Bob Geldof is probably best known today for being responsible for helping to launch the careers of the likes of Chris Evens, Denise Van Outen and his ate wife Paula Yates. Before that however he was single handily responsible for one of the greatest televisual and music phenomena’s of all-time in the form of Live Aid; a concert held at London’s Wembley Stadium in aid of famine victims in Ethiopia which was beamed across the world. Before that however Bob Geldof was the charismatic front man of one of the biggest bands to come out of Ireland in the 1970’s and 80’s.
Citizens of Boomtown, shown recently on RTÉ 2 tells the story of the rise and fall, and belated, if not obscure rise again of The Boomtown Rats. The very name the band adopted illustrates the cynicism with which the band treated the supposed economic booms that Ireland was facing at that a time. A boom during which much of the population still lived in poverty and during which emigration was still a prominent element of Irish life.
With contributions from the likes of music critic Neil McCormick and author Joseph O’Conner the documentary illustrates how the band came to prominence during a time when the influence of the catholic church was still great, culminating in a quarter of the population of the republic turning up to great the pope of the time John Paul II. Contributors Ray Foster and Niall Stokes of Hotpress Magazine paint a picture of a much different Ireland where much of the media faces heavy censorship, an entrapped, smothered image of Ireland.
These measures contributed to the extent that the band had to go to court ot earn the right to play in their local city. Luckily for the band they were able to take advantage of a loophole whereby the courts didn’t sit beyond 12.00 on Friday night, allowing the band to sell tickets of the forbidden concert from 12.01 a.m. on Saturday morning.
Around this time the band had released a single titled Banana Republic which denounces the Ireland that they found themselves living in, it instantly became a hit. Later on in the documentary the release of one of the band’s biggest hits I Don’t Like Monday’s, a song about a school shooting in the United States which at the time was able to become such a hit precisely because there were much fewer mass shootings at that time in the United States.
On the obvious popularity of Bob Geldof the singer Sting, who had similar success with his band the Police states that while his band was originally Stewart Copeland’s band, the Rats were always seen as Bob’s.
As the 1970’s move steadily into the 1980’s the band are seen to be struggling to sell records, in part as it is stated in the documentary, because the band are seen as a 1970’s band in the decade of the 80’s. The band, in an attempt to boost record sales and their popularity embark on a tour taking in India and Japan where they appear on billboards in these countries bizarrely with their image changed to blend in with the locals.
At this point the band are beginning to be hated by the music press, receiving bad reviews for their music, the ban also are impacted by personal tragedies. Then comes a moment which changes all their lives, in particular that of Bob Geldof. He comes home and is stunned by a report on the 6 o’clock news. That report has since become ironically heart wrenching and symbolic of one event – famine in Ethiopia. At this point U2’s Bono contributes his initial reaction to Geldof’s initiative, ‘I have on the phone the man who thinks that music doesn’t need to mean anything other than what it is.
Within weeks Bob Geldof has almost single handedly gathered a group of the UK’s biggest pop acts to take part in one of the biggest selling records and biggest selling events of all-time; Band Aid and the single Feed the World/Do They Know It’s Christmas, along side this across the Atlantic much bigger stars emulate this with USA for Africa.
From this obvious highlight it’s hard to follow-up, both musically and narratively. Bob Geldof is persuaded to record some solo work, but will only do it if it is alongside more work from the Rats, the rest of the band however are not so keen. Barely a year after Live Aid the Band are invited to take part in Self Aid, a home grown concert aimed at helping poor and homeless in Ireland. It is to be the bands last performance.
After a time gap the band are shown more recently making a comeback and as energetic and enthusiastic as ever.
On the whole, with imagery which helps portray the bands cynical attitude, Citizens of Boomtown is a very entertaining and informative programme telling the social history of a country and the world as well as a pop group who’s light shone brightly for nearly a decade.