It was a throwaway Facebook thread. Barra said The Boomtown Rats were coming and we should go. Aye, I said. Here it was. Mandela Hall. Tiny. Crammed with the coolest bunch of fifty somethings the Students Union has ever seen! Once there I realised that my mate Barra was a fan. A big fan!
For me it was nostalgia. I am a fan of Geldof who gave us The Boomtown Rats, the fed the world through Live Aid and made my scruffiness a little more acceptable. As I left the house I shouted out a few songs for my family. Rat Trap. She’s So Modern. Someone’s Looking At You. I Don’t Like Mondays… Goodness, they had even more hits than I thought.
I had seen Geldof at Greenbelt in 1992 and he put on a great show. So I thought I would enjoy but I had no get expectations.
Well, the music was immense. Intense. Dramatic. Tight. Thumping. Magnificent.
Geldof was simply in your face. Charismatic. Show man. All Mick Jagger swagger. Full on rock star, snake skin suit and all. He is hard to take your eyes off.
The hits were all there. Brilliant. Yet the playing was different. This wasn’t punk. Not even new wave pop. Now in their sixties the Rats are revealing what they really were, a rhythm and blues band. It was all there on the debut album but Geldof knew how to tweak the sound to meet the commercial force of the times and that new wave pop was an avenue to a few number ones. Today they are back to bluesy riffs and rock out elongated improvisation.
Then when I was not waiting; the revelation. They were a wee bit into Looking After Number 1 and I was thinking how this was their first single and how I’d bought it near the end of the summer of 1977. I was nearly 16. I loved it.
Eight years later at the height of Live Aid I found this verse fascinating…
“Don't give me love thy neighbour
Don't give me charity
Don't give me peace and love or the good lord above
You get in the way with your stupid ideas.”
He who didn’t want love your neighbour or charity, fed the world. Geldof acknowledged the contradiction in his biography Is That It? when he said that God looked down and asked who was least likely to feed the world and knocked his door. I would acknowledge that it was Geldof’s actions in 1984 and 1985 that sent me back to the Bible and found its call to social justice. I have been preaching and acting on that ever since.
BUT… it was not this that raised itself in my soul in the Mandela Hall. It was that concluding preach of the song…
“Don't wanna be like you.
Don't wanna live like you.
Don't wanna talk like you, at all.
I'm gonna be like
I'm gonna be like
I'm gonna be like ME!”
I had forgotten the impact of this on my teenage soul. I remember it marked me. I wanted to be myself. I didn’t want to be a clone. As the next song on the set said, I didn’t want to get caught in any societal Rat Trap.
When I discovered Jesus a couple of years later he didn’t make me conform to any cookie cutter Christian idea. He actually opened the door for me to be the person that God created me and Jesus redeemed me to be.
Looking around me as Geldof threw poses and repeated my teenage mantra I realised that at 55 I was probably the only Presbyterian minister standing at the Boomtown Rats in the Mandela Hall because I was still being exactly like… me!
All this after Geldof had his usual political rant during Banana Republic with its angst against the Irish Police and Church. Standing right in front of me he shouts, “Priests, Priests, Priest, Vicars, Vicars, Imams… F(lip) Off!” I felt conspicuous but laughed it off.
So, an excellent evening of powerful rock n roll. Late in the show Geldof channeled Jagger, Jim Morrison, John Lee Hooker and Chuck Berry. They even covered Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back In Town in the encores. I left having thoroughly enjoyed and having learned something about myself…. about the me who ended up at a Rats gig in 2017!