Republica (special guests):
Saffron Sprackling (vocals)
Tim Dorney (keyboards)
Jonny Glue (guitar)
Conor Lawrence (drums)
There has been something of a plethora of bands who achieved varying levels of success, fame and acclaim during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, reforming and then hitting the gigging circuit, spreading their own measures of nostalgic fairy dust along the way. Some have done it better than others, and maybe some should have just left things as they were and remembered the good times. And then there are others who do it, you don’t think it will amount to much and then wham!!! Yes, you’re on your backside, your head is head spinning and you’re feeling totally wowed.
That pretty much sums up the entire evening of Monday 3rd November 2014, when seminal naughy-step 1970’s New Wave schoolboys, The Boomtown Rats, still fronted by yer actual Sir Bob Geldof (he of Band Aid/Live Aid fame), brought their own particular brand of post-punk anarchy to The Junction music venue in Cambridge, with special guests, the irresistably alternative electronic rock band Republica, getting things very ably warmed up for the headline act.
Whilst being seen by many as a “re-formed 1990’s band”, it’s fair to say that Republica were not a band that really split up. They enjoyed a run of top twenty singles between 1996 and 1999, including the ever-green “Drop Dead Gorgeous” and the seminal indie electro-rock anthem “Ready To Go”, as well as positive press reactions at the time. With only two albums under their belts, Republica went into hiatus after the label they were signed to went out of business in 2001. Fortunately for the rest of us, they restarted the machinery in 2008 with an appearance at a Contra Mundum concert in Windsor, with pictures of the band “in the studio” appearing on their official Facebook page in 2010. Their first release in fifteen years came in 2013 with the E.P. “Christina Obey”. Taking to the stage at The Junction on this night were Saffron (lead vocals), Tim Dorney (keyboards), Jonny Glue on guitar and Conor Lawrence on drums. From the opening notes of “From Rush Hour With Love”, Republica enthralled and entertained, performing the songs that cemented their original ascendency to fame alongside newer tracks such as “Hallelujah”, “German Accent” and the fabulous “Christina Obey”. Every track gelled and oozed the Republica sound which both sounded and felt as fresh today as it did 15 or more years ago, bursting with their signature techno-rock sound. Saffron, looking better than ever, was as effervescent and energetic as she ever was, playing to the crowd beautifully and taking no prisoners as she belted out the anthemic Republica songs with the right sort of gusto and controlled aggression that the Cambridge seemed to want. Republica have mastered the three most important elements of a great gig – style, presentation and performance, so basically, this is a band you have to see live.
The Boomtown Rats enjoyed a string of top twenty singles between 1977 and 1980 including two number ones with “Rat Trap” and the controversially brilliant “I Don’t Like Mondays”, as well as silver (“The Boomtown Rats” and “The Fine Art of Surfacing”), gold (“Mondo Bongo”) and platinum (“A Tonic For The Troops”) albums. The chart achievements of The Rats has been somewhat eclipsed by the astoundingly relentless charity work of lead singer Bob Geldof, who co-wrote “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” with Ultravox’s Midge Ure and was the driving force behind the historic global charity concert “Live Aid”. And of course, he had the lead role in the film version of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”.
Anyway, the concert tonight saw the Rats line up consisting of original members Bob Geldof (lead vocals), Pete Briquette (bass), Simon Crowe (drums) and Garry Roberts (guitar), as well as two tour recruits on guitar and keyboards. The set started with a video sequence on a big graphics display at the back of the stage, showing re-worked album covers, members of the band, the Rats’ logo and even at one point a rat being shot (many gasps in the audience for that one!!!), before the gathered throng raised the roof as the band came on stage, kicking things off with “(I Never Loved) Eva Braun”. The hits poured out of the P.A. system at break-neck speed, with Bob Geldof up there being, not acting, just being, the definitive front man. Whatever your thoughts or views about Bob, whether you love him or loathe him, none of that matters one wit when he’s on that stage in front of you – his stage presence is quite simply massive. He struts back and forth across the front of the stage like a defiant punk peacock, resplendent in a “fake snakeskin suit”, wild hair and, to quote Tim Dorney of Republica (I’m such a name dropper!!!), throwing out some interesting shapes with his gestures and poses. The close-to- sell-out crowd could just not get enough. At 63 years of age, it’s a safe bet to say that he’s still got it. An hour and a half of classic Rats tunes and anthems followed covering the hits such as “Rat Trap”, “Like Clockwork”, “She’s So Modern”, “Mary of the Fourth Form”, “Looking After Number One”, “Someone’s Looking At You”, “Banana Republic” and of course, the legendary “I don’t Like Mondays” which saw Bob starting something of a sing-a-long, which we of course all joined in with because you don’t not sing-a-long-a-Bob!!! Every song was performed in the way in which it was originally written, they were performed with precision and prowess and certainly to my total surprise (a pleasant one I must add), sounding as fresh today as they sounded back in the post-punk/New Wave era of the late 1970’s. Between songs, Bob raconteured and interacted with the crowd, telling a whole manner of stories, including the reasons for the “fake snakeskin suit” – entertaining, funny and totally Bob.
So far it’s all been about Bob, but mention has to be made of the other band members who put in an equally full on performance. You couldn’t help but see that these guys were enjoying every minute of this gig, they played each others’ instruments, dived about the stage and threw those interesting shapes with exacting gusto. And you have to keep in mind that these guys are all hitting 60 years of age – I’ve seen bands with average ages only a third of that who couldn’t give and perform as the Rats did tonight. And that graphics back drop really set the scene for each song, adding quirky cartoon graphics, video clips et al – all said and done, it could be whispered that we had too much to look at, but I’m not the complaining sort.
The set ended with “Rat Trap” which sent the crowd into overdrive which saw Bob and the Rats return for a three-song encore comprising “Me and Howard Hughes” (a curious choice, but boy did it work!!!), “Diamond Smiles” and a new mega-clubby/techno-ish track called “The Boomtown Rats” which brought the roof down.
In short, the Boomtown Rats are a must-see act, end of story – if they’re playing their brand of original old-skool, high-octane New Wave near you – go, you’ll be very glad you did. It’s fair to say that a lot of the new, younger bands around on the gigging circuit at this time would do well to see the Rats do their thing because they have those all-important three elements of what constitutes a great show that I mentioned earlier – style, presentation and performance.