U2 and Paul McGuinness: the end of the affair
When Paul McGuinness began managing U2, in 1978, they were playing in car parks. This week he announced he would no longer be the ‘fifth member’ of the most successful live band of all time. Why?
Him too: Paul McGuinness (back) with U2 at an Island Records party in 1980. Photograph: L Cohen/WireImage/Getty
Him too: Paul McGuinness in 1991, when he was on the Arts Council, with Dr Colm Ó hEocha, its chairman, and Anthony Cronin, Charles Haughey’s cultural adviser. Photograph: Paddy Whelan
Him too: Paul McGuinness with Bono in 2005. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh
Him too: Paul McGuinness with his wife, Kathy Gilfillan, last year. Photograph: Dave M Benett/Getty
It was music’s Alex Ferguson moment: the guiding hand of a high-achieving corporation standing down after a long and hugely successful tenure. The 35-year relationship between Paul McGuinness and U2, which saw the band go from playing from the back of a van in a Dublin car park to becoming the most successful live touring band of all time, ended rather mutely this week with McGuinness selling his Principle Management company to the concert promoter Live Nation.
As with Ferguson, the 62-year-old is moving upstairs, to become chairman of Principle. Day-to-day management is being taken over by Guy Oseary, who also manages Madonna.
McGuinness made a statement to the New York Times that suggested his age was a factor in the decision. “It could be seen as slightly poor etiquette for a manager to consider retiring before his artist has split, quit or died, but U2 have never subscribed to the rock ’n’ roll code of conduct. As I approach the musically relevant age of 64 I have resolved to take a less hands-on role as the band embark on the next cycle of their extraordinary career.”
Oseary has been in place for a few weeks. McGuinness told the band two years ago that he was considering standing down. After three and a half decades in the rock ’n’ roll trenches and with a new album and world tour ready to go next year, it’s entirely possible that McGuinness decided he had had enough of the long days that managing one of the world’s biggest bands entails.
It was a surprise to some that U2’s official website and Facebook and Twitter accounts had nothing to say about their manager’s departure once news broke on Wednesday that he was standing down.
By the time Weekend Review went to press yesterday the band had made no statement to the media in general, and neither they nor McGuinness had responded to questions from The Irish Times.
Some see the absence of a valedictory statement from the band as bad form. “McGuinness deserves better than this,” says one observer who has had close links with the band for many years. “The failure of the band to issue a statement has not gone unnoticed in the industry.”
This does not necessarily point to strained relations between U2 and their former manager. There has been no official confirmation of the deal by Live Nation, so the band might regard a statement as premature.
“Paul fought, fought and fought again for the band,” says one person who has worked with McGuinness and knows him well personally. “He would be the one up early and still at work late at night, arguing with local police chiefs and mayors about stage times and curfews. He was more than loyal, and he literally kept the band together at times. He’s an absolute gentleman who will defend U2 to the death.”
All one needs to know about what McGuinness did for U2 is to consider that Bruce Springsteen refers to his manager, Jon Landau, as the American Paul McGuinness.
In May 1978 a new band then known as The Hype were playing at Project Arts Centre in Dublin. Even then they had ideas about themselves. Paul Hewson, David Evans, Larry Mullen jnr and Adam Clayton figured they needed a manager to get them a record deal.
McGuinness was in the audience that night and was impressed by the inchoate new-wave noise he heard from the stage. Taking them to the Granary pub next door, where the members of U2 were too young to be served alcohol, he immediately impressed the ambitious, wide-eyed northsiders by telling them how to handle all the money that would inevitably flow in once they had an album in the shops.
He talked sagely about how The Beatles and The Rolling Stones had run into problems by not sharing their income equally between the band’s songwriting and nonsongwriting members. He persuaded them to share everything. “It has stood them in very good stead, because it backs up the democracy of a decision if everyone’s making the same amount of money,” he later said.
He also negotiated an equal 20 per cent of U2’s income for himself. For a long time he was, very unusually, paid as if he were part of the band. “This was reviewed later on. There should always be a division between client and manager,” he has said.