Music guru Billy McGrath ‘didn’t know’ U2 wanted him as a manager until Bono’s book
The showbiz maestro has ‘no regrets’ about not work with supergroup
Showbiz guru Billy McGrath says he would have turned down U2 in their early days if they’d asked him to be their manager.
Billy hit the spotlight recently when Bono revealed in his autobiography that at one stage the then young U2 group had decided to fire their manager Paul McGuinness amid a heated argument, and hire McGrath.
At the time, McGrath was managing one of U2’s favourite young Irish bands, The Atrix.
The U2 frontman said Louis Walsh overheard their conversation in Dublin restaurant, Captain Americas on Grafton Street, and talked them out of it.
Now McGrath, who is celebrating a lifetime in music, TV and stand-up comedy with a hilarious new stage show called GUSTO, reveals that U2 did approach him to be their booking agent for Irish shows — and he “politely declined” their request.
“I didn’t know they were going to ask me to be their manager or that Louis Walsh intervened until Bono’s book came out, but when they asked me to be their booking agent I told them to stick with Paul and think of a career outside Ireland,” Billy told the Sunday World.
“There weren’t any indie clubs around Ireland to suit U2 at the time. It was the days of the bar extension and dance bands and cabaret rooms, and U2 had quite a young audience. I knew that the publicans would have had a problem with that.
“I said, ‘I don’t think there’s a huge market, stick to what you’re doing with Paul.’ I knew Paul McGuinness, I had respect for him and I just knew he was perfect for the band.”
However, Billy revealed that he received a flood of messages from people reacting to Bono’s revelation in his autobiography.
“I got so many texts and so many DMs saying, ‘oh you could have been a millionaire, look what you missed out on!’ But I’ve never been in it for the money, it’s not what drives me.
“All of my career I’ve been hopping and jumping from one thing to another. I love working on new projects with new people. I wouldn’t have lasted with U2. As soon as something starts to work I get a bit bored and move on. Half the fun is starting things. I’ve had a very productive and successful career, so I’ve no regrets at all.”
Billy has maintained his relationship with U2 through the decades. “Eventually, when I went into TV, the first documentary I ever did was U2 at Croke Park, so I think there was a mutual respect there and we have a long-lasting friendship to this day,” he points out.
McGrath was also a key figure in the early career of Bob Geldof and The Boomtown Rats in the 1970s, and he organised their first tour of Ireland — which earned Geldof and all involved a total of £22 each!
“We spent a month putting together a tour called The Falling Asunder Rock Review.
“The Rats were a really good and really exciting live band, unlike a lot of other bands. There were six of them on stage and most of them could play their instruments. They did 19 dates in 26 days, so when they went to the UK they were s**t-hot, they were so tight and I think they would have impressed immediately.
“The Irish tour finished in the National Stadium and we sold around 1,700 tickets in a 2,000 capacity. There were three bands and four crew and it was like a co-op where everybody got exactly the same amount of money after all the expenses were paid. At the end I think we all got £22, including Bob.
“It was an education because it was The Boomtown Rats’ first live tour, and it was the first live tour of rock bands around Ireland.”
McGrath then helped to establish a rock circuit in Ireland before moving into the world of TV, where he met some of the world’s biggest stars including Michael Jackson, David Bowie and Sting while working on the Wired show with Channel 4, and with RTE.
“Myself and Dave Fanning did an interview with Bowie for RTE before the Slane show in ’87,” Billy recalls. “He was very funny, but the one thing I was amazed by was how much he smoked. I thought for his voice and stuff like that…and I think that probably got him in the end.”
Billy has also been a stand-up comic who ran early comedy shows in Ireland where he became a close friend of the late Sean Hughes.
“When I started the stand-up clubs he was just beginning to emerge in Britain and he came over and did some shows for me. We became close friends,” Billy says. “Sean became a major star in the UK and asked me to manage him, but I didn’t want to move to London at the time.
“I was at a TV festival in Cannes in October, 2017, when Ardal O’Hanlon rang me and broke the news of his death. I must admit that I cried like a baby.
“It was more than a sad last year he had with his health and his drinking. It was a sad end.
“We had so many fun, happy days together. I was devastated as were his brothers and close family.”
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