Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof is bringing the band back to Cork, and feels their music deserves more respect, writes Marc O’Sullivan
AGE has not withered him. In Cork to talk up the newly reformed Boomtown Rats’ appearance at Live at the Marquee on Jul 5, Geldof is in particularly ebullient form. His band-mate, guitarist Gary Roberts, barely gets a word in as the singer expounds on their band and its legacy.
Geldof cannot quite remember when the Rats last played Cork — it was 1985, when they performed at City Hall — but he is as vocal as ever about their accomplishments, recalling a time when they sold “gazillions of records” and a poll in NME listed the No 1 male singer as David Bowie, “and the No 2 as me”.
Geldof has family connections with the city. “My mother’s family the Wellers were from Cork. My granduncle was Tommy Nott, he worked in the Cork Examiner [as the night foreman], actually.
“And my mum and dad managed the Crosshaven Hotel for a time. My mum was an usherette in the Savoy Cinema, that’s where my dad took a fancy to her.”
Geldof, now 61, will be joined by three of the five other original Rats — Roberts, bassist Pete Briquette and drummer Simon Crowe — for their gig at the Marquee, their only Irish appearance this year.
The Boomtown Rats will play hits from the late 1970s and early ’80s, including their two international No 1s, ‘Rat Trap’ and ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’. They will also perform their most controversial single, ‘Banana Republic’, which reached No 3 in the UK charts in 1980.
Geldof remains unrepentant about the song, which derided Ireland as “a septic isle”, ruled over by “the black and blue uniforms, police and priests”.
“Banana Republic — you could play it today and still think it was written yesterday,” he says.
“Yeah, the situation hasn’t changed that much, has it?” Roberts chips in.
“’Banana Republic’ is about the political thing,” Geldof goes on. “Charlie Haughey gun-running to the Civil War in the North. The businessmen shutting up about it as he zoned all the land around Ireland and gave it to the developers, including his own family. The Church knowing perfectly well what the fuck was going on. While certain members of the Government paid Irish killers to murder other Irish people, the Church shut up and said nothing.”
Geldof recalls that he and his band-mates came up through a school system “where our friends had been beaten up by the clergy. We knew about the Magdalene Laundries, we knew about the fucking orphanages. Everyone knew. The press said fuck-all. So they were corrupted too. The fucking Dáil said nothing and the fucking Church were busy abusing the children of their parishioners. Do me a favour; it was the families put the children into the laundries.”
The Boomtown Rats first exploded onto the nation’s consciousness when they performed ‘Looking After No 1’, on the Late Late Show in 1977. Interviewed by Gay Byrne, Geldof railed against the Church and state, his father, and his old school — Blackrock College.
“Fair fucks to Gay Byrne,” says Geldof. “These nuns started barracking me and I told them to shut up. And then, when everyone was booing and shouting, he was like, ‘no, no, let him have his say’.”
Geldof is perfectly clear on what drove them in those days. “It was rage,” he says. “Gary couldn’t get a job. I couldn’t get a job. I was trying to get a rock ’n‘ roll newspaper together; it seemed like the only means I had to change things.”
Geldof had lived in Canada, working for a music magazine, and returned to Dublin with the dream of starting his own publication. “I had saved $2,000, and I could have taken 11 people off the dole.” But things in Dublin were so bad he couldn’t even get a phone line installed. Typically, he went to the minister for posts and telegraphs to try and get the matter sorted. “And the minister, Conor Cruise O’Brien, said, ‘I can’t do anything, Robert, you’ll have to bribe the unions’. Bribe the unions? What hope does a country have then, I thought. Fuck you!”
Geldof lambasts his late friend Phil Lynott’s rose-tinted view of their native Dublin. “Phil was a black outsider. He needed to be seen to be uber-Irish. You had this Celtic romantic nonsense, all that Celtic imagery by Jim Fitzpatrick... Roisin Dubh, all this stuff. Dublin in Phil’s imagination was this glowing city. In my reality it was a fucking shithole where you were never given a chance.”
Even Geldof’s relationship with the late Paula Yates, the mother of his three daughters, whom he married in 1986, failed to soften his cough. “I don’t think there’s a single love song in the Boomtown Rats canon,” he says. “I couldn’t do love songs. Paula always said, ‘for fuck’s sake, can you not write me a love song?’ And I tried, but it always went pear-shaped. And I did love her, hugely, but that wasn’t the thing that did it for me as a writer.”
Geldof insists the Rats, who split in 1986, were as important as peers the Sex Pistols and the Clash. “But we were never accepted by the cultural Taliban in the UK. It always drove us nuts that people said Joe Strummer and the Clash were the real thing. I mean, all that political left/right thing was over by the mid-70s, and what would Joe, the son of a diplomat, have known about it anyway?”
Roberts finally gets another word in. “I agree with everything Bob just said,” he laughs.
Picture: Bob Geldof back in Cork this week. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
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