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Reform Magazine | December 5, 2023

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I was a Greenbelt popstar, nearly

I was a Greenbelt popstar, nearly

In the 1980s, Greenbelt festival looked like Dixe Wills’ path to fame, if only he could get the right name for his band

I’ll admit it now, the beginning of this tale is less cool than I could ever have imagined it would be. Back in 1981, when they’d just broken into the charts, U2 made a surprise appearance at Greenbelt. Excited beyond reason, my friend Tim and I donned tea towels (for reasons that are now less than clear to me) and made for the mainstage, a venue we had eschewed all weekend (we were waaaay too hip and happening to see Cliff Richard.) There we danced with a degree of ostentation I might find unbecoming today, singing along to every word of every song, thus demonstrating to anyone unwary enough to be within earshot that we were devotees of late-night radio shows where we had got into this edgy band long before anyone else here had heard of them, you know. Little did we know that U2 would later become so unpopular that the only way they could get their music heard was to arrange to have it automatically added to everyone’s iTunes accounts. But the seed was sown. One day, I would be up there on stage myself – if not singing about The Troubles, then singing about my own troubles.

Aside from providing an opportunity to confirm to the girls in my church youth group that I was every bit as affected as they had suspected, that appearance by Dublin’s Fab Four would help set me on a path that would take up nearly a decade of my life. And in a weird and wonderful way, Greenbelt both shaped and mirrored my youthful dreams. Indeed, looking back, one might say that the festival acted as my enabler, largely in the second dictionary definition of that word.

Fast forward to 1987 and the callow youth had become a man, or certainly reckoned himself one. The fact that I was not a natural musician had done nothing to deter me from forming a series of short-lived bands with ever more ridiculous names. Nigel Golfclub and the Modern Existentialists, Borussia München Tree-surgeon, More Shaken Than Hurt (Öfficial) – I had been the warbling front man of them all. But now at last I had joined forces with Tim (thankfully sans tea towel) to found the supergroup that was always meant to be…

Dixe Wills is a travel writer. His most recent book is The Wisdom of Nature (Quadrille, 2019)

This is an extract from an article that was published in the July/August 2019 edition of Reform. To read the full article, subscribe to Reform

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