December 5, 2009

Lunch with Paul McGuinness

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Lunch with the FT: Paul McGuinness

By Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson

Published: December 4 2009 15:28 | Last updated: December 4 2009 15:28

Paul McGuinness“I figured out bad wine costs the same as good wine, so why not learn about it,” says Paul McGuinness as he orders a $69 bottle of Oregon pinot noir. “I probably imposed that on the young U2. We had a practice when we were first touring. We’d economise on hotels but go to good restaurants.”
More than three decades and 140m records after McGuinness, now 58, started managing four Dublin teenagers, the world’s most successful band stay in rather better hotels and he has been able to put his money where his mouth is, as an early investor in the Michelin-starred Manhattan restaurant where we now sit.
It has taken us three hours to get to our corner table in the Spotted Pig, which feels more of a village inn than the London gastropubs it is supposed to resemble. McGuinness had suggested we meet first at Madison Square Garden to watch U2 rehearse for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th anniversary show.
In an almost empty arena, I have been granted a private concert and a glimpse of why McGuinness is one of the few people in the miserable modern music industry to be noted for their business acumen.
Jon Landau, Bruce Springsteen’s manager since 1974, approaches as we watch U2 warm up. “The thing I dislike about Paul is, before he came along, I liked to think I was the best manager in the world,” he jokes. “Now Bruce likes to say, ‘I call my manager the American Paul McGuinness.’”
Elvis had Colonel Tom Parker, and John, Paul, George and Ringo had Brian Epstein. McGuinness is U2’s fifth Beatle. He claims no creative role but can take credit for a series of eye-catching deals that have led to U2-branded iPods, 3D concert films, a 12-year touring deal with Live Nation, sponsorship from BlackBerry and, just before we meet, the first concert streamed live on YouTube, which was seen by 10m people around the world. Most importantly, Landau adds, McGuinness locked down the band’s master recordings and lucrative publishing rights.
On stage, I have watched Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen run through a lengthy set with guests including Springsteen and Patti Smith. Mick Jagger, the only man who competes with U2’s stadium-filling ability, has prowled about the stage with Fergie, the lead singer with the Black Eyed Peas. She has floored everybody with a scorching assault on the opening bars of “Gimme Shelter”.

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