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Boomtown Rats Biography

Last updated: 07/10/2012 12:00:00 PM

Putting their best feet forward, irrespective of the consequences, was always the policy of The Boomtown Rats:

lead singer Bob Geldof, Johnny Fingers on keyboards, guitarist Garry Roberts, bassist Pete Briquette, and drummer Simon Crowe. "We've played and recorded exactly the kind of music we wanted,” Geldof said at one point, "whether or not it made commercial sense. As it transpired, there were invariably hits, but even songs like “Never In A Million Years” which wasn't, is as important musically to us as the big ones like “Rat Trap” or “I Don't Like Mondays”.

Merely picking out two or three songs by The Boomtown Rats would not help you form an overall picture of their music, as it would with many acts of their era. To gain a clear-cut impression, you must look thoroughly at everything from the reggae-tinged "Banana Republic" and the snotty-nosed abrasiveness of "She's So Modern:' to the skatalited hi-steppin' "House On Fire." "Even when we started," said Geldof, "our influences were ludicrously wide. We listened to everything - reggae like Marley, Toots, and Johnnie Corke; U.S. black music from R&B to Philly sounds to the old bluesmen; English '60s stuff like the Stones, Them, and the Pretty Things; straight pop like the Beatles, and so on, a ton of other stuff, songwriters, rockabilly, country, garage bands”.

This was a great deal to assimilate for a bunch of lads from Dun Laoghaire (pronounced dun-leary), Ireland. Formed in 1975 in guitarist Garry Roberts' kitchen in Dublin, they were so disorganized at first that Geldof began as the manager and Roberts was lead singer They quickly sorted out the long-lasting original lineup from a community of friends and distant relatives. No small amount of attention was focused on Geldof, already a controversial figure for the scathing wit of his rock criticism as an Irish correspondent for Melody Maker.

They impulsively chose the name The Boomtown Rats for themselves, after Woody Guthrie's gang of down-and-outsiders from his autobiography, Bound For Glory. The new Rats played sets for two to three hours at a clip, amusing themselves with their own versions of R&B hits and onstage pranks. They eventually named a pointless dance after themselves and called upon fans to "Do the Rat" On one occasion they handed out internal organs as dance contest prizes. Such behavior did not go unnoticed by the media.

It was their live performance that won them the attention of Nigel Grainge, who signed them to his London-based Ensign Records label. The Rats' future was to be in England, "so we moved” stated Geldof, "because
London is the center of the music business" In fact, they could hardly afford to live in London so they shared a great house in Chessington. The famous local zoo was more orderly. The young Rats gigged back and forth across Great Britain with Chessington serving as rehearsal and residence facility. They embarked on their first full-scale tour of England in the spring of 1977, including five dates with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Their first U.K. chart single came along in August, "Looking After No. l," the first socalled new-wave 45 to be playlisted by the BBC. The Boomtown Rats subsequently became the first new-wave band to be offered an appearance on "Top Of The Pops."

Their self-titled debut album was issued in November, along with another top-charted U.K. hit, "Mary Of The 4th Form” At year's end, Capitol Radio named them "Most Promising Group of the Year" and the LP won "Best
Album of the Year" Around the corner in early '78 was a new single, "She's So Modern," from the second album, A Tonic For The Troops, which also included the follow-up summer single, "Like Clockwork”.The stage was set for the release of "Rat Trap" in October, the first new-wave 45 to hit #1 on the British chart. The impact of this was not lost on Columbia Records in the U.S., who issued Tonic in January'79 (with a "bonus" track in the form of 'Joey's On The Street Again" from the first LP). Geldof and Johnny Fingers agreed to a grueling tour of radio stations across the country (32 cities in 33 days!) to boost the album's release as well as the U.S. issue of "Rat Trap"

While in Atlanta during the tour, one radio station's wire service ticked out the story of Brenda Spencer, the troubled schoolgirl whose wild shooting spree in San Diego made front-page news. She explained herself
simply: "I don't like Mondays” Geldof composed the song on the spot, originally as a reggae. Back in Los Angeles after the tour, a studio demo was recorded with grand piano and vocals. By the time "I Don't Like Mondays" was introduced onstage in Loch Lomond, Scotland, the song had been transformed dramatically. Lt became the Rats' second #l million seller in England and was voted 1979s "Single of the Year" in the British Pop and Rock awards. Moreover, it broke the Rats in regions they'd never imagined.

