|Even better than the real thing?!|
On a personal note, I can honestly say they changed my life. If it wasn't for the Massive Heeds, I would never have become the huge U2 fan I am now!
"Many years ago I had the pleasure of seeing the Massive Heeds in Dublin. It was quite bizarre, I was going to purchase my first ever motorbike, so was buzzing along the street minding my own business, turned the corner and bumped into a massive Bono head, dressed in black with white gloves. That was quite a shock. Quite literally bumped into him face to face. The great memory is the masses of people who followed them along the street, like rats following pied pipers, as they shook hands and waved to everyone along the street. "
Massive Heed Bono was played by Midie Corcoran, who remembers feeling that the "adulation was wonderful" as the famous music from 2001: A Space Odyssey, 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' started up and smoke billowed out of the box. This became known amongst the U2 roadies as the ‘Bono in the Box’ gag, described by MacTeo as "a seriously simple but massively effective introduction for the band".
"Picture the scene. The biggest band on the planet. The Zooropa Tour. Two roadies wheel out a flight case to the end of the catwalk. With stadium spotlights focused on the box and some seriously dramatic music the lid begins to open. A white-gloved hand appears first, followed by the most famous face in the business. Our Massive Head Bono, climbs out of the box to thunderous roars and screams from the crowd. Once out of the box, he turns and bangs on the lid and Massive Head of The Edge emerges. This startling image was almost too much for the fans to handle. Massive Heads Bono and The Edge were then joined by Massive Heads Larry and Adam to complete this brilliant quartet. We didn't think the fans could scream any louder until the real U2 appeared moments later... "
The joke performance apparently caused huge confusion among the audience, with the media even speculating that it was the real band inside the caricature heads! (In his Daily Mail review, Spencer Bright reported that the first Glasgow show "started playfully enough with Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jnr emerging from containers with giant plastic caricatures of themselves over their real heads as they did a cartoonish U2 dance".) Once on stage, they would prance around to the Happy Mondays hit 'Step On', urging the crowd to jump and clap along; Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' is also said to have been used. Each band member appeared with his own trademark prop – Larry had a giant pair of drumsticks, Edge had a guitar, Bono sometimes waved a white flag, and just like his U2 counterpart, Massive Heed Adam could often be seen with a large cigarette hanging from his lips! After a couple of minutes the Zoo crew would rush on and hastily manhandle the lads back into their boxes ("It's not time yet!"), though they'd keep popping up irrepressibly to wave and blow kisses to the fans as they were wheeled away. :)
The tour took the Massive Heeds to 16 countries over four months, with a total audience of 3 million people. Footage of them can be seen here (pro-shot concert in Basel, Switzerland), here (a different performance shown in full in between interview clips), here at 12:59 (end of 'ABC In Concert' documentary about the Zooropa Tour), here (bootleg video of the first Verona show) and here (bootleg video of the first Rome show)! There are some additional clips in this Naked City feature from 6:03 to 6:08, too.
With their bizarre, inherently comical appearance, the Massive Heeds fit in perfectly on a show that was well known for its offbeat humour and silliness. As well as dancing for the audience during the ad breaks, they were sometimes involved in daft skits, such as Chris arriving at his desk to find Massive Heed Bono asleep in his chair. The U2 regulars were occasionally joined by other Massive Heeds, notably the Gallagher brothers from Oasis, who seemed to resent their popularity! (Chris: "Everybody loves 'em! Well, that is apart from... there's a couple of lads who don't like them. A couple of lads don't like the U2 Massive Heeds. I don't know why, they just never have done – they get in a real grouch about it." Chris opens a door to reveal Liam and Noel sulking on the stairs! Watch the video here.)
Thanks to Darren Whitfield who emailed me to identify himself as the viewer who noticed the continuity error: "I'd actually faxed Chris while he was doing his breakfast show during the week. I used to contribute regularly to their breakfast show so mentioned this as a bit of a laugh and to my surprise they made a small feature out of it on TFI that Friday. "
This was far from the end for those loveable lads, though. The Massive Heeds went to Dublin Castle for the Heineken Green Energy festival weekend at the start of May 1999, before embarking on a massive tour of British universities, colleges and nightclubs – even performing on the main stage of a few major music festivals that summer. One such event was the Fleadh Festival in London's Finsbury Park on 10th July, where the U2 boys were set to appear with some of their other massive headed friends including Ronan Keating. (As the NME put it: "Joining all the bands on the bill will be the Massive Heads, the fibre-glass headed living puppets as seen on U2's Zooropa tour, Robbie Williams' recent jaunt and every week without becoming tedious on TFI Friday. ") They were also scheduled to appear at the T In The Park festival. The Massive Heeds were among the performers at a 'Picnic in the Park' in Edinburgh's West Princes Street Gardens on 1st July 1999, entertaining 1,500 school children who had taken part in a parade to mark the opening of the new Scottish Parliament. Other events on their calendar included Microsoft's Tech·Ed Europe '99 conference in Amsterdam, where they performed during the main party in the keynote hall on 9th July.
