Boomtown Rat returns for umpteenth Irish Village St Patrick's show
Following stints feeding the world, Irish star Bob Geldof is on his way back here to perform at The Irish Village again. He talks musical influences, penning songs and why he loves coming back to Dubai.
Having co-written one of the biggest pop singles in history (‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’) and organised some of the largest anti-poverty music events we’ve ever seen, Bob Geldof, now 62, is one of the world’s most recognisable activists and philanthropists. Yet before 1984’s Band Aid, Geldof was known primarily as the lead singer of Irish punk group The Boomtown Rats. With hits including ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ and ‘Rat Trap,’ the notoriously prickly rocker opens up about his musical tastes, his favourite gigs and why he thinks the old songs are still relevant today, ahead of a performance at The Irish Village on Friday March 14 to kick off St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
When you were a kid in Ireland, what was playing on your radio? The Who, The Rolling Stones, Velvet Underground, The Beatles and David Bowie.
When did you first pick up a guitar then? I borrowed a mate’s guitar when I was at school and played it when he wasn’t using it. It was set up for a right-handed person though and I am left-handed and he wouldn’t let me change the strings so I had to learn to play it upside down.
I heard you talking about playing in the 1970s on a bill with Talking Heads and The Ramones in pubs around London. What was that like and how influential were those gigs on you and your band at the time? They were hugely inspiring. The Ramones were the real start of punk. There were other bigger influences though. I have always really admired and respected David Bowie in all his incarnations.
Is the term ‘new wave’ a fair description of The Boomtown Rats and if not how would you describe the group? No. We were not ‘new wave’. We were a punk band. As musicians it was our job to voice the angst that the public were facing at the time. There was huge unemployment, dreadful issues in Ireland. Listen to ‘Banana Republic.’ You will understand what we were saying and why Ireland banned us from playing it.
Is it tricky singing songs that you wrote 30 years ago or can you still relate to the feelings of your younger self? They are as relevant today as they were then. It feels the same. Unemployment, economic crisis –regrettably are all too much the same.
What’s the greatest musical performance that you’ve ever seen? One of my own shows of course. How do you beat ‘Live 8’, which was 12 hours of top musicians playing at gigs in every major city in the world. I saw The [Rolling] Stones fairly recently and that was a show. Leonard Cohen was a really great musical performance, too.
Arguably the most famous record you created is ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ Disregarding the charitable impact, how do you see it as a standalone song? It wasn’t written as a standalone song. It was written to make a point about what was happening. It worked.
Why did you decide to reform The Boomtown Rats? My vanity wouldn’t allow me to reject being on the main stage at the Isle of White Festival because I had been there when I was 19 and I’d seen Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Who and Leonard Cohen. I think it was the first of the great British rock festivals; there were over half a million people and I was just in this huge crowd and it was a big moment in my youth – and then to be on that actual stage years later, I had forgotten the Rats were that powerful a group and the songs were that powerful still.
Are you still writing music? Yes, some brilliant works. You see yourself primarily as a musician, despite being more famous for the Live Aid. Can you explain the reasoning behind this? It depends where you go in the world as to who knows me and for what. Band Aid, Live Aid and Live 8 happened because I am a musician and I was able to use that to rally support. I don’t see the two as being divisible. I also own seven companies of which a couple are public and one is the largest factual TV programme producer in the UK. Not many people seem to know that. Shortly I shall also be a spaceman.
If you could take credit for any song that you didn’t write, which would you choose? ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ by Leonard Cohen.
You’ve performed in Dubai a number of times now – why do you keep coming back? It’s now imbedded into my head to spend Paddy’s day in Dubai, being in a hot country and playing to a bunch of lunatics at the Irish Village. It’s great fun and it gets bigger and better every year. I get to meet all the Transguard guys who have become like proper friends after eight years. I have even begun to recognise some of the same faces in the crowd even though there are about 2,000 people there. We all look forward to it. It’s become a tradition for me and I would like to extend it further. Bob Geldof appears live at The Irish Village on Friday March 14. Dhs75 (advance), Dhs100 (door). 7pm. Garhoud (04 703 0500).