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Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Thirtieth Anniversary of Live Aid Concert - July 13, 1985


The Day The Music Changed The World


It is thirty-years since two rock musicians, Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats, and Midge Ure of Ultravox, put on the greatest concert in history, Live Aid.

The media called it the day Rock ‘n’ Roll changed the world.  So how did the unforgettable day in the summer of 1985 come about? 

Do They Know It’s Christmas
In 1984, Bob Geldof saw Michael Buerk’s news report on the famine in Africa and was so moved by it that he decided to do something to help.  Geldof and and Midge Ure, both singer-songwriters, wrote ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ with ‘Feed The World’ on the B-side.  They enlisted their rock musician friends to record the song under the name of Band Aid, released it on December 7, 1984, and by Christmas it was the UK’s biggest selling single of all time, raising £8 million.
Geldof in Ethiopia

Geldof went to Ethiopia to oversee the distribution of aid and realised that if The Band Aid Organisation owned its own lorries, they could not only transport supplies directly to where they were most needed, they could do it more quickly.  This would cost money, and a lot of it.  It was then that he had the idea for the Live Aid concert. 

As Geldof and Ure had done when they recruited musician friends for the Band Aid single, they sat on the telephone (no mobiles or emails in those days) and telephoned everyone they knew.                                                                                                                                                                                                 
Geldof’s request was more like an order:  Be at Wembley Stadium in London, or JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, on July 10.  The response was huge and in just 10 weeks, the greatest live show on earth was put together. 

Rock stars took time out from recoding records, from their own concerts and tours.  Some came to London for the weekend, some the day, others could only stay for the duration of the concert.  David Bowie, Wham and Dire Straits were flown into Wembley Stadium by helicopter, while Phil Collins, after preforming two songs of his own and a duet with Sting, was flown out of the stadium by helicopter.  Crossing the Atlantic in Concorde, Collins arrived in Philadelphia in time to perform in the JFK stadium later that day.  


The Global Jukebox


The Global Jukebox Poster

Billed as ‘The Global Jukebox’ Live Aid was the biggest live rock event of the twentieth century.  In bright sunshine, the greatest show on earth began at midday with a fanfare for Prince Charles and Princess Diana, followed by Status Quo who opened the concert with ‘Rocking All Over The World.’  


Princess Diana and Prince Charles with Bob Geldof

Sixteen hours of live music was transmitted to 1.5 billion people in 160 countries in what was the biggest broadcast ever known.  As well as donation boxes in every high street bank and shop, call centres were set up to take donations by credit card.  The total amount of money raised, including a £1 million donation from the ruling family in Dubai that Bob Geldof personally took over the telephone, was over £110 million. 

The legendary day

Bands that had not played together for years like, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Crosby Stills and Nash, and Black Sabbath reunited for the day.  American R&B singer, Teddy Pendergrass, who had been paralysed for three years after a motorcar accident was determined to make it to Live Aid, and he did.

The amazing line-up of rock stars and bands was introduced by equally famous comedians, actors and presenters including, Billy Connolly, Jools Holland, Lenny Henry , John Hurt, Bette Midler and Jack Nicholson, to name but a few.  Bob Geldof did a seventeen-minute set with his band, The Boomtown Rats, after which he appeared at regular intervals calling for people to donate saying, “Don’t go down the pub tonight, donate your money to Live Aid instead.”  As the evening went on, his language became less polite.

For an event as big as Live Aid to work, there needed to be armies of back stage staff; producers, electrical and lighting technicians, designers, stage managers, assistants, costume designers,  dressers  and caterers.  Without them, and many more people working behind the scenes, there would not have been a Live Aid concert.  


My Live Aid Experience

I was lucky enough to be one of the 72,000 people packed into Wembley Stadium on that amazing day.  My ticket cost £25 (£20 was donation) and the programme £5. 
  


                                

          My programme and ticket. 





It was scorching on the field in the mid-day sun, getting hotter as the afternoon wore on, and only cooling when night fell.  My friends and I had a great view of the stage.  We stood in front, but to the right, of the portable sound and recording stand, benefitting from a regular hosing of cold water as lads sprayed the crowd to cool them down.  Close-ups of the musicians, the artists introducing them and those asking for donations, film footage showing the plight of the Ethiopian famine victims and later the concert in Philadelphia, were shown on giant screens on either side of the stage.    

Each band performed for seventeen minutes.  It wouldn’t be fair to say one was better than another, although Queen and the magnificent Freddie Mercury were my favourites.  The last artist to perform, before the entire ensemble gathered, was Paul McCartney at around eleven o’clock.  The audience were exhausted and emotional by then, so when McCartney’s microphone broke at the beginning of ‘Let it Be’ we, the audience, sang it for him until a replacement mic was found.  


Meeting Bob Geldof

I had promised my cousin’s children Live Aid T-shirts.  So, during film footage that I had seen before, I pushed my way through the crowds to the nearest exit, ran up the steps of the seated area, through the archway at the top and down into what they called the tunnel; a covered walkway that ran round the inside the stadium.  Having come out of bright sunshine, I stopped to let my eyes adjust to the darkness.  At the same time, a door opened and to my astonishment, Bob Geldof walked out of it.  He smiled at me and I almost fainted.  I said what a brilliant day it was, and thanked him for what he and Midge Ure were doing for the victims of the famine in Africa and he modestly shook his head and asked me if I was having a good time, if I was enjoying the concert?  I had just said, yes, when all hell broke loose.  Dozens of girls were running towards us.  Well, not us, but to Bob Geldof.  Several bodyguards, built like barn doors, intercepted the girls and a couple of other guards hurried Geldof away.  In the madness, I remember touching his arm and him smiling.  I was so excited I forgot all about the T-shirts and I made my way back to the field to tell my friends.  I had been back ten minutes when one friend asked where the T-shirts were.  I stood open mouthed.  I was so overwhelmed, so excited, that I had spoken to Bob Geldof that I completely forgot to tell my friends that I’d seen him.  Madness or what?



Above, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure in 1985 holding Ivor Novello Awards given to them for writing ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas.’  Below, 30 years after the original Band Aid song, during a press conference before the launch of, BANDAID30, in 2014. 




Bob Geldof and Midge Ure have since raised money for HIV and Aids, with Live Aid 8, and in 2014, with lyric changes, performed by younger, as well as original artists, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ was released again, raising £1 million in the first five minutes of its launch, for victims of the Ebola crisis. 

The Band Aid Organisation is still raising money, and still helping people in crisis all over the world.  Recently, after bootleg copies of the Live Aid concert were sold on the Internet, Bob Geldof released an official DVD of the concert, with all proceeds going to the Band Aid Trust.

The official DVD

Live Aid still holds the record for the most watched television event in history.  The main concerts were held in London and Philadelphia, but there were also shows in Austria, Germany, Denmark, Yugoslavia, Russia, Japan and Australia.  In every respect, Live Aid was the most amazing concert in the world – and Bob Geldof and Midge Ure two of the most amazing people.   


Some photographs from the day