Bob Geldof is back with his first album with the Boomtown Rats since 1984, a new book, and a new two-part documentary about the band's rise and fall. "We were f***ing great" he tells, Alan Corr, who witnesses the return of Bobby Boomtown close up

"Here! Look at this!" says Bob Geldof and thrusts a shiny vinyl copy of The Boomtown Rats’ new album into my hands. "Isn’t it f***ing great!" he says, laughing his goofy laugh like a giddy schoolboy.

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It is the band’s first record since 1984. It’s called Citizens of Boomtown and it’s a kind of a greatest hits collection of new songs that owe a huge debt to The New York Dolls, The Rolling Stones, Bowie and lashings of gobby cartoon punk. It's a solid album of geezer rock. 

"In my head, the noise I wanted was early Roxy Music meets New York Dolls meets Mott The Hoople, ok?" Bob says. 

The album also has some very diverting cover art featuring a truly egregious but bleakly beautiful building that looks like it was designed by a brutalist architect with a bad hangover - and there skulking in the foreground, forever on the outside, looking in, are the four (Gerry Cott left in 1981, Johnny Fingers in 1986) silhouetted figures of The Boomtown Rats.

Respected publishing house Faber have also published Tales of Boomtown Glory, an anthology of Geldof’s lyrics and writings, in which he comes across like an Edwardian fop high on words.

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Say what you want about what he calls "the stuff" (Live Aid, famine relief, and the almost Shakespearean levels of tragedy that have attended his private life) but Geldof (or `The Dof as nobody calls him) has always wanted to be remembered and yes, loved for his music.

Some of it was very good indeed. I Don’t Like Mondays is as depressingly relevant as it was all of forty years ago, Rat Trap remains an enduring howl of teenage rage and suburban torpor, and some people might even say Banana Republic still makes a lot of sense in 2020. Oh and for the record, the Mary from early Rats’ hit Mary of the Fourth Form was one Mary Preece who went on to be Bertie Ahern’s PA.

Do the Rat

The Boomtown Rats? They’re so modern.

So Bob is back, barreling like a rat out of a maze at the ripe and still raging age of 68. He is looking good and such is the missionary zeal with which he plugging the new album, the new book and the new doc, that he hasn’t eaten or slept on the day we meet.

That doesn’t explain his ever active motor mouth. Bob is like this all time. Mention something, anything, and he’s off. Interviewing him is like herding cats while trying to pick up mercury with a plastic fork. Resistance is futile.

"So I come back to Ireland, thrown out, full of all this and I arrive at the fucking Baggot Inn to watch Stepaside. No!"

Let’s start with that new documentary, also called Citizens of Boomtown (the second part screens on RTÉ One on Thursday night and part one is on the RTÉ Player). As is to be expected, his old muckers Bono and Sting are among those lining up to sing his praises as a rock star but what’s this? Eminent historians such as Roy Foster and Diarmaid Ferriter are also on hand to contextualise Geldof as an historical figure, who may belong in the same revolutionary pantheon as Yeats and Behan. Or maybe even Johnny Rotten.

Geldof: "Dr Feelgood had shown me that they could write about Canvey Island so why can't I write about Dún Laoghaire? I can. That was that."

"It’s all true of course," Bob sniffs and flashes his winning grin. "But it’s not ego, they were asked their opinion . . . it’s like good reviews, bad reviews. It’s like the twin imposters. What’s the Kipling thing? It’s not like I’m unaware. We wrote great songs, it’s a great band, we had endless hits and sold millions of records. What do you want me to say? Are they gonna turn around and say they’re shit songs?"

Some grand statements about his accomplishments are made in the new documentary, which was produced by Geldof’s one-time flatmate Billy McGrath, and about how he and The Rats changed Ireland. Looking back at this 40 year remove, how does he think he did that?

"I think we were one of the voices that called it out. I came back to this vast nullity," he says. "As Sinéad says, you weren’t allowed get angry. You had to keep quiet and accept and I wasn’t about to accept.

"You must remember that I’d come straight out of an underground newspaper in Canada and I was an illegal. I’d snuck into America in the boot of a car to get over the border to go to San Francisco to go to another local paper called Rolling Stone and there was another one called the Detroit Free Press and the guy who we wrote about, John Sinclair, he’s started a political party and he’d these two bands who he was going to make the forefront of the revolution, The MC5 and Iggy Pop, so I come back to Ireland, thrown out, full of all this and I arrive at the fucking Baggot Inn to watch Stepaside. No!"

The Boomtown Rats

"Great musicians, great band but where’s the rock `n’ roll?  That’s all I’d ever understood the world to be meditated through and I understood that the rhetoric of change as rock `n’ roll, the platform of change was rock `n’ roll so my plan was to start a paper that would make a profit and with that profit I’d start a rock `n’ roll paper but I got bored so I went to the pub and there was Roberts and Fingers and they said `Ok, I’m in!’

"But when we found the name the Boomtown Rats as opposed to the boredom of the nullity, I took it seriously. Now we had intent and purpose so once you got to the Late Late Show that was the vehicle.

"Am I blind to the social disparities? Absolutely not. That homelessness is at the level it is. That is absolutely disgraceful."

"We could play Morans and that became home base and interestingly for six middle class south side boys, it was the north side that took to us and there’d never been a queue for a local band. I was freaked out, red alert here! something was going on and Dr Feelgood had shown me that they could write about Canvey Island so why can’t I write about Dún Laoghaire? I can. That was that.

As Bono who once observed "Bob Geldof made me a salesman" and Bono is back in the new doc to say, "Bob showed me that a band is a very good vehicle for change."

