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The years of the rats
Long before boomtime Ireland there was boomtown Ireland, a country where the national symbol was not a tiger but a rat. to coincide with the release of the best of the boomtown rats, Bob Geldof looks back to the tepid Irish scene of the mid-’70s from which the rats emerged, biting, snarling and laughing, to take on the establishment, Britain and, almost, the world.
Jackie Hayden, 31 Oct 2003
Any rock music fan born in Ireland later than the mid-seventies, and currently glorying in the vitality of the modern Irish music scene, can have little perception of how miserable it was during the Breznev years of pre-Hot Press Ireland.
We had one radio station then, Radio Eireann, which generally shied away from anything louder than the Ray Conniff Orchestra. The national newspapers tended to shunt their coverage of rock and pop into a weekend column, rock bands were treated like lepers in most venues and Irish-based international record companies only signed Irish rocks acts after they moved to London. The top international acts who came here either played the Carlton Cinema (Johnny Cash) or the National Stadium (Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin). Capacity audiences then numbered far less than The Point today, never mind Slane. Into this desert came occasional sightings of Irish rock greatness to be quickly extinguished by the twin evils of apathy and lack of financial paydirt.
But halfway through 1977 there were stirrings on the street. British punk had been assimilated by disaffected Irish music fans as a rallying cry against bad music, cultural strangulation, religious and establishment oppression, rising unemployment and corrupt government.
Moran’s Hotel, just off O’Connell Street in Dublin, was one of the few venues not intent on exterminating all dedicated followers of punk and it was to become a natural home for the nascent Boomtown Rats.
The Rats, in fact, were Catholic Ireland’s worst nightmare in the flesh. In mainman Bob Geldof they had a rude attitude worth its weight in column inches, a man with an instinctive knack for maximising public outrage, his uncouth rebellious voice a perfect match for his generous child-bearing lips. Betimes he looked as emaciated as a charity poster for the third world (ironic, given his later incarnation as St Bob) as he sprayed his ranting lyrics at audiences, while a powerhouse band rocked the joint in joyous encouragement. One of them even wore pyjamas – in public! – a fashion statement that must have sent sales of rosary beads soaring, and some of the others looked more malignant than the law allowed.
Not surprisingly, the young people of Ireland loved them, especially their first single ‘Looking After Number One’ which laid out the new generation’s manifesto as graphically and as unambiguously as possible in its opening verse:
“Don’t give me love thy neighbour! Don’t give me charity!
Don’t give me peace and love from your good lord above!
You’re always gettin’ in my way with your stupid ideas!
I don’t want to be like you. (repeated)
I’m gonna be like meeeeeeh!”
“Ouch!” said old Ireland, as the Rats ran riot and their notoriety skyrocketed.
Writer Joe O’Connor, in his The Irish Male At Home And Abroad recalls the aftermath of seeing The Rats at Dalymount Park: “I staggered home that night with my head pounding and my heart reeling. My mother was waiting, of course, and she spent several centuries yelling at me, which made my headache even worse. But I felt empowered by the music, I really did. It sounds so naive now, I know, but that’s the way it was. I felt I had witnessed a kind of revelation. Suddenly it seemed that life was actually pretty straightforward. All you had to do, if someone was getting on your case, was tell them to fuck away off, that you didn’t want to be like them, that you wanted to be like YOU! I tried it out on my mother and she didn’t exactly see things my way, to put it mildly. But it was the summer of 1977, you see. It all seemed very simple.”
Before long The Rats had invaded the holy citadel of The Late Late Show where a shambolic and totally irreverent Geldof snarled his loathing for the Catholic Church, his priest teachers – even his father didn’t escape. Even worse, he was very rude to Gay Byrne. Over the coming weeks a nation of viewers tutted their tuts, and wrote letters to the papers, priests used their pulpits to decry the evils of modern music one more time, and all the while the nation’s youth howled in delight. Most of us haven’t stopped laughing since.
