Bob Geldof: 'People won't hear my album'

Bob Geldof The musician was awarded an honorary knighthood in 1986

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Mercurial and outspoken, but always warm-hearted, Bob Geldof is one of the most recognisable rogues of the music scene.

But the man once dubbed "pop's own Nelson Mandela" is probably better known for his efforts to feed the world than songs like I Don't Like Mondays and Rat Trap.

A long hiatus from the recording studio hasn't helped. He spent the last 10 years raising his children and campaigning for debt relief, but finally found time to put together a new record.

How To Compose Popular Songs That Will Sell - inspired by a love of blues, Led Zeppelin and Captain Beefheart - was released last month to positive reviews. But Geldof says he doesn't think the public are interested.

The man born Robert Frederick Zenon Geldof spoke to Matt Everitt, for an edition of BBC 6 Music's First Time programme, which will be broadcast this weekend.

When did you first become aware of music?

I was five or six years old, in Cork, one summer morning in a big room. I remember the smell of dust. Somebody put on an Elvis EP, and I particularly remember Teddy Bear and Don't Be Cruel.

Did it have a massive impact on you straight away?

It did, but my sisters were complete Cliff and the Shadows nuts. They shared a bedroom, and they had Cliff and the Shadows everywhere, all over the walls and ceiling. I thought he was a bit girly, but if you turned over to the B-sides, they were fairly hardcore. I really mean that. The guitar-playing was the first time I heard what we would now call rhythm and blues, and I liked that.

Was it just rock and roll, or did you seek out other music?

I was interested in the blues, because Mick [Jagger] and Keith [Richards] used to say, "forget about us, go and listen to Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf". So I dutifully went to the record shop and said "have you heard of these people?" That someone could be called Howlin' Wolf. Wow.

The Boomtown Rats Geldof rose to fame with proto-punk pioneers The Boomtown Rats

I listened to that music and I adored its primitivism. I joined the Irish Blues Appreciation Society. I was member 11. Out of 13.

You draw on lots of musical styles on your new record. Does that mean you've fallen out of love with rock?

We believed rock and roll would last forever. Now I don't think it will. I think the diffuse nature of the medium means pop culture has won. We are pop culture. It's harder to identify the new and art has lost its ability to shock. Music is also trying too hard - there's a massive amount of stuff to reference, so why shouldn't I?

Why did you call the record How To Write Popular Songs That Will Sell?

Well, it was originally called 58 1/2 because that was my age when I did the record. But then I was in my mate's place and he had this 1930s book that was called How To Write Popular Songs That Will Sell. The guy who wrote it, Leslie A Shepherd, has these various admonitions like "only use the key of G for dancing, uplifting music". It's a fantastic book, so I just took a picture of the cover and that's the album.

Is it important to you that people buy it?

I'd love it if they did. How does it live unless they hear it? It's the musical zen question: If you've written the greatest song in the history of rock and roll, and you put the guitar away, has it been written?

What are your expectations, realistically?

I'd love people to hear it, but I don't think people will. You've got all the baggage that comes with me: The Boomtown Rats, all the tabloid stuff... You've got to get through an awful lot of stuff, then put it aside and say, "well, I'll have a listen, I'll give him a go".

But bizarrely enough, people do buy my stuff, so I get to play great theatres all over the world. Except in the UK, where they don't give a crap.

You could put up a poster with 'Tonight! Bob Geldof!' on it, and people would see it and say, "OK, fair enough…" then wander off saying, "Doing what? Is he gonna rant at us about Africa?"

Sir Bob Geldof Geldof crossed swords with Margaret Thatcher over VAT revenues

What do you remember about organising the Band Aid single?

It was instant. I don't think there was a band who was difficult. But without Midge Ure it wouldn't have happened. He sent me over the keyboard riff, which I thought sounded like Z Cars, and I had a song that the Rats had rejected, which went "it's my world, there's no need to be afraid". I dashed out the new words in a cab... and then went up to Midge's.

I hadn't quite defined my part of the tune, and I kind of shambled through it and Midge just said, "leave it to me". The next day, we sat opposite each other and worked out the "feed the world" part. I then started calling round and organising the studio and that was it.

It was that easy? No-one held out?

Paul McGuinness was a bit iffy about U2. They were a happening band, but they hadn't quite crested yet - and they weren't sure whether this was good or naff. But when push came to shove, they saw everyone who was involved, and they said ok. Then Bono nailed it with that vocal.

Did you know the band from Dublin? You must have been gigging around the same time.

I went to see them [at the start of their career] and I just didn't get it. I know he [Bono] says, "we were punk rock". No. You weren't.

They used to wear these sub-Bowie raincoat things with improbable hair, and they use to enter talent competitions, like Limerick X Factor. They won that... but they went for everything.

You can hear the full interview with Bob Geldof on The First Time With Matt Everitt this Sunday, 27 March. Tune in to BBC 6 Music at midday, or listen later on the BBC iPlayer.

How To Compose Popular Songs That Will Sell is out now on Mercury Records.

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