ve never plugged into it. It’s like as if we’re caught in space. There’s a few groups now who are caught in space…
DYLAN: Well, you have to reach back.
BONO: We never did play a 12 bar.
DYLAN: You have to reach! There’s another group I used to listen to called the McPeake Family. I don’t know if you ever heard of them?
BONO: The McPeake Family! I’d love to have heard of them, with a name like that.
DYLAN: They are great. Paddy Clancy recorded them. He had a label called Tradition Records, and he used to bring back these records; they recorded for Prestige at the time, and Tradition Records, his company. They were called The McPeake family. They were even more rural than the Clancy Brothers. The Clancy Brothers had always that touch of commerciality to them—you didn’t mind it, but it was still there, whereas the McPeake Family sang with harps. The old man, he played the harp—and it was that (gestures) big—and the drums.
BONO: Were they a real family?
DYLAN: Yeah, they were a real family; if you go to a record store and as for a McPeake Family record, I Don’t know, I’m sure you could still get them in a lot of places.
BONO: Have you heard of an Irish group that are working now in this middle ground between traditional and contemporary music called Clannad? Clannad is Gaelic for family, and they’ve made some very powerful pieces of music, including a song called “Theme From Harry’s Game”, it’s from a film, and it knocked over everyone in Europe. It didn’t get played in the US. It’s just vocal and they used some low bass frequencies in it as well—it’s just beautiful. They’re a family, they come from Donegal, and have worked from that same base of traditional music.
DYLAN: There’s a group you have here, what’s it called, Plankston?
DYLAN: They’re great!
BONO: Another rock’n’roll band!
DYLAN: Yeah, but when I think of what’s happening—I think they’re great.
BONO: There’s another group called De Dannan. The name De Dannan has something to do with with the lost tribes of Dan. You heard of the disappearing tribe of Dan? They say they came from Ireland.
DYLAN: Yeah, I’ve heard that, I’ve heard that.
BONO: I’m not a musicologist or expert in this area, but it would appear that this is true. Also, you know they say the Irish musical scale has no roots in Europe whatsoever, rather it comes from Africa and India. The Cartesian people, the Egyptian people, what gave them supremacy in the Middle East was the sail they developed. I forget what they call it, I forget the name of the sail, but this sail allowed them to become successful sea farers and traders and they dominated as a result of their reading, and that same sail which was used on those boats, is used on the West of Ireland.
DYLAN: Is that right?
BONO: Bob Quinn made a film called Atlanteans in which this theory was elaborated. He suggests that the book of Kells, which is a manuscript, part of it has it’s roots in Coptic script, not in Europe. It’s not a European thing at all—it’s linked from Africa, Spain, Brittany and Ireland, because that was a sea route. I’m not an expert. I shouldn’t be talking about it really. But it’s of interest when you think of it.
DYLAN: Sure it is.
BONO: I might be able to send you over some tapes of that actually.
DYLAN: I’d like to have them. You know Planxty? I also like Paul Brady a lot.
BONO: Yeah, he’s great. He’s a real song writer. Tell me—have you ever approached a microphone, not with words, but just to sing? I had to do this as a necessity once when some lyrics of mine were stolen—and I learnt to sing on the microphone just singing and working the words into it later. I find when I put a pen in my hand it gets in the way! Do you have words first?
DYLAN: I do at certain times.
BONO: In Portland, Oregon a number of years ago two pretty girls walked in the dressing room, smiled and walked out with some of our songs, in a brief case.
DYLAN: I used to have that happen to me all the time, except they used to take clothes!
BONO: Is that right?
DYLAN: They used to take all my best clothes, but never took my songs.
BONO: After that we had to go in to record our second LP, October, without any songs—there was a lot of pressure. having to sing under that stress without any words, I found out a lot of things about myself that I didn’t even know were there. I’d wondered, had some of the things that have come out of you ever been a surprise to you?
DYLAN: That usually happens at concerts or shows I’m doing, more than recording studios, Also, I never sit around, I usually play … I’ll play my guitar, rather than just have something to say, to express myself. I can express it better with my guitar.
BONO: I wondered had the songs that you were writing ever frightened you in some way?
DYLAN: Oh yeah, I’ve written some songs that that did that. The songs that I wrote for the Slow Train album did that. I wrote those songs. I didn’t plan to write them, but I wrote them anyway. I didn’t like writing them, I didn’t want to write them. I didn’t figure … I just didn’t want to write them songs at that period of time. But I found myself writing these songs and after I had a certain amount of them, I thought I didn’t want to sing them, so I had a girl sing them for me at the time, and what I wanted to do was …. she’s a great singer ….
BONO: Who is this?
DYLAN: A girl I was singing with at the time, Carolyn Dennis her name was. I gave them all to her and had her record them, and not even put my name on them. But I wanted the songs out; I wanted them out, but *I* didn’t want to do it because I knew that it wouldn’t be perceived in that way. It would just mean more pressure. I just did not want that at that time.
BONO: But are you a trouble maker? Is there something in you that wants trouble that an album like Slow Train stirs up? Do you wanna fight? Do you wanna box!?
