The First Time: Tim Martin – The Boomtown Rats Colston Hall, Bristol 28th June1978

By the summer of 1978 the sting had largely gone out of punk if the cool bits of the music press were to be believed. However, a bunch of 14-year-olds in the suburbs of Bristol hadn’t noticed. We weren’t cool enough to read the NME and bought our records in little local shops because the city centre was an expensive bus ride away.  Getting permission to go to a gig by a “punk band” was a big ask. Fortunately, as we knew someone whose cousin was the drummer in the Boomtown Rats the parental assumption was that they might be nicer than the average punks.

So off 3 of us went to our first ever show. There must have been a high percentage of first timers as the average age of the audience was probably no more than 16. Geldof’s slightly provocative lyrics gave the band an air of danger that probably only worked on those below that age. But it was the gig going experience we were there for. Frankly they could have sung the phone book and we would have been fine with it. The fact that we had been quietly disappointed by their second album ‘A Tonic for the Troops’ with its smoother production courtesy of “Mutt” Lange and poppier sound was offset by the hard hitting social commentary of ‘Rat Trap’. We were 14 remember.

If I’m honest memory of the actual show itself is fairly hazy. Geldof had the rock star moves with the mic stand and his voice wasn’t as good as the record, but the sound was more guitar heavy than the album, and everything was a bit rougher round the edges, which was just fine. When they got to ‘Lookin’ After No.1’ the audience joined in when commanded to by a held-out microphone. Listening back to a show recorded for Radio 1 from later in the year the band sound like well-rehearsed and competent pub rock band. At the time they were beyond thrilling. The guitarists were suitably laid back and Johnnie Fingers playing piano in his pyjamas was making a suitably rebellious statement so far as we were concerned.

Support on the night came from a band never heard of before or since called The Young Ones, according to a poster online. I have no memory of them whatsoever, but these were the days when it was cool to ignore the support band. Their sole single is a pleasant piece of power pop called ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio’. In fact, it has stood the test of time better than The Boomtown Rats. I’d love to say that it was a life changing transformative experience, but in the end, we wanted to get to a real concert and they happened along at the right moment. What it did do was embed the gig going experience firmly. Richard Wyatt’s brilliant guide to every gig staged in Bristol in the 1970s and 80s tells me tickets were £2.50 so I reckon that was pretty good value for a lifetime’s entertainment.

About Tim Martin 247 Articles
Sat in my shed listening to music, and writing about some of it. Occasionally allowed out to attend gigs.
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Mr John Finch

Very interesting. That was my first ever gig experience as well (aged 15). It would have been The Clash at Bristol Locarno, but myself and my friends were worried we wouldn’t get in, so by default we went to see Boomtown Rats instead. My impression of the gig was very much the same as Tim Martin’s, and the main thing I went away with afterwards was a sense that my life had just taken off in an unexpected new direction, and that live gigs were where it would be from then on. The novelty of the Rats soon wore off though, and my hesitancy in going to The Locarno had luckily also worn off by the time The Clash played again there later in the year.

Last edited 2 months ago by Mr John Finch