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Big Interview: Bob Geldof on Putin, fame and the problem of Radio 1 ahead of Wychwood Festival appearance

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: May 27, 2014

By Jonathan Whiley

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Bob Geldof spoke to WEEKEND magazine ahead of the Boomtown Rats' appearance at Wychwood Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse

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PLEASE can you confirm the interview will be about the Boomtown Rats and his music and there won’t be any discussions about his family or Africa unless Bob himself raises it and brings into context?

As far as strict instructions from a PR go, they were about as clear and militant as they come.

Yet the more I thought about them, I felt confused.

This was Bob Geldof after all – singer-songwriter, author and political activist who is not exactly known as the shy and retiring type when it comes to expressing himself on any topic.

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Even in the aftermath of the tragic death of his daughter Peaches – this interview took place three weeks before she was found dead at her £1 million home in Kent – Bob still managed to find a collection of words to eloquently express his grief.

In a heartbreaking statement released just hours after the news broke, he said: “We are beyond pain. She was the wildest, funniest, cleverest, wittiest and most bonkers of all of us.”

And yet, in a chilling parallel of her mother Paula Yates’ death in 2000, heroin played a significant part. She was 25.

It’s a mark of his character then that the 62-year-old hasn’t changed his schedule and is honouring his commitment to the band with an appearance at Cheltenham’s Wychwood Festival next weekend.

Famously described as ‘licentious, festering reprobates’ and ‘leprous anti-establishment scumbags’, the band formed in 1975 and split in 1986 (Bob decided to go solo) before reforming last year for a reunion tour – minus Johnny Fingers and Gerry Cott.

But why now and why a stop in Cheltenham?

“The money and the headline slot,” Bob says in his nasally Irish voice which makes it sound as though he has a permanent cold.

“I’ve been to Gloucestershire many times, I’ve been to more villages and towns in England than a lot of people.

“There’s more of a carefree atmosphere at a festival which is definitely more of a challenge.

“People are there for a party and they expect and you have to perform and give them that.

“It’s certainly not an exercise in nostalgia with a bunch of geezers getting together again to relive the good old days.”

Surely though he approaches gigs differently because of the passage of time?

“Everyone else was nervous (about their first gig back together) but I couldn’t wait,” he says.

“I wasn’t going to be a t*** about it like I was at 22 and embarrass myself like I did at that age.

“I do have to perform differently now, I tell more stories and anecdotes and generally talk more.

“It’s more intellectually stimulating and I’m more of a complete stage performer.

“But once the music starts the t*** side comes out of me again and the music seems to demand I behave like that.

“It may sound like mystical nonsense but it’s true and it’s a glorious racket.

“I thought actually, f*** me, these songs are great.”

The Live Aid founder answers each question in one long monologue with his only punctuation coming from swear words that he spits out at regular interviews.

Bob grew up in a port town in County Dublin and was something of a singular child. His mother died when he was seven and his father, a travelling towel salesman, was only present at weekends.

He was looked after by his two older sisters but also had a keen sense of his own independence which manifested itself into a rebellious nature and a strong distrust of authority.

His defiant motormouth arrogance and flagrant disrespect for those in power endeared him and his band to every youth who felt weighed down by the heavy-handed church and state in Ireland at the time.

“It was about the bitter, rage and frustration I felt,” he says.

“Turns out we were part of the same type of economic crisis. All these sons that came out of the post-war government – kids with names like Johnny Rotten and Paul Weller or Bob Geldof.

“Nothing was offered and there was this sense of rage and frustration.

“I was proud of that period, I wasn’t at the time but looking back there was this f****** manic energy and the sense that nothing was going to stop us.

“At the time you were just amazed you were there at all.”

It’s a refreshingly honest attitude – as are his thoughts on the trappings of fame.

“I told NME I wanted to get rich, famous and get laid,” he says. “It was meant to be provocative. I had been poor, it was s***.

“I was growing up in Catholic Ireland and I wanted to get a shag.

“I was under no illusions. I loved fame. I think now it’s about being famous just for the sake of being famous.

