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U2's The Edge: 'Being Protestant in an ostensibly Catholic country... it felt strange'

He's the softly-spoken foil to the attention-seeking singer. But, as his 'gig' at the Sistine Chapel is confirmed, the U2 guitarist is a miracle worker in his own way.

By Ed Power

Published 07/05/2016

Top cap: The Edge at the Vatican last month with Irish Bishop Paul Tighe (right)
Top cap: The Edge at the Vatican last month with Irish Bishop Paul Tighe (right)
The Edge with bandmate Bono on stage

The Rolling Stone reporter dispatched to dank, dowdy Dublin in January 1988 was in for a surprise. He was in Ireland to interview the guitarist from one of the biggest bands on the planet. But instead of the standard swaggering rock god, he was shocked to meet a shy young man intensely ill at ease in the spotlight.

"As a security guard looks on, U2's Edge rolls down his car window and obliges a few fans with autographs," Rolling Stone would write of the musician's arrival at Windmill Lane studios in a battered Volkswagen Beetle.

"Then another fan, in his mid to late-twenties, approaches and asks for money to get home. Edge gives him seven pounds, then realises it's time to move on."

"It's kind of hard to deal with," Edge would confess once he'd reached the comforting isolation of Windmill Lane's inner vault. "I find it a little embarrassing."

Twenty-eight years later, U2 have confirmed many times over their standing as the most commercially significant band of their generation. Yet The Edge, architect of the ethereal guitar shimmer at the heart of their sound, remains as elusive as ever - an enigma in plain sight.

This was made clear last weekend, as the musician otherwise known as 54-year-old David Evans became the first rock artist to perform at the Vatican's Sistine Chapel.

Visiting the Vatican in his capacity as campaigner for research into regenerative medicine, he sang Leonard Cohen's If It Be Your Will and U2's Walk On, Yahweh and Ordinary Love.

Afterwards, he would describe the venue as "the most beautiful parish hall in the world".

Had this been Bono - attention-hogging yin to Edge's demure yang - it is easy to picture the derisive headlines generated by the concert. The singer's ego would be likened to God's, his puffed-up stage persona compared unfavourably to Pope Francis' humble deportment. In contrast, Edge's four-song set under Michelangelo's famous mural was heralded as a dignified gesture from an artist who has gone about his business with admirable self-effacement.

"As kids, Bono was the exact opposite of me. I was a very quiet kid in school," The Edge told Rolling Stone in 1988. "He's more at home in the public eye. It's kind of hard for the rest of us, Larry (Mullen, U2 drummer) and me in particular, because we're not naturally gregarious."

The guitarist was in Rome as a board member of the Angiogenesis Foundation, a cancer research group. It is a subject close to his heart as one of his daughters was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2007, while his father died from the cancer just last month.

Even in the biggest bands, the guitarist is typically a foil to the lead singer. In U2, the balance of power between frontman and axe-wielder is more complicated.

Several of the group's enduring hits originated with The Edge. He came up with the title to and chorus of I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - U2's most successful stab at populist spirituality. And he essentially wrote Sunday Bloody Sunday, the one U2 song capable of inducing shivers among agnostics.

Those who have met him attest to The Edge's modesty and lack of superstar aura (he remains happily married to his second wife, American dance instructor Morleigh Steinberg and has five kids, three from his first marriage). Put that down to intense self-awareness, a quality that has ensured U2's longevity even as Bono invited ridicule through his second career as pet rock star of world leaders.

"Being the Batman and Robin of rock and roll has its disadvantages," he said, circa the release of 1987's The Joshua Tree. "What we are, first and foremost, is a rock and roll band. If we forget that, people are going to stop listening.

"So, at the moment, my feeling is that I don't really want to do any charity shows for the moment. I think it would devalue anything else we've done."

Tellingly, The Edge was never particularly comfortable in his skin as U2 were coming up. Firstly, rock god-hood was not a job he was keen on. Moreover, born in England to Welsh parents, his relationship with Irishness was complex.

"Being Protestant and being English - or Welsh, in fact - in what is ostensibly a Catholic country, it felt a bit strange at times," he said.

"There were times when I really did feel like a bit of a freak and I spent a few years where I was pretty quiet. I didn't go out an awful lot. Those are the years when I listened to the most music."

Belfast Telegraph

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