That meant touring abroad, even cultivating a new sense of internationalism. "We have made a point,"' Geldof said at the time, "of visiting different countries for concerts, places like India, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore. We just take guitars and drumsticks and let the promoter provide everything else. We make sure we can spend four or five days in each city we visit, to get some kind of insight, however limited, into what goes on there and how people live. It's important to make the effort, otherwise we might as well be sitting by a pool in Los Angeles or something."

The release of The Fine Art Of Surfacing album (October '79, featuring "I Don't Like Mondays") was followed by the Rats' world tour of 1980, through Europe, America, the Far East, and Australia. For their next album, Mondo Bongo (January, 1979), the band worked with producer Tony Visconti and notched another U.K. hit with "Banana Republic " In contrast, U.S. club play focused on another track, "Up All Night" Visconti and The Rats recorded again in 1982: the release of V Deep in September coincided with the opening of "The Wall:' the full-length feature film based on the Pink Floyd album of the same name, with Geldof cast in the demanding role of Pink, his wide-screen debut.

There followed something like a hiatus for The Boomtown Rats during 1983-'84, a period punctuated (for American audiences only) by a six-song EP compilation cleverly titled Ratrospective (March, 1983). If the truth
be known (here and now, finally), the album known as In The Long Grass was recorded in '83 and planned for release in the first months of '84. The delay-of one full year-in the release of said album is chalked up to the vagaries of the recording marketplace. In the meanwhile, we have Bob Geldof viewing a BBC broadcast documenting the devastation of drought-
ridden Ethiopia and East Africa. It was November, 1984, and his immediate reaction was to organize nearly 40 of Britain's pop peerage into the recording troupe known as Band Aid. The song was called "Do They Know It's Christmas;' co-written with the producer of the session, Midge Ure of Ultravox.

Ironically, as Geldof mentioned later to several journalists, he expected to sell perhaps 100,000 Band Aid singles, "the fact that it became a pop phenomenon is something I hadn't bargained for" Indeed, "Do They Know
It's Christmas" became something much more than a pop music phenom, and that Christmas '84 turned into a season of concern and hope for the starving millions in Africa. Not the least fallout was the reconsideration of In The Long Grass, released January, 1985. This was the limbo period after Band Aid, when the fate of The Boomtown Rats hung in the balance. "it may take more than a song; wrote Rod Thompson in the Nottingham (U.K.) Evening Post, covering one of their coming-out shows, "to change the attitude of the civilized countries of the world to the problems of their poor neighbors but, from the chants that rang out last night, the message is still strong and Geldof continues to provide food for thought”.

"The question before the concert:' Thompson zeroed in, "was, would the punters be Band Aid buyers or devotees of The Boomtown Rats of the punk era? Before that final number of the night, the latter seemed to have
taken the hall by force, with not a little encouragement from Mr. Geldof himself”. 1985 and '86 brought ever-growing tributes to the influence of Sir Bob -Band Aid, Hear 'N Aid, Live Aid, Farm Aid, USA for Africa, Amnesty and Hands Across America, and a shelf of all-star recordings whose benefits ranged from New Jersey to South Africa-one hesitates to catalog these events or the monies and consciousness that they raised. Nobel Peace Prize awards notwithstanding, we'll follow Bob deep in the heart of nowhere and back again. Any day. But In The Long Grass proved to be the swan song of The Boomtown Rats, that decidedly heroic Irish band
whose career was short-changed by style and convention. And rock is once again left with a curiously-titled recording by which to remember one of its finest groups. For the true believers, this closes a chapter of pop
history that should've stayed open just a little while longer.

-Arthur Levy

(above history taken from the sleeve of the greatest hits album)