Exclusive - Mr U2 Paul McGuinness speaks to the Sunday World
Retirement in the French Riviera could have been a tempting prospect when you have lived through the most extraordinary life as the off-field captain of the U2 empire, yet Paul McGuinness has no desire to flick the off switch just yet.
The journey experienced by this German-born son of a Liverpudlian and Kerry-born mother alongside Bono, The Edge, Larry and Adam has been nothing short of extraordinary, with McGuinness’s long-standing tag as the fifth member of U2 befitting of the huge influence he had on all levels of their careers.
Yet as this 66-year-old giant of the music industry sat down for a world exclusive interview with sundayworld.com, it was easy to forget you were in the presence of rock royalty.
This is the man who dragged four lads from humble beginnings in Dublin and turned them into the biggest band in the world and he is also the genius who turned stadium rock concerts into an art form.
Yet when you spend time in his company, there is not even a hint that the incredible success he inspired has inflated his ego.
“Great managers can only be successful if they have the right clients and I was fortunate to have the best clients of them all,” begins McGuinness, who quit as U2’s manager after their record-breaking 360 Tour in 2013 (below).
“I was an assistant director on small films and worked on a lot of Irish television commercials in the 1970s when I started dabbling in the music business and that when I was introduced to U2. It was nearly 40 years ago now, which is incredible to think.
“They were not great at playing their instruments when I first saw them, but that didn’t worry me. In the end, I managed them for 36 years and it was just wonderful. We had huge success, but also a lot of fun.
“At the end of the last tour that I produced, the 360 Tour, I decided to step down from the role. I wanted to do something else and to spend more time at my house in the south of France.
“I will always be lurking in the background with U2 and there for advice if they need it, but it’s time for something new now.”
Despite the remarkable glories as the conquering all corners of the world in remarkable fashion, U2 have always attracted spiteful criticism from cynics who may well be jealous of their success, yet McGuinness suggests we should celebrate the story he was so influential in narrating.
“There has always been criticism of U2 and that will never go away,” he continues. “Does it worry those of us who have been involved? Not really.
“The way I look at our band is like this; we have an Irish team that effectively wins the World Cup every four years.
“Every time we put a record out or put on the biggest shows in the world, we have set new records and maybe there is a fatigue that it has been so successful for so long for some people. You can’t always win.”
Arguably McGuinness greatest legacy from his time with U2 is their iconic stage performances, with his creative flair raising the bar of expectations for every other band to follow when they take their music on the road.
“If you get people into a football stadium for a show, you can’t asked them to sit half a mile away from the stage and look at a band with some sound equipment behind them,” continues McGuinness.
“It needs to be much more than that and what we did in U2 was push the boundaries of what was possible in our tours, with the band very much involved in everything I did.
“We lived through the golden era of CD sales, when we were selling enormous numbers and on the back of that, we became the biggest concert attraction in history.
“The music industry has changed so much over the course of U2’s career as at the start, the concerts were very much a promotional tool to sell records.
“Now, the records promote the concert ticket sales and the 360 Tour was evidence of that. You know, that tour grossed three quarters of a billion in dollars over 110 shows that were watched by around 7.2m people, which are an incredible numbers.”
McGuinness is also a publishing partner of Bill Whelan on the all-conquering Riverdance show, yet this driven businessman is not content with his lot and confirmed as much by becoming the mastermind behind Sky Atlantic’s lavish new drama Riviera.
“Myself and the members of U2 have houses in the south of France and it is an area I have come to love in recent years, so when I stopped managing the band in 2013, I wanted to work on a TV drama or a movie set in that wonderful part of the world,” added McGuinness.
“I made a list of the ingredients I wanted in this project. It was like a recipe of what I wanted.
“Rich people in the south of France doing terrible things, with Ferrari’s, yachts, beautiful women, murder, adultery, Russian gangsters and a certain amount of sex.
“It was a pretty basic framework and I contacted a few of the writers I know and in the end, Neil Jordan came forward and was keen to get involved and so was John Banville.
“Sky Atlantic were very keen to pick up the show and we have produced ten one-hour episodes that look incredible and I hope will be popular with the audience. We have certainly had huge ratings so far and it has been great project to be involved with.”
Riviera continues on Thursdays on Sky Atlantic at 9pm. You can watch all episodes now via Sky Box Sets.