A day-by-day history of U2, now in its second edition.

Rob Partridge, R.I.P.

By on November 26, 2008 in Miscellaneous with 5 Comments

There’s a wire service story running today about the death of Rob Partridge. It’s short, and I don’t think that URL will work forever, so I’m going to reprint it below in its entirety:

Man who signed U2 dies from cancer

The music PR who got U2 their first record deal has died after a two-year battle with cancer.

Rob Partridge signed the band to Island Records in 1980 when they were unknowns struggling for recognition. He remained the band’s publicist for many years and a friend of frontman Bono.

As Head of Press and later Media Director for the label, he dealt with artists like Bob Marley, Grace Jones, Tom Waits and Marianne Faithfull.

I don’t think that story really does justice to how important Rob Partridge was in U2’s development.

When I was researching U2 – A Diary, I spent a lot of time digging into the band’s early years — the late 1970s and early 1980s. That’s one of those gray periods with a lot of uncertainty about what exactly happened, when things happened, and how they happened. I managed to find some new articles and made some contacts with people that helped a lot.

At almost every turn, Rob Partridge’s name came up.

The short obit above talks about how he got U2 signed to Island Records, and that’s true. You may remember U2’s late 1979 tour of London clubs. It was pretty much their first and last chance to get a record deal from one of the major UK-based labels. This is the two-week tour that I describe on ppg. 25-26 of the book. It’s when they were called “Capital U2″ at one concert, “V2″ at another, and “The U2’s” at another. Edge cut up his hand two days before the first show. Only nine people showed up for one club date. And whenever record label execs announced that they were coming to a show, U2 were terrible. When it was just an audience of fans, they supposedly played terrific shows.

Here’s the diary entry for the final gig of that London tour:

December 15
Windsor Castle, London. U2 wraps up its brief, inconsistent tour. Luck hasn’t been on their side: U2 thinks they’ve played their worst shows with record executives in the crowd, and great shows when almost no one is watching. The band is unaware that Rob Partridge of Island Records caught one of the good shows, and is spreading the word to others at the label.

Somewhere on that tour, Rob Partridge showed up unannounced at a gig and caught U2 at its best, while the other (announced) record execs caught U2 at its worst. It’s not at all a stretch to say that U2 wouldn’t be around today if not for Rob Partridge seeing one of those good shows. No other label was beating down U2’s door, and they were ready to throw in the towel after the early 1980 tour of Ireland — the one that ended with Island signing U2 to a major contract.

I knew Rob would have some amazing stories to tell about those days, so I tracked him down in July, 2007, and sent him an email asking for an interview. He wrote back, told me he was in treatment for cancer, and asked if I could check back with him in a couple months. I said I would and offered to say some prayers for his health. I waited until November of last year to try him again, but never got a reply. It’s one of my few regrets about researching the book that we never connected, but he obviously had far more important things to focus on.

Rest in peace, Rob Partridge … one of the most important people in the U2 story.

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  1. neil storey says:

    thank you for mentioning rob’s passing…

    its a truly sad day but, we were all blessed in some way or other by having the privilege of either knowing or working with him.

    i’d imagine that everyone will raid thesauruses, looking for apt adjectives to describe him… the best I can come up with isn’t an adjective… because none properly sum him up… because… Rob… was just… Rob.

    And, now he’s sleeping peacefully.

  2. Matt says:

    Neil – thanks for leaving your thoughts here. He sounds like a good man. I wish I’d had the chance to meet him. Best to you and all his friends and family.

  3. Peter Barrett says:

    Matt

    This is not a comment on Rob P, but rather just to say that I bought the book at the weekend and am about 40-50% of the way through already. It is a facinating read. Q called it ‘oddly compulsive’ – and I think that describes it well for me, having been into U2 since 1983/hearing New Year’s Day.

    I have also been involved in organising the Greenbelt arts festival (at one point as a director) and your comments about Bono’s two visits to the festival are spot on. Martin Wroe was the guy who got me involved and it was not surprising to see his name in the book and in the credits, too, along with Willie Williams (who used to compere Greenbelt mainstage before he became just a little bit famous!).

    I really enjoy the @U2 web site, too, by the way. It is one of my regular online stops and is always worth browsing. So a big thank you to you for the book and the @U2 team for the site.

    All the best, Peter Barrett.

    PS If you ever pop over to the UK, I’ll buy you a beer!

  4. Ian McCann says:

    I was lucky enough to run into Rob when he was running the press office at Island Records in the mid-80s. I was a young writer about black music. While Rob knew infinitely more than I did, he never chose to show it off at my expense and let me work stuff out for myself. Later, when I went freelance, his patronage in giving me little PR jobs and my first album sleevenotes was vital and kept me going through lean times. He was a gent, always ready with a wry, dry comment that would cut through the bullshit. It was impossible to dislike him, and he backed up an assessment that he was one of life’s good guys when he and his wife won a house in a competition – and gave it away to charity. Rob’s genuine modesty would have seen him turn his face from all the praise that has become his obituary, but he was a trully brilliant bloke and one of the unsung linchpins that made all the bollocks of the music business actually work.
    Rob, thank you for all you did.
    Ian McCann

  5. Pat McAleavy says:

    A man I will never forget. I worked in the Accounts Dept of Island Records, when I left my parting gift from Rob was a yellow Big Time Tom Waits clock, which I have treasured all these years.

    He will never be forgotten and always in my thoughts.

    Pat

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