Sir Bob Geldof at 60Simon Mills
19 Sep 2011
We're supposed to do our interview at 4.30pm but the message comes through that Bob Geldof, currently on tour promoting his new album, How to Compose Popular Songs That Will Sell, wants to reschedule for 3.30pm.
This isn't so good for me, so I try to bargain with the world's most dogged and recalcitrant negotiator - the man who wouldn't take "no" for answer from Bush or Thatcher, remember? - but there's not much point. How about four? I offer, generously, meeting him halfway. "No use," says Geldof, flatly, "I'll already be fast a-fucking sleep by four."
What's going on here? Has the tireless curmudgeon, inveterate contrarian and motor-mouthing Chelsea boulevardier succumbed to the restorative notion of the little lie down?
"I'm on tour. I need to have a power nap," Geldof deadpans. "It's all part of the new metrosexual me, I guess." Metrosexual? Geldof? As if.
The way Geldof approaches a publicity campaign is, I'm pleased to report, reliably 20th century. Just a bit of tarting himself around "on pretty much every any TV show that moves to sell tickets", doing the odd newspaper interview and then getting on stage to play the new songs live.
Predictably, heroically in fact, he doesn't have much time for electronic media or social networking. Yes, there is an official bobgeldof.com website (run by some devoted old Boomtown Rats fans) but he's only seen it once. There's a Facebook page which he claims never to have looked at.
"And a Twitter thing, of course," he says, sounding contemptuous. "A couple of months ago someone told me that I'd 'trended' for three or four seconds. I didn't know what the fuck they were on about."
Geldof's children, his political activity, the famine in Somalia and his business interests (the recent Sunday Times Rich list estimated Geldof's worth at �32million) are all off limits for conversation today because, he says, "talking about that stuff would be inappropriate".
But given half a chance, even with his big comfy hotel bed beckoning, he'll rail against anything.
How about the cultural flimsiness of the music download? "By their nature, downloads are ephemeral. And that inbuilt disposability, rather than being a vital part of what we are, has changed everything about music." Or a moan about the "absolute abomination" that is the recently refurbished Picasso Caf� on King's Road, once an almost daily hangout for him? "That place used to be my office. I'd sit outside nursing a coffee with all the other dreadful Chelsea rou�s, complaining about house prices and lusting after the girls coming out of the Storm model agency."
Dismay for the lack of an articulate, youthful voice in the modern stuff he listens to? "Rock 'n' roll needs a context in order for it to exist it needs to be against something. Where is that sensibility of the young turk who encounters the world for the first time, finds the world entirely indifferent and looks at it from an entirely different perspective? I listen to a lot of music and I don't hear it. And I miss it."
Rather good to know, isn't it, that just 50 minutes spent with a tired, old, duvet-desiring Geldof remains infinitely more thought-provoking, contrapuntal and entertaining than a whole weekend with Will Young or the guys from JLS.
Getting older - he'll be 60 on October 5 - has proved to be guiltlessly pleasurable for Geldof. As he gets closer to death, the original, grumpy old rock star, has finally found something to be happy about, to enthuse over even.
At 59, his personal rock 'n' roll context is more for than against these days. With proper gusto, he reckons that for him age "is better". He "doesn't give a bollocks" about hitting 60 (his age at the time of recording the album, 58 ½, features prominently on the album cover artwork) and feels more content in what he calls his "dotage" than in pretty much any period of his life.
This idea of a softer, more loveable slightly less sweary and less intimidating Geldof may be a surprise but not to Sir Bob himself.
"Why do you say that," he asks, sounding quite intimidating. "Do you really think that about me? That I'm intimidating? Maybe it's inside your head more than anything. People say I am intimidating and I just don't get that," he says. "I am never rude to people, I don't think."
Certainly the idea of being happy, he believed until a few months ago, "was probably a blinding revelation meant only for B Geldof Esquire."
"Then I read one of those surveys which had found that a huge percentage of people were discovering that they were happier in their fifties and happiest of all in their eighties," he says. "By my sort of age, I guess, the emotional storms and wars should have passed, the economic turbulence should have balanced out. There's a bit of money in the bank, the kids are out of the house and on their way and you feel good about doing your thing with them."
Suddenly, his mood darkens and the words flow more slowly. "In my case, however, getting to this point was more to do with the fact that I ... almost didn't make it ..." Meaning? "Meaning that I was very close to a complete collapse."
Geldof is referring to the mid-Nineties when his wife, TV presenter and columnist Paula Yates, left him for now deceased INXS singer Michael Hutchence. It left the man famous for fronting Irish punk band The Boomtown Rats and masterminding the Band Aid and Live Aid concerts sinking into a deep depression that lasted until he met French actress Jeanne Marine over dinner in Paris.
Geldof becomes almost Proustian when reliving this magic moment.
"Here was this ruined human being, utterly unattractive in every sense, totally riven ... and for whatever reason, this beautiful woman decided that she quite likes this man and decides she is going to love him.
"When that happens to this sunken soul, the only thing it can eventually do is respond and reciprocate and gradually something vaguely resembling a human being emerges again."
Yates died of a heroin overdose in 2000, leaving behind their three children Fifi, Peaches and Pixie. But the darkness and heartbreak she left was, at least, Geldof concedes, creatively productive. "When your soul is racked and you are raw, stuff will spill out in a quite uninhibited way," he says.
Indeed. One track on How to Compose Popular Songs..., the hauntingly spare and Dylanesque Dazzled By You, is a stand-out, mainly because it is so brutally personal and honest, the lyrics painfully recalling the most bleak, despondent and wretched period in his life but also shamelessly celebrating the incandescence of Marine, the woman who saved him: "In abandoned empty rooms, lying naked in my ruin, I was dazzled by you, I was whipped and I was raw see, I have barely survived, saw no point in being alive and with the cold and bitter venom, I hated each and every woman In the midst of my despair, I was coming up for air with your soft and tender touch, you gently picked me up I was dazzled by you."
He smiles. "It turns out, to my dismay, that the ruined person gets stitched back together. And that in itself is celebratory and just as revealing in another way. With this record, I discovered something about the human condition that every 19-year-old idealist already knows: that life without the presence of love is simply absurd.
"That said," he decides, reeling in the sentimentality, "it's not as if I am leaping over hedgerows and clapping wildly.
"I guess it's more a hubristic thing for me," he surmises. "I'm with a fantastic woman, I am enjoying my music and enjoying life and subconsciously my mind set is saying to me, 'Hey, relax for 10 minutes, take it easy'... So I relax. Then after 10 minutes, I'm completely fucking bored again."
Bob Geldof plays live at the Cadogan Hall, SW1, tomorrow (020 7730 4500, cadoganhall.com).