A few years back, I found myself sharing a table with Chris Blackwell, the legendary founder of Island Records.
He was a lovely man: funny, charming and self-deprecating, with a spectacular fund of stories.
The one I liked best was about how he came to give U2 their first recording contract.
‘I was in London at the time,’ he said, ‘and one of my A&R guys told me I should go and see this band from Dublin, who were playing a small venue in Hammersmith that night.
‘I didn’t really like their demo tape – it wasn’t my kind of music at all. But I was living not far from Hammersmith and the A&R guy was insistent, so I agreed to drop in.’
He arrived as the band were halfway through their third number. There were five people in the audience: Chris, his girlfriend, the A&R guy and a couple of old boys nursing their pints at the bar.
‘The thing is’, said Chris, ‘they still played the gig like it was Wembley stadium. Their energy was tremendous. Song after song, they belted it out with absolute conviction. So I told the A&R guy to sign them, but only on condition that we didn’t spend a penny promoting them.’
When Island celebrated its 40th birthday, Chris said he felt a little embarrassed about the moving tribute paid to him by Bono for having the belief to back U2 at the start.
‘The truth is,’ he said, ‘I’m not sure I did believe in their music. But I totally believed in them. They were so determined to be the biggest band in the world that we never had to lift a finger to help them. They were so professional, so focused on getting the right gigs, the right airtime, building a fanbase: they did it all themselves.’
It’s a reminder that you can have the best plan in the world, the greatest resources, the smartest people – and none of that will make much difference if those people don’t also have the drive and belief to make it happen.
Energy trumps talent every time.