A long, thin, grimy streak of bad attitude, Boomtown Bob barked "pop songs with intent" and had a particular gift for rubbing up almost everybody the wrong way.
Long ago superseded by Bob Geldof's marginally more mature and statesmanlike incarnations, Boomtown Bob is back, at least for the next month. Almost 30 years after the Boomtown Rats split, earlier in 2013 Geldof and his former bandmates reunited for a handful of summer festival dates, and are now embarking on a full British tour. The prime motivating factor, says Geldof with an indulgent chuckle, was to find out if "Boomtown Bobby was still around". And the answer? "F***ing sure he was around."
The re-emergence of Geldof's youthful alter ego fronting a band "born from a boring night in the pub in Dun Laoghaire in the summer of 1975" has few of the hallmarks of the traditional reformation. A millionaire many times over, Geldof doesn't need the cash, although he concedes that some of his colleagues welcomed the opportunity for a decent payday. He has a solo career which, though hardly hitting platinum-selling heights these days, allows him to tour, make occasional records and scratch his creative itch, while he scoffs at the notion of a nostalgic trip down memory lane.
Instead, he welcomed the idea "because I was curious, both musically and emotionally. In a band you spend years in each other's pockets, sleeping in the same rooms, sitting beside each other on buses, trains and planes, and then everyone diverges into their own lives. So the first question was: do I still get on with these people?"
The answer, despite some past legal wrangles over alleged unpaid royalties, was in the affirmative. The chemistry still worked. "When we first got together again there were these sheepish smiles, and then they cranked up and it turned out that this random group of individuals made a very powerful noise. I'm not sure I had ever really appreciated that before."
The first time the reformed Rats rehearsed together Geldof was blown away by "this monstrous racket. I was excited afresh, and then I opened my gob and started singing the words, and far from being nostalgic I could have written the same words today. Literally. With the zero economic climate, Looking After No 1 and Rat Trap make complete sense. Obama is spying on us on Google and if you walk through London your photograph is taken on average 3000 times a day: so, Someone's Looking At You. Some clown shot 12 people in a naval facility last month - that's I Don't Like Mondays. Yes, Ireland is screwed again: Banana Republic.
"I wouldn't have enjoyed it if was simply nostalgia. Not interested in that at all. But because of the power of the music and the relevance of the words, that animus of anger was clear, present and immediate to me. There was no difference between the kid singing at the Marquee in 1977 and the man I am now. It was bizarre, and I loved it. Suddenly I was back there."
The will-this-work curiosity was sated after the band's first gig at the Isle of Wight Festival in the summer; now the reunion is being driven by sheer enjoyment, although Boomtown Bob has been forced to undergo a few necessary adjustments on stage. "I was worried I couldn't do it," says Geldof. "I said to the guys, 'Look, I'm 62, I can't leap around like I once did: one, I look stupid; and two, I'm too old.' So I thought the only way is to large it. Like, f*** off, I'm Boomtown Bob. So I got this false snakeskin suit made, put it on, and it was, 'yes, rock and roll! Come on, let's go!' It gave me a completely different attitude."
His great friend, fellow Dubliner and activist-in-arms Bono watched the Isle of Wight concert online from New York and immediately afterwards texted his approval. "I texted back: 'Who would have thought that Boomtown Bob, that snotty, arrogant little kid, was living under a snakeskin suit all this time. Who knew?' And Bono replied: 'I knew.'"
It's fair to say that the Boomtown Rats were not critical darlings in their heyday. Arriving in London from Dublin in 1976 they were always viewed with some suspicion by the punk cognoscenti. Geldof still talks passionately about being part of the movement of artists that "blew away the anaesthetic of disco and demanded some kind of change," but being a contrarian by nature he also refused to adhere to the strict tenets of punk's counter-orthodoxy. With songs featuring piano, saxophones and strings, the Rats were unashamed in their pursuit of commercial success, which lead to a string of top 10 hits and two number ones. On top of that, in the time of what Geldof calls the "cultural Taliban", he committed the cardinal sin of not taking himself too seriously. Indeed, he displayed an almost pathological ability for winding up everybody.
"I was a bit out there on a limb, and I must say I quite enjoyed it," he says. "I did it to just amuse myself. I was so bored, I just couldn't shut up, but it got in the way of what the band was doing. I gave it large on television and was loud mouthed and interested in politics, and then I met up with Paula and all that. It was all too big of a soap opera." He laughs. "What f***ed us as a band was my stupid mouth and unfortunate personality."
How much of the reformation is about trying to garner a little belated critical kudos? "I thought at the time we were always maligned, but actually that's not true. There was some rave reviews which I hadn't remembered. There was no mistake about our success - it was deserved and it was valid. We were a bloody great band. I have nothing to prove at this stage in my life. This is primarily a rediscovery for me, I'm not trying to sell it to anybody, but I wouldn't mind if someone said, 'Yeah, good line,' or went back to reappraise the songs and thought, 'Okay, not bad, actually.'"
Geldof has written a couple of new "Rat-friendly" songs for the tour and new greatest hits album, but they are in essence tongue-in-cheek throwaways. There will be no album of new material. "I hate going to see old bands and they say, 'Hey, here's a new one!' Who cares?" But if times are so tough currently, why not write some new angry songs rather than revisiting old ones? "I just to want to be on stage playing these songs without a trace of nostalgia," he says. "The Rats songs were externalised, the individual looking out and trying to make sense of this hostile indifferent world. Then you manage to create a universe in which you can function, and the stimulus for writing songs becomes internal rather than external. It's not that you look for that, it's that those things occur in your head."
Any new material will be ear-marked for the next solo record. He seems happy juggling two distinct musical incarnations, recently returning from playing shows in Singapore with his solo band The Bob Cats to prepare for this tour. At the time of the initial demise of Boomtown Rats in 1986 Geldof was already becoming better known for his non-musical exploits, which have included his long term commitment to African aid and debt relief, television production, and his marriage to, and subsequent high-profile split from, the late Paula Yates. There has never been any shortage of extracurricular activity, yet he still defiantly defines himself as a musician.
"Absolutely. That's really all that speaks to me. I can do the other stuff, but that's a facility, it's not a core instinct or a necessity. Music is. The fact that I can still go around the world and play for a lot of people is really amazing, you know. I love it and I don't take it for granted."
The Boomtown Rats play O2 Academy, Glasgow on November 3, Fat Sam's, Dundee on November 9, and Beach Ballroom, Aberdeen on November 10. Back To Boomtown: Classic Rats Hits is out now