Years: 1975 – 1986; 2013 – present
Styles: Alternative rock, New Wave, Post Punk, Punk Rock
Johnnie Fingers - Backing vocals, Keyboards, Piano, Vocals (in band: 1975 - 1986)
Garry Roberts - Backing vocals, Guitar, Lead guitar, Vocals (in band: 1975 - 1986; 2013 – present)
Pete Briquette - Backing vocals, Bass Guitar, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals (in band: 1975 - 1986; 2013 – present)
Simon Crowe - Backing vocals, Drums, Percussion, Vocals (in band: 1975 - 1986; 2013 – present)
Gerry Cott - Backing vocals, Rhythm guitar (in band: 1975 – 1981)
Bob Geldof - Backing vocals, Guitar, Harmonica, Harp, Lead vocals, Saxophone (in band: 1975 - 1986; 2013 – present)
The Boomtown Rats are an Irish rock band that had a series of Irish and UK hits between 1977 and 1985. The group is led by vocalist Bob Geldof. The other members of the original line-up were Garry Roberts (lead guitar), Johnnie Fingers (keyboard), Pete Briquette (bass), Gerry Cott (rhythm guitar) and Simon Crowe (drums). The Boomtown Rats broke up in 1986, but reformed in 2013, without Johnnie Fingers or Gerry Cott.
Most of the six members originate from Dún Laoghaire, Ireland with Pete Briquette originally from Ballyjamesduff, County Cavan, Ireland. Having been booked for their first gig under the name "The Nightlife Thugs" the group agreed on the name change, when Garry Roberts threatened to resign if they were called that, to the "Boomtown Rats" after a gang of children that Geldof had read about in Woody Guthrie's autobiography, Bound for Glory. They became a notable band, but one whose accomplishments were overshadowed by the charity work of frontman Bob Geldof, a former journalist with the New Musical Express.
In the summer of 1976, the group played their first U.K. gig in London followed by gigs in the Netherlands (Groningen and The Milky Way Club in Amsterdam) before moving to London where they signed with Ensign Records later that year. Their first single, "Lookin' After No. 1", came out in August 1977. It reached the Top 40 of the UK Singles Chart, the first of a long string of successes. The album The Boomtown Rats was released the next month. it included another single, "Mary of the 4th Form".
Anyone who heard the Boomtown Rats' debut single, "Lookin' After No. 1," with its rapid drum beat, slashing guitars, and aggressive singing about impatience with the dole queue, would think of the group as a particularly tight, standard punk rock band on the London scene in 1977. The Rats' debut album also featured the leering "Mary of the Fourth Form," their second single, but the rest of the album revealed more traditional rock influences. "Joey's on the Street Again" sounded like the sort of street opera Bruce Springsteen was aiming for on The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. "I Can Make It If You Can" was the sort of ballad the Rolling Stones favored in the mid-'70s. Overall, there were enough power chords and snotty sentiments to justify the punk tag, but it was already clear that the Rats aspired to the mainstream.
Bob Geldof had revealed a taste for the seamy side of things in his lyrics for The Boomtown Rats' first album. On their second record (A Tonic For The Troops), he fantasized about being Hitler in the person of the Leader of the Pack ("I Never Loved Eva Braun"), romanticized tropical suicide ("Living In An Island"), and identified with a certain wealthy recluse ("Me And Howard Hughes"). The band retained a punk energy on the album's UK hit singles, "Like Clockwork," "She's So Modern," and "Rat Trap" (the last another of Bob Geldof's Springsteen homages), but musical identity was still a song-by-song affair. (In the U.S., Columbia Records took over The Boomtown Rats from Mercury, replaced "Can't Stop" and "[Watch Out For] The Normal People" with "Mary Of The 4th Form" and "Joey's On The Street Again" from the first album).
In 1979, "I Don't Like Mondays", was released. This was written in response to a school shooting in California carried out by Brenda Ann Spencer, and also reached No. 1 in the UK. It was a worldwide hit, with the exception being the United States. It was the band's only song to reach the US Billboard Hot 100 and was included in the band's third album, The Fine Art of Surfacing. The album also contained "Diamond Smiles" and their next Top 10 hit in the UK, "Someone's Looking at You".
