U2 Inside Out: Early Demo Recordings (Part I)
Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2016-08-23)
Note: This article was originally published on August 23, 2016, but due to additional information coming to light over the years, this has been updated on August 22, 2022 to reflect current information.
You can think you’re so high,
When the moon is way down low,
Take your time, feel fine,
Those ladies are so darn high.
Oh no no no
You gamble inside out
Forever inside out
(“Inside Out”, Bono, 1978)
In the late 1970s U2 were actively searching for a recording contract. To interest the labels they were visiting, they produced a number of demo tapes, in an attempt to secure interest. These demos ranged from half-finished ideas, to some early versions of songs that would eventually appear on Boy. Although a small number of these have been released as part of early singles or later collections of material, most remain unreleased. Details of these recording sessions remained largely undocumented, and there was confusion as to where these songs originate when they appeared on bootleg recordings. Many of these bootleg recordings originated from radio broadcasts where Bono would sometimes share demo tapes to be played while he was interviewed.
This article will look at the known U2 recording sessions from the start of the band up to the early sessions for Island records prior to the recording of the album Boy. The article is split into two parts on this site, and is updated as new information comes to light.
U2 originally formed in September 1976. In 1977 the band would play a number of concerts around Dublin including performances at their school Mount Temple, St. Fintan’s High School, and the Marine Hotel. Most of these performances saw U2 performing cover songs, but at least one original song made an appearance called “What’s Going On” or “Wednesday Night”. There were no known studio recording sessions in 1977, and by all reports, the band was not yet ready to go into a recording studio.
In 1978 more touring around Dublin was the focus, but more often a few original songs started to appear in U2’s set list including a few self-penned songs. On March 18, 1978 U2 attended the Pop Group 1978 Contest in Limerick Ireland. The set they played that evening is unknown but it was enough to win them the contest trophy, £500, and a recording session with CBS Studios to be held at Keystone Studios. It would be U2’s first demo session in an actual recording studio. This first part of the article will take a look at that session, as well as the two that followed, covering April 1978 – February 1979.
First Session: April 1978, Keystone Studios, Dublin Ireland
- “Don’tcha Hang Up” (02:49) [Often labeled as “Hang Up!” on boots.]
- “She’s My Girl” (02:49)
- “Street Mission” (03:42)
- “Concentration Camp” (03:22) [Labeled “Live My Life Tonight” or just “Tonight” on boots.]
- “The Television Song” (02:22)
- “Inside Out (Oh No)” (02:40) [Often labeled as just “Oh No” or “Inside Out” on boots.]
- “Drive On John” (02:16)
- “Night Flight” (02:19) [Often labeled as “Night Fright”]
- “Neon Heart” [Cover] (02:22)
- “2-4-6-8 Motorway” [Cover] (02:09)
Originally we only knew a handful of these titles, and some of the information was scattered. The list above is from Jeremy Fudge, who has had the opportunity to listen to these songs, and was able to document the titles from studio discussions also captured on tape. The entire session was about 32 minutes, and included two covers.
AUDIO: A snippet of U2’s “The Television Song”
On March 18, 1978 U2 played three songs at the Pop Group ’78 contest in Limerick. The songs were reportedly “Life on a Distant Planet”, “Street Mission” and “The Television Song”. They won the contest and went into studio with Jackie Hayden. Hayden had judged the competition, and as an employee of CBS Records in Ireland had agreed to work with them in the studio. The session in Keystone Studios was U2’s first studio session, and Hayden shares:
I don’t know how I allowed myself to be talked into sitting on the panel for a Limerick Civic Week pop/rock competition on St. Patrick’s Day 1978, but I did. After listening to about twelve appalling acts, only a couple had something to offer, including four kids from Dublin. They called themselves U2 and they exuded a determination to play and perform. I remember Bono impressing me most with a superbly confident stage presence, while the rest of the band looked serious and went about their respective jobs in a workmanlike fashion. I gave them the nod. — Jackie Hayden, Hot Press Magazine
Keystone Logo, Courtesy Paul Mcilwain Music
The recording session was granted by CBS in conjunction with the Limerick Civic Week Committee. The band were not truly prepared for a recording session, and reports from Hayden say that the band was very nervous during the session.