DYLAN: I don’t know! I mean, I wanna piss people off once in a while, but boxing or fighting—it would be an exercise to do it. You know, I love to do it, but not with anything at stake.
BONO: Chess, do you play chess?
DYLAN: Yeah, I play chess. Are you a chess player?
BONO: I am a chess player.
DYLAN: I’m not that good actually.
BONO: I’ll challenge you to a game of chess.
DYLAN: I don’t have it right now actually, I just don’t have one on me, but the next time you see me!
BONO: Oh, you can get these little ones you know, that you can carry around.
DYLAN: Yeah, I take them on tour all the time, but nobody in the band will play me.
DYLAN: Yeah, they say it’s an ego trip. They say I want to win, I don’t want to win, I just like to play.
BONO: When you put out a record that causes trouble—is it part of an overall plan, or do you just do it?
DYLAN: No, I don’t ever put out a record to cause trouble—if it causes trouble, it causes trouble, that’s apart from me. If it causes trouble, that’s other people’s problem. It’s not my problem. I’m just not going to put out a record that I just feel—you know, if I feel like I’m inspired to make a statement, I’ll make that statement. But what happens after I do it, I don’t care about that.
BONO: What’s your opening game?
DYLAN: My opening game, you mean king’s pawn up two—and all that? I don’t know.
BONO: You just takes it as it comes.
DYLAN: Yeah. I don’t really play that seriously.
BONO: Well, I thought I did until I played Adam’s brother Sebastian—he was only about 13 years old and he beat me!
DYLAN: Somebody may have a chess game here.
BONO: I’d love to play.
[Searching for a chess board … enter Van Morrison]
BONO: You haven’t used any synthesizers on your records so far?
DYLAN: No, I’ve never used those machines.
BONO: The Fairlight Music Computer—have you heard of that?
BONO: Van, what do you think of electronic music?
MORRISON: I like the music Brian Eno plays.
BONO: He speaks very highly of you. He’s producing our record right now.
MORRISON: Say hello.
BONO: (to Bob) Do you know Brian Eno?
DYLAN: Brian Eno? I don’t know Brian Eno, but I know some of his work.
BONO: When you’re working with a producer, do you give him the lee-way to challenge you?
DYLAN: Yeah, if he feels like it. But usually we just go into the studio and sing a song, and play the music, and have, you know …
BONO: Have you had somebody in the last five years who said “That’s crap, Bob”?
DYLAN: Oh, they say that all the time!
BONO: Mark Knopfler, did he say that?
DYLAN: I don’t know, they spend time getting their various songs right, but with me, I just take a song into the studio and try to rehearse it, and then record it, and then do it. It’s a little harder now though to make a good record—even if you’ve got a good song and a good band. Even if you go in and record it live, it’s not gonna sound like it used to sound, because the studios now are so modern, and overly developed, that you can take anything good and you can press it and squeeze it and squash it, and constipate it and suffocate it. You do a great performance in the studio and you listen back to it because the speakers are all so good, but, ah, no!
BONO: All technology does is—you go into a dead room with dead instruments and you use technology to give it life that it doesn’t have, and then it comes out of the speakers and you believe it. What I’ve been trying to do is find a room that has life in itself.
BONO: A ‘living’ room.
DYLAN: The machines though, can even take the life out of that room, I’ve found. You can record in St Peter’s Cathedral, you know, and they still make it sound like, eh, …
BONO: Somebody’s backyard.
DYLAN: That’s a good idea. I’d love to record in a cathedral.
DYLAN: You know the studios in the old days were all much better, and the equipment so much better, there’s no question about it in my mind. You just walked into a studio, they were just big rooms, you just sang, you know, you just made records; and they sounded like the way they sounded there. That stopped happening in the late Sixties, for me anyway. I noticed the big change. You go into a studio now and they got rugs on the floor, settees and pinball machines and videos and sandwiches coming every ten minutes. It’s a big expensive party and you’re lucky if you come out with anything that sounds decent.
BONO: Yeah, records haven’t got better, have they?
DYLAN: No, you go in now, you got your producer, you got your engineer, you got your assistant engineer, usually your assistant producer, you got a guy carrying the tapes around. I mean, you know, there’s a million people go into recording just an acoustic song on your guitar. The boys turn the machines on and it’s a great undertaking.
BONO: There’s a system called Effanel which Mick Fleetwood from Fleetwood Mac brought to Africa. It was built for him because he wanted to get some real African drummin’, for “Tusk”. We’ve used that system. It comes in a light suitcase, very small, no bullshit studio, and it just arrives, you can literally bring it to your living room.
MORRISON: I think all the same they’ll go back to 2-track eventually.
BONO: There’s a guy called Conny Plank, who lives in Germany. He’s a producer I think. He produced Makem and Clancy and some Irish traditional bands, also orchestral and funnily enough a lot of the new electronic groups, DAF, Ultravox, and so on. He used to record orchestras by just finding a position in the room where they were already balanced and he applies this in his thinking, in recording modern music: he finds a place in the room where it’s already mixed.
