DUBLIN — In the beginning there was Bono. And what a baby face he had.
Photographs documenting the gritty beginnings of U2 in the smoky pubs and clubs of 1970s Dublin are being unveiled Thursday at an exhibition in the band's home city. Much of the exhibition by photographer Patrick Brocklebank has never been seen before.
Brocklebank's black-and-white images capture the teenage Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen in 1978 and 1979 gigs, their vibrant hairdos and fashion missteps, and their clowning around in impromptu shoots and scruffy nighttime hangouts.
At the time, fellow teenager Brocklebank recalls he thought U2 might just be the one local act to reach the big time – not because they sounded better than their rivals, but because they were harder-working.
"I actually preferred a few of the other Dublin bands at the time, the Virgin Prunes and the Blades," Brocklebank said. "But the U2 people really stood out because they were organized. They knew what they wanted to achieve, even then.
"And of course Bono was never meek or mild. He was the ideal frontman," he said. "Sometimes in the pub after a gig, you would hear Bono before you saw him. He always had a forceful personality that set him apart from the crowd."
U2 manager Paul McGuinness is launching the exhibition Thursday night at The Little Museum of Dublin, a townhouse whose walls are filled, floor to ceiling, with eclectic memorabilia of Ireland's turbulent 20th century. The 32-photo show will be on display through Sept. 2, and Brocklebank also is selling original prints of 10 images through the museum's Web site.
Brocklebank was shooting for the Irish music magazine Hot Press in 1978 when he attended several of U2's first Dublin gigs and became their occasional roadie. His first photo on Sept. 9, 1978, is of a muscle-shirted Bono, mike in hand, performing as the opening act for English punk rockers The Stranglers in front of a foul crowd of hard-core punks. U2 was paid 50 Irish pounds (about $80) for the gig.
The Stranglers' pre-set equipment took up most of the stage, leaving U2 only one claustrophobic corner. Brocklebank recalled that fans, reflecting the punk crudities of the day, spat and tossed lit cigarettes at them throughout their set. Afterward, he said, Bono confronted The Stranglers in their dressing room about the shoddy treatment.
Barely a week later, Brocklebank took an iconic photo of U2 after another gig: the four boys posing backstage, two with fake guns in hand. Later that night, he took the first known photo of the band with their brand-new manager, McGuinness, over pints at Dublin's long-closed Granary Bar.
The band's humble beginnings take pride of place in that photo. Mullen, the drummer who founded the band by posting a recruitment ad on his high school's bulletin board, can be seen holding up U2's first award: First place in a talent competition in Limerick the previous St. Patrick's Day, grand prize 500 Irish pounds – sufficient finance for the band to cut its first demo tape.
Brocklebank also shot publicity photos in February 1979 before U2's first tour of Britain. A sequence of 12 images shows the band donning a range of poses – messing with fire extinguishers, pretending to be interviewed on TV, climbing atop air vents – inside the corridors and classrooms of Trinity College Dublin.
Formed in 1976, the band first performed under the name Feedback, then The Hype, before settling on U2 in March 1978. Since 1980 the band has recorded 12 albums, sold more than 150 million records, won 22 Grammys and become one of the highest-grossing live acts in history.
Little Museum's U2 exhibition, http://bit.ly/Iw4eUH