The band blasted through the songs, one after another that they had prepared. Ahead of each song, Bono would share the title, as if performing live. Jeremy Fudge, who has listened to the tracks shares, “The performance is indicative of a very young band and certainly not what you would expect from a professional demo. Individual mistakes abound with all three instrumentalists as well as Bono missing notes, and the band are not tight together as a unit. The ending of “Drive On John” is a total mess, with Bono remarking rather annoyed that “it doesn’t matter if we make a mess of them, does it?” They also play very fast, perhaps nervous energy, with the longest song (“Street Mission”) clocking in at a mere 03:42.”
The song “Concentration Camp” would later become “Concentration Cramp” and Bono would contribute some of the lyrics for the song to a museum exhibit at the Hot Press Music Hall of Fame in Dublin:
White Walls, Morning Eyeballs
A Thousand Voices echo through my brain
Schools daze, new direction
Boxes beat the clockwork
1 2 3 4 everybody’s sweating
Blue trees and now the question
Yes I mean No. Sorry.
C-C-C-Concentration Cramp ha-ha-ha
(“Concentration Cramp”, Bono, 1978)
The snippet of “Concentration Camp” that has been heard from these sessions via bootlegs over the years has often been called “Tonight” or “Live My Life Tonight” on these recordings. However, it was recorded as “Concentration Camp” and Bono is clear on the name of the song when introducing the song.
YouTube: U2’s “Concentration Camp (Demo Version)” (Snippet)
It’s Bono that shares that they’ve run out of material on the demo recording, and someone suggests they record a couple of the covers that they have been featuring in their set lists. The song “Neon Heart” was released on the Boomtown Rats 1977 self-titled album. The other track, “2-4-6-8 Motorway” was released as a single by the Tom Robinson Band. The track was developed by Tom before he had a band set up, and would play it with whatever friends were available on any given night, so he kept it simple enough to learn in a few minutes. Definitely a reason for a young band like U2 to be drawn to the song.
Keystone Studios, where this first session was held, was set up in Dublin in 1977 as a partnership between Andrew Boland and Fran Quigley. It was initially located on Harcourt Street and was an 8-track studio when launched. The studio catered mostly to the traditional Irish market, including Christy Moore and Paul Brady who recorded in the studio. Quigley would go on to take over McGonagles club in 1979 which was popular for live music of the era, including a few performances by a young U2. The location on Harcourt Street is remembered as being in the basement of a building.
YouTube: U2’s Recording of “Inside Out” (Snippet)
In 1979, Boland partnered with Ken Kiernan to continue running the studio. They continued to work out of Harcourt Street while the new studio was located, and built. The new location was at the rear of 22 St. Stephen’s Green. The Keystone studio was in operation until 1984, when it was purchased by Windmill Lane and renamed Windmill Lane Two, which operated as a studio up until 1990. Sting was one of the first paying clients in this new location where he recorded demos for a Police album.
U2 developed a number of their own songs during this initial session with Jackie Hayden, but few were complete. Some bootleg recordings suggest that “Trevor” or “Jack in the Box” were part of this session, but these songs were not part of this recording session, and were recorded at later dates, this has been confirmed. These were likely mistaken as part of this session when played on radio alongside the earlier recordings.
Bono throughout the Boy tour kept a notepad where he would work on song ideas. These were due to be used for the recording sessions for October. One of the pages from that notebook has a list of song titles including “Concentration Cramp”, “Inside Out”, “It’s Just Night Fright” (Fright is crossed out), “Street Mission”, and “Drive On John”. But we now know that some of these are titles of songs that the band had previously developed, and had recorded at this CBS session. (This notepad was part of the contents of the briefcase that Bono infamously lost during the Boy tour, later returned to him decades later.)
