The Boomtown Rats – Leeds, 1977

 

bob-geldof-boomtown-rats-1977

The Boomtown Rats Oct 17th, ,1977 Leeds Poly
The summer of 77 unleashed a tsunami of Punk and New Wave debut albums, singles and tours. It was difficult to keep up. It seemed that every week there was something new and exciting happening. Amongst this activity, the Boomtown Rats were front runners for live shows. Over the past five decades later, they have faded in the punk story. That is unjust. They were very good live, far better than the opening salvoes live from The Clash and The Jam. Their first gigs as the Boomtown Rats were in London in the summer of 76.

 

 
Probably only the Stranglers hit the ground running live as strongly. Curiously, both had a previous history as showbands, playing covers at weddings and functions.
We relied upon the music press back then, NME, MM and Sounds, and the John Peel Radio 1 late night show. NME could sell up to 250,000 copies a week, that is twice as many now as the Guardian per issue, more than the Financial Times, and almost as much as the Daily Express. The Boomtown Rats, from Dublin were outsiders to a scene dominated by London,and influenced by New York. The early reviews were strong. They had something. That something was Bob Geldof.

 

 
Yet Geldof, while being the mouthy fulcrum of the band, was not its sole asset. As a showband they had honed an R&B sound, showcased by their cover of the 1965 Robert Parker stomper “Barefootin” which was a staple of their early punk shows, their debt to the sound and stage presence of Dr Feelgood openly acknowledged. The band collaboratively wrote the songs, Johnny Fingers on keyboards gave a more rounded fuller sound than most ( see the Stranglers again). Geldof’s lyrics were sharp and tapped into the times perfectly. The first album, the eponymous Boomtown Rats, had a far stronger range of songs than any of their contemporaries, and crucially, they were written for, and worked well with, live performance.

 

 
Hit single “Mary of the Fourth Form” had a riff lifted from Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” and a lyric featuring a coquettish schoolgirl that would struggle to make a playlist today, but was lapped up by schoolboys of exactly the same age who were buying the records. Great shows need great openers and “Close as You’ll Ever Be” fitted the bill, the punks surging around the front of stage monitors, Geldof leaning forwards over them taunting them that they were as close as they would ever be to him amidst a grinding, hypnotic riff.

 

 
The Springsteen influence was apparent, first with “Joey Is On The Street Again”, but most obviously with “Rat Trap”, even down to the sax solo. It is also an indicator of both Geldof’s ambition, and his talent. Contemporaneously Graham Parker & The Rumour worked with Springsteen, and his pianist Roy Bittan, on the up Escalator”, but failed to emulate him as Geldof did. Listen to Springsteen’s “Backstreets”, “Jungleland” and “Incident on 57th St”, then listen to “Joey” and “Rat Trap”. Ray Davies of the Kinks captured English life and youth culture, but without the bombast that the E Street band offered. Geldof captures British life with the sharp observation of Davies, but the romanticism and bigger sound of Springsteen.

 

 
For a few years they were icons in Eire, with Bono watching them from the audience before forming U2, and Phil Lynnot a huge fan insisting they join them on a Thin Lizzy show as support. In an economically depressed country, Geldof’s songs and attitude resonated, but they themselves were standard bearers for local boys made good. I saw U2 on their first tour of the UK, I saw Thin Lizzy on their Live and Dangerous tour. The Rats in the first couple of years were better than both.

 

 
They blew away a capacity five hundred sell out audience with Geldof memorably taunting: “I’m going to be more famous than any of you will ever be” – he was right. The energy from the show could have powered the entire city, in the student bars in the days afterwards the one question that had to be asked of any stranger, “Were you there?”

 

Set List
Close as You’ll Ever Be
Never Bite the Hand That Feeds
Neon Heart
So Strange
I Can Make It If You Can
Kicks
Joey’s on the Street Again
(She’s Gonna) Do You In
Its All the Rage
Do the Rat
Mary of the 4th Form
Looking After No.1
Encore
Barefootin’

 
Dec 12th Leeds uni

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Bob forgetting where the audience is

Barely two months later, they were back in Leeds again. This time playing to a 2000 capacity audience, supported by The Yachts who went on to support the Who and Joe Jackson, a measure of their proficiency live. The Yachts were terrific, the farfisa organ driven “Suffice to Say” the highlight, followed very closely by a wonderful cover of “There’s a Ghost In My House”. It was power pop, it was fun. Musical polymath Henry Priestman here on vocals and keyboards went on to enjoy a distinguished career working in and with the Christians, Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Mark Owen and Mel C.

 

 
The Rats? They put on one of the best rock shows I have ever seen. I was at the front of a boiling, surging, ecstatic throng as the pulsing, hypnotic chords to “Close As You Will Ever Be” rang out, and the show never let up. The pivotal moment in a 75 minute musical epiphany was “Kicks”, and its refrain, ‘ I get my kicks from you’. Geldof pointed manically to the fans, the fans as one pointed back. Both meant it.

Set List

Close as You’ll Ever be
Neon Heart
Me and Howard Hughes
Don’t Believe What You Read
Joey’s on the Street Again
Living In an Island
(She’s Gonna) Do You In
Like Clockwork
Do the Rat
Kicks
Mary of the Fourth Form
She’s So Modern
Looking After No. 1
Encore
So Strange
Never Bite the Hand That feeds

 
Hammersmith Odeon, Dec 7th 1978

 

 
Just a year later. “Rat Trap” was No 1, this was the big London show, booked before the success of the single could have been anticipated. Sold out,it was an odd gig. Firstly, it was seated, sapping the energy essential to a Rats performance. But secondly, previously it was Geldof who played the part of a pop star, now they all thought they were ( they were). The songs were great, the performance was fine, “Rat Trap” even drew applause from the bouncers, but somehow the magic, the magic which connected the band to their erstwhile fans was missing. As I walked away after, instead of the elation I had experienced after the first two shows, I felt a sense of dejection. It was never going to be the same again.

Set List

Blind Date
(I Never Loved) Eva Braun
Me and Howard Hughes
Close As You’ll Ever Be
Neon Heart
(She’s Gonna) Do You In
Rat Trap
Kicks
Joey’s on the Street Again
She’s So Modern
Don’t Believe What You Read
Like Clockwork
Do the Rat
Looking After No. 1
Encore
Mary of the Fourth Form
Never Bite the Hand That Feeds

Hitchin Regal , 1984
I went with a friend. It was the “ In the Long Grass” tour. It was like watching a pantomime, with each actor reading from a different script. The original fans were mostly long gone. “Rat Trap” still sounded good, but “ Mondays” highlighted their problem. It is a great pop song. A crossover piece, mainstream, AOR, shopping mall stuff. But it doesn’t sound like anything else they have ever done. Geldof’s trademark vocal is the only link. And the new fans won’t like the old stuff and the old fans didn’t like the new stuff.

 

 
The band appeared at Live Aid. “Mondays” was one of the entire show’s highlights. But it wasn’t enough to save a band whose RnB origins had long since disappeared.

 

 
The Fab Four 2008

 

 
I saw that they were playing at the Robin 2, Bilston , Wolverhampton. Garry Roberts and Simon Crowe with Alan Perman (ex Herman’s Hermits) and Peter Barton. I expected nothing, but was surprised. The songs sounded great, and the two guitar, bass and drums line up had a stripped back quality, no Johnny Fingers, no keyboards. A great sound.
The Fab Four eventually led to a Rats reunion and a number of subsequent tours. They may not have the kudos of the Clash, Jam and Stranglers, now – but, wow, back then…

 

 

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