Why Geldof became Bob the rebuilder


Forget ‘Live Aid Bob’, ‘Saint Bob’, even ‘Private-equity Whore Bob’ – in Geldof’s mind he is a great songwriter, and here’s a Boomtown Rats reunion to prove it

‘We are never going to re-form as The Boomtown Rats,” Bob Geldof said 10 years ago. “I just can’t see myself up there doing She’s So Modern. I’ve no intention of reliving people’s youth for them.”

He went on to explain how he had written, and so owned, all of The Boomtown Rats’ songs and could play them whenever he wanted during his live shows, so there would never be a need to ring up band members he’d had little contact with over the years to put the show back on the road.

This week Geldof announced The Boomtown Rats are re-forming to play the Isle of Wight music festival, in June, with other British and Irish dates likely to be announced soon.

The lead singer has changed his tune. “Playing again with the Rats and doing those great songs again will be exciting afresh. We were an amazing band, and I just feel it’s the right time to re-Rat, to go back to Boomtown for a visit.”

Four of the original Boomtown Rats will participate in the reunion: Geldof, bassist Pete Briquette, drummer Simon Crowe and guitarist Garry Roberts.

Johnnie Fingers, the band’s keyboardist, and Gerry Cott, who also played guitar, are not part of the line-up. Neither has commented on his absence, but Garry Roberts said this week: “Johnnie is married now and lives in Japan, so it’s a little more complicated. Gerry has a really successful business, which makes it more difficult for him to get involved.”

People associated with the band have been surprised by the amount of media attention the story is getting. The band last played together 27 years ago, and Geldof is now probably better known for his nonmusical activities.

And that, in the opinion of the band’s former manager, Fachtna O’Ceallaigh, is what lies behind the decision. “In the public mind Geldof is known as a great campaigner, but in Geldof’s own mind he is a great songwriter.”

Another informed source adds: “Bob thinks he’s a Dylan. He knows that people only want the ‘Live Aid Bob’ and the ‘Saint Bob’ or to hear about his private life, but he has only ever seen himself as ‘songwriter Bob’, and this is why he’s still releasing solo albums and playing solo gigs. He’s a musician.”

That certainly chimes with what Geldof once told this reporter: “I hate being Mr F**kin’ Save the Universe. This stupid Saint Bob/Martyr Bob stuff I read about myself. It’s embarrassing and also very limiting for me as a musician.”

String of singles

Active from 1976 to 1986, The Boomtown Rats had a string of top 10 singles and albums, winning Brit Awards, Ivor Novellos and Grammys along the way. They were the first Irish rock band to have a UK number one, with Rat Trap, and had a global smash with the follow-up, I Don’t Like Mondays.

But the award that takes pride of place in Geldof’s Battersea home is one the British music industry gave him for his songwriting over the past 30 years. And he still has a menu from a music-industry dinner in the early 1980s.

“That’s because it was the time Paul McCartney came over to me and told me how much he loved a song on our Tonic for the Troops album called Me and Howard Hughes. He knew the lyrics to the song! You don’t know what that means to me.”

Geldof’s solo output has never made a big impact on the charts. He has bashed out the Rats’ hits in his solo shows – but complained that the people who came to these gigs seemed to expect him to talk about his life and weren’t really there for the music. “People keep shouting up, ‘Speak, speak,’ but I’m not there to talk about me, I’m there to play music,” he said.

Now 62, Geldof has a personal fortune estimated at €40 million, much of it made from his very successful involvement with a number of media companies. (He still owns the rights to the lucrative TV show Survivor.)

As keynote speaker at the annual Super Return International Investment conference in London last year, he introduced himself with the words: “My name is Bob, and I’m a private-equity whore.”

But he’s an uncomfortable member of the establishment and loves recounting his war stories about the shock effect The Boomtown Rats had on Irish society.

“Very early the Rats came up against this cosy de Valera consensus of church and State,” he said in a previous interview. “Our first musical principle was, ‘F**k all this diddly-eyedly stuff.’ There was no rock radio, no rock television in the Ireland of time and we couldn’t get any gigs – except for Moran’s Hotel in Talbot Street – because we weren’t a showband.”

It’s no great stretch to view the Rats as Ireland’s Sex Pistols. Fachtna O’Ceallaigh remembers the shock on Richard Branson’s face when he turned up at Moran’s Hotel for an early Rats gig.

“Branson was either going to sign us or the Sex Pistols to his Virgin label, so he flew over for a show. He looked terrified by what he saw. Early on, the Rats weren’t very proficient musically; it was just a lot of shouting and jumping really,” he says.

“In truth, the band were six middle-class young men who sailed through all the adversity at the time. Yes, there was condemnation, but there was a shock value to the band. Geldof was good at that. We’d show a Rentokil promotional film before the show, then Geldof would burst his way through a screen.”

But Geldof “really wanted a hit single”, says O’Ceallaigh. “I remember him once listening to the Tony Blackburn show on BBC radio, trying to figure out what made a hit. And in Looking After Number One he found his musical punch line.

“The best of luck to them with the upcoming gigs. I think Geldof is doing it to be the musician again . . .

“They’re going on before Blondie at the Isle of Wight festival, so it will appeal to a certain crowd.”

And you are? Bob Geldof’s original line-up

Simon Crowe (drummer):since the band broke up, in 1986, Crowe has worked in a variety of jobs. Most recently he’s been touring with The Rats (formed in 2008, a different act from The Boomtown Rats) with original guitarist Garry Roberts.

Pete Briquette (bass),aka Patrick Cusack, is now a sought-after record producer. He also tours as part of Geldof’s solo band.

Garry Roberts (guitar)is part of The Rats with Simon Crowe, as well as working in the life-insurance industry.

Johnnie Fingers,aka John Moylett, lives in Japan and produces and writes for major rock acts. He is heavily involved with the annual Fuji rock festival in Japan. Not part of the re-formed band.

Gerry Cott (guitar) is also not part of the reunion. He left the band early in 1982 and has since become a successful animal trainer and animal action supervisor for film and television.

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