When Geldof and I meet in a club in London’s Greek Street to talk about the new compilation of The Best Of The Boomtown Rats, it’s the first time we’ve met in a long while, and he looks surprisingly healthy, happy and energetic.
Jackie Hayden: Before you came back from Canada in the ’70s, what impression did you have of Ireland?
Bob Geldof: I didn’t have any impression. I’d been in and out of Ireland since school, so my idea of Ireland was of somewhere I stopped off every now and again to say hello to school friends and family. But it was not somewhere I could possibly stay.
So homesickness never entered into it?
No. I wasn’t sick for that home, because it was never particularly welcoming to me.
Most readers of Hot Press will have no idea what Ireland was like then. What do you remember of it?
It was Planet Ireland, removed from any mainstream contact with contemporary culture. Indeed it was removed from the rest of world, never mind the continent of Europe or the UK, and Dublin was this monochrome capital. The beginning of the modern age in Ireland was 1975. The world that today’s readers of Hot Press live in now began then.
Can you explain that change?
Up to that point Ireland slept and was stifled under the silence of the post-de Valera cosy compact of the Church and state. The Government of that time were largely crooks and gun-runners. The Church itself kept silent over its own abuses, which were happening all around and which we all knew about, and most of us shut up about. It kept silent about the murders that were happening all over the country under the name of some pantomime political cause. Ireland wasn’t part of anything I’d recognise as contemporary society, and I wanted no part of it. I didn’t come from that diddley-diddley-diddley part, but from The Who, The Stones and the people they lead me back to, which meant much more to me, that connection to another world.
So why come back at all?
Maybe to say hello or to get a job before moving on to the next place. The girl I had loved was there. But England certainly wasn’t home to me either. Canada had been very comfortable because I was writing about music and I was beginning to be recognised as an individual. I was very much involved in the local music scene in Vancouver which had a kid called Bryan Adams. I wrote about local bands because I found them much more pertinent than the big names coming through Vancouver, although I wrote about people like George Harrison, Elton John, Lou Reed too. I’d done OK, but I was an illegal immigrant so they fucked me out.
Back in Ireland I applied for legal residence in Canada to get away from this Ireland that raised its children and then let them out of school with no future whatsoever. I’d been raised in the relatively privileged environs of Blackrock College where you were educated to believe the world was yours. But then you get out of school and you find there’s no fucking world! When I said “the world owes me a living” I meant it! And don’t give me this crap about “love thy neighbour”, please. I know what you’re at! Fuck off with those old ideas. I really don’t wanna be like you, I wanna be like ME. That was what was going through our heads in ’75.
What were you going to do while back in Ireland waiting for the Canada situation to sort itself out?
I wanted to start a paper called Buy And Sell because I thought it would make money. But I only wanted to do that so I could also start a music paper which I knew wouldn’t make money. There was no rock culture whatsoever in Ireland then. You and I were contemporaries and you were at CBS Records on the look-out for rock bands in any form who would articulate what you felt was the Ireland of your time. That’s what you were doing. That’s what we were doing. There was no rock radio and only three gigs, The Baggot, Morans and maybe UCD. So I wanted to contribute to the cultural change I believed was long overdue in Ireland.
But how did the Rats come out of all that?
It started as a pure fluke. I went to Fitzpatricks pub in Glasthule one night. Johnny Moylett was there, and Gary Roberts who I knew. I’d arranged to meet them to have a couple of pints and maybe move off somewhere else. We weren’t great mates or anything. But they talked about starting a group. And I began saying that the point about a local band is that every thing you do must have intent. It had to have purpose. Even your name had to be significant. I was rabbiting on and they said, “Oh, why don’t you be the manager?” I didn’t think anything would come of it, it was just good pub conversation.
So what happened next?
The next day, Roberts called me to go into Dublin with him to buy an electric guitar. We went into, what’s that big fucking pub area?
