Bob Geldof on the Ireland he always wanted and the impossibility of a second Live Aid in candid interview
Rocker Bob Geldof believes Ireland is now a better place than when he was growing up, and he “loves coming back” here.
He describes the referendum on same-sex marriage as a “crowning moment” that capped years of struggle for people of his generation, who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s.
In a wide-ranging interview, the singer has also revealed he will never again organise a massive international event like 1985’s Live Aid or 2005’s Live 8, as the world had moved on.
“I love coming back, you know I’m much more comfortable. You see, the Ireland that I wanted to live in happened,” he told the Irish Independent.
“An open, gregarious, tolerant, less priest-ridden society happened. The crowning moment was the referendum [on same-sex marriage].
“We’re just this very elegant people, really intelligent, just go and do your thing, kind.”
He said that was all people of his generation had wanted.
“But you had to fight for it, so you had to write songs like ‘Banana Republic’, which was just summing up the time and loads of people were p****d off with that – f*** em,” he said.
When he arrived in Dublin the week before Christmas, the Boomtown Rats frontman was in a reflective mood.
He had returned to his hometown to give the gift of an archive of material from three decades of Band Aid to the National Library of Ireland.
While he had hit the headlines over Dublin City Council’s handling of his decision to hand back the freedom of the city in protest at Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, he preferred to say no more about that.
But he suggested that despite the positive change in Ireland’s culture in the last three decades, begrudgery still existed.
“Of course it does – and you know, fair play to them, they just don’t get me at all. I’m quite comfortable with not being liked,” he said.
He was asked whether he would look to stage another international charity concert, but he cited social media as one reason the format would no longer work.
“I don’t think that works now, there’s a whole new age. You can do something, you can start generating stuff online now, whether that’s as effective immediately or not,” he said.
“It’s a terrible bromide at the same time being online, because your rage evaporates into the ether,” he said.
“And it’s very useful for authority, because if everyone in this room had a bee in their bonnet right now, they could all go online and get 1,000 followers.
“The dissemination of the medium has meant the dilution of the message,” he said.
Speaking about the decision to donate the Band Aid archive to the National Library of Ireland, he said it had to be done.
“We had to do something about it. It was getting too big, too bulky the costs were enormous,” he said. “So it was, no 34 years, we had to deal with this.”
- Read more: 'This is our thanks to Ireland' - Musician Bob Geldof donates vast archive of Band Aid material to National Library
Geldof (inset) said the charitable group’s trustees had a responsibility to make sure the documents were maintained.
“This is an asset that the poor own and that’s what we view it as,” he said.
“So we must monetise everything. But there was the counter argument that it’s of benefit to further generations beyond being just stuck in a university archive somewhere that the public never see.
“And given that it was a mass public movement, it should go back to them.”
Geldof said he pushed for Ireland to be given the archive as a sort of “thank you” for the support the Irish lent to Live Aid.
“This country was magnificent, I mean genuinely magnificent,” he said.
“I mean, when you do have old ladies queuing to give their wedding rings then there’s something going on way above the norm.
“And the constant support. The NGOs: Goal, amazing. Trocaire, amazing. I know their work and we’ve supported them in turn.
“There hasn’t been a government, agree or disagree with them politically, but who have said ‘no, we’re not into this’, the very opposite.
“That’s true of the English too, despite whatever the political stripe has been.”
Geldof said the NLI were the most creative and forthcoming with ideas for the collection.
“[NLI chairman] David Harvey was pummelling me. ‘It needs to come here, it needs to come here’,” he said.
While the material in the archive is likely to generate huge interest with music fans worldwide, who will dig through it looking for snippets from famous names, Geldof said for him it was just business.
“For me it’s not a collection, for me it’s a load of boring letters,” he said.
“Don’t forget that we had a huge office with people working for free. The office was for free, the computers were free, the paper was free – everything.”
The charity movement raised hundreds of millions in relief funds and Geldof stressed every cent went to those who needed it.
“I don’t think there was a cup of coffee taken out of that money. I meant it when I said every penny will go there the first morning. I said ‘I promise you’, and we have lived up to that,” he said.
“So it had to go somewhere for free, but to people who would know how to use it, who loved it, who understood what it was. And the library in Ireland understood that this was not just about culture and the dominance of pop culture at the time.
“But actually, it’s between culture and politics that happened because of technological globalisation.”
He said at the time, the lingua franca of the world was pop music, which could be used to address the globe on a matter of importance.
“You could literally address most of humanity if they had a television set and without being dogmatic, without it being a monologue on a common problem – 30 million people dying of want, in a world of surplus? That’s absurd. Can we deal with this? Let’s deal with this thing first,” he said.
Geldof spoke about visiting world leaders at the time from Margaret Thatcher to Ronald Reagan and then vice president George Bush Snr, with the knowledge of the support of billions who back Live Aid.
He also spoke about predicting, three decades ago, the refugee crisis.
“Thirty years ago I was arguing that they will come to us, just like I came to England, Ireland could not give me a job – so the English took me in and allowed me to breathe and allowed me to have my kids.
“And so it’s been happening to Ireland throughout the ages.
“And so the poor of Africa will come to Europe, it’s eight miles away. And the way to stop it – I said they will come – is to build the economies. No one wants to leave their home,” he said.
Geldof said he was not sure music could be a vehicle for social change any more, highlighting the punk rock scene and then the hip hop scene as the last that tried it.
“I’m not sure that it is. Punk was music with intent, you know. I wrote ‘Looking After Number One’ while on the dole in Dún Laoghaire at a quarter past nine, in November.
“Calling yourself The Clash, calling yourself the Sex Pistols, calling yourself The Stranglers, calling yourself The Damned, calling yourself The Rats, I mean there’s clear purpose going on there,” he said.
The capital is still very close to his heart and he remembered the early songs his band played as songs of the capital.
“We were doing hard-driving rhythm and blues, but writing about our world. So Sandycove and me working in the abattoir, so they are all Dublin songs,” he said.
Despite the achievement of having brought together, on numerous occasions over the last 30 years, the biggest names in music, Geldof said it was not a matter of personal pride.
“Not really, it’s just life you know. It’s just tiring, I’m tired. It’s really crap having to ring people up and they’re going, ‘for f***’s sake it’s Geldof’. And I don’t mind when people say no, there’s no pressure, literally no pressure. At a certain point it gets to the point where if you’re out, then you’re not happening.”