This Thursday (February 26), marks the 35 year anniversary of the gig that landed U2 their record deal. The band had been gradually building up a following in Ireland and the UK over the past few years, and had recently won five categories in a Hot Press readers poll. In order to make the most of this minor success, U2 manager Paul McGuinness booked the band (who was essentially broke) on a headlining tour to try and get that ever elusive record deal.

By this time U2 had been a band for a few years, and had gradually started to find their sound. On a trip to New York with his family, The Edge had bought a Gibson Explorer. “It was the zig-zag shape that set it apart but the sound and the feel were great too. Everyone was playing the same kinds of guitars and I thought, we sound different, let’s look different,” said The Edge in U2’s autobiography U2 By U2. Armed with his new guitar, The Edge soon started fiddling around with echo units, and was developing what would become his signature sound.

U2

The band needed a recording contract that came with touring support as well, because without it they could never afford to finance a US tour, and would be stuck touring the neighboring European countries, not getting the chance to make it Stateside. For the culmination of their headlining tour, McGuinness had booked the band to play Dublin’s National Stadium. It was a brave move, seeing how the venue could hold over 2,000 people, and was regularly used for established Irish acts, as well as visiting bands from the US, and the UK.

Having exhausted many of the major record labels, U2’s manager turned his attention to Island Records. The (at the time) rather small label had made a name for itself by releasing reggae music, most prominently Bob Marley & the Wailers, but McGuinness was starting to exhaust all his options, and figured it was worth a shot. It didn’t hurt that Island’s publicist Rob Partridge happened to be a fan of U2. So for the National Stadium gig the band had invited Island Records A&R man Bill Stewart in hopes that a deal could be struck.

Details regarding audience numbers for the show vary. Author Eamon Dunphy states in his book Unforgettable Fire that sales to the gig had been slow, prompting a rearrangement of the seating on the day of the gig to hide the fact that barely half of the seats would be filled. Bono sort of backs up this statement in U2 By U2 by saying that the show was “not sold out but it’s busy.”

U2

Regardless of attendance figures, the show was a success. The energy of the crowd, which contained many of the band’s friends and family, fueled Bono, The Edge, Adam, and Larry, who put on a killer show. The band played a 16 song set which included songs from the band’s early independent releases, and many of the songs that would end up on U2’s first album Boy, including set-closer “Out Of Control.”

Based on what he saw at the gig in Dublin, Stewart offered the band a record deal on the spot. But it did take some more behind-the-scenes work from McGuinness before the deal was finally signed - an event that apparently took place in the ladies room at Lyceum in London, as McGuinness said in U2 By U2: “We needed somewhere we could see what we were doing, and the ladies’ was a little bit nicer than the gents’.”

U2 reportedly signed a deal with Island Records for four albums, which also included touring support. This allowed the band to expand their touring all over Europe, as well as the United States - a move that gradually built a world-wide following that would make the Irish foursome arguably the biggest band on the planet over the next decade.