Right. It was a mess then, it was shite, and he bought this beautiful Telecaster and an amp that flashed on and off like a jukebox to whatever rhythm you were playing. And I thought, wow, (laughs) this is getting serious! And I started singing blues shit with him in his bedroom, much as I did with you, and I played harmonica too. He suggested I be the singer, and I said, “yeah”, because it was getting to be the summer and there was nothing happening except this fucking paper which was driving me nuts! It just went on from there.
How did the first gig come about?
Cott got us the first gig in Bolton Street, which really frightened me, because this wasn’t meant to be a serious thing. We didn’t have a name even. So I tried to get out of it. I said, “How much?” and he said “thirty quid”, and I said, “fuck off!” He said, how much do you want, and I said, “sixty quid”, and he went off and came back and said they’d said OK! I thought, “Oh fuck!” (laughs). So now we had to come up with a name and all my stuff came home about that it had to mean something. Bands around at the time were like Nightbus, Cheap Thrills, Supply, Demand and Curve. So we decided we had to bring back “the” into bands’ names. Roberts wanted to call us Traction. What the fuck does that mean? Traction? That means nothing! It doesn’t say anything. Then we thought of The Nightlife Thugs. That lasted for twenty four hours. But I was reading Woody Guthrie’s biography Bound For Glory and I came to that bit where they live in a town which hits oil and becomes a boomtown and the kids aren’t let join in with the big guys and they call themselves The Boomtown Rats. Perfect! I don’t want to be a part of you cunts, jazz fusion, funk rock. No, this was such a great name, so evocative. Now it’s just normal, just like The Sex Pistols.
To my ears there was a kind of contradiction in that the Rats music was a sort of throwback to raw r’n’b and early rock’n’roll, yet it had a revolutionary aggression that we hadn’t experienced in Ireland. Would that be fair?
That’s totally fair, and I’ll tell you the moment that happened in Pat Moylett’s flat. Pat was on drums until Simon came in and we were doing three Stealer’s Wheel songs from the album that had ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’ on it, trying to see if we could actually play anything together. And I thought, “Fine, this is good fun”. Gary was doing the intro to ‘China Grove’ by The Doobie Brothers and I said, “Fuck off, I hate that shit”. So he’d say, “Well, what do you want to play?” So it came to asking “What do we all like?” We all liked early sixties r’n’b, The Who, The Small Faces, The Rolling Stones. So we started doing that, and from the getgo we did it faster. Presumably, that was the spirit of the times. There was a feeling that something was going on. There was actually a local band called Full Circle doing goodtime rock’n’roll. I wasn’t interested in that, although they were really good musicians, but we went back earlier than them by looking into what our favourite bands liked, say, The Stones being into Muddy Waters, and revamping that.
How did you meet your manager Fachtna O’Kelly?
He was a journalist with the Evening Press and I knew him from Seapoint. I was still writing bits and pieces for the NME during the summer of ’75. I got talking to Fachtna at a Gary Glitter press conference and told him about the band. So he said, “Come on, let’s take his microphone”. So we stole the mike, so when Gary came out there was just this wire there! Fachtna also influenced us over music direction. He took me back one time to his flat and played me Dr Feelgood’s Down By The Jetty and Catch A Fire by Bob Marley. It was revelatory. I hadn’t really listened to these people before. Music should be passionate and danceable. Then I hear Wilko Johnson’s words “Standing, watch the towers burning at the break of day” and I thought, that’s beautiful, but nobody’s listening to it and nobody cares, but it has that aggression (makes loud fast riffing guitar noise). I thought, fuck, we should do that. Then he put on Catch A Fire and it was this almost religious, revolutionary beautiful music that I couldn’t get my head around at all. Everyone gets it now, but at the time I was looking at Fachtna and saying, “Fuck, that’s amazing.”
What about the rest of the band?
