Joe Keenan with his old notebook of contacts and details of concerts hosted at The Lavey Inn’s Cuckoo’s Nest

The night Bono and U2 came to town

U2 had just stormed a sold-out National Stadium, and afterwards signed their first major multi-album contract with Island Records. A Hot Press review from the time noted how Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr and Adam Clayton delivered a ‘stinging encore’ of The Electric Co. The band were on a high, especially after releasing their hit track ‘Another Day’. That same week U2 won the title of ‘Best Irish Band’, ‘Best Album’ and a host of other Hot Press awards.

The very next night, on Wednesday, February 27, 1980, “freezing cold” by all recollection, they found themselves unloading their gear ready to play The Lavey Inn. The cost? Just £250.

“We’re probably the only ones in history who lost money putting on a show with U2,” chuckles Séamus Charles, who ran bookings at the local venue with his business partner Joe Keenan.

Neither were to know this ragtag quartet landing down from the city would become one of the world’s best-selling music artists, selling millions records worldwide, and winning more Grammy awards than any other band in history.

“To us it was just another night, a Wednesday night, and just another band playing the Cuckoo’s Nest,” says Séamus. “What I remember most was there was a very bad turnout, it was horrendous really.”

Memories of the famous local outing came to the fore after a rare promotion flyer from show was shared on social media. Since coming to light, Joe has dug out an old notebook in which he kept a meticulous record of profit and loss, as well as the financial agreements signed with the various acts that played for them at the Nannery family-run Lavey Inn.

Joe found what he was looking for, and further uncovered a copy of the U2 contract signed with Maurice Cassidy Promotions, dated February 6, 1980.

It included provision of ‘2 humpers’ or roadies to be available before and after the show, the services of an electrician, as well as sandwiches, beer and minerals in the band’s dressing room.

It was demanded, as part of the agreement, that U2 would ‘receive 100% billing’ on any advertising, and that all monies payable on the night be made out ‘in cash’ to the band’s manager, Paul McGuinness.

The ticket price should also not exceed £2.

Flicking through his notebook, Joe says: “I have the note here. U2 Lavey Inn. Wednesday, 27th February. £250 or 70%. That would have been the agreement of whatever was taken at the door.”

Both Joe and Seamus have, in the years since, heard people swear to being there, in much the same way that legend has sprung up about Woodstock, Live Aid, The Beatles’ first night at The Cavern, and the Sex Pistol’s 50p show at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976.

Séamus suggests, if everyone who says they were there were truthful, he and Joe wouldn’t have ended up so badly out of pocket.

“I remember it being a really freezing cold night,” says Joe.

“So whatever about knowing who [U2] were in Cavan at the time, any chance of people just coming for a night out just disappeared because the weather was the way it was.

“We ended up losing about £200 on the night. The only way in those days you could get a bar extension was if you served food, so that’s what we did. Chicken in a basket. Rough and ready. We’d pay the venue, but that meant you’d never know until the end of the night how much you’d make. There’d be old tickets that weren’t our tickets as well. Every trick was pulled.”

Back then, there were gigs on seven nights a week right across the county. As was the case with U2, the Cuckoo’s Nest was bedecked with paper-cloth covered candlelit tables, while soap flakes were sprinkled on the dancefloor just in front of the stage.

U2’s appearance in Cavan was sandwiched between commitments to play the National Stadium in Tallaght and shows at the RTC in Waterford, the Parochial Hall in Newry, Arcadia in Cork, and a pub in Thurles.

Tired of seeing cover bands play, Seamus and Joe got into gig promoting in the hope of bring new music to the Cavan masses. To do that, they would regularly look to Dublin, more specifically The Baggot Inn, which had made a name for itself for hosting up-and-coming acts like Christy Moore, Thin Lizzy, Mary Coughlan and The Water-boys at that time.

Joe’s sister Martina still has a poster bought at the Lavey U2 gig, signed by the members of the band.

There is also a photo, circulating widely on social media, believed to have been taken as Bono and his fellow band members relaxed backstage with fans after the Cavan show.

On reflection, Joe says it was still beautiful day, and U2 were “great”.

“They definitely had something about them. I couldn’t tell you what it was then, but I remember they did stand out. Bono was sitting on a rocking horse for one of the numbers, so it did feel different, and it was a real performance as well rather than just a band coming and playing,” recalls Joe.

“That I can still remember it at all, more than 40 years on, must mean something. The other bands that played for us, they were great rock bands, but no more than at Café Sessions, there were some really great bands there, but very few went on to play all over the world after. They still play though, because they love it.”

Joe admits still finding it surreal having booked a band like U2. But there were others too.

“We very nearly booked The Police as well, but that wasn’t for The Lavey Inn, that was for a gig we ran in Killeshandra later on. I can’t remember booking [U2] in so far as I’d just pick up the phone and hope for the best. I was just looking through another old book I’ve found, full of old names of managers I worked with.

“We had The Blades, I think that was in the Farnham, and the Lakeland as well. We had The Roach Band with Billy Roche, who turned playwright after. Jimmy Smith from The Bogey Boys as well. There were loads of really good bands around, but we wanted what we saw as fresh and new.”

One of the better turnouts at the Cuckoo’s Nest, initially started by Gerry Reilly from Longford, that Séamus remembers booking with Joe was with a band called April South and The Pennies.

“At the time [of U2] we were just dipping our toe into the water really hoping to hit upon something that worked. The only one that did work actually I remember was April South and the Pennies, who we brought back twice because she made so much money on the first occasion, dressed up in leather gear. We nearly had to fight them from the door the second time round. Malachy O’Brien from Crubany played with her, so it helped as well to have the local connection to get the punters in through the door.”

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