U2 1978-1981: Photographs by Patrick Brocklebank at the Little Museum of Dublin

Long before the tinted sunglasses, and when playing arenas was nothing more than a distant dream, U2 were just like every other struggling band – barely filling small venues and playing support slots for an audience that wasn’t interested.

Patrick Brocklebank’s U2 1978-1981 photography exhibition in the Little Museum of Dublin shows early photos he took of u2 before they hit super-stardom, one of them featured the band play in a small half-filled venue and another shows the band doing their best poses for press shots taken in the Arts Block of Dublin’s Trinity College.

The determination and perseverance of the band is what shines through in these photos. When you look at the earlier shots, in particular one of Bono onstage as support to The Stranglers when they played in Dun Laoghaire, you don’t look at the photo and instantly think “U2!”, because by that stage they weren’t recognisable as U2, they looked the same as every other band valiantly trying to make this ‘music thing’ work.

The vast majority of the photos are in black and white, and they capture a band trying to find their way musically and, in one photo where Adam Clayton’s wearing a questionable woolly jumper seemingly to try out a new look, stylistically too.

In these photos they merely look like naive but confident lads from Glasnevin trying to be the next big thing. The only photo in the room where the exhibition is housed which suggests the phenomenal success U2 went on to achieve is just by the door, conveniently placed so you only notice it just as you leave the exhibition. In contrast to the other photos, this one is in colour and shows Bono talking to a line of U2 fans who are on the other side of a wire fence at Slane. When you glance back at a photo of them playing a half empty venue on the other side of the room it’s hard to believe how far they’ve come.

It’s rare to see anything related to U2 that genuinely focuses solely on them when they were unencumbered by fame. The photography in this exhibition captures the beginning of U2’s road to success, and only the beginning, because we all know how the story unfolds after that.

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