Ah yes, Mr Geldof. Long before he was anointed as Saint Bob, he rejoiced in the rather less elevated soubriquet of 'Modest' Bob. He acquired this particular nickname right at the outset of the Rats' rise to fame, just as Looking After Number One was first beginning to trouble the charts. One of the red-top tabloids ran an interviewette with Geldof under the inspired headline of 'King Rat!' Unfortunately, the piece was illustrated with a rather fetching photo depicting guitarist Garry Roberts posing with a winsome white rat perched on his leather-jacketed shoulder. The NME gleefully pointed out this appalling error, adding 'we're sure Modest Bob Geldof won't mind.' And 'Modest' Bob he remained for quite some time.

The early Rats battled their way to the upper echelons of the new scene by dint of solid, punchy riff-based rock dynamics and a frenetic, all-action stage show garnished with visual gimmicks and Geldof’s inimitable between-song rants. At one Marquee gig, the club was sardine-can rammed at the height of summer and oxygen was in such short supply that a bare-chested, sweat-drenched Geldof passed out on stage. Revived in the dressing-room, he returned to the fray to deliver an epic tirade of the kind later familiar to millions, denouncing the Marquee's management for being too fokkin' cheap to install any fokkin' air-conditioning.
 

The original pre-punk Boomtown Rats, who came together in Ireland during the mid-seventies via the usual process of a bunch of musically-inclined mates (and mates of mates) with energy to burn and time on their hands gradually coalescing into a functioning band, started out with a love of rhythm and blues and pitched themselves, according to Geldof, 'somewhere between the Faces and the Feelgoods.' On their first album - this one, for those of you not paying attention - the R&B group is clearly discernible just beneath the punk veneer. Indeed, on tracks like the roistering and only mildly misogynistic shuffle She's Gonna Do You In, the R&B content blatantly practices the fine art of surfacing. In fact, She's Gonna Do You In was originally pegged as the Rats' first single.

Fortunately for all concerned, its revved-up pub-rock boogie was soon elbowed in favour of the soon-to-be-anthemic Looking After Number One. The track had originally appeared on a Phonogram compilation entitled New Wave alongside contribvutions from The Ramones, Dead Boys and a few hastily-licensed tracks from other labels. The interest it attracted there - from your correspondent, among others - led to its emergence on 45, and an NME Single Of the Week nomination.


 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

As a new band's first single, Looking After Number One was an impressive indicator of both the Rats' agenda and their capabilities. Simon Crowe's road-drill drumming, Pete Briquette's hammering bass and the snarling, crunchy guitars of Garry Roberts and Gerry Cott (with Johnny Fingers' piano in there somewhere) provided an instant wake-up-and-dance alarm call as well as a sturdy platform for Geldof's obsessive wordplay (the verse which juxtaposes barely-rewritten quotes from Johns Lennon and Donne is a particular delight), restless ambition and decidedly individual take on individualism. My definitive mental image of the Rats as a hard-rocking punk band on the way up (as opposed to their brief but eventful reign as the biggest pop group in Britain) is of a sweating, spitting punk audience, arms waving and fingers pointing, chanting, 'I-I-I don't wanna be like YOU!' at and along with a berserk racehorse-lathered Geldof during the climax of a sold-out club gig.

Actually, that's not quite true. Your humble servant's defining Rats moment came at their first big open-air gig, appearing down-bill from Thin Lizzy (and Graham Parker & The Rumour, and Horslips, but above The Radiators From Space) at Dublin's Dalymount Stadium. Geldof had invited me to jam with them on harmonica during (you guessed it) She's Gonna Do You In. The combination of a somewhat over-demonstrative performance style and an inconveniently trailing microphone leaded resulted in a spontaneous A-over-T tumble which almost resulted in the demolition of poor Mr Crowe's drum kit. Fortunately, I managed both to turn it into a forward roll back to a perpendicular position and to keep playing. Geldof was furious. He thought I'd done it on purpose to upstage him.
The fact that the Rats were originally called The Nitelife Thugs may provide a clue to much of the content of that first album, loaded as it is with grimly picaresque urban fables of alienation and violence. Neon Heart, Joey's On The Streets Again and Close As You'll Ever Be all, in their different ways, point the way to Rat Trap and I Don’t Like Mondays, but only the second single Mary Of The Fourth Form (part of a long, if not entirely honourable, blues-rock tradition of underage fetishization which stretches from Sonny Boy Williamson's Good Morning Little Schoolgirl to The Police's Don't Stand So Close To Me) betrays any indication of how thoroughly the band were about to hone their knack for maniacally hooky pop. This record, in an era of great first albums, remains one of the classic best but by the time 1977 had become 1978, the Rats had become an entirely different kettle of fish. No more sweaty spitty punk gigs for these boys. Modest Bob and his cohorts had springboarded off R 'n B punk to aspire to the toppermost of the poppermost.

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