Well, I brought the records to them and we learned off some Feelgoods stuff and then ‘Trenchtown Rock’ by Marley. We did Ronnie Woods’ ‘I Can Feel The Fire Burning’ almost as a reggae thing. ‘Barefootin’ by Robert Parker, we did that really fast.
What do you remember of that first gig?
I don’t know how good we were when we went to bat on that Halloween Night in Bolton Street, but I remember it vividly, the classroom and about thirty people. I was so mortified I had my back to the audience for the first three songs. In my terror I vaguely heard clapping filter through. Gradually the scarf and the hat came off. I was being clapped for the first time in my life, getting this approbation and they were dancing to something I was doing! Twelve weeks before, there was no notion of this. The key moment was half way during a fifteen minute break when a girl came up and said, “You’re beautiful, I’d like to fuck ya”. This from an Irish girl in 1975! I’d read about this in England but I didn’t believe it actually happened. I thought, “What?!!’ and I got back on stage, elated. I’d also taken the opportunity of the break to cross out the name The Nightlife Thugs on the blackboard and wrote in The Boomtown Rats.
And did you fuck her?
I did, that night. It was the first pop fuck I’d had. She just wanted me for the moment and I’d never experienced that sort of sex and it was fantastic. Two weeks later we did a gig in Poulaphouca near Blessington and it was rammed, choking. There was no stage, so we played on the floor. About fourth song in I looked at the band and these twats actually looked different. Something had happened. Girls were looking at you differently. You weren’t just a cunt trying to get a ride. They went mad! It was so full they couldn’t serve drinks, so by the end of the gig I could see the barman dancing on the bar. That’s when I first took it seriously, our second gig, and thought we must be good. At last I thought I might be good at something. And it exploded from there. I have tapes Kieran Fitzpatrick did of a gig at Cliff Castle in Dalkey with us doing ‘Substitute’, ‘My Generation’, they’re fucking killers, very like the Pistols set a year later. I’m not saying we invented that: we didn’t.
An image very quickly enveloped that the Rats were dangerously subversive and to be avoided. Did that just happen or was Fachtna behind that?
He really wasn’t involved to that extent yet. But I remember a conversation with Gary where I told him, “You must behave like a star.” He said, “What does that mean?” and I said, “The next time that guy comes to borrow your milk, tell him to fuck off. I don’t know why it works that way, but it does.” So we started behaving like stars.
What influence did you have on the Irish scene?
Bono has said that The Rats were the first of the moderns, and I think that’s true. I’d never claim a musical importance for us, but I would claim a social significance in that in 1975 50% of the people were under 25. Suddenly these “children” were no longer going along with things but were saying, “Hold on. Where’s our country?” Some time the zeitgeist pinches me in the arse, and maybe it pinched me then. You were totally involved in this scene. We were all groping towards a newer way of being, whether in our bedrooms with our little tape recorders, whatever.
What developed after the Poulaphouca gig?
Pete Briquette said we should write our own songs. He said we should have a dance, so I wrote the ‘Do The Rat’ thing. It’s a dreadful pun but it became number one in Holland! People loved doing this stupid fucking dance! Then we started erecting screens using the backs of wallpaper tied to Crowe’s drums and we used it to show commercials for Rentokil the rat poison. A voice would say, “Have you got rats in your house?’ And it’d show this rat nibbling at food in a fridge and we’d have the electro music of Can going on in the background. You came to have a pint and entered another reality that wasn’t Ireland at all. So of course we got very big quickly. Put that beside Supply, Demand and Curve or whoever saying “They can’t even play three chords”. We actually brought out a poster saying “The Boomtown Rats have learned a fourth chord. Hear it at ...” with the name of the next gig on it. Even with the Falling Asunder tour we wanted to create a different sensibility. And we were having a laugh. We had the “Geldof Is God” t-shirt which I wore and that really got up noses! They thought I was a complete cunt. Niall Stokes loathed me, with his little hippy country band. I actually think they were quite a good band, but he couldn’t take The Rats. I wanted to piss off the Stokes brothers and people like that, even though they were contemporaries. I wanted us to have some meaning.
