In 2013 I did a few guest posts for my friend Bruce’s blog. It wasn’t intentional. We had been having an email conversation about England’s Greenbelt Festival and some of my experiences there. He took those emails and published them (with permission of course). I figured now, with U2 on the road in North America, would be a good time to share those posts with you. I am the “old friend”he mentions.
The shadow of U2 has hovered over the Greenbelt festival, the largest Christian music and arts festival in the UK, since the band’s surprise appearance there in 1981. There have been no subsequent performances, but there remains a connection…
Willie Williams, U2’s tour set designer, has been a Greenbelt institution as a performer (his band Casualtease also played the festival in 1981) and especially as Master of Ceremonies on the main stage. The 1992 Zoo TV tour Willie designed for U2 had incorporated several elements from Casualtease’s show’s, something most people did not realize. The show was as over the top as was possible for a rock tour – the spotlights were East German Trabants, and there was a constant visual assault to go along with the audio. Words and messages would flicker across the screens at high speed, with one of the most prominent being a challenge to authority, a post-modern call to action: “Everything you know is wrong.”
A standard routine from that tour was Bono’s nightly satellite phone call from the stage to US President George H.W. Bush. It I am sure became a routine for the White House operator to explain the President was not available, to which Bono would reply “Tell the President to watch more TV!”
In August 1993, U2 were off the road and Willie Williams was once again acting as MC at Greenbelt. One evening he held up his cell phone and announced he was going to call Bono. The crowd, many of whom were familiar with the Zoo TV tour, voiced their approval.
The call was an ambush. Bono at first didn’t quite believe that not only was Willie calling him from the main stage at Greenbelt, but that there were 20,000 people more or less listening in on the conversation. Willie asked him if he had a message for those attending the festival. Bono paused for a moment to reflect, then said “Tell them, ‘everything you know is right!’” The predominantly Christian crowd went wild.