I asked The Boomtown Rats guitarist Garry Roberts if he would like to do an interview with me for the website with questions submitted from fans. Garry kindly agreed and here are the questions and answers.
Firstly a couple of questions submitted by Darren [the other guitarist with The Rats...]
Darren: What's your favourite plumbing connection?
Garry: One that doesn't leak.
Darren: What's your favourite out of the following mammals, The Badger or the Duck Billed Platypus?
Garry: It has to be the Duck-Billed Platypus, which is essentially a beaver with a beak.
Chris: How did The Boomtown Rats come about?
Garry: Johnnie and I had been playing piano and guitar together for a year or so and decided in 1974 to try and get a band together. I had been in a band at school with Simon, who was our drummer. Johnnie and I both knew Gerry Cott, who was living near us, and Johnnie's cousin, Paddy Cusack, whom we re-named Pete Briquette as a homage to his agricultural origins, was studying Architectural Technology with both of them. He had taken jazz guitar lessons which led us to think he might know something about playing an instrument. As he was the smallest of us, we thought it would be amusing if he was the bass player.
I had been hanging around with Geldof, and I thought he would make a good manager for the band, so I got the others to agree to him attending one of our rehearsals. At the rehearsal Bob produced a harmonica and played along to a Dr. Feelgood song we had learned. I suddenly saw a way out of having to be the lead singer, as I wasn't keen on playing guitar and singing at the same time, so I suggested that Bob should be the singer. The rest of the BTR story is history.
Chris: How did The Rats come about?
Garry: The Rats, which is what Simon and I are calling this band, came into being as a result of my selling my first Ampeg amplifier, a B-25B, on eBay last year. A bidder asked if he could contact me, as he had an idea he thought might interest me. The bidder turned out to be Peter Barton and his enthusiasm for the idea of getting Simon and me playing together again rubbed off on us.
I decided to listen to the Boomtown Rats albums, after having put all of that behind me since the BTRs broke up, and discovered that I really liked a lot of the songs. I hadn't played the first album since we finished it and it sounded almost as if it had been recorded by someone else. However, I realised that Simon and I had made a huge contribution to that record - as we did to all of the BTRs material, and we were entitled to be proud of it. We found that our favourite songs were mainly from the first three albums and decided to put them together as a set.
We spoke to Gerry and Johnnie about it to get their feelings and they both gave us their blessing and even suggested that we should go out as "Boomtown Rats".
I felt that the best way to perform the songs was with a basic, two guitars, bass, drums and vocals line-up, in line with the "less is more" theory, and Simon agreed. I then approached Darren, whom I have known since he was in his baby-bouncer, and persuaded him to join us. He is one of the very few people I know who were born to play the guitar. We can now play the songs the way I always felt they should be performed.
Chris: How did you know Darren?
Garry: Darren lives near me, and his dad, Dave Beale - who was guitar player in the Steve Gibbons Band, had played with me in The Fab Four a couple of times, so I first met Darren when he was a small nipper. I suspect he was born into a guitar case.
Chris: The band members live a considerable distance apart - from Devon to Lancashire, has that given problems in organising rehearsals?
Garry: We are all able to practise on our own, and Darren and I can get together easily enough if we want to work on the guitar parts. When we have a full band rehearsal, there is a bit of travelling involved but we enjoy it, so it doesn't feel like a problem.
Chris: Where do you rehearse?
Garry: We can rehearse in Clitheroe, Bromyard and/or Landscove, and we have rehearsed in all of these places, in various pub back rooms and village halls.
Chris: Was it easy to remember how to play the Boomtown Rats songs after a break of so many years?
Garry: Some of the songs, like Looking After Number One and Close as You'll Ever Be, were not too hard to remember but there were others, like I Can Make It, that I had to learn again as I don't think I had played it since the first album was recorded.
Darren on the other hand, had to learn all the songs from scratch. We also had to re-arrange all the songs that had prominent keyboard and/or saxophone parts so we could do them justice with the two guitars, bass and drums line-up. From the comments we received after the try-out gigs last Autumn, it looks like we succeeded. The only reason we had a keyboard in the first place was that Johnnie didn't play the guitar.
Chris: Will Johnnie Fingers and/or Gerry Cott ever be joining you?
Garry: Johnnie and Gerry have both said they would like to play with us. Whether that would mean appearing occasionally as a special guest or becoming a permanent member of the band hasn't been discussed as yet.
Chris: How did you decide which songs to play live?
Garry: Simon and I just decided what our favourite Rats' songs are. We do a couple of Dr Feelgood songs at the moment as a tribute to that band's influence on us when we started up in Dublin.
