Looking back, the three years between the disco and pop oriented sounds of 1976 and the majestic jumble of influences that fill 1979 are a huge gulf. By 1979, disco was on it’s last legs, punk had firmly given airtime to what we now think of as new wave and the pop music of the day was about as strong as it had been since 1975.
At an unspecific point in 1979, my dad arrived home from work carrying a long playing record. It turned out to be the new Police album. At this point, ‘Message In a Bottle’ had been all over the radio and I knew I liked this new music. My mum, on the other hand did not have quite the same enthusiasm; she’s a bit put out that this does not have ‘Roxanne’ on it. Presumably, the album – like others – had been purchased at Barnaby’s, a record shop (no longer there) very near my dad’s then place of employment; a giant tin shed in which he worked with dangerous acidic chemicals and little regard for health and safety. That Police album (‘Reggatta De Blanc’) got played a lot. If I think hard, I can still see Dad sitting by his Fidelity stereo system lifting the needle onto the record and playing the title track over and over and I remember thinking how fitting it was that the word emblazoned on the front looked a bit like the word fiddle. That piece of music must have spoken to him: decades later, he would still attract my attention by calling my name to the tune of that track.
The sight of my dad coming home with new music in this way was not entirely uncommon.
In the late 70s and early 80s, the BBC had a series of programmes called ‘Sight and Sound In Concert’. These specially filmed gigs were simultaneously broadcast on BBC TV and radio. A few are available commercially – as is the case with the excellent Thin Lizzy performance from the Hitchin Regal in 1983 – but sadly, many are not. Thankfully, due to repeat showings, many fans have pristine off-airs of shows by Camel, Gentle Giant, Renaissance and others.
Despite having numerous hits, including two UK number one singles, The Boomtown Rats have never seemed to get the due they so honestly deserve. Ask anyone born after 1985 about the band and they’ll mention Bob Geldof and/or ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’, if you’re lucky. Yet there are other bands from the punk and new wave era that have firmly crossed generations: Ramones t-shirts are plentiful (even worn by those who’ve never heard a note), Sex Pistols are well-documented and The Clash are revered. The Boomtown Rats are a fantastic bunch of musicians whom, as far as most are concerned, are part of an all-too-quickly forgotten musical past. ‘Diamond Smiles’ and ‘Banana Republic’ were huge hits in 1979/80, but when was the last time you heard them on the radio or played anywhere in public? For most people born after 1985, Bob Geldof is just the scruffy man who does tireless work for charity – he’s hardly ever given proper credit for being one of the best songwriters of the era.
Tying in with their current tour, The Boomtown Rats’ first six studio albums are released at the end of October as a mid-priced box set.
Each of the six discs are housed in card sleeves depicting full album artwork, while each one also features bonus tracks as presented on the previous issues*.