At the start of 2000, the U2 and Robbie Williams Heeds partied in the New Year in Aberdeen, dancing to Bee Gees songs among other things. They were spotted again on 7th May 2000 at the Beltane celebrations (a Celtic fire festival) in Stirling. Sheffield nightclub The Rebublic also featured 'The Massive Head Stage Show' every Friday as part of their Bubblegum night, where '80s and early '90s classic hits were played – Heeds appearing here included U2, Madonna, Boy George, George Michael, Tina Turner and Prince. (Always a big draw, the Massive Heeds had previously performed on the opening night of York's largest nightclub Ikon and Diva on 4th February 1999, where management failed to predict the demand and many people were refused entry after queuing in the cold for two hours!)
The Massive Heeds of Dublin residents U2, James Joyce, Brendan Behan and Oscar Wilde took part in the official launch of the Liffey Voyage service on 26th September 2005. The new Spirit of Docklands tour boat was escorted up the river by MacTeo performers dressed as Vikings on a floating stage, with the Heeds accompanying them in RIBs. "The Dublin quays were a riot of colour and rhythm, with passers-by stopped in their tracks by the performance on the water. "
Rather delightfully, Tourism Ireland have employed the Massive Heeds several times in recent years. Bono and The Edge helped out with their stand at the Brussels Holiday Fair in February 2005, and the whole group attended the World Travel Market at London's ExCeL Centre on 13th November 2007 – many thanks to Anna Black for sending me this funny pic after meeting them there! Anna was on a quest to photograph 2190 people holding her signed photo of 'Allo 'Allo actor Arthur Bostrom, and the lads were reportedly very eager to participate. :D
On 11th April 2009, Kilkenny in Ireland celebrated the 400th anniversary of King James I granting it city status. The Kilkenny 400 Festival featured a number of street performers including the Massive Heeds of U2, Madonna, Robbie Williams, Elvis Presley and the Gallagher brothers. Click here for a video all about the year's events – the U2 boys can be seen performing in Canal Square at 0:32, and there's a newspaper photo of the Oasis and Madonna Heeds at 6:30.
The Massive Heeds of U2, Ronan Keating, Keith Duffy and Noel & Liam Gallagher spent the afternoon of 8th June 2013 at Dublin's Clarehall Shopping Centre, to help launch 'The Clarehall Gathering', a competition offering €2000 to fly a loved one home to Ireland as part of The Gathering. People could record their nomination messages in a booth with the Heeds (as well as posing for photos with them, naturally!), and the U2 members also gave a special performance.
The Irish heart & stroke charity Croí celebrated its 30th anniversary on 27th March 2015 with a Pearl Gala Ball at the Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa, Galway. Described as "a glitzy night of entertainment and fun", the event opened with a performance by the Massive Heeds of Bono, The Edge, Madonna and Robbie Williams, who were happy as always to pose for photographs with the party guests!
In an interesting development, 2015 has also seen a revival of TFI Friday on Channel 4 (supposedly to mark the show's 20th anniversary, though it was in fact 19 years since it began). Initially this was announced as a one-off special on 12th June. Chris Evans' own Massive Heed starred in one of the trailers ("it's going to be MASSIVE"), and Chris responded with an emphatic "YES!!!" when asked on Twitter if the Heeds would be appearing in the show. Sadly, this turned out to be misleading at best! The Chris Evans Heed was present in the studio but remained hidden away at the back, and the wall behind the desk was wonderfully decorated with photographs of the U2 and Oasis Massive Heeds – indeed it was difficult to concentrate on guest interviews with Bono & chums peering over their shoulder! – but they did not appear in person or feature in any classic clips montage. This seemed a glaring omission from what was otherwise a joyful nostalgia trip... and it wasn't just me who thought so, with dozens of people independently tweeting about wanting to see them! (As one viewer put it, "where the fuck are the Big U2 heads?") It is plain to see that they are still warmly remembered and hugely missed. Following the success of the anniversary special, Channel 4 have commissioned a new series of 8 episodes to air later this year... which means there is still time to put right what once went wrong, and return the Massive Heeeeeeds to our screens at long last! Will they give the people what they want, or let us down all over again? Only time will tell...
If you can offer any detailed information about where the Massive Heeds have appeared over the last few years – especially if you have photos or video! – then please contact me so I can update the website. Full credit will of course be given!
The appeal of these crazy caricatures shows no sign of diminishing. An article in the Sunday Mirror described them as being "in constant demand at television shows, parties and events all across the world", while Arcana stated on their website: "We have devised floor shows that incorporate the Massive Heads, these shows have been the most popular of all our performances."
In particular, if you have any old videotapes of the Massive Heeds performing on TFI Friday which you could transfer onto your computer, it would be brilliant to see some clips on YouTube. I hardly recorded any shows myself as I figured I'd never feel the need to watch them again... how wrong I was!!