POPMART Leg 2: 1997, Europe


'It's a wet night in Dublin...'


It's a wet night in Dublin, after my final meeting with the band prior to the start of production rehearsals in Barcelona. We've been meeting every week for the past month or so, whilst they've been doing their music rehearsals. It seems to be going well for them. The promo tour was very helpful in creating a foundation for live arrangements of some of the new songs. This they have been building on ever since and, to my ears at least, it is sounding extremely promising. Focussed rehearsal has never been one of U2's stronger suits - I think without an audience it all feels a tad meaningless for them - but this time around they seem to be doing very well.

The topics of conversation at our meetings range from the practical to the fanciful but it serves us well in addressing the task at hand. At this stage in the proceedings I tend to be highly practical, perhaps due to my being overly aware of the limited time and budget that remain when a tour is less than a month from kick-off.

The set list is always my primary concern; call me old fashioned, but I can't help feeling that if we know what the script is, then we might stand a better chance of constructing a great show. Ironically, looking at the available material now presents an embarrassment of riches. U2 could play for four hours and not run out of great songs, so some judicial editing is called for. I made a speech to the effect that in the wonderful world of musical theatre, a show is written and rehearsed over-long. As opening night draws near, cuts are made and you can feel the whole show tighten up. It also means that if something simply isn't working for some reason, then it can be dropped without panic. This is the tack that I've gone in on and, at the time of writing, we have a rehearsal set list of about 30 songs.

Due to over-crowding and the need for some fresh air, we've let go of some of the mighty war-horses of previous tours but fear not gentle reader, heaps of classics remain, as well as some highly unexpected gems. A couple of these have even surprised me, much to my delight, so may the best songs win. No doubt we won't be able to entirely please all the people all the time, but it feels like a rip-snorting set to me. And I've seen a few U2 shows.

When our meetings were done, architect Mark Fisher and I retired to our hotel bar for a nightcap and some late-night philosophising. This 'limbo' time is always a bit of a killer for me - the time between the show design being finished and starting rehearsals at the first venue. I feel like I've been pregnant for two and a half years with this idea, which began to take real shape on the final leg of the Vertigo tour. Self-evidently, the first-hand experience of actual childbirth is alien to me, but it might not be entirely unjustified to suggest some parallels with the process of conceiving and delivering a show. Except that in this case the gestation period has been inhumanly protracted and, weighing in at almost 400 tonnes, I'm not sure that there's an epidural on earth sufficient to dull the apprehension entirely.

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