Chris: What are the opening chords to Close As You'll Ever Be?
Garry: Bmaj........, Dmaj Amaj Bmaj. The fourth chord is Emaj.
Chris: Tell us about your guitar and the equipment you use to get your sound?
Garry: I have a guitar which I made myself from a piece of ash Simon gave me which came from a tree that was blown down in Kent in "Michael Fish's Hurricane" in 1987. It is essentially a Les Paul Junior copy with Gibson hardware and Seymour Duncan JB and Jazz pickups.
My other guitar is a Gretsch Silver Jet with TV Jones Power-Tron pickups. I bought it after I discovered that Malcolm Young and Billy Gibbons use Gretsch guitars with very similar construction. I remember seeing Phil Manzanera from Roxy Music playing one.
I have two Ampeg amplifiers, an 18-watt Reverbojet J-12R and a 60-watt VT-40. I use two distortion pedals - an old DOD 250 overdrive pre-amp and a Fulltone Full-Drive 2 and a Boss ME-30 which I use mainly for delay. I have made a true bypass footswitch for the ME-30.
Chris: Is this the same set-up as you used in the Boomtown Rats?
Garry: The first amp I used with The Boomtown Rats was an Ampeg B-25B, which is a 50-watt bass amplifier which sounds great with a guitar. I fell in love with the Ampeg sound through that amp, which is the one used for most of the guitar parts on the first album. On the first three albums I used the B-25B and an Ampeg V-4 100-watt head with two 4x12 cabs. I experimented with various other bits of gear, such as a Roland JC-120. The Roland had a nice full sound and was almost like a valve amp if you used a compressor.
Chris: I really like the guitar sound you used on 'Talking in Code' on the 'On a Night Like This' live Video/DVD. My fave ever guitar sound. The song sounded better than on the record. Any idea how you got that sound - cos I'd like to try and recreate it if possible?
Garry: Thank you. I think I used an Ibanez Strat copy, with Bill Lawrence pickups, through a Boss Compressor, a Boss SD1 distortion, a Boss Flanger and a Roland Digital Delay, set at 220ms, into a Roland JC-120 amplifier. The amp had a clean sound and that famous stereo chorus. Good luck!
Chris: Would you consider building guitars for other people?
Garry: That would depend, obviously, on how much money I was offered and whether they had beards [Garry likes ZZ Top].
Chris: Have you got any old recordings of Boomtown Rats demo's or songs that have never been released?
Garry: I probably have a few old bits of tape in cardboard boxes in the attic.
Chris: What are your fondest memories of The Boomtown Rats?
Garry: Most of them involve possible motoring offences on the route between Los Angeles and Vancouver in the days of my irresponsible youth and other stuff which is best forgotten. Blowing Tom Petty off the stage when we supported him on our first UK tour was pretty good.
Chris: You have had motorbike accidents in the past, did this ever cause you to miss any gigs with the Boomtown Rats?
Garry: I missed one gig - a festival in Holland - while I spent ten weeks in St Bartholemew's Hospital as a result of my Ducati chucking me head-first into a rock in Leicestershire 1984.
Chris: What are your memories of playing Live Aid?
Garry: It was a privilege to play at Live Aid and hats off to Geldof for bullying everyone until it all came together. You could feel the sense of purpose shared by everyone - audience as much as the performers - on that day, and it was an amazing feeling.
Chris: How and why did the Boomtown Rats Split in 1986?
Garry: I am still trying to work that one out. I have my own ideas about it and perhaps I'll put them in my autobiography, if I ever get to write it.
Chris: In recent times, The Boomtown Rats were back in the charts with the 'Best Of' CD, and all 6 of the re-released albums were very high in the Amazon sales charts. Did this success take you by surprise?
Chris: When was the last time you met Bob Geldof and Pete Briquette and how were things between you?
Garry: The last time I met Bob and Pete was on 19th March 2003, at the funeral of Mick Owen, who was The Boomtown Rats' tour manager for most of the band's career. "Things" between us were friendly enough.
Chris: Have you sorted out the issue over royalties?
Garry: Maybe we have, and maybe we haven't. That's all I'm going to say on that one.
Chris: Lots of people sent emails to the website asking if you will be touring in the USA, and if so then when?
Garry: We would love to play in the US again. If it is possible, we could be there. We are working on it.
Thank you all for your questions, and I hope you will all come and see us on our Jan/Feb dates. Rat on!
Click here to see where and when The Rats are appearing on tour