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70s: Punk’s Progress
‘Looking after number one’ was the record that kick started Ireland’s passage toward punk, and the man who penned it is still vitriolic about the time and place that inspired the song.
Bob Geldof, 24 Jun 2002
The Mounties having got their man – me! – I came back to Dublin from Canada in 1975 and was horrified to find the country in the same vegetative state as when I’d left.
The DeValera consensus still pertained across the board. The state/church compact was totally intact and rigid. Career opportunities amounted to the Civil Service, as in Flann O’Brien’s day, or agriculture. There was a large undergraduate population but it was assumed that they would leave.
Unemployment and poverty were chronic. The despoliation of Dublin was proceeding apace with whatever new money that had been made from property speculation. In terms of being a young person, there was no pop radio or anything vaguely resembling a rock scene. You had a jazzy-prog outfit called Supply, Demand & Curve who I thought were fucking awful, and loads of covers bands doing stuff like Jerry Lee Lewis – which was okay for a bit of an aul dance, but hardly what you’d term “youth culture.”
We had one success, Thin Lizzy, who’d succeeded despite their Irishness. You just thought, “Well, Philip’s a fucking great writer. ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ is a classic anthem. Is that the product of a society or one guy’s ability to pen tunes?.” I suggest the latter.
The key marker, which none of us was aware of then, was that 1975 was the year when 50% of the Irish population became under 25. That’s a really important figure.
Gig-wise, you had The Baggot Inn and Moran’s Hotel in Dublin, and the one or two colleges around the country who’d book original bands. The shops were shite, there were no cafés, no decent recent records. It was fucking dreadful.
Thankfully, my desperate desire for change was shared by people like Louis Cleere who started an underground paper called Zit, Eamonn Something-Or-Other who was the guy behind the Dandelion Market and a couple of fellas by the name of Niall and Dermot Stokes who overcame being in some appalling band to launch HOTPRESS!
The Boomtown Rats didn’t start with the idea of making records. We started – like most bands – because there was fuck all on the radio and fuck all to go and see live that wasn’t trad, jazz or a bad impersonation of American bands like Little Feat or The Flying Burrito Brothers.
Having identified ’60s r’n’b as the one sort of music we all liked, we proceeded to play it as fast as possible. The highlight of our set at one stage was Robert Parker’s ‘Barefootin’’, which, to use modern parlance, we grunged up.
A major turning point came when I was round this journalist fella Fachtna O’Kelly’s flat and he played me a Dr. Feelgood album. I just thought, “Fuck, they sound brilliant!” That was my big talk to the band – “We’ve got to do passionate music that’s danceable but about stuff.” I also convinced them to make Fachtna our manager.
Meanwhile, without warning, this thing exploded out of the pubs in London – it was the first incarnation of punk. There was a huge level of excitement and energy. Two Irish guys, Dave Robinson and Ted Carroll, started up London-based record labels called Stiff and Chiswick. Philip Lynott introduced us to loads of people like Richard Branson who came over to see the Rats in Dublin.
We turned Virgin down in favour of Ensign and before you can say, “Charlie Haughey’s a fucking crook!” we were on Top Of The Pops playing ‘Looking After Number One’.
Prior to that, we’d done it on The Late Late Show and caused uproar when I went on afterwards and said my piece about the government being hand in glove with the church. The phones became particularly lively when I likened nuns to hookers.
I got my revenge on everybody who’d ever fucked me, which was the entire country in my opinion! My harshest words were reserved for the aforementioned Charles J. Haughey who is, without doubt, the biggest shitehawk Ireland has ever produced.
I’m not trying to make The Boomtown Rats out to be more important than we were. We just happened to be at the pointy end of something that was burgeoning, and was mirrored by my chronic impatience.
The Rats took it to a certain point globally and then, you could say, “passed the baton on” to U2. Somebody persuaded me to go and see them when they were The Hype, which was a mistake because they were shite. There was nothing at that point to suggest that they’d go any further than the Northside.
My opinion of them didn’t improve when I was in McGonagle’s with Paula, and Bono – the cunt! – came over and tried to pull her! He gave Yates his, “Hi, I’m Bono from U2” routine, to which she replied, “So fucking what?” She’d already got her Paddy pop star and anyway, he was too small!
Since then, I’ve watched their coming and eventual arrival as the world’s biggest rock band with delight.
There are three reasons the Boomtown Rats never went over the top in America. One, my magpie songwriting mind. I couldn’t stand doing the same thing twice, which is why we went from the electronic-y ‘Like Clockwork’ to the Van Morrison-y ‘Rat Trap’, and then from the orchestral ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ to whatever ‘Banana Republic’ fucking was. Two, you need a fuck-off voice to break America and mine was far too quirky and/or plain bad! Three, no punk act – and I think we deserve to be included in that – conquered the States. Elvis Costello and The Clash came close, but they were never mega in the Bruce Springsteen sense that U2 are.
By the time of Live Aid in 1985, The Rats were over commercially, though creatively In The Long Grass was the best album we did. I’m not being perverse or mournful about it – I just happen to think that we were a fucking great band then.
I don’t want to be a party pooper but while hotpress has every right to celebrate its 25th birthday, the victories you’ve helped achieve will mean nothing if we don’t combat the burgeoning racism here. How fucking dare we, of all people, be intolerant of others coming to our country. I was in Westmoreland Street two months ago and saw people spitting at Romanians in the street trying to make a living. For the fucking Irish to behave like that, well, it’s diabolical.