The Rats in full flight in the seventies

"We had to change it," Bob says. "But going on the Late Late and being booed and the priest in Glasthule the next morning in front of my father saying pray for the soul of that poor demented little f***er. Suddenly we touched a nerve and then we had eleven hits in a row and you keep going on. It’s a sort of musical entrism."  

So what about now? Has the banana republic of Geldof’s song changed into something entirely different? How does he feel when he’s back home on one his frequent visits?

"Yeah, of course. But I'd sooner be divisive, I’d sooner the argument takes place. `(Adopts very good London accent) `Geldof? What a f***ing wanker! I mean, yeah, fair play over Africa, I’ll give ya that but f***ing Farage told him to f*** off . . . ' Of course, yeah."

"I have a great expulsion of breath when I come back to Dublin," he says. "I’m somewhere that’s a proper country that’s fit for living in, I’m in a country that’s taken its place in the world, that’s doing fine, in maths and science they are seventeenth in the planet way above the United States and Britain, that’s number five in the reading tables, so there is a future.

"Am I blind to the social disparities? Absolutely not. That homelessness is at the level it is, that is absolutely disgraceful. Yes, I understand the political and economic arguments that we’ve scavenged ourselves out of the pit we put ourselves into but, dude, from afar with great grace.

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"By the way, now that we’ve dug ourselves out, can we sort ourselves out once and for all? You know, same sex, divorce, contraception . . . can we get that shit out of the f***ing way and by the way, you c**** who are the roadblock, goodbye!

"That is a revolution. It will be written about. It’s sort of a transformative ten years where the shit hits the fan and everyone says f*** it keep going and let’s get rid of all the stuff that led to this so I feel deeply comfortable for the first time in my home country. Proud when all the referendums happened one after the other. I’m proud to have an immigrant gay Taoiseach here. It’s a cliché but I’m proud. F***ing great!"

However, the country that has he has lived in for most of his life seems to be regressing. Geldof fought the good right over Brexit (memorably and slightly comically he ended up in a battle of the Thames with the comical - but not comical at all - Nigel Farage when they clashed on boats during the referendum campaign).  

He is very eh, voluble on the subject that is likely to define the UK for at least the next 50 years.

The Rats pictured in 1984

"Of course the Boomtown Rats are gonna make a f***-off noisy record so if you bring it down to Brexit it is conditional on all of this but it is also, and this is not a well understood part of British history, but when a hegemony builds up in Europe, the Brits in their island vastness have made friends with whomever - albion perfide - most recently Stalin, say, and gone and beaten up on the hegemony, restructured it to suit the island.

"The difference is that back then they used to say that the rest of the world was available to beat up. This time the rest of the world is not available to be beaten up so everything is in flux."

I mention the tyranny of social media. The silicon chip inside our heads is switched to overload, isn’t it  . . . ?

"I think it’s deeply interesting," he says. "I think it isn’t going away and I think Zuckerberg and all those people are the same old 19th century monopolists, I think they should be broken up immediately. The web is Gutenberg times six billion. 1452, the dude just wanted to print twenty pamphlets instead of one. Guy comes along and says, `can you do the Bible?’, he says, `sure, f*** it! This will be a bestseller . . . '

Johnny Fingers and Bob Geldof 

"Within 25 years the elites had fallen, the economy had changed and a notion crept in about the individual perhaps having something to say, the Enlightenment started . . . I’ve been banging on about this for about 15 years in speeches and shit I do, the consequences of this are huge.

"There has never been a new industrial age without there being massive consequences - a war. So the steam age heralded Waterloo. More boys killed that afternoon than on the worse day of the Battle of the Somme. The next was electricity and the internal combustion engine and we get the First World War exactly 100 years later.

"Do we really require that or in fact is that what’s going on right now? Is there a different type of conflict going on? One thing is certain - this thing completely alters any normal pattern and in the ensuing chaos, the world retreats into what it believes are known certainties so sense of self and amongst those who you belong, which is patriotism but people of ill-minded intent can curdle that natural human sentiment into a political evil called nationalism."

Even after all this time, Geldof remains a divisive figure to a lot of people and I suppose that’s the point but has any of the criticism over the years hurt?

Geldof during the Live Aid era 

"Yeah, of course," he says bluntly. "But I’d sooner be divisive, I’d sooner the argument takes place. `(Adopts very good London accent) `Geldof? What a f***ing wanker! I mean, yeah, fair play over Africa, I’ll give ya that but f***ing Farage told him to f*** off . . . ‘ Of course, yeah."

The next day Bob due to give a speech about the future of work. "I do speeches, I was doing it before Live Aid. Then I went back to music and people said I should be doing speeches - they said `he only did Live Aid to sell records'. Dude, it’s a little exhausting. I’ve heard of promotion but doing Live Aid to sell records . . . ?"

His eyes light up when talk turns back to music. Just like a proper garage band, he wrote Citizens of Boomtown with Pete Briquette in Briquette’s bedroom and then they went up to a farm in Gatwick to rehearse.

"I go up to Pete and I say I think I’ve got one, I’m not sure . . . I play it and we’ll put it down, I’ll go away and come back the next day and say what the f*** is that? That's not what it is!!" 

He laughs: "We’ve been having the same f***ing argument for forty years now."

Alan Corr @CorrAlan2

The Boomtown Rats' new album, Citizens of Boomtown, is out on March 13. The second part of Citizens Of Boomtown is on RTÉ One on Thursday March 12 at 10.15 pm. Catch up on part one on the RTÉ Player