MORRISON: I don’t know, when I started we didn’t think about that! You didn’t even think about recording … (laughs)
BONO: You didn’t even think!
MORRISON: You didn’t even know what was on the cards. One day you were in the room, they turned the tape on. After about eight hours or so, they’d say, ‘OK, tea break, it’s over’.
DYLAN: Yeah, next song, next song!
MORRISON: And that was that—it was an album.
DYLAN: Yeah, you’d make an album on three days or four days and it was over—if that many! It’s that long now … it takes four days to get a drum sound.
BONO: Do you know the Monty Python team, they’re comedians, British comedians, ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’. They have a sketch that reminds me of you guys—sitting back talking of days gone by: “You tell that to the young people of today and they’d never believe you”. But you can’t go backwards, you must go forward. You try to bring the values that were back there, you know, the strength, and if you see something that was lost, you got to find a new way to capture that same strength. Have you any idea of how to do that? I think you’ve done it by the way … I think ‘Shot Of Love’, that opening track has that.
DYLAN: I think so too, You’re one of the few people to say that to me about that record, to mention that record to me.
BONO: That has *that* feeling.
DYLAN: It’s a great record, it suits just about everybody.
BONO: The sound from that record makes me feel like I’m in the same room as the other musicians. I don’t feel like they’re over *there*. Some of our records, I feel like they’re over there because we got into this cinema type sound, not bland like FM sound, but we got into this very broad sound. Now we’re trying to focus more of a punch, and that’s what we are after, this intimacy …. I’ve never interviewed anybody before, by the way. I hate being interviewed myself.
MORRISON: You’re doing a good job!
BONO: Is this OK?. Good! What records do you listen to?
DYLAN: What records do I listen to? New records? I don’t know, just the old records really. Robert Johnson. I still listen to those records that I listened to when I was growing up—they really changed my life. They still change my life. They still hold up, you know. The Louvain Brothers, Hank Williams, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Charlie Patton, I always liked to listen to him.
BONO: I just bought Woody Guthrie’s Bound For Glory. I’m just a beginner when it comes to America. I mean, it’s changed me. When you go the US, coming from this country, it’s more than a different continent ….
MORRISON: It’s shell shock.
BONO: Yeah, coming from troubled Ireland, it’s the real shell shock! I’m just getting acquainted with American music and literature. Do you still see Allen Ginsberg?
DYLAN: I run across Allen from time to time, yeah, Gregory Corsos’s back now, he’s doing some readings, I think he’s just published a new book.
BONO: I’ve just been reading this book Howl.
DYLAN: Oh, that’s very powerful. That’s another book that changed me. Howl, On the Road, Dharma Bums.
MORRISON: (to Bono) Have you read On the Road?
BONO: Yes I have, I’m just starting that. You have a reference in one of your songs to John Donne, ‘Rave On John Donne’. Have you read his poetry?
MORRISON: I was reading it at the time.
DYLAN: (to Bono) You heard the songs—Brendan Behan’s songs?
DYLAN: ‘Royal Canal’, you know the ‘Royal Canal’?
MORRISON: His brother wrote it. His name is Dominic.
DYLAN: Oh, Dominic wrote ‘Royal Canal’?
BONO: You know Brendan’s son hang out around here in Dublin. He’s a good guy, I believe.
DYLAN: I know the solo lyrics to the ‘Royal Canal’. I used to sing it all the time.
BONO: How does it go?
DYLAN: (sings) ‘The hungry feeling came over me stealing, as the mice were squalling in my prison cell’.
BONO: That’s right, yeah!
DYLAN: (continues) ‘That old triangle went jingle jangle, all along the banks of the Royal Canal’.
BONO: That’s right, when did you read that?
DYLAN: (there’s no way stopping him now) ‘In the female prison there’s seventy women. It’s all over there that I want to dwell. And that old triangle goes jingle jangle, all along the banks of the Royal Canal’.
BONO: Have you been to the Royal Canal?
DYLAN: No I used to sing that song though. Every night.
BONO: Our music—as I was saying earlier—it doesn’t have those roots.
MORRISON: Yeah, there was a break in the lineage. I sussed that out when I went to see Thin Lizzy years ago, the first night in L.A. and I was watching at the back of the stage and I realized that the music was a complete cut in the connection between the end of the Sixties and the middle of the Seventies—a severing of the traditional lineage of groups.
BONO: I like to know more about roots music. I’m hungry for a past.
MORRISON: You know you should listen to some of that stuff.
BONO: I will. I’ve been listening to some gospel music, you know, like the Swan Silvertones, and stuff like that.
DYLAN: That’s US stuff though.
MORRISON: US stuff, but the British stuff you should listen to, you know, like some of the old stuff, like the Yardbirds.
BONO: Yeah, I’ve got some of their tapes recently, some real good tapes.
DYLAN: You can still hear the McPeakes. The next generation may not be able to though. Who knows? I would hate to think that. Listen we’re gonna have to get ready to play. Are you gonna stay for the show?
BONO: Certainly, that’s what I’m here for actually.
DYLAN: To record it, ha!
Hot Press, July 8, 1984