On 25 November 1984, 36 British recording artists gathered at a studio in Notting Hill, London to donate their time and talent to a song written by Bob Geldof (Boomtown Rats) and Midge Ure (Ultravox) to raise money for the relief of famine in Ethiopia.
The result was the historic Do They Know It’s Christmas?, performed by Geldof and Ure with Bananarama, the Boomtown Rats, Phil Collins, Culture Club, Duran Duran, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Heaven 17, Kool & The Gang, Annie Lennox, Marilyn, George Michael, Spandau Ballet, Status Quo, Sting, U2, Ultravox, Paul Weller and Paul Young – a group of singers collectively known as Band Aid.
The single went straight to #1 in the UK and became the biggest-selling single ever. Meanwhile, the single was certified gold in the US where it inspired a similar fund-raising recording, We Are The World, by a consortium of entertainers calling themselves USA For Africa.
In March 1985, as Bob Geldof and Midge Ure accepted their Novello Award for Do They Know It’s Christmas?, the first shipment of food and medicine paid for by Band Aid arrived in Ethiopia. In total, Band Aid had raised £8 million for the famine relief program. Inspired by the British effort, USA For Africa and Canada’s Northern Lights added more to the pile. But Geldof wanted more.
On 13 July, at one minute past noon, the biggest pop event ever staged over a one-day period kicked off with a set by Status Quo at Wembley Stadium in London. Wembley linked up successfully at 5 pm with the John F Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, USA, became the most famous venues on the face of the planet.
Wembley linked up successfully at 5 pm with the John F Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, USA, and the two arenas became the most famous venues on the face of the planet.
61 of rock’s biggest acts performed in those two giant outdoor stadiums for sixteen hours, in front of a live audience of 162,000 (90,000 in Philadelphia and 72,000 in London) and broadcast to an estimated 1.9 billion TV viewers in 150 countries across the world.
Only the most popular and populist acts were invited to appear so that more people would watch and pledge money. And so there was no place on the bill for cult bands such as New Order, The Smiths, or Julian Cope.
The Who, very grudgingly, re-formed, so too did Led Zeppelin, who split up five years earlier after the death of drummer John Bonham. Paul McCartney made his first public appearance in over six years.
With a little assistance from Concorde, Phil Collins played at both Wembley and Philadelphia (loving the former’s scruffy camaraderie, loathing the latter’s inappropriate glitz). And Status Quo, who had recently split up, got back together and opened the event, kicking off with Rockin’ All Over The World.
The Wembley line-up also included Adam Ant, Elvis Costello, U2, BB King, The Pretenders, Spandau Ballet, Cliff Richard, Bryan Ferry, Paul Weller, Alison Moyet, Ultravox, Howard Jones, Nik Kershaw and INXS . Geldof even performed with The Boomtown Rats (even though he had vowed he wouldn’t sing).
On the US stage, Tina Turner performed a duet with Mick Jagger, Black Sabbath re-formed with front man Ozzy Osbourne, and Neil Young, Tom Petty, The Cars and Bryan Adams were part of the staggering list of performers.
Icons of the sixties (Dylan, Joan Baez and The Beach Boys) shared dressing rooms and stages with arena kings of the seventies (Queen, Zep and The Who) and pinup darlings of the eighties (Spandau Ballet and the Thompson Twins).
The acts were given exactly 15 minutes apiece to perform. Everyone left their ego at the dressing room door and threw themselves into the spirit of the event, while Geldof harangued viewers into getting off their butts and phoning in with promises of cash – inadvertently screaming obscenities on live TV.
In the US, the phone system broke down momentarily when 700,000 calls hit the pledge line at the same time.
By the midpoint of the day, more than $20 million had been promised through telephone pledges.
To be under Wembley’s blue skies that day you felt overwhelmed, empowered and humbled by waves of colliding emotions – rage and sadness for the pitiful victims of the Ethiopian famine alternating with enormous pride and excitement at the sight of rock’s biggest names seizing the initiative, doing what their governments singularly failed to do.
Memories flood back of the helicopters flying in and out with their famous passengers, the first lump-in-the-throat glimpse of the Live Aid logo standing tall on either side of the stage, the deafening cheers as Concorde roared overhead carrying Phil Collins to his second performance of the day in Philadelphia, and the heart-stopping finale with Geldof held aloft by Paul McCartney and Pete Townshend before the mass singalong of Do They Know It’s Christmas (Feed The World).
Live Aid set a lead that others were quick to follow (including Comic Relief, Artists Against Apartheid, Sports Aid and Farm Aid). And the man who started the whole charity thing off was dubbed Sir Bob Geldof, Knight of the British Empire, in the Queen’s Birthday honours list in June 1986.
In 1992, having raised a total of $144,124,694 the original Band Aid Trust was closed down and Geldof issued a statement which read, in part;
“It seems so long ago that we asked for your help. Seven years . . . you can count them now in trees and dams and fields and cows and camels and trucks and schools and health clinics, medicines, tents, blankets, clothes, toys, ships, planes, tools, wheat, sorghum, beans, research grants, workshops . . .
I once said that we would be more powerful in memory than in reality. Now we are that memory”.