Where did the poster ideas come from?
I cut out a Canadian comic book and gave it to Kieran Fitzpatrick and asked him to make it into a poster for a tour. The poster was of a hand holding a severed head with blood dripping from it and the eyes bulging, and Kieran put our name with blood dripping from it. People said, “Hey, that’s disgusting, take it down!”. It was so easy to outrage people in Ireland then.
There was another Rats poster that upset feminists, the one in very stark black and white with the beautiful long legs with high-heels and rubber stockings! It was a kind of Lou Reed ‘Transformer’ thing. The feminists were making inroads at the time, and predictably, feminists in Trinity came out and wrote the word “sexist” in purple on the posters. But they were my legs! So we were doing all this stuff which was causing mayhem.
In Britain, was being Irish a negative factor too?
That is a wholly important factor and one that’s often missed. I’ve been trying to stress this to Brit journalists. The sole salient fact that differentiated us was that we were Irish. People don’t look at the Irish aspect of the new wave thing and I think it’s critical. Elvis Costello, Boy George, Johnny Rotten, The Smiths, even the Gallagher brothers were all Paddies. It was the Irish, with the Jamaicans, who first generated the punk ethos. The punk thing was London. You could go to Derbyshire or Cornwall and where were the punks? You had the Jam, The Clash, The Pistols, The Damned, all London, so as Irish we were excluded. So we played with The Ramones and Talking Heads in school gymnasiums at 4.15 in the afternoon! Can you imagine that now? How mad is that? But it was fucking great! It’s very cool coming out of Ireland now, but it wasn’t then, no way.
Were you conscious of how being Irish played in England?
I was, and I made no bones about it! When we hit the UK they were highly suspicious because we were using saxophones and ballads. We were very uncool because we were Paddies and they were very sniffy. It never came to fisticuffs with The Jam, but it almost did. ‘She’s So Modern’ is about the Paddy in London. I’ve arrived in London and I’m with all these girls, these young kids, Magenta de Vine, Julie Birchhill, Paula Yates and they’re making the scene.
How did you get on with those other bands?
Actually we got on best with The Pistols, I suppose because Johnny was a Paddy. When Johnny Fingers was sick Paul Cook stood in for him on Top Of The Pops, but the Musicians Union banned him because he wasn’t a real player! I later played with Phil Lynott, Steve and Paul Jones as The Greedy Bastards. We used to get cash for those gigs and we’d do a Lizzy, Rats and Pistols songs.
What about The Clash?
I thought The Clash were a put-on. I thought it was a joke. They really only got to be The Clash with London Calling. If you have an establishment you must by definition have an anti-establishment, but both are received ways of thinking, and I won’t have it! They’re both ridiculous. The Clash reduced all political thought to the decision whether to appear on Top Of The Pops! – a television show. They were seriously lacking in intellectual bottom. If a limousine comes to pick you up, that’s not a political decision, that’s just a choice of fucking car! I said this and it used to drive them mad! We outsold The Clash four or five to one. The NME ran a spread with both bands, saying one’s got the guns, and the other’s got the numbers! We had the numbers!
What do you remember of the legendary appearance on the Late Late Show?
I was really very angry then. It wasn’t contrived. Several people, including Bonzo said that when they saw that they were gesturing to the screen saying “Yes, yes!” at the stuff I was saying. Finally people of their generation or a little bit older had said the things that were forbidden. But I was just getting my own back.
A lot of that is reflected in the words of ‘Looking After Number One’, the first single.