Larry Mullen’s father arrived to take his son home, ending the session with only the songs above recorded, however it appears the band had reached the end of the material they had to work with regardless.
Of the session, producer Jackie Hayden shares, “Some of the band have since been understandably critical of aspects of that session. However, I don’t think that they fully understood that the practical intention was to record about eight or ten numbers live, so that CBS could assess the band’s repertoire in a way that would not be possible if we’d spent too much time concentrating on just two or three songs. After all, it was their first recording date, they were extremely nervous and no one was expecting miracles. And for the record: subsequent claims by Bono that the band were not allowed into the control room are pure fantasy. (Sorry Bono.) Anyway the evening ended quite abruptly when Larry Mullen’s Dad arrived to take an indignant Larry home. Larry was only 16 at the time and his Dad felt that school next morning was far more important than this recording session.”
Second Session: November 1978, Keystone Studios, Dublin Ireland
- “Street Mission” (Sometimes referred to as “Street Missions”)
- “Shadows and Tall Trees”
- “The Fool” (Identified as “Out of the Living World” in some bootleg recordings)
Note about song names: The song names listed above are all as they are listed in the release of “The Complete U2” set. “Street Mission” is indeed without the ‘s’ at the end in that release. It is also without on the cover of the song performed in the movie Killing Bono.
Typed Lyrics from The Fool, Taken from eBay Auction, 2004
This second recording session is perhaps the recording session we know the most about. The session saw the band return to Keystone Studios Harcourt Street location in Dublin with producer Barry Devlin. Ken Kiernan of Keystone Studios was also present at the session. Devlin was a member of the band Horslips, playing bass, and also dabbling in music production. Paul McGuinness had been involved in promotion of live gigs with Horslips manager Michael Deeny in the early 70’s, and came to know Devlin through this association. Devlin was approached by Paul McGuinness to produce the demo for U2. McGuinness travelled to London with Bono and Adam Clayton in tow, where Horslips were playing with Thin Lizzy, and they approached Devlin backstage.
Without having heard them, Barry counseled Paul on whether this was a wise move for him, as punk was nearly over and Paul had a job. Once he heard the band, he told him: “Remortgage the house, McGuinness.” “I just thought it was written all over them that they were stars,” says Barry. — Independent.ie
For years this second recording session was identified as having taking place in December as Devlin himself identified that as an approximate date in an interview. But in 2004 a copy of this demo tape was found on eBay containing three songs, “Street Missions,” “Shadows and Tall Trees,” and “The Fool.” The recording on eBay identified the actual session date as November 1, 1978, and that the tape itself was duplicated at Trend Studios in Dublin.
Original Copy of a Demo Tape, Taken from an eBay Auction
The eBay auction also included typed lyrics to “Street Missions” (plural) and “The Fool.” Bono signed these as “Paul Vox” having not yet adopted Bono as his name. They are marked c1979. These appeared to be early versions of the lyrics. The auction also included a set of handwritten lyrics for “Shadows and Tall Trees.”
Handwritten lyrics for “Shadows and Tall Trees”, taken from eBay Auction, 2004
These sessions were released in 2004 in The Complete U2. All three songs that appeared on the final demo tape were released as a digital EP in that set, titled “Early Demos.” These songs have not been released outside of that set at this time.
Devlin himself has revealed in interviews that he had started work on a fourth song with U2 during this session. It did not appear on the final demo tape that was circulated, leaving most to assume it remained unfinished. Devlin suggested in an interview with Hot Press that it may have been “Stories for Boys.”
