Sleeve Notes from the remastered CD release
The Fine Art of Surfacing - David Fricke


The ten songs on the Boomtown Rats' 1979 album, The Fine Art of Surfacing, have everything to do with America. It's right there in the title: the thrill of invasion, the struggle for air, the adventure gone sour. But the story actually starts in December, 1978, in the magnificent grime of the Glasgow Apollo, where I saw what I thought was the future of the Rats in the States. And it was huge.

Bob Geldof, Pete Briquette, Simon Crowe, Gerry Cott, Garry Roberts and pyjama-clad Johnny Fingers were touring the U.K. like they owned it, which they did that season. I was along for the frenzy, the lone survivor of a pack of U.S. writers who had come to see the Rats in London, then gone home. In the two years before they took the Apollo stage that night, the band had captured Britain with an Irish vengeance, driving the nation to joy with two hit LPs, a run of killer singles including the Number One tenement opera 'Rat Trap' and the best live show in the isles. In London, I'd seen everything the Rats had to make the States go green as well: the songs, with those take-no-prisoners choruses; the pop brains inside the punk bravado and glam-guitar firepower; Geldof's unstoppable combo of mighty mouth and ringleader magnetism.


But I was in Glasgow for another reason: Geldof wanted me to see the Rats defy the laws of physics. Earlier that day, Fingers - in his sleepwear, of course - took me up to the Apollo balcony to show me how to shake it. Looming over the stalls, without any pillars beneath for structural support, the balcony was, Fingers said, famous for bending as much as three feet in the middle, under the stomping heels of a packed, out-of-its-mind audience. Geldof gave me a demonstration at showtime.

'Some American journalists came to see us in London,' he told the howling Scots. 'But we told them the real gig was here in Glasgow. One of them is here tonight, so show him what you can do, Glasgow. I want to see that balcony move, 'cause if it don't, we're fucked.' Then as the Rats hit the tick-tock intro of 'Like Clockwork,' the balcony army jumped as one, literally making the Apollo quake in time to the Rats. I was no longer just impressed by the band. I was a believer. 'I dig the Rats,' Geldof declared to me proudly at one point. 'If I wasn't in the band, I'd go see them every night.' I figured the rest of America would feel the same way.

Five months later, in New York, I saw that future go up in smoke. At the Palladium on East 14th Street, in front of a full house waiting to see if the Rats were truly the Next Big Thing, Geldof introduced 'Rat Trap' with his signature blarney. First, he noted that 'Rat Trap' was the only Rats song on U.S. radio because DJs thought it sounded like Bruce Springsteen. 'But I want you to know,' Geldof added with a loaded chuckle and cod gravitas and in a US DJ accent, 'that Bruce Springsteen couldn't write a song half as good as this if he tried.'  That laugh should have been a dead giveaway; I knew he was kidding. Nobody else did.

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