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On This Day In Music… March 17, 1978: U2 Enter the Limerick Civic Week Pop '78 Competition

'I put a face on me and said: "U2 is not a great name, if you don't mind me saying".'

u news clipping limerick museum
Source: x / Limerick Museum

'I've no idea how good we were or what the competition was really like,' The Edge later admitted.

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When 16-year-old Larry Mullen saw the advert for the “Limerick Pop Group ‘78” competition, he immediately told his friends Dave Evans, Adam Clayton and Paul Hewson. Limerick was a two-hour train journey from their hometown of Dublin, but he reckoned it was worth it – especially as the prize was £500 and a recording session with CBS. Their band, The Hype, had begun scoring regular gigs, and this could be the break they were desperate for.

The Hype had only recently slimmed down from a five-piece to a four-piece (Dave Evans’ older brother Dik had recently left to form his own band, the Virgin Prunes) and were also considering a name-change. By the time they took the stage in Limerick for their preliminary heat on March 17, 1978, they had already decided on a new title: Hewson duly crossed out “The Hype” on their entry form and instead wrote two different characters: U2.

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u early s
Source: mega

U2 very much believing the hype.

The band had come together just two years earlier, after Mullen had placed an advert on the Mount Temple Comprehensive School notice board. He only got five responses – and of them, one walked away soon after their first practice when it became apparent that, despite owning the best amplifier, he could not actually play particularly well. The others stuck with it, rehearsing in classrooms at lunch break, and in April 1977 played their first paying gig at St Fintan’s High School, Dublin, under the name Feedback.

Although they had started by playing covers, the teenagers quickly grew captivated by the emerging punk scene and began writing their own material. Evans was rechristened “The Edge”, and Hewson, now using his nickname “Bono”, took a more prominent role as frontman – Mullen drolly later recalled them being “The Larry Mullen Band for about ten minutes, then Bono walked in and blew any chance I had of being in charge.”

Feedback became The Hype, and after the departure of Dik Evans, The Hype became U2.

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u pop group  flyer limerick museum
Source: x / Limerick Museum

History has not recorded who won the final of 'Ireland's Golden Voice'.

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Thirty-six bands entered the Limerick Pop Group ’78 competition, with eight progressing through to the finals the following night. After a scintillating three-song set, U2 were among them – and prepared for the biggest gig of their young lives, on the stage at Limerick’s Stella Ballroom.

Local DJ Michael McNamara, also known as “Micky Mac”, was Master of Ceremonies for the night. Writing for Limerick Live in 2018 he recalled how, despite only being 16 and 17 years old, U2 “sounded connected straight away”.

u news clipping limerick museum
Source: x / Limerick Museum

'The Edge admitted later that U2 were expecting it to be a dreadful amateur free-for-all’.

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“As I went from group to group I came upon The Hype,” he wrote. “‘Hey man, we entered as The Hype but now we are calling ourselves U2,’ said a very, very confident Bono. I put a face on me and said: ‘U2 is not a great name, if you don't mind me saying’.

“With about 60 in the audience plus the judges, the show started. The Edge admitted later that U2 were expecting it to be ‘a dreadful amateur free-for-all’. He went on: ‘Once it started it was obvious the caliber of talent was of much higher quality than any of us expected.’

“I am often asked how did they sound that night 40 years ago. To put that time in context, ‘Rivers of Babylon’ by Boney M was top of the charts and young Ireland was already tired of cheesy disco. The Boomtown Rats were in the charts with ‘Lookin’ after Number One’ so a post-disco revolution was unfolding in pop. U2 on that faithful night sounded connected straight away, particularly with the confidence of Bono and the way he introduced their songs. He looked and moved like Rod Stewart wearing a neat grey polo neck as the other guys played in a workmanlike fashion. I also remember the amazing bass sound that Adam got on the night, despite the sound in the big hall being so hollow - you can imagine the echo in a venue that usually attracted 800 dancers.”

u at the sphere
Source: Amiee Stubbs/imageSPACE / MEGA

U2 at the Sphere, Las Vegas - an awfully long way from the Stella Ballroom, Limerick.

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Naturally there was only ever going to be one winner. Not that the band themselves thought so. In the 2006 book U2 by U2, The Edge remembered: “We couldn't believe it. I was completely shocked. We weren't of an age to go out partying as such but I don't think anyone slept that night... Really, it was just a great affirmation to win that competition, even though I've no idea how good we were or what the competition was really like. But to win at that point was incredibly important for morale and everyone's belief in the whole project.”

If that night at Limerick’s Stella Ballroom marked the first steps on U2’s road to world domination, then, despite their shock, they remained remarkably level-headed about it… though maybe not through choice.

“After the concert the celebrations were somewhat subdued as the boys were under-age and were not allowed attend the Festival Club in the Royal George Hotel where I was DJing at Fernando’s Night Club,” wrote McNamara. “They stayed in the Royal George, went to the Wimpy Bar, and then back to their rooms.”


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