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At home with... Neil McCormick

D 21 June 2007     H 20:00     A Corine/Dead     C 0 messages


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21 Jun 2007

In another case of "Bono made me do it", former hotpress-er and U2
biographer Neil McCormick explains to Jackie Hayden how he ended up
living near Bob The Builder and about the travails of interviewing all
four U2 men on four different continents in the same evening. Photos by Mark Harrison.

It’s all Bono’s fault, apparently, that Daily Telegraph music critic
and U2 biographer Neil McCormick now lives in the London suburb of
Crouch End.

As Neil recalls, "Bono once told me that if you can’t afford a house
with a big garden then the next best thing is to live beside a park."
Although not yet a world spokesman on housing location, Bono was
spot-on this time, for McCormick’s house backs onto extensive parkland
with a four-mile walk through magnificent natural greenery replete with
wildlife. "It’s a great place to live and to bring up our three kids,"
he tells me. "One day I was walking along the path and I met this guy
practicing the saxophone under a bridge. Another day I came across this
guy doing tai chi. There’s some extraordinary graffiti around too, and
it was also, sadly, once the terrain of a notorious rapist."

The house itself is a Victorian residence about 100 years old and he’s
been living here for nearly four years. "Bob The Builder lives nearby
and a lot of the residents look like the cast of Eastenders. It’s a bit
off the beaten track, but perfect if you have kids."

His links to U2 from the early days made him an ideal candidate to
write the book U2 By U2, most of which he wrote in the house. "U2 gave
me an office in Dublin to use but it wasn’t practical. So I worked in
the attic, which I’ve turned into an office so that my partner Gloria
can practice her acupuncture in the study. In all, the book took about
two years, and was done mostly by phone. Bono is arguably the most
over-scheduled man on the planet, so it’s often hard to get him without
him having to interrupt to tell you ’Sorry, but I have to go now to see
the president.’ Sometimes I spoke to all four in one evening on
different continents. Edge might be in LA, Bono in Africa, Larry in
Dublin and Adam touring the Far East. But U2’s story is something I
lived through, and apart from the band I really only needed to resort
to other sources to check dates. Fortunately, U2 have the most
obsessive fans and there’s so much material available on various
websites."

Despite his long-established connection to the band, having been a
school colleague in Mount Temple and attended their pre-U2 gigs, his
house is not quite brimful of U2 memorabilia. "I’m actually a really
good culler. Every so often I go through books and CDs and take them
down to a charity shop. But I have about two metres of books about U2
and I have all the records, some lyrics written by Bono and some old
posters, but I’m not that attached to material things. I have a few
guitars that I like, but asked what I’d save in the event of a fire it
would be my family. None of the rest is anywhere as important."

McCormick moved to London in 1983 to pursue a deal for his band after
leaving the womb-like comforts of the hotpress design department.
"hotpress was an amazing learning crucible at the time. But I still
don’t know why they took me on. I arrived to meet Niall Stokes for my
interview wearing green trousers which used to be white. I had a
portfolio of drawing but didn’t know what the job would entail even if
I got it. I was one of about only 100 punks in Ireland. Niall later
said he hired me because I was so obnoxious, but that I had a passion
for whatever I was into. I found the people in hotpress at the time
were extraordinary and totally committed to music and writing. We would
work until all hours of the night to get the issue to the printers.
It’s amazing that such a shambles could produce such great work that
stands up today."

Neil never studied English or literature, but he remembers once been
given a serious bollockin’ by Mr Stokes. "As a young punk I had a
typically sneering disregard towards people like Dylan, not least
because he couldn’t sing, and I expressed this one day. I was then
given an instructive lesson that taught me that Dylan was actually a
punk long before the term was invented. I realised then that I had to
be able to stand over my opinions and to put more thought into how
those opinions were formed."

When his band failed to score the big deal, McCormick eventually landed
a job with the Daily Telegraph and has settled happily into London
life. "I’ve lived in London longer than I’ve lived anywhere else. The
anti-Irishness that might have lingered when I moved here first has
gone. All the culture you could possibly want is available in London,
from the latest movies to rock’n’roll."

On the rock’n’roll front, McCormick’s music collection, despite the
culling, amounts to about 2,000 albums. "There’s obviously lots of
current stuff as I have to maintain a level of currency, but I still
have the records that formed my musical tastes: Elvis Costello, The
Jam, The Ramones, and, of course, The Beatles who made most of this
possible in the first place. But because my partner Gloria works in the
house, I’m under a little pressure on the volume front and I tend to
listen mostly on headphones."

Not only is it a quiet house, except perhaps when their three-year-old
son lets loose, but it’s also remarkably tidy and tastefully decorated.
McCormick denies that this is down to him. "My office is chaotic. I
think I was put up there to keep me out of everybody’s way." Apart from
the expected CDs it has shelves at odd angles and bits of paper
blue-tacked to the walls, suggesting that McCormick is no DIY fiend.
"That’s true," he confesses. "My dad was a keen DIY man and I made a
very early decision not to follow him down that path and instead
decided to adopt the proper attitude of a poet and an aesthete. That
explains the crooked shelves and the sink with two taps missing."

As for books, he found Cormac McCarthy’s The Road "devastating", but
also has fond memories of Hunter S Thompson. "There a was a lot of the
gonzo in hotpress journalism and I loved Fear And Loathing In Las
Vegas. Although I’m an atheist, I worry about what happens to us later,
so I’ve taken to reading a lot of books about religion, science and
global warming. Over the last while I’ve been really trying to make my
life carbon neutral, but that has to be balanced by the need to make
money. In one sense, I’m feel like a hamster on a wheel, running to
stand still."

Now where have I heard that before?

Neil McCormick’s book U2 By U2 is published by Harper Collins

Jackie Hayden

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