There are two extremes. On one hand, there is the crew. Few of us bother watching a show while on tour, be it Madonna, Bon Jovi or, in this case, U2. We tour primarily to pay our mortgages. Free travel, and chasing providers of milk and love, are arguably splendid bonuses, but fundamentally we’re in it for the cash.
On the other hand, there is a curious breed: the fans. Without them, of course, none of us, including the stars on the stage, would have a job. So they really ought to be treated with kid gloves. ‘Sad fuckers,’ summarises Gentleman Steve, with characteristic aplomb.
What makes U2 fans – or any fans, for that matter – tick, then? What encourages perfectly sensible bipeds to part with large amounts of the green stuff and queue in the rain for hours? Tell you what, I’ll pop out and ask them.
It so happens that I’m parked outside Coimbra’s stadium in Portugal (in late September 2010). The truck has been jauntily abandoned on the roadside, as though I’m quickly popping into the newsagent to ask for directions. And, of course, Namibian has pulled up behind me – this is our camping spot for three days. ‘At least the shop’s not far,’ he croaks, a lugubrious figure staring out the windscreen at the drizzle. ‘Maybe 500 metres, or it might be half a kilometre.’ Yep, same old Namibian.
Anyway, let’s meet the Great Unwashed on the other side of the security cordon. Staunch supporters, Mark and Lorraine get first shot at an interview, I think – the Coimbra show will be their 20th show in a row, ratcheting them firmly into the Hall of Nutters. ‘If you put the hours in, it’s a great craic,’ enthuses Liverpudlian Mark, squinting at me through the rain. I nod, mentally running through a checklist of activities that would appeal to me less than paying to stand here: poking myself in the eye; a blind date with one of Namibian’s wife’s friends; drowning, perhaps?
But they also talk some sense. Having run a restaurant in California for twelve years, Mark has this to say: ‘It isn’t smog in LA – it’s faecal material from every time somebody opens their mouth. Out there, it’s “what do you do?”, not “how are you?”’ They’re glad to be living in Spain now, as far as I can tell, and they are squandering their rapidly dwindling funds on following U2 around Europe.
I say “rapidly dwindling” because they’ve admitted spending £25-30,000 as fans over the last two years. Hotels, concert tickets, travel and board start to add up, of course. But are they certifiably insane? Well, let’s put it this way: if I had a spare ten grand floating around, I would whiz down to Antarctica like a shot – it’s my dream. So to spend two or three times that sum, to spend summers following the biggest band in the world, may not be quite as crackers as I’d thought.
‘Queuing is definitely part of it,’ admits Lorraine. ‘But it’s also about the people you meet.’ Looking around the crowd, I see that the hardcore fans are bonding. They recognise each other from previous tour dates and are having a barrel of laughs cowering under tarpaulins, swapping addresses and photos. The atmospheric prospect of using a portaloo must also be part of the craic, I imagine..