On their fourth album, the Boomtown Rats submitted to ambitiousness, with singer Bob Geldof attempting to assume the mantle of Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, while the band tried to keep up with musical fashions in Britain. The combination led to such oddities as a ska-beat rewrite of the Stones' "Under My Thumb" and a couple of side-opening mambos. The band was at its best when it returned to the pop music that was its core on such songs as the Buddy Holly-ish "Don't Talk to Me" and especially the danceable "Up All Night," but they were buried on the second side of an uneven collection that made the Rats' sense of direction seem uncertain.
Cott departed from the band at this point. According to Bob Geldof's autobiography, Is That It?, Cott had grown disillusioned with what he saw as the band's growing laziness in the studio and their apparent relinquishing of their early R'n'B influences for "cod-reggae". Throughout his time with the band, Cott had maintained a distance between himself and the other members and he resigned the day before the end of their 1981 world tour, only hours after the rest of the band had decided to confront him for refusing to join them and the road crew for a drink to celebrate Simon Crowe's birthday.
On their fifth album and reduced to a quintet, the Boomtown Rats moved closer to Caribbean rhythms, employing a percussionist and upping the bass guitar in the mix. They even had Dennis Bovell do a dub mix of "House on Fire" and included it at the end of the album. Meanwhile, Bob Geldof's lyrics indicated an increasingly embattled sensibility; he noted in a song called "The Bitter End" that "It isn't too far." Unfortunately, nothing here matched the catchy, daring work on the Rats' first three albums, and even in England their star was beginning to fade. In America, Columbia Records at first declined to release the album, opting for a four-track EP, then allowed it to escape in September 1982, when it failed to chart.
A follow-up album entitled In The Long Grass was recorded in 1983, but was initially rejected by the group's label. By 1984, the band was touring universities after becoming unable to fund the "guarantee" required to book mainstream concert halls. In The Long Grass was finally issued in the UK in May 1984, but failed to chart. Two singles, "Tonight" and "Drag Me Down", were pulled from the album and reached the lower rungs of the UK Singles Chart, but two further singles, "Dave" and "A Hold Of Me", failed to hit the UK top 75.
The Boomtown Rats' involvement with Band Aid (on which they all played) raised their profile again, and In January 1985, a revised version of In the Long Grass was finally released in the US. The album made the US charts at #188, but the associated singles failed to make an impact on the charts or on the radio. The band subsequently performed at Live Aid's charity performance.
"Dave", a single from the original release of In the Long Grass was re-recorded as "Rain" for the US market. The song was about the band's saxophone player and school friend David MacHale (died 2009), who had suffered a breakdown after his girlfriend was found dead in a public toilet next to an empty heroin bag. The 'Rain' metaphor in the altered lyrics referenced Duran Duran's earlier song "Hold Back The Rain", where Geldof's friend Simon Le Bon pleaded with an unnamed band member to cease dabbling with narcotics.
After this, the band was mothballed while Geldof wound up his affairs with the Band Aid Trust, during which time he succeeded in getting them a one-album deal with Vertigo Records. However, both Crowe and Fingers refused to rejoin the Boomtown Rats full-time, preferring to pursue their own band, Gung Ho.
The band's final performance came at Self Aid, a 1986 concert featuring many Irish rock stars, to raise awareness of unemployment in Ireland. Their rendition of "Joey's on the Street Again" was 12 minutes long, with an extended bridge, during which time Geldof ran among the crowd. Following this performance, Geldof addressed the crowd, saying, "It's been a great ten years; rest in peace". The band then performed "Looking After No.1".
The Boomtown Rats reformed in 2013. Bob Geldof said, "Playing again with the Rats and doing those great songs again will be exciting afresh. We were an amazing band and I just feel it's the right time to re-Rat, to go back to Boomtown for a visit." In June 2013, it was announced that the band would be embarking on a UK and Ireland tour supported by a new compilation album, Back to Boomtown: Classic Rats Hits. The group performed at the Brentwood Festival in 2016, where Geldof attracted controversy for criticising the audience. In April 2017, the band returned to the studio to record new material for their first studio album since In the Long Grass in 1984. The album is expected to be released in late 2017.
1. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Boomtown_Rats
2. All Music Guide to Rock. The Definitive Guide to Rock, Pop and Soul. 3rd Edition 2002. Edited by Vladimir Bogdanov, Chris Woodstra, Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Published by Backbeat Books, page 129-130, William Ruhlmann
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