In the studio I had the same experience that Jackie Hayden had on their first demo session in that Larry’s dad came and took him away before the session had ended. I said to him, “Excuse me Mr. Mullen I haven’t finished with the drum parts.” But it made no impression on him and Larry was gone. Whatever they were doing in the studio that night they weren’t succeeding with it – it was an atrocious demo, which it has to be said was mainly down to me. I really liked them – but it was obvious that there was no point me being around them at that stage. I came from a perspective where the guitar was blues based and not the kind of style that The Edge was playing. But I remember even then that The Edge “orchestra” was already becoming apparent. It was very evident to me that there was something new about the way they played.— Barry Devlin, Hot Press Magazine
Frank Kearns, who later recorded with Cactus World News was present at this second demo session held at Keystone Studios, arriving with Larry Mullen. He relates the story about Larry’s father showing up to interrupt a second demo session:
The session went on for a few more hours, and then there was a very loud banging on the door, followed by loud talking and movement in the control room. An enraged Larry’s dad stomped into the recording area and staring at Larry, announced, “Just what do you think you are doing? Mrs. Kearns had been on the phone wondering where Frank is.” I looked down in agonizing shame. Next thing we knew, Larry Sr. was saying to pack things up. They had exams the next day, and that meant the session would have to be abandoned. In fact, they were supposed to do five songs, but they ended up only doing three, as my mother had phoned Larry’s dad. So that was it — we had to pack up the gear! We drove home in complete silence.” — Frank Kearns
It is very unlikely that a fourth song was recorded, and may have never gotten past some initial work before the session was interrupted by Larry Mullen Sr, the second time he arrived to pick up Larry at one of these recordings sessions.
Typed Lyrics for “Street Missions”, taken from eBay Auction, 2004
The Edge spoke about this session with Devlin in the liner notes for The Complete U2:
When U2 went into the studio for the first time, in the fall of 1978, with “Horslips” front man Barry Devlin we were in good hands. Barry had a lot of experience in recording studios and managed to steer some very green young men through the process. The result, while capturing our earliest attempts at song writing, is the sound of a band still trying to get to grips with the recording studio. We ended up going back in four months later, with the next batch of songs, many of which ended up on the Boy album, and recorded a demo more like our live shows; messy, passionate, and inspirational. It didn’t get us a deal either, but Bono brought it around to every UK music paper, and the interest this coverage created brought us to the attention of Island Records.”
Some of the memories of The Edge seem a bit off. It is likely best the first recording session be forgotten based on Hayden’s comments about a nervous band unready to record, but it did happen prior to the session with Devlin. This second session yielded three strong songs and a demo tape that McGuinness would start to shop around to labels. The next demo session did include a couple of songs that would make it onto Boy but only after being re-recorded.
Trend Studios, mentioned on the copy of the demo pictured above (that appeared on eBay), was established in 1968 in Dublin, and is still around today operating under the name mediaTrends. They operate Ireland’s only CD Duplication plant, and at one point shared business offices with Windmill Lane. They touch on the U2 story as they were the studio used for duplication of U2’s demo tapes for distribution to record labels. U2 never recorded at Trend, but McGuinness did use them for duplication of the demo tapes for this session.
Third Session: February 1979, Eamon Andrews Studios, Dublin Ireland
- “Another Time, Another Place”
- “Alone in the Light”
- “False Prophet” [Sometimes called “I Realize” on bootleg recordings]
- “Life On a Distant Planet” / “No Man’s Land” [Also known as “The Magic Carpet”, “Lost on a Distant Planet”, or “Judith”]
- “Out of Control”
YouTube: “Alone in the Light (Demo)” – U2
In February of 1979 U2 once again went into studio to record, this time finishing a number of songs. The studio they used was Eamonn Andrews Studio, which was also located on Harcourt Street just doors down from Keystone. The studio in which U2 recorded was the original radio studio that Eamonn Andrews ran at the property since the 1960s. It is unknown if anyone had worked as a producer on the session, or if U2 had just worked with Freeley directly. The notes on the back of the “Another Day” sleeve suggested that U2 worked without a producer that day:
“Twilight” wasn’t produced and took 15 minutes in Eamonn Andrews 4 track Dublin, February 79 “that day we went on the bus to see Dave Freely the engineer
Eamonn Andrews Studios was founded by broadcaster Eamonn Andrews in the 1960s. At the time the studios were located in a building known locally as the Television Club, and operated as a dance club. The original building was located on Harcourt Street, just doors from where Keystone would be set up years later. Two studios were located on the property at 45 Harcourt Street. U2 recorded in the radio studio and there was a second studio used for band recordings. Eamonn Andrews was Ireland’s first multi-track recording studio featuring 8-track recording. David Freely was one of the engineers who worked in Eamonn Andrews on staff, and it was Freely who worked with U2 on at least one session.
