Monday, February 07, 2005
by James Ellis, February 7th, 2005
Famous for wearing his pyjamas on stage, Johnnie Fingers was keyboard player in Irish rock band, The Boomtown Rats. Formed in 1975 the Rats - whose lead singer was Sir Bob Geldof - were together for a decade. After they disbanded Fingers moved to Japan where he works as a DJ and A&R for a dance label. All six Rats albums are re-released on Monday.
Does listening to old Boomtown Rats albums bring back good or bad memories?
I haven't heard any of them for years. I have no idea, but a friend of mine who works for Universal sent me a DVD of Live Aid. It was quite fun, actually. I was surprised. It sounded quite good.
Despite your commercial success, the Rats seemed to be critically underrated. Would you agree with that analysis?
Never thought about it. Didn't care. I think, as a live band, we were the best that was around because we had a lot more experience than the new age punk bands. Most of them had only played three or four gigs - ten at the max. But we'd actually played for about a year and a half before, or something like 150 gigs, and so we were very full on.
You were incredibly tight for a band at that time and very good at playing your instruments.
Yeah. Because we were very energetic, people used to say: 'Take a load of speed and go see the Rats.' I remember our sound guy saying: 'A lot of people at the back are on speed.'
What was the drug de jour for the band at the time?
We used to smoke dope, like everyone else. I wasn't a drinker really.
So you guys were really laid back at the front while they were all speeding at the back?
We thought we were laid back.
What was your best memory of life in the band?
I have loads of different memories. The most obvious are of myself and Bob touring America together, doing promotional trips. The rest is a blur - touring, playing live, recording. We had a funny, strange lifestyle - doing a 30-day promotional trip across the States or two weeks across Europe.
Why was it just you and Bob doing those promotional trips across America? Did the rest of the band not fancy coming along?
Because Bob is very good at interviews, and I was the visual look of the band, it was the obvious thing to do. You can't bring the whole band out on a promotional trip.
Some of the themes - the loneliness of being in a big city as described in Rat Trap - may have been similar to the London punk themes.
Maybe lyrically, yes, but musically, no. It was quite different.
You were famous for wearing your pyjamas. How did that visual look come about? It came about because I wanted to be recognised more than anything and a band that was very visual had the same kind of kink like Boy George had when he appeared on the scene.
Did you ever feel left out of the London scene when you first moved over from Ireland?
We weren't part of the London scene at all. We came over when the punk thing had just hit big and we were in this kind of hippy house in Surrey. It was owned by Virgin Records, although we didn't sign with them. Henry VIII had built it for his mistresses and it was a strange place. Living there we felt quite separate from the rest of London. The first band we went on tour with was the Ramones, who didn't feel part of the London scene either. In fact they quite hated it.
Whose idea was it to rip up the poster of Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta on Top Of The Pops?
Mine. I think I put a hanger on my head on the next programme and people used to come to the gigs with hangers on their heads thinking that was quite relevant and important.
Do you still see any other members of the band?
When I go over for business in London I will probably go and see Gerry [Cott, Rats guitarist].
Is Bob the saint he's made out to be?
Certainly not. I don't think anyone believes that for a minute.
What do you think about him getting a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Brits this year?
Good for him.
How much money would they have to throw at the Rats to get them back on tour again?
It wouldn't be to do with money really. It sounds like a cliché but it's to do with whether we'd all like to play together again. It would have to be the right moment and everyone would feel right about it.
Could you see it happening at all or is it a definite no-no?
I don't think it's a definite no-no.
Would you get the pyjamas back out if you did do the tour?
That's where the money would come in. I often think when I see bands like The Beach Boys and they don't wear those stripy shirts that I feel ripped off.
at 1:54 pm