Father Lodge by Bob Geldof

7th March 2014 at 00:00
The singer-songwriter and campaigner had a troubled education. But when a priest introduced him to Milton, breathing life into those magical words, he was bewitched - and a musical career followed

I didn't get anything out of school. I got no qualifications. I didn't pass the Irish version of the 11-plus and got nothing in the O-level or A-level equivalents. I don't say that with any pride or shame; it just didn't interest me.

I was a pain in the arse, but I was a low-grade pain in the arse, you know? I did irritating things, things to amuse myself. Blackrock College existed largely to feed the Irish rugby team, and I refused to play. "Fuck off, I'm not cooperating" was my attitude. That annoyed them. But when I was busy not playing rugby, I borrowed another kid's guitar. So, by default, I learned guitar through school.

The dean would regularly beat us, but I think the teachers saw it was pointless because the students refused to let beatings change their behaviour. That wasn't a macho thing - beatings were just a given, part of school life. They didn't feel odd.

The teachers were nearly always clerics and the one thing, perhaps the only thing that I got from school was poetry. I had three teachers in a row, three teachers over three years who could read poetry brilliantly. We had to learn poems by rote, which I'm so glad about now. The lines we memorised pop into my head throughout my life: " 'Tis now the very witching time of nightWhen churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes outContagion to this world."

Hamlet, but I didn't know that back then. I just listened and enjoyed listening. It was all about the way it was read - it struck me. So, yes, there were three priests all with this ability to read to us wonderfully well and the best, perhaps, was a guy named Father Lodge.

I remember the moment I realised Father Lodge was a great teacher of poetry. He was reading Paradise Lost by Milton. This was during a time when rock and roll was vastly experimental with words. I'm talking about Bob Dylan, in particular. Paradise Lost was on the curriculum at the same time as A Whiter Shade of Pale by Procol Harum was on the radio: "We skipped the light fandangoturned cartwheels 'cross the floorI was feeling kinda seasick."

Here was Paradise Lost being read to me inside school at the same time as I was listening to those guys outside. It blew me away. They conjured the same emotions. Exactly the same emotions. I remember hearing Paradise Lost for the first time, vividly. I wasn't paying attention, again. I just closed my eyes and listened. That night I wrote a seven-page essay on the opening 11 lines of the poem. It gripped me like music gripped me.

When I first heard Wordsworth's Upon Westminster Bridge - "Dear God! the very houses seem asleepAnd all that mighty heart is lying still!" - I couldn't see the difference between Wordsworth stumbling home in that poem and the boy and girl Ray Davies sang about on Waterloo Bridge in Waterloo Sunset. There was a correlation there.

And there's a direct link, too, between the poetry teaching I had and my move into music. My lyric writing was absolutely part and parcel of what I learned in those English classes. Those school years, in hindsight, made it possible for me to grope my way towards music.

Bob Geldof is a founding partner of Groupcall, created to improve general and emergency communication between schools and parents. He was speaking to Tom Cullen

A raised voice

Bob Geldof

Born 5 October 1951, Dublin, Republic of Ireland

Education Blackrock College, Dublin

Career Singer with the Boomtown Rats; anti-poverty campaigner; driving force behind Band Aid single Do They Know It's Christmas and the Live Aid and Live 8 concerts

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