Boomtown Rats | Review
Holywood Harmony Festival • Saturday 02 June ’18
By Stewart Robson • Photos: Tremaine Gregg
“Welcome to our community festival,” says an incredibly proud, welcoming and well-groomed Garry Jackson, who along with his wife Mari, has managed to curate a wonderfully crafted boutique festival in the picturesque village of Holywood, County Down.
To grace the stage on the main night of this year’s Harmony Live festival was none other than Bobby Boomtown and his legendary Rats who returned to the city after just over a year since their resounding triumph at the Mandela Hall.
Taking to the stage shortly after 9.15, the pulsating sound of their eponymous classic bounced off the canvas of the festival marquee and sent the crowd into a frenzy. The fairy lights guided revellers from the idyllic garden outside towards the front of the stage which was within touching distance of the front-row fanatics. It was a beautiful thing to see. The post-punk humanitarian enigma of Bob Geldof, being able to interact with fans on such an intimate level in this kind of setting was refreshing to see.
He strutted on stage with the energy you’d expect of a frontman trying to make his mark on the music scene. From a performer who’s seen it all and has nothing left to prove, it was clear that Geldof was treating this gig like his first. There’s always been a Jagger-esque vibe from Dún Laoghaire’s most famous son and it was no more evident than during this performance. Hearing him scream ‘Holywood’, if you closed your eyes and could feel the heat in the tent, you’d probably have thought you were on the west coast of the USA. Open your eyes and you wouldn’t believe any different. They weren’t trying to break America here, despite Geldof commenting on Trump’s presidency, but more so cementing their place in rock ‘n’ roll folklore on the other side of the Atlantic.
Bouncing into ‘Like Clockwork’, with its Combat Rock Clash-era groove, the crowd were in full swing with most fans equalling the age of Mr. Geldof and his musicians. The energy never let up. Geldof’s masterclass as playing the harmonica shone during ‘(She’s Gonna) Do You In’ while ‘Joey’s On The Streets Again’ honed in the biggest sing-along of the night up to that point. The instantly recognisable brass section of the song chiming with the needs of the audience.
At the midway point, Geldof becomes the Geldof we’ve always known. He’s incredibly proud of his band and how far they have come since the late 1970s. He declares that they are ‘the greatest band in the world’, from Dún Laoghaire. The fans seem to agree. It is a set intermitted with Geldof’s unfiltered pride as well as his strong political ideologies which he has become known even more so from the days of Live Aid and his work in Africa thereafter. Critical of leaders in power then and now, the band launch into reggae-infused ‘Banana Republic’ which critiques the ‘corrupt government’ and ‘quiet church’ of 1980s Ireland. Geldof speaks from the heart and you can only admire him for that.
One thing the public can admire this band for is the ability to have a hit single from 1979, and celebrating its 40th anniversary next year, stand the test of time. ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ is thrown into the setlist earlier than most would have presumed but the piano opening rouses the crowd into a mass-sing along as soon as Geldof opens it. It was magnificent. Bar the mass sea of mobile phones capturing it.
The remainder of the main set is packed full of hits spanning across the band’s career with a dash of Van Morrison’s ‘Gloria’ sprinkled on top of ‘Mary Of The 4th Form’. A lovely tribute to an east Belfast treasure. A sweatier but no-less energetic Geldof is still prancing around the stage at this point, minus his trademark snakeskin suit on this occasion but still looking as bohemian as ever. Ending with arguably the Rats’ most famous song after ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’, ‘Rat Trap’ is a set-closer to end all set-closers. It has that piano, that saxophone, that crashing of the cymbals. It has everything and had everything this time too.
The gig comes full circle ending with the song Geldof entered so emphatically to at the beginning of the evening. He shouts to the crowd, ‘Who are we?’ They are The Boomtown Rats and are sounding as powerful and as important as they ever were.
Old Bobby Boomtown and his Rats’ still pack one hell of a punch and we can only hope it’s sooner rather than later before they return. I know exactly what I’ll be singing on Monday’s for a while.