It was day two of Holywood Harmony Live festival and the weather gods were mercifully kind. On arrival, we got our quaver stamp on our hands, picked up our souvenir cup and made our way into one of the friendliest festival atmospheres I’ve ever experienced. This was my first time at Harmony Live and it’s a great set-up; small, intimate, good sized indoor space, outdoor seating, hot-dogs and beer – what’s not to love?
Derry band The Wood Burning Savages were up first. Having heard so much hype about these guys in recent months I was keen to see them for myself and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Frontman Paul Connolly is a powerful performer, I was just sorry that there wasn’t a bigger crowd there to see them, starting as they did at 6.30. Still, that didn’t deter them from giving it their all and the opening act of the night gave us a performance that could have been the headliner. Stand out tune for me was Lather, Rinse, Repeat.
Next up was the wonderfully weird concoction that is The Tragedy of Dr. Hannigan. Not just the two-piece of Tony Wright and Dean Stevens on this occasion, but an eight-strong ensemble of some of northern Ireland’s finest. An array of guitars, bass, banjo, drum kit, a pair of conga drums and Stephen McCartney on backing vocals with a shaker in one hand and a pint of Guinness in the other, all made for a huge sound. And Tony Wright is a compelling front man.
Looking the part in top hat, tails, shades and guyliner, he leapt around the stage like a man possessed. From his position on stage he could see those who were sunning themselves in the beer garden outside and he urged them to get their asses inside to enjoy Spooky Noodles. A set which included a few solo/VerseChorusVerse numbers, ended as it began with the stage full of musicians. The brilliant Hey Little Worried One went down a storm.
Just before the main attraction, there was one song from local musician Richard Gilpin, competition winner who was afforded the opportunity to perform on this pretty special stage. He performed a folky ballad Put Your Hand in Mine which seemed to go down rather well.
At last the crowning moment arrived when Dún Laoghaire’s finest burst onto the stage to the lively Close as You’ll Ever Be. Decked out in black denim jacket, studded jeans and full-on, gum-chewing punk attitude, Geldof struts around the stage with the air of a man who thinks he’s the world’s greatest rock star – and to be fair, he’s not far wrong. The crowd were eating out of his hand from the get-go and one ecstatically happy man in front of me bounced his little heart out to the “tick-tock, tick-tock” opening of Like Clockwork.
As they began Neon Heart, Sir Bob stripped off the jacket to reveal a sheer, striped black shirt beneath. Not many 66-year-olds could carry it off but there’s no denying he’s in great shape. His sexy harmonica solo intro to She’s Gonna Do You In is thrilling to hear live. Joey’s on the Street Again filled the marquee, and every song feels like it could be the last song of the night; with never waning energy the crowd clap and cheer and pogo en masse.
As 2018 is the 40th anniversary of the seminal A Tonic for the Troops album, most of its tracks were celebrated tonight; Me and Howard Hughes, Rat Trap, She’s So Modern, Like Clockwork – it’s an album full of treasures. Geldof himself told us that this was one of the greatest rock albums in history from one of the greatest rock bands in the world and he chanted, “We are the Boomtown Rats! We are mega! Holywood Harmony Festival, we are gonna get fucked up tonight!”
Someone’s Looking at You was dedicated to social media kingpins like Gates and Zuckerberg. Then Banana Republic, which is still as scathing an attack on church and state as I’ve ever heard. Regrettably, it’s still as pertinent today as when it was released some 37 years ago. After explaining that it was written at a time when civil war which dressed up in the somehow more palatable term, “The Troubles”, Bob acknowledged that while governments may still be corrupt, at least some change is possible, following last month’s landmark vote to repeal the 8th amendment.
Then the unmistakable, “Ga ga ga ga!”, signalled the start of my favourite Rats’ song, the properly punk She’s So Modern. I love this song, it’s such a feel-good number with so many opportunities for the fans to punch out their favourite lines, especially the exhilarating, “’cause it’s exciting for the veterans and, it’s a tonic for the troops!”
Backed by starburst lights in reds and blues, their best known song I Don’t Like Mondays then began with that distinctive cascading piano intro. In a world where school shootings are more prevalent than ever, the song still resonates, and it’s a moving experience to hear it live. Then the strangest thing happened; the longest pause within a song during a live performance that I have ever witnessed. For close to a minute there was no music, no vocals, nothing but the wildly cheering crowd, and Geldof just letting it wash over him. Spectacular.
With a scream, he then launched into Mary of the 4th Form. In live shows this is always something of a showpiece, transitioning into bits and pieces of other songs. A little bit of I Wanna be Your Lover Baby was thrown in there, a little bit of Radar Love, and the Belfast mantra, G.L.O.R.I.A! “You knocked on the wrong door!” the heroine of the song retorted. “My name is spelled M.A.R.Y!”
The pitch of the evening just seemed to rise and rise – there are no fillers in a Boomtown Rats gig. Slicking back his sweat soaked hair, Geldof gave us a stirring version of Rat Trap. At this point I was worn-out, how he can sustain this level of energy for an hour and a half, I don’t know. He’s a wonder.
Diamond Smile began the encore, then the dance track, The Boomtown Rats. I’m not a dubstep fan, (which is a term that I am reliably informed can describe this song), and this is certainly not my favourite tune, but it’s just so energetic that it works as a show finale and the people left the marquee buzzing! For a band that have been around for forty-three years, that’s some achievement.
The festival line-up this year is one of which Holywood deserves to be proud. Live music needs to be preserved and this place is certainly playing its part. After leaving the rugby grounds, we only had to walk a stone’s throw away in order to catch a DJ set from legend Terri Hooley and a gig from Tony Villiers and the Villains in two local pubs. I’ll be keeping an eye out in future for what’s happening in this lively little town. Photography by Michael Barbour.