Bono discussed the session with Dave Fanning in an interview that aired in the early 1980s, “U2 didn’t know what it was doing when it went into the studio. I have to say that for all of our talk, when we got in there, we didn’t really know which way to turn the knobs. And so it was extremely important to find some sort of engineer. We found a ‘jingles’ engineer, a guy that does adverts for the radio. We used him. A guy called David Freely. The thing to do was to bring him out to rehearsal, let him see what you were doing. See what he can say about it, and the sounds. When we actually got in there, we had no real idea what we were doing, we just played the songs as you hear them. As a matter of fact, it’s pretty well evident that we didn’t know what we were doing from this tape.”
YouTube: “False Prophet (Demo)” – U2
Six songs in total were worked on during this session. Three of the songs are early versions of songs that would eventually end up on Boy, “Another Time, Another Place”, “Twilight”, and “Out of Control”, would all be re-recorded with Steve Lillywhite for the band’s first album. One of these demos was actually released as well, when stuck for a b-side for the single “Another Day”, the band would use this demo version of “Twilight” on that single. In the liner notes for the remastered Boy release, the Edge speaks about the demo for “Twilight” which appeared on the b-side to “Another Day” and was released on the remaster:
“This recording was the B-side of the CBS single “Another Day.” We had to take this track from a vinyl record because the master tape is missing. If anyone knows the whereabouts of this 1/4 inch demo tape recorded at Eamonn Andrews’ studio, please call Principle Management”
Eamonn Andrews suffered a catastrophic fire in 1983 so any hope that the original tapes still exist with the studio probably died out with that fire.
YouTube: “Life on a Distant Planet (Demo)” – U2
The other three songs, all U2 originals, have somewhat faded into obscurity. “Alone in the Light”, “False Prophet”, and “Life On a Distant Planet” have all appeared on bootleg recordings. These songs were played on air during various broadcasts early during U2’s career, and copies of the demo tapes were in circulation. It is believed that the bootleg recordings are sourced from one of those sources. In fact it is from two of these demo tapes that our knowledge of this recording arrives. Hot Press journalist Karl Tsigdinos had a copy of the demos with Adam Clayton’s handwriting on the cassette. The track listing above is the order in which these songs appeared. On Tsigdinos’ tape, the song title used for the fourth song is “Life On A Distant Planet”. Dave Fanning also has a copy of this cassette, complete with crayon sketch of a tree on the cover of the cassette. The track listing on Fanning’s copy is the same, however, instead of “Life On A Distant Planet”, the song is titled “No Man’s Land” on Fanning’s copy. (To further confuse matters, Bono calls the song “The Magic Carpet” when he introduces it during concert at the National Stadium in Dublin. The Edge refers to the song in U2 by U2 as “Life on a Distant Planet”, and it’s also been called “Judith” and “Lost On a Distant Planet” on bootlegs. “False Prophet” is labeled as such on both cassettes, and Bono’s lost notebook from the October era also lists that name, but it has also been called “I Realize” on many bootleg recordings.)
A very special thanks to Ken Kiernan, Paul Mcilwain, Valerie Hayde, Chas de Whalley and Eamonn Creevy for their assistance with parts of the original two-part article. And a big thank you to Jeremy Fudge for helping to fill in many of the blanks.
2016-08-30: Inside Out: U2’s Demo Sessions 1978 – 1980 Part Two
2017-04-13: Demos from 1980 (A look at the RTÉ Session)
2022-02-28: U2’s First Demo Session Uncovered
2022-03-18: Pop Group 1978
Discography: “Early Demos“ EP Entry (November 1979 Demos)
Demos: U2’s Demos Before Boy