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The other night I was watching U2‘s “Rattle and Hum” DVD. It is one of my favourite music DVDs, and one of my regrets is that I didn’t see U2 in concert during this time. I did see them at Live Aid in London in 1985 (when I thought they were one of the best acts), and I also saw them in 1997 during the “Popmart tour“, but I do regret not seeing them during the 1987 Joshua Tree tour from which Rattle and Hum is taken.

For me, one of the hightlights of this DVD is their performance of their 1983 hit “Sunday Bloody Sunday“. This is because they show the version U2 did on the very same day as the Remembrance Day bombing in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. On the 8th of November 1987, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombed a remembrance day parade in the small town of Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, killing eleven people and injuring 63 people. The bombing is seen as a turning point in the “troubles” in Northern Ireland, such was the outrage against the attack. Bono, U2’s lead singer, talks on this day, when they were playing in Denver, Colorado, about the atrocity of the bombing as he introduces the song. The subsequent performance is charged with the tension, anger and sadness that Bono and the rest of the band clearly felt.

To give a little background to the title “Sunday Bloody Sunday“. There are, in fact, two “Bloody Sundays” in Irish history. The first Bloody Sunday happened on the 21st of November 1920, when 31 people were killed. Irish separatists killed 14 British troops in Dublin. In revenge, later the same day, the British Army (the Black and Tans) went into Croke Park stadium where a game of Gaelic Football was being played, and opened fire on the crowd, killing 14 members of the crowd. Later that evening, 3 IRA suspects were beaten and killed by their British captors. This was the first “Bloody Sunday”.

Bloody Sunday (1920), when 31 people (14 British and 17 Irish) were killed in the same day in Dublin.

The second Bloody Sunday happened in 1972. The British Army opened fire on unarmed protestors in Derry, Northern Ireland, killing 26 of them. I vividly remember seeing the footage of this on the evening news back in 1972.

A British soldier attacking a protestor during the 2nd Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry in 1972. 26 unarmed protestors were shot by British soldiers.

U2’s song is about the 2nd Bloody Sunday, the one in 1972. Or, to be more correct, it is about the horrors of a person witnessing “the troubles” in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s. It is seen as one of U2’s most political songs, and yet as Bono makes clear through an impassioned break during the performance shown below, it is an anti-war and anti-violence song. Mid-song, Bono says the following to the audience:

And let me tell you somethin’. I’ve had enough of Irish Americans who haven’t been back to their country in twenty or thirty years come up to me and talk about the resistance, the revolution back home…and the glory of the revolution…and the glory of dying for the revolution. Fuck the revolution! They don’t talk about the glory of killing for the revolution. What’s the glory in taking a man from his bed and gunning him down in front of his wife and his children? Where’s the glory in that? Where’s the glory in bombing a Remembrance Day parade of old age pensioners, their medals taken out and polished up for the day. Where’s the glory in that? To leave them dying or crippled for life or dead under the rubble of the revolution, that the majority of the people in my country don’t want.

To my mind, this performance is one of the seminal moments in rock music. It shows how powerful “pop music” can be, how it can be used for social commentary just as much as it can be used to sing about a boy and a girl falling in love. As an iconic moment, it is up there with the moment when a member of the audience in Bob Dylan‘s “Royal Albert Hall concert” in 1966 shouts “Judas” for Dylan daring to play a rock set, rather than his acoustic folk material. Music can be one of the most powerful tools for social change and social commentary that we have.

Which is your favourite U2 song?

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