Yeah, I wrote that in December ’75. I thought I was copying a garage band. I knew about the pub rock scene through reading about it. I liked the ethos, the fundamentalism of that scene. In England they were running into the three day week whereas in Ireland we had criminals in the government, criminals in the Church. We were just told to shut up and have no future. We said, “Fuck you!”. That track went on the first New Wave sampler with tracks by Richard Hell, Television, Blondie, The Ramones and others. But we got all the reviews and that determined what our first single had to be! That single was the first new wave record playlisted by the BBC, and we were the first new wave band on Top Of The Pops. We had developed in the relative obscurity of Ireland and we knew shitloads of chords by then because I had written songs that required them.
What other Irish bands really mattered at that time?
You had Van Morrison, an Ulster Protestant who was saying, “Hold on, I’m fucking Irish”, and he brought his great music to bear on Irish mysticism, using a Yeatsian language. He was now in. There was this black Irishman. A black Irishman? He wanted to be in, but by definition was also an outsider. He said, look, ‘Roisin Dubh’, and here’s our first hit, ‘Whisky In The Jar’. He wrote one of the greatest rock songs ever with ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’. Rory Gallagher was saying, “No, it’s not Cork, it’s the Lee delta.” Here were these suburban Irish guys saying fuck this Ireland, we want our own Ireland. I didn’t give a shite about diddley-diddley-diddley. It had nothing to do with my life. In fact, it was holding me back. Bob Dylan meant more to me then than any of that shite. He was singing my life. So there was a key break and we paid no lip service whatsoever, no allusion to another past. When I sang “With her friend Bill, and on the pill, she took a smallish flat in Sandycove”, or “Joey’s on the street again”, I was singing about an Ireland I knew. It was about now and the way we were. If there was an anger in it it was because the “now” of Ireland then offered nothing.
Were others songs so autobiographical?
The Mary in ‘Mary Of The Fourth Form’ was Mary Preece who ended up as Bertie’s PA. I wanted to write a song about sex in Ireland and that’s it, about a convent girl. I fancied her like mad.
How did you feel about the music industry then?
I only knew the music industry in Vancouver and in Dublin. The music industry in Dublin was non-existent. You, Jackie, set out to create a music industry and you were the only person I knew from a record company who went to see bands! That’s how pathetic it was. The English industry didn’t give a fuck about Ireland which was way to the west of Wales. We had Thin Lizzy, a one-off, but nothing else. I learned about the industry very fast when we got to England.
Had making the cover of the NME been part of any plan as such?
No. Our first cover on NME has me streaming with blood from the same gig that the version of ‘I Can Make It’ on the new compilation was taken. The NME headline was “The Summer Of Hate”. Listening to that track again I’m amazed at what great players The Rats were. I now know we were a great band. I’m serious! Those gigs in Morans must have been fucking great!
Where did the blood come from?
A skinhead racist band called Skrewdriver jumped up on stage and whacked me at the end of ‘(She’s Gonna) Do You In’ which is also on the compilation and which John Peel had reckoned we should put out as a single. I fell backwards into a cameraman who was filming the gig. On the tape you can hear Gary Roberts, long after the guys have disappeared, saying in very nice Glenageary Protestant tones, (mimics posh accent) “If he’d like to come up here and try that again...”! (laughs) And I went straight into ‘Looking After Number One’ with blood everywhere.
Were The Rats fighting the punk wars too?
We were involved in it willy-nilly. It was happening all around us. But much as we agreed with the punk ethos of “just start a band, say what you want and make a theatre of your self” we never called our selves punks and we wanted to put it across that what we were at came from a whole different place.
But the punk wars were won. We were key to changing how the music industry worked. You were later able to sign U2 when you weren’t allowed to sign us! Companies like CBS woke up. The Pistols rode it all the way. They took the piss out of the record companies. We were one of maybe ten bands who were able to turn it around and that lead the way, for good or ill, to The Police, U2, Dire Straits, the new romantics. Then came MTV, but us lot were too early for MTV.
You ended up with a knighthood from the British government and Bono ended up dueting with Frank Sinatra. Is that really what punk was about?
