14th October 2009
Ronald Reagan and the concert tickets
by Mike Scott
The first time The Waterboys toured North America in 1984 we were guests of U2, playing a 45 minute opening slot. Every night pre-show someone from U2's crew would collect our guestlist and because we didn't know many people in Canada or the States it was often blank. When the tour got to Washington DC, for a lark I put "Ronald Reagan plus one" on the page. After all, he lived in The White House just up the road.
That night after we played I went outside the venue for some fresh air. It was a frigid December night and I wandered to the front of the building, a grand old masonic pile called The Constitution Hall. From inside I could hear U2 coming on stage and blasting into their opening number. But standing in the cold at the main doors, unable to get in because they had no tickets, were a couple of teenage girls, both crying, with their bemused-looking parents. I was really touched, especially because the parents had brought them. There was something really homely and sad about the little heartbreaking scene.
My brain switched into gear and, as in one of those comic strip moments when a lightbulb flashes above someone's head, I had a Brainwave. "Ronald Reagan plus one" was on the guestlist. If the two girls said THEY were Ronald Reagan plus one they'd be able to get in!
I went up to them and explained this, but it didn't sound as sensible coming out of my mouth as it had in my head. The parents had no reason to believe my story that I was in the support band, other than perhaps my odd accent which marked me down as an exotic Brit foreigner, and when I outlined the bit about the guestlist (what on earth was that?) and "Ronald Reagan" (?!?!?!), I was met with disbelieving stares from mum and dad and confused expressions from the girls.
Nevertheless I persevered, explaining it all over again. The girls, recognising I was their one last hope of seeing the concert, urged the parents to believe me and to let them pose as "Ronald Reagan plus one" if that was what it took to get in. The parents reluctantly agreed and we all trooped up to the door together. I banged on the glass, and a steward came and opened up. I explained my story about the Waterboys guest list and "Ronald Reagan" but was told: "I don't know nuthin' 'bout that. You'll have to go to the stage door".
This did nothing for my credibility in the eyes of the parents, and as I led them, disbelievingly, round the perimeter of the building to the stage door, the dad fixed me with a skeptical eye and drawled in a slow no-nonsense tone: "Are you on the level, son?"
At the stage door another steward went to find the Waterboys' guestlist. To my horror, when he returned he said there was no such thing. My credibility divebombed. I protested but was told 'the opening act didn't even submit a guestlist' and I guessed that some humourless member of U2's entourage must have decided against presenting a list with only "Ronald Reagan" on it.
I was scuppered, the skeptical dad was confirmed in his belief that I was a dangerous lunatic, and the two girls were crying again, attendance at the gig now irredeemably beyond their reach.
Just then I caught sight of an Island Records promo guy I knew slightly, a really good fellow. Island was the American record company for both U2 and The Waterboys and this was one of the dudes who accompanied the tour and fixed up radio interviews for us. I called him over, explained about the guest list and asked if he could help. He looked at the weeping girls and the distressed, disgruntled parents and sized up the situation in one. "We're gonna get the girls into the show!" he exclaimed, heroically.
He led us back round the building to the front door, knocked authoritatively on it, flashed his important looking access-all-areas pass and instructed the steward to take him to the U2 office. Two minutes later he came back with a couple of passes for the show. He hung these over the necks of the two girls and, weeping now for happiness and thanking us profusely, they ran into the building. I watched them disappear into the venue, swallowed up by the concert lights and the sound of the rock'n'roll. Our promo-man-cum-saviour then dashed off leaving me with the two parents, who were completely won over and gobsmacked. The poor dad was speechless but shook my hand enthusiastically, pumping it up and down with a great big smile on his face. And I got a kiss from the mum.
A year later The Waterboys returned to America for our first headline tour, playing small clubs. We arrived at the Washington venue in the late afternoon, a bar by a river I seem to remember, and to my surprise there were some familiar figures standing outside waiting for us. It was the two girls and their dad and this time they had their concert tickets. It was a great reunion and from that day on, every time I've played Washington the girls - Annemarie and Joanna - have come to the show.