Bob Geldof (ex-Boomtown Rats) was watching television in October 1984 when he saw the news reports on the famine crisis in Ethiopia. Driven to action, he used his contacts to get people together.
And so Geldof assembled a few colleagues to record a fund-raising record . . .
That roll-call in full: Bananarama, Bob Geldof, Culture Club, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Eurythmics, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Heaven 17, Human League, Kool and The Gang, Midge Ure,Paul McCartney, Paul Young, Phil Collins, Spandau Ballet, Status Quo, Sting, The Style Council, U2 and Wham! .
On the morning of Sunday 25 November 1984, this cream of British pop and rock (along with Marilyn, Boy George’s cross-dressing, one-hit-wonder pal) congregated at Trevor Horn’s Sarm West studio in London to record Do They Know It’s Christmas?
Director Nigel Dick was there to shoot the video. Positioning himself on the pavement to await each arrival, he was a mixture of adrenaline and expectation. Pop history was about to be made.
The stars came trickling in, most of them looking as if they had just rolled out of bed – in many cases, they had. Nobody was accompanied by management or security or hangers-on. This was a special day, with egos checked at the door and everyone doing something for the greater good.
Within an hour, Geldof’s initial fears that no one would show proved ill-founded. The studio was packed with every pop and mainstream rock star that, in late 1984, mattered. But someone integral was missing. Where was George?
Boy George was eventually tracked down to a hotel room in New York. It was 6 am local time, and the Culture Club singer was still deep in beauty sleep, oblivious to any previous commitment he may have made to a Boomtown Rat.
Geldof screamed down the phone that he should get his arse on the next Concorde, due to leave JFK within three hours. George, who never did what anybody told him to do, did exactly as he was told to do.
Bowie, McCartney and FGTH were unable to attend the studio session but recorded messages of support on the B side.
The recording lasted all day, the mixing well into the night.
The song, produced by Midge Ure, was released in the same month and went straight to #1 in the UK. It topped the American charts two weeks later. The purchasing of Do They Know It’s Christmas became a national pastime.
A butcher shop in Plymouth cleared its window of meat and replaced it with hundreds of copies of the single for sale. The Queen’s grocer, Fortnum & Mason, sold it in its restaurant. Individuals were buying 50 copies (at £1.30 each) and returning 49 for immediate re-sale.
The record company was printing 320,000 a day and soon, every single factory that pressed records across Europe stopped pressing anything else, devoting its entire production solely to the Band Aid cause.
The first relief shipment of over £30,000 worth of food and medical supplies to Ethiopia as a result of the record sales arrived on 11 March 1985.
The Americans responded in January 1985 with We Are The World by USA For Africa, featuring Michael Jackson (who co-wrote the song with Lionel Richie), Cyndi Lauper, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Willie Nelson.
Food parcels began arriving in Ethiopia daily. Band Aid was having an effect but, as Geldof learned, not enough – £8 million would keep the famine-struck Africans alive for just two weeks. More had to be done.
So Geldof decided to stage two concerts, one in the UK and the other in America. The concerts would be at big venues to raise maximum revenue through ticket sales. The whole thing would be linked by satellite and screened live on TV. Geldof wanted to create the biggest telethon ever.
On 13 July 1985, after six months that saw him test the limits of human endurance and the boundless elasticity of red tape – as well as all manner of bureaucratic chaos while battling with the colossal egos of (mostly American) rock stars and their hard-bitten managers – Live Aid took place.
It was, by common consent, the greatest spectacle ever staged, a third of the world’s population tuning in to watch. By even greater consensus, it was a huge success.
It was re-recorded again in 2004 as Band Aid 20, and this third version was just weird. Dizzee Rascal rapped and Bono did the “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you” line again.
By 2014, it was all getting a little ridiculous for Band Aid 30, with Bono and Sinead O’Connor the only significant artists joining a gaggle of young ‘uns such as One Direction.