Published: 31 May, 2012
by ROSIN GADELRAB
BEING criticised, I couldn’t give a f**k, you know. It kind of annoys people more, I couldn’t care less.
“Be assured I couldn’t give a shit.”
Bob Geldof is musing on whether it’s better to be a successful musician vilified for his outspoken campaigning, or an uncontroversial singer who revels in his riches.
“The job of the artist is to create good art, that’s its sole obligation and the artist only fails when they create bad art,” he tells Grooves. “After that you’re just an individual, and if the individual wants to use the currency fame gives you in a certain direction, then do it.
“If you don’t feel like doing that,good luck to you, but if you do then by definition you become a lightning rod and whipping boy simultaneously for people who agree or disagree with you.
“Some people think you’re uppity. I guess some think you’re a pop singer, what would you possibly know? And they think you’re sort of hypocritical, I suppose, because you have money and mine and Bono’s pays for talks about poverty.
“But the truth is I was talking about it long before I was even in a pop band. I used to work with the homeless all night every night in Dublin when I was 15 and 16, so this thing has always bothered me.
“Coming from the punk period, when everyone was broke and poor, our songs were often about those things.”
Geldof wrote Rat Trap while working in a Dublin abbatoir, “so I know from whence I speak, but that doesn’t matter. It’s good that there’s criticism because it provokes conversation, starts arguments in pubs and that’s what we want”.
It is this attitude that drew him the label “super-contrarian” in a recent Independent on Sunday interview, a moniker he thinks is apt.
“The Irish, they understand me,” he says, “That about sums it up. I don’t mean to be, but I like having disruptive tendencies. The world needs disruption.”
Geldof plays Islington Assembly Hall on June 1, which he says he loves: “It’s a great gig, a really fantastic gig, it makes you play better.”
He and his band, which features former Boomtown Rat Pete Briquette, will be playing songs from his extensive back catalogue, from the days of The Boomtown Rats, up to his most recent, acclaimed album, How To Compose Popular Songs That Will Sell.
The latter has been relaunched in a deluxe boxset including the original album with extra songs, a DVD featuring interviews, promo videos including the uncut X-rated version of the controversial video for Systematic Six-Pack starring Rhys Ifans, live performances in Paris and Texas, a hardback book with lyrics and photos.
When The Boomtown Rats first emerged, times were hard, and Geldof draws parallels between then and now: “From an Irish point of view, once again the country failed its young people, which is the greatest betrayal – a country that has failed its young and doesn’t provide them with a future.
“That was true in the mid-70s and was true in the UK until it threw up this group of kids who would start singing about that and sounded like this great discontent, and this rage and anger, that’s what punk music sounded like.
“There are different circumstances now, but the conditions end up being the same – you can’t get a job, there doesn’t appear to be a future and I assume you will get a surge of new music that somehow sounds like that feeling.
“I’m not sure it’ll be a loud noisy thing, but it’ll be something that suggests now, and that’s the powerful thing about English music always, it’s never unrelated to the social circumstances.”
Does he have any bands in mind?
“I think my son-in-law’s band (S.C.U.M) – I would say that – but I saw them and I just thought they were absolutely brilliant, properly good, I wouldn’t mention them if I didn’t think so,” says Geldof.
“They were superb, a really good band. My daughter’s band is really great, so it’s all family bands.”
When Geldof first landed in England, he ended up working in a factory in Peterborough.
He says: “I tried to find somewhere to stay and there was a sign in the window saying, ‘No blacks, no Irish, no dogs’. So being a supercontrarian I knocked on that door and the guy was Italian, can you f**king believe it? And I said how much and he said 30 shillings... so I gave him 30 bob and so I stayed there.
“I don’t think the English are a very racist people. I travel all the time and have been around the world and, without question, England is the most tolerant of societies that I’ve been in, and I’ve been in a lot.
“Certainly there is of course prejudice against other people and Irish people have been victims of that, as the English have been in Ireland, so it’s not pleasant and it’s stupid.
“Being Irish you’re white, but it’s not as obvious. While it exists, it’s less so than in other countries, it’s less so than in France, Germany certainly than Italy and these are just the European nations we know.”
As he is about to rush off to another interview, he just has time to detail one unforgettable music-related accident: “I remember back in California I leapt off the stage into what I thought was the crowd but was a fucking great gap beneath me.
“I fell down and smashed my thigh against the corner of the stage and it was a bloody great dent in my thigh.
“I had to pretend to be cool and that it didn’t hurt as I scrambled back on stage, but it killed.”