Billed as ‘The Global Jukebox’, and described as ‘The Day Rock and Roll Changed the World’ – Live Aid became the biggest live rock event ever. Staged in the UK and the U.S with contributions from countries including Japan, Australia, Holland, Yugoslavia, Russia and Germany, the whole event featured 16 hours of live music and was watched by over 1.9 billion people worldwide.
The final amount raised exceeded all hopes and totaled over £110m. What was disappointing was the lack of donations by big companies – banks, oil companies and other major players. It was left to the general public to donate, which they did – music fans dug deep into their pockets, including one mystery woman from England who boosted the funds by personally pledging half a million pounds.
It all started in 1984 when Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof watched a BBC news report about the appalling famine in Africa. Geldof felt he had to do something to stop the suffering. He and Midge Ure of Ultravox got together and wrote the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas” to raise money for the crisis. They then enlisted a host of other stars to record the song under the name of Band Aid.
Following the success of Band Aid, Bob Geldof visited Ethiopia to oversee the distribution of aid and realised that if the Band Aid organisation owned its own fleet of trucks to transport much-needed supplies, they would be in a better position to have a more direct impact on the famine. So the idea of a concert was born, and in just 10 weeks the project of Live Aid was put together.
The event began at midday on Saