Tuesday 23 January 2018

Bob Geldof: The race to 60 and going on the road again

Bob Geldof performs live at Cafe de la Danse on May 6. Photo: Getty Images
Bob Geldof performs live at Cafe de la Danse on May 6. Photo: Getty Images

Andy Welch

In a quick game of Bob Geldof Word Association, it's likely 'music' wouldn't be the first word you'd think of.

Perhaps Live Aid would top the list? The 1985 concert he and Midge Ure organised to help the Ethiopian crisis. Next in line might be Africa, famine and Live8, or even the names of his two most famous daughters, Peaches and Pixie.

Dubliner Geldof - given an honorary knighthood in 1986 but, as an Irishman, not able to use the title Sir officially - is all too aware of the public's perception of him, and even jokes about it.

"Someone might walk past a poster in Bradford, or wherever, saying 'Bob Geldof: Live tonight' and they'd think, 'Fair enough'. Five yards down the road, they'll stop and think, 'Doing what?'" he says, with a smile.

"If I was there to talk, fair enough, but to sing? They'd almost certainly raise an eyebrow."

The title of his most recent solo album is a wry nod to this: How To Compose Popular Songs That Will Sell, the joke being his solo records don't sell very well at all.

"I haven't played in the UK for a long time," he adds. "But I gig all the time. I'm off to Norway this week, I was in Sweden last week playing with Bob Dylan, all the European festival stuff. But in the UK, there's not a rush to the box office when I announce a tour."

There is a flipside to this, of course. Under no pressure to play the big venues, Geldof can call the shots. Throughout September and November when he and his band perform around the UK (a tour split in two to accommodate performances in South America, South Africa, Australia and south east Asia) they'll get to play in some of the country's most lovely halls.

"It's a matter of choice. If there's a venue in a town I don't want to do, we move to a town where there's a nice one. At this stage of the game I really want a theatre-type situation.

"I don't think anyone who wants to see me wants to stand on a sticky floor. And I wouldn't play arenas, even if I could."

Continue the Bob Geldof Word Association game and you might come up with 'scruffy'.

The former Boomtown Rats frontman is known for his rather dishevelled appearance and once spoke about how embarrassed he is meeting important people because of his look.

Today, however, clean-shaven with neatly cut light grey hair, wearing a smart blue pinstripe shirt and black trousers, he looks every bit the respectable company boss.

The suggestion he's smartened himself up makes him smile warmly, almost as if he's cheered someone has noticed.

While it's hard to imagine the Bob Geldof who's known for yelling at world leaders being heartened someone has complimented his clothing choice, the Geldof of 2011 is very different to the one fans have encountered before.

While his 2001 album Sex, Age And Death, aimed in parts at his late ex-wife Paula Yates and her lover Michael Hutchence, was a largely angry, dark and despairing album, How To Compose Popular Songs That Will Sell, released in February, finds Geldof in love with life, and, dare it be suggested, happy.

"There's absolutely no sense of contentment in me," he says, getting things straight. "But I accept the point, that it's a happy record.

"There's a line in one of the songs, 'Here's to you, I'm in love with life tonight'. One reviewer wrote, 'Bob Geldof, in love with life? What's gone wrong with the world?'

"My 50s were my happiest time," he explains, clearly thinking ahead to his 60th birthday in October.

"And I thought this was a grand revelation until I read recently that scientists say people are happier as they get older, and the happiest group are the 80-year-olds.

"Maybe because it's all nearing an end? Who knows, but my 50s were a nicer period than others.

"The storms and surges of life should have been reconciled by this stage. With a bit of luck you'll have gone through the economic wars, when you've no cash and are freaking out. And hopefully your kids will have moved on and you won't have to worry about them so much.

"Your emotional life will have sorted itself too, hopefully," he continues, a nod to his French actress girlfriend Jeanne Marine.

"Basically, you'll have come out the other end one way or the other. And no matter what life you've lived, you can breathe, look back and think, 'I've made it'."

Geldof argues, while his songs seem wiser now, they're no more reflective of who he is than the punk songs he and the Boomtown Rats wrote in 1975 Dublin.

"The first time anyone ever heard me, I was singing Looking After Number One," he says. "The first line is, 'The world owes me a living'. I was reflecting on things I'd experienced up to that point, you know, 'Spare me that hippy bulls**t going on in Ireland'.

"I was making a statement. The only difference between now and then is that at 19, I didn't understand that without the existence of love, the human condition is painfully absurd and futile.

"I think that's understood by most people, but I'd never got it 'til recently, how critical it is to be in love and to be loved.

"Writing the song To Live In Love for the new album was a blinding revelation to me, 40 years too late, of course.

"It surprises me as I race to 60, that things are OK. Who would've expected that?"


:: Robert Frederick Zenon Geldof was born on October 5, 1951, in Dún Laoghaire near Dublin.

:: He was introduced to music by his sisters, who took him to see The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan when he was just 11.

:: Geldof became interested in campaigning at an early age, establishing a south Dublin branch of the Anti-Apartheid Movement with friend Mick Foley when he was 13.

:: The musician says he has no interest in party politics and is willing to "shake hands with the devil on my left and the devil on my right" in order to get results for his campaigns.

:: He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 and 2008 for his work in the areas of debt relief and famine relief through economic measures.

Bob Geldof’s Uk tour starts on September 14 in Gateshead

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