Almost Famous: The Engineer Who Quit U2
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because when it comes to U2, you probably don’t know Dik.
By Sean Braswell
On September 25, 1976, a motley group of Irish high schoolers assembled in Larry Mullen Jr.’s kitchen at 60 Rosemont Avenue in North Dublin. Fourteen-year-old Mullen, with a dream and a toy drum kit, had posted a flier on the bulletin board at the Mount Temple Comprehensive School looking to form a rock band. Answering the call that day in Larry’s kitchen were three teenagers who would become household names in the music industry: Paul Hewson (aka “Bono”), guitarist Dave Evans (“the Edge”) and bass player Adam Clayton.
Also in the kitchen and joining a quartet that is now arguably the biggest and longest-running band on the planet was a fifth figure — Richard “Dik” Evans, Dave’s older brother, who would play guitar during the group’s first 18 months and quit just as the band was reinventing itself as U2 and beginning its rapid ascent to rock ’n’ roll stardom.
Before he became one of the world’s most famous guitar players, David Howell Evans had to fend off his brother Richard, two years his senior, from the toy guitar he’d been given for his ninth birthday. As John Jobling chronicles in U2: The Definitive Biography, the Evans boys were born into a Welsh-English Protestant, and highly musical, family: Their father, Garvin, played piano and founded the Dublin Welsh Male Voice Choir, and their mother, Gwenda, sang in the choir. Dave later acquired an acoustic guitar at a rummage sale for one pound, says Jobling, while Richard, “an electronics enthusiast prone to performing wild experiments in the family garden shed,” tried his hand at assembling an electric guitar from scratch.
Dik … looked much more like the computer wiz and engineer he would become than a rock star.
The result, Jobling tells us, was “a crude yellow V-shaped plank of wood with strings,” an instrument Dave and Dik took turns playing, along with the one-quid guitar, that fateful evening in Larry’s kitchen while the newly formed band “attempted to claw their way through The Rolling Stones’ ‘Brown Sugar’ and ‘Satisfaction.’” In fact, the novice group’s first rehearsals were so rough that they initially called themselves Feedback after the shrill sound that emanated from the beat-up amp they were all plugged into. “It was like the first day in the army,” the Edge would tell U2 Magazine in 1982. “Everyone was knocked into shape and telling everyone else what to do.”
And there were more obstacles to come for the band, which rebranded itself as The Hype. Bono was headed to University College Dublin for an arts degree, Adam had been kicked out of Mount Temple for running through the halls naked and Dik — who looked less like a rock star than the computer wiz he would become — had been awarded a government grant to study at Trinity College. Fortunately for music history, Bono was forced to withdraw from the university after a few weeks when the school realized he had failed Irish and therefore did not meet its entrance requirements. The event gave The Hype’s lead singer a chance to redouble his musical efforts, and by 1978, the slowly improving band was ditching covers in favor of original material, largely written by Bono, who had left the guitar playing to the Evans brothers.
After an appearance on Irish television led to some new opportunities in early 1978, the band, rechristened U2 — a name the members considered more mysterious and open to multiple interpretations — played a St. Patrick’s Day music competition in Limerick, and, to the astonishment of many, including themselves, the ramshackle outfit won, earning a free recording session with CBS Ireland.
One member of the band, however, was missing at the event in Limerick. Dik Evans, who could not be reached for comment, had been losing interest and missing rehearsals, and so it came as no surprise when he quit the group two days after they won the contest. “They became very intense about it and I wasn’t; it was almost a generation-gap type of gulf between us,” the former band member told Jobling. “I just didn’t fit in.”
But Dik’s exit in no way meant he was quitting music; instead he quickly formed a new gothic band named the Virgin Prunes with two Dublin friends. Nor were there any hurt feelings. Dik’s former bandmates even played a farewell gig with him at the Presbyterian Church in Howth, where the Virgin Prunes, who would eventually disband in 1986, made their official debut alongside U2.
By the time U2 really took off, Dik was deep into his computer science degree, and he followed that with an engineering doctorate from Imperial College in London. Garvin Evans, the guitarists’ father, gave an interview in 2013 in which he said, “I have never spoken to Richard about his feelings about having left U2 … There seems little point in getting involved in ‘what might have been.’”
Especially when “what might have been” might never have been. As Dik himself explained, “I never at any stage thought, ‘Yeah, I want to be in a band and that’s all.’” Undoubtedly a sentiment shared by the band of almost-famous artists who barely missed their big chance with Lady Luck. But, as the song goes, “It’s all right, it’s all right, it’s all right. She moves in mysterious ways.”