Rough conditions and protest fail to rain on U2's debut Glastonbury parade


Irish band dug deep into their back catalogue and moved with ease through their 30-year recording career

“MAYBE IT’S the ley lines, maybe it’s our jet lag, but this is very, very special,” declaimed Bono from the stage at the Glastonbury Festival last night when the band finally make their debut appearance on a horrendously muddy, wet and cold night. A huge crowd had congregated around the main Pyramid Stage with many Irish flags in evidence as the band put in a tight, muscular set.

As U2 came on stage at 10pm activists from the direct action group Art Uncut inflated a 20-foot balloon with the message “U Pay Your Tax 2”. They tried to release it over the crowd but a team of security guards wrestled the balloon to the ground and deflated it.

More than a dozen security guards had been ready to pounce down on any protests.

Opening with Even Better Than The Real Thingwhich segued into The Flyand Mysterious Ways, Bono, in his all black leather ensemble, looked like he had stepped out of a Village People video as he continually exhorted the crowd to ignore the adverse weather and join him in a musical celebration.

The band had just flown in from the US to make the show and were without their current “Claw” stage configuration. In its place they mounted an Achtung Babyera stage presentation with giant screens on the stage flashing up a series of opaque messages and symbols.

An early highlight was a musically unadorned version of William Blake’s Jerusalem(“How often do you hear an Irishman sing Jerusalemasked Bono) which led into an anthemic version of One.

They dug deep into their back catalogue for a well-received version of I Will Followfrom 1980’s Boyand moved with ease through most stages of their 30-odd year recoring career.

Introducing the song Beautiful Day, there was a message on the big screen from astronaut Mark Kelly at International Space Station. Kelly’s wife is Gabrielle Giffords the US congresswoman who was shot in the head earlier this year. The message from Mr Kelly was: “Tell my wife I love her.”

Backstage Wayne Rooney and his wife Colleen were enjoying the set; previously the Manchester United footballer had mistaken this reporter for the band’s drummer Larry Mullen. Hilarity ensued.

Working their thermal socks off to bring some warmth to a uncharacteristically cold night, U2 were going at full throttle throughout.

The band had been nervous and apprehensive about playing the festival (which, as such, doesn’t allow a band to soundcheck) and can’t have been thrilled by the prospect of facing protests from the audience about their tax affairs.

They won’t have long to enjoy the unique Glastonbury experience – not long after coming off stage just past midnight last night they were already preparing to head back to the US, where they have a show in Michigan on Sunday night.

They did enjoy leaving the 360 degree tour behind for this one night stand. It was very much an early 1990s-sounding and looking U2, and a reminder of how, even with their bells and whistles removed, how potent they can be as a four piece rock band.

Previously Morrissey delighted the Pyramid Stage crowd just before U2’s appearance at 10pm but the real delight for festival goers was a surprise gig by Radiohead at 8pm which almost sparked a mini-riot as people rushed to the other end of the Glastonbury site to take it an superb set.