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The Influencers

U2’s The Joshua Tree – Don’t Call Me Tony

INFLUENCER: Toby Abbott on the recent U2 work Cut+Run finished with director Anton Corbijn

U2’s The Joshua Tree – Don’t Call Me Tony

A lot happens in thirty years, as was highlighted by a recent job we undertook. Not only did it accentuate how much technology and our expectations have changed, but also how music can trigger an avalanche of memories. Anyone who's worked within an editing environment will be well aware of the repetition of short music clips and dialogue as an editor crafts timings to instil emotions and a depth of understanding that is far greater than the length of time that the spot takes to play. It's immersive to those cutting, but to the surrounding staff it can sometimes bring you to the point of madness. This job was different though – the snippets of sounds left me singing the next line and wishing the track would continue.

I was transported to the summer of 1987, a student at Plymouth college of Art and Design. My regular commute over Dartmoor to North Devon, to enable my mum to launder my dirty clothes and catch up with family and friends, was accompanied by the music of Talk Talk, Bowie, Hoodoo Gurus, Simple Minds, INXS and of course U2. It was, perhaps, a fleeting bubble of noise that for a short moment disturbed the peaceful grazing of sheep as I negotiated the snaking roads at break neck speed whilst screaming “ha la la la de day!” (The break neck aspect possibly more to do with the state of the knackered blue Citroën Dyane I drove than the actual speed I managed to prise out of its screaming engine.) One of these visits home coincided with that of my brother Tim, who had managed to sign us up as stewards for the U2 Joshua Tree concert at Cardiff Arms Park. I for some bizarre reason turned this offer down and have regretted it ever since…

In the absence of a music track and to get you in the right place, it was the year of the Great Storm, Terry Waite’s kidnapping, the Kings Cross fire, Arsenal winning the league beating Liverpool 2-1, Maggie Thatcher being re-elected for a third term and The Joshua Tree climbed to number one in the album charts. I graduated, moved to London and began my career at SVC Television. Acquiring new priorities and aspirations of work, U2 and my student life faded from my mind. The old Joshua Tree cassette was at some point lost in one move or another or perhaps some musical taste cleanse by my wife. Only now, by pure chance, did the musical rediscovery at work bring with it the impetus to reach into the cloud and replace, or at least download, The Joshua Tree once more.

It's resulted in a period of reflection on my life, my friends and what is important, but it has also highlighted the massive advances that have happened over the last 30 years. One month into 1987’s Joshua Tree tour, U2 headlined their first American stadium concert at Michigan’s Pontiac Silverdome. The reviews called for video screens at future dates so that the band could be visible from any point in the crowd. While U2 feared that screens would split the audience’s attention, most of the remaining dates were fitted with the changes. Thirty years later, U2 are celebrating the anniversary of that double-Grammy award-winning album by performing it in its entirety beneath a 200 x 45 foot, 6K resolution screen, designed by longtime creative director Willie Williams. The size of three IMAX screens pushed together, the screen is the largest ever used in a touring performance. Just as the album’s legendary status has grown with each passing year, so too has the band’s penchant for scale and spectacle, it would seem.

U2 have worked with longtime collaborator, director Anton Corbijn, to produce a series of eleven original films, one for every track. Cut+Run partner and editor James Rose has a long-standing relationship with Anton, which has now extended to the whole team at Cut+Run and Jogger Studios. I’m extremely proud all those involved, who threw so much time and effort into making this happen. James Rose, Jack Singer and Nick Armstrong at Cut+Run edited the films, which will play to a total of 1.7 million people over the course of the 33-date tour. With Jack and James travelling to Vancouver to see the project over the line, our team was a part of the process from the first stages of the edit, through to 6K delivery and the films’ debut on opening night of the tour. Having Jogger’s studios located upstairs meant we were able to complete all the work on this enormous project entirely in-house.

Conversations with friends both here and in the US have highlighted the numbers for whom the tour evokes a similar range of fond memories. It is huge, on so many fronts – a celebration of the band, the music, the technology and a soundtrack to part of my generation’s life. When Jack Singer returned from the rehearsals and first couple of concerts in Vancouver, he brought with him a tour programme. I could hardly contain myself when he announced that the team had all been credited: James, Jack, Nick, colourist Yoomin, the VFX team at Jogger and Ruth, who produced at our end. While my involvement was minimal (extremely), my immediate thought was that I must show my brother and our two friends who’d attended to the original concert back in 87, not to show off but to connect, maybe even to apologise for turning my back on being part of that experience along side them, that only now after so much time I longed to be apart of. It was only as Jack handed me the Tour programme that he said, “You might not like your credit Toby.”

Those who know me well will be aware of my pet hate – it's one that many people will perhaps relate to in this age of emails and auto corrections. I have a name that lends itself to regular correction, misinterpretation and perhaps just pure laziness on a stranger’s part. Such has been the irritation over the years that my colleagues now refer to this alter ego as if it’s my own personal Mr. Hyde – he even has a voice reminiscent of a gangster who’d not look out of place in the Sopranos… Yes, you've guessed; my name has been credited as Tony. My memories, friendship and pride usurped by the modern technology that had proved the creator and catalyst for this trip down memory lane. 

Toby Abbott is MD at Cut+Run

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