Late Late Show busking special: Bono and the Edge top the bill, but they’re not the stars

Glen Hansard’s duet with Philip Powell, who was homeless for 20 years, gives us all Faith

Every Late Late Show has felt like a special edition recently. Christmas began in earnest with the Toy Show at the end of November. Seven days ago, Dolly Parton and Daniel O'Donnell topped the bill for the Late Late Country Special. And this week, studio four throws open its doors to Bono, The Edge, Glen Hansard and others for an enjoyable celebration of the annual Christmas Eve busking gigs on Grafton Street.

There’s lots of socially distanced singing as the seasonal fundraiser relocates to Montrose. Danny O’Reilly of The Coronas and Steve Garrigan of Kodaline join forces like soft-pop Power Rangers for an opening take on Mic Christopher’s Heyday.

This is followed by Shane MacGowan, John Sheahan of The Dubliners, Finbar Furey, Lisa O’Neill and Vivienne Long performing Raglan Road (Imelda May joins by Zoom). The evening finishes with Bono, The Edge and others running through a brisk version of Darlene Love’s Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – famously covered by Mariah Carey (and also by U2 in 1987).

The Grafton Street busk was started a decade ago by Hansard to help Dublin homeless charities. They have since grown into a Christmas institution and the Late Late special goes some way towards capturing the magic of those performances.

Bono and the Edge are obviously the unofficial headliners. But if the night has an emotional core it is the duet between Hansard and Philip Powell,who was homeless for 20 years. Together they deliver an emotional cover of George Michael’s Faith. The song is clearly something of a guiding light for Powell, who has now secured permanent accommodation.

“The loneliness is the hardest part,” he says of living on the streets. “You couldn’t understand unless you’d been there yourself.”

U2 receive lots of chippy disdain in Ireland. And as expected, Twitter lights up as Bono and The Edge joined Tubridy for a chat.

It’s true that it is a slightly strange interview. Bono keeps swapping seats in order to maintain a minimum safe distance from Tubridy (his “reasoning” is that he’s a bigger chatterbox than the Edge). He also talks over the host in order to reminisce with Glen Hansard about growing up on the northside of Dublin.

And yet Bono and The Edge exude about as much humility as you would expect of international rock stars. One surprise is that Bono can’t bear to hear himself on U2 recordings from the 1980s and early 1990s (U2’s best period). His theory is that it wasn’t until the death of his father, in 2001, that he felt fully able to express himself through singing.

“My own voice – I don’t like the sound of it,” he says. “When he [his father] passed away I finally became the singer I could be…It’s like a will and testament, they can give you something of a gift.”

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