First off, I’d never have called U2’s music punk. It just wasn’t. Bono has said their attitude was punk. But we know that Sinatra was a punk! He used the word a lot himself. And it’s no bad thing to have a Paddy strolling up to the Palace, having been banned in his own country, and practically banned in England. Maybe we were able to change people so much that they eventually agreed with us!
When did you realise it was over for the Rats?
I began to realise it was all over with V Deep. I thought we were slipping from The Fine Art Of Surfacing. It all became too much. I became very introspective. That was happening even with ‘Like Clockwork’, and ‘Someone’s Looking At You’. It’s in the lyrics. People forget how big it was and we were still the great big punk hope in America. But there was pressure from the band to keep coming up with hits and the endless interviews.
We did V Deep after Cott left. But a new generation of acts had come along, as it does in pop, and we were all on our way out. ‘Never In A Million Years’ is a great song which I was sure was a fuck-off stone cert hit. But the audience was indifferent, and radio didn’t play it. So what could we do? We had only £30,000 left and another album to make. So we began work in reggae artist Dennis Bovell’s studio with trains rattling overhead all day. You can hear them on the tape. His tape machine kept slowing down, which was a nightmare, but the band was superb. Mutt Lange, as a favour, mixed his favourite tracks for free, including ‘Drag Me Down’ and ‘Dave’. Bob Clearmountain, who’d worked with Springsteen, agreed to mix some more, so I blagged a flight to New York.
We released ‘Dave’ but it really struggled. I gave everybody a grand to go around the country to buy it in chart return shops, but it still wasn’t happening. One evening in despair I was watching telly and see this awful famine in Ethiopia and the rest you know. No way could I legitimately go on telly and talk “Africa, Africa, Africa, but by the way, don’t forget our great new album.” So Band Aid killed The Rats.
Ironically, an Internet poll recently voted ‘Dave’ our best song!
Overall what was the high spot for The Rats?
Personally, the best album was the last one, In The Long Grass. That’s not being perverse, because it got buried under Live Aid. It would have been buried anyway, because nobody was interested in us any more. But the band played so well with so many ideas. We knew each other so well and my lyrics were really good. With pride I remember Pete Townshend describing ‘Dave’ as the single of ‘84. It’s a lovely song. It reminded me of our first gig in London at the Scene where The Stones used to play and Steve Marriott of the Small Faces saying, “This is better than the Stones at Richmond”.
Vibewise, being in the English charts with the first single, I couldn’t believe it! I’d lived my life according to the English charts because that music saved me. And there I was! ‘Rat Trap’ at number one was another big moment. I remember it all exactly. It had several triumphs – the arrival of a new order, goodbye Olivia and John, it was about Dublin, about real people I could go and visit now, and about every kid who’s stuck in their world. It was the first new wave number one and the first Irish number one. I thought, “Number One – fuck you all, fuck priests, fuck Dad, fuck you all”. I loved it!
There were great times and great fun, like the first screaming. Then selling out six nights at the Liverpool Empire, the home of The Beatles, and you walk out onto that stage ..! Playing in New York with John and Yoko in the audience and Mick Jagger at the side of the stage. George Harrison came to see us in Oxford. And you’re this Paddy from Dun Laoghaire and you feel so inadequate compared to these geniuses.
Any chance of a Rats’ reunion?
It’s out of the question. I’d never do it. It’s unseemly to see five middle-aged gents try to reproduce the adolescence of their audience for them. I can’t do it for myself, so I’m not going to do it for them. We’d be paunchy and look shit, storming through songs we wrote when we were 20. I can do the songs myself with my own band, but only when I talk myself into them and find a key back into them.
Bob Geldof plays Vicar St. on Sunday November 2. The Best Of The Boomtown Rats is out now on Eagle Records.
More on Bob Geldof:
The Boomtown Rats: My part in their rise! Jackie Hayden on songwriting with Bob
Turning down a million squids: How Bob said no to Branson
Geldof on his Boomtown Rats Where are they now?