Is That It? by Bob Geldof - review by Val Hennessy

Val Hennessy

No Flies on Bob

Is That It?


Sidgwick and Jackson 352pp £10.90 order from our bookshop

I had the privilege of meeting Bob Geldof in 1983 when he was simply a Boomtown Rat and I had seen his star in the South East and had come to worship him. A newspaper had set up my visit to the Geldof household where the dazzling Paula Yates shoved a microwaved corn-cob (Geldofgrown) and a potato-in-its-skin under my nose and the effervescent Bob said ‘You’re focking welcome to stay the night’. I was entranced. He was so un-starlike. Love, of a Chernobyl intensity, radiated between Bob and Paula. When each walked the other’s way a thousand lead guitars began to play. In the morning I was woken by Bob’s Jacob sheep bleating outside his mullioned windows and by Bob himself, like Albert Schweitzer on amphetamine, crashing in with a cup of tea and perching on the end of the spare bed in his shortie dressing-gown to rage about injustice, bureaucracy, Apartheid, Mrs Thatcher and the ‘focking slime’ who write nasty items about Bob and Paula in Melody Maker. I hung onto his every word. No flies on Bob. Later he cooked me some toast and threw the telephone across the kitchen.

Who could predict that 12 months later this anarchic Irishman would rally rock performers worldwide and inspire billions to raise millions for the starving people of Africa, that he would plead personally with world leaders for food and funds, and that he would tell Mrs Thatcher to pull her finger out with regard to the EEC butter mountain? A big hand for Bob! – Give him a life peerage! Give him the respect that is his due. And give his action-packed autobiography a go because it is the irresistible, breath- taking, spell-binding stuff of legend-in-the-making.

‘Parents and some other readers may find parts of this book offensive’ the publishers warn us on the book’s dust jacket. This must be a reference to page 248 on which the death agony of a starving Ethiopian boy is described. There is, of course, nothing more offensive or more obscene than skeletal human-beings, their eyes clotted with blowflies, voiding blood and intestinal tissue while we in the West guzzle on regardless … However, easily offended readers will be relieved to learn that there are 247 pages to enjoy before they reach Ethiopia. We read about Bob’s dismal Dublin boyhood, his cantankerous ‘Da’, the traumatic early death of his mum, and the manner in which he met his Magdalen at the age of 13 in the shape of ‘Mrs Armstrong down the road’ who pushed his jeans down to his ankles and told him, afterwards, that he was a ‘good boy’. There follow Bob’s battle with authority, his beatings, his masturbation neuroses, his habit of pinching money from slot meters, his way of smoothing his hair down with (shoplifted) Dippety-Do hair gel, and then, the turning point, his discovery of the Rolling Stones: ‘Suddenly my big mouth was acceptable. Suddenly my scruffiness became something to be emulated. The Stones looked and sounded like they were saying ‘Fuck you’ to everything. They were my boys.’

For Bob there was no turning back. One suspects that he has been saying ‘Fuck You’ to everything and everyone (apart from Prince Charles, Mother Teresa and the starving Ethiopians) ever since. Bully for Bob! And like all self-respecting, aspiring rock stars he soon went to London, with his heart full of hope and his hair full of Dippety-Do, to squat in Tufnell Park.

Here he got into flared trousers, girls’ sleeping bags, a Zappata moustache, flower-power, dope, LSD, anarchy, hitchhiked round Spain and Canada, got into rock journalism, got the clap, returned to Dublin and formed the Boomtown Rats. Wowee! Pow! Zap! Bob hit the big time. You couldn’t see him for groupies. As he wryly observes: ‘I had just become a pop star and the world – and its legs – had opened up for me’.

However, along came posh Paula with her platinum blond razor cut and her punkish slant on life, eager to keep Bob’s head screwed on while the Rats endured the death-defying hazards of gigging round the world. ‘Japan: I had food poisoning and was on an intravenous drip until 10 minutes before the gig… I came off half way through to be sick, went back on and collapsed afterwards’ and ‘Bombay: with regret and diarrhoea I left the sub-continent’. Daughter Fifi Trixibelle was born. Bob saw a TV news report about famine in Ethiopia. The rest – Bob forcing the world to recognise famine and creating his Band Aid organisation to relieve mass hunger – is history.

For me the autobiographical high-spots are Bob’s meeting with Mother Teresa (‘I do not normally kiss strangers on a first meeting but it seemed like the right thing to do… I found out later she only lets lepers kiss her’), his address to Strasbourg Euro MPs when he tells several of them to ‘Fuck off back to school’, and his conversation with the Prince and Princess of Wales in the Royal Box during the Live Aid concert at Wembley. Bob was wearing his jeans with the broken fly he’d been wearing for a week. The prince, incidentally, ‘tapped his brogues spasmodically and clapped his hands hopelessly out of time’.

Impetuous, manic, Messianic, some might say appalling, Bob Geldof is an unparalleled hero of our time. Yet he is a reluctant one. He insists that ‘this cult of personality is at worst infuriating and a burden and at best irritating’. It doesn’t bother him that he was snubbed on the honours list, although there are many who believe that by witholding Bob’s OBE Mrs Thatcher sacrificed the entire British youth vote. Certainly we Boomtown Rat’s fans will never swell the ranks of the young conservatives. Bob writes: ‘I have done as much as I am capable of doing. I will always try and avoid the cant and hypocrisy I loathe so much. I will continue to be an awkward bugger’. Suddenly, yes, his big mouth is acceptable. Like Mrs Armstrong down the road said, he is a good boy. Very good.

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