“I wanted a real job that had some respectability. I wanted fame so much I wandered around the world.

“I was digging roads and I then I got a job in Canada on the way to dig for gold in the Arctic Circle.

“But I was shipped back because I was an illegal Irish immigrant and that’s when the band started. It might sound grand but rock and roll basically saved me.”

These days, Bob acknowledges, the climate of fame the culture of celebrity has changed beyond recognition.

“Everything in society now is about

instant gratification,” he says.

“They get their pay packet and get a blouse from Topshop, it’s like fame, it’s an instant fix.

“I see someone warble a song and it sounds fine but they don’t get it. Where are the writers on the fringes of society doing stupid random things?

“The likes of Warhol in 1961 who was seen at the time as completely ridiculous and random. Culture is dead.”

There’s real anger and menace in every sentence which comes out of his mouth like one long stream of consciousness.

Is he still angry now?

“For me 2014 is frighteningly like 1914 and I’d be very worried,” he says.

“There are echoes of 1914 with a thug like Putin.

“If I was a 20-year-old today I would be asking what the f*** is going on.

“At that age I was disgusted and angry and I still am.”

He takes a deep breath, as though gathering his thoughts for the first time.

“But music does not have to be political, a love song can also express a sense of now,” he says.

“Where is the sense of now in Britain? It might sound grand but where is Britain actually going?

His major gripe, it appears, is that music is no longer the art form it once was.

In their heyday, the ‘Rats racked up a string of top 10 hits and made history as the first Irish band to have a UK number one release with Rat Trap.

But arguably it was another song which bagged the top spot – I Don’t Like Mondays – which remains their most memorable record.

Bob wrote it after a shooting spree in a school playground in California in 1979 in which two adults were killed and eight children and one police officer injured.

When asked to explain her actions, the killer said: “I don’t like Mondays.”

“I wrote it the day it happened,” he says. “But it wasn’t about gun crime (although he believes the gun control laws in America are ‘an utter travesty’).

“A lot of people thought it was about having a hangover and going to work on Monday morning which it wasn’t but that’s fine with me.

“It was about crawling to America for the first time and there was this moral vacuum.

“She (the killer) said she didn’t have a reason. What struck me about the whole thing was that it was meaningless.”

Little wonder that it struck a chord. Bob seems to have little time for small talk but entertains a conversation that can allow him to make a wider point. Songwriting is a perfect example.

“I wouldn’t have found fame without the songs,” he says.

“X-Factor is fantastic TV but it is nothing to do with music.

“If a 50-year-old Tesco checkout worker can make a better life for themselves then great, f*** yeah absolutely or a 17-year-old with an amazing voice who can belt out a song and get a public reaction. But it’s pantomime emotion.

“When Roberta Flack sang First Time I Ever Saw Your Face she was able to blow everyone away because she just got it.”

His thoughts on Radio 1 are also less than savoury.

“Not one of my daughters listens to Radio 1 and that’s not because of their dad and his opinions – it’s because it’s not where music is at.

“They look on the web or elsewhere. Radio 1 is definitely a problem again.

“They’re supposed to be cultural leaders rather than followers, but it’s just the same endless stuff.

“Hip hop from 25 years ago, it’s the same great tunes but there’s nothing behind it.

“It’s very old and very tired. Dave Lee Travis should have been on trial for crimes to music rather than anything else.”

Clearly his gripes with Radio 1 date back some years – a time perhaps when the ‘Rats didn’t get the airplay he hoped for.

“They were very narrow focused,” he says. “They did not have a clue. They thought the Bay City Rollers was where it was at.

“Lou Reed and Slade and that wall of sound was where it was at – they added real value to music.”

Nearly half an hour has passed and Bob has to go – he’s heading to Dubai – after extending our interview slot considerably.

Despite reading much about his grouchy unpredictable nature and the potential for being a difficult interviewee, I find him fascinating and entertaining company.

Just like much of his life, there’s never a dull moment.

The Boomtown Rats perform at Wychwood Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse on June 1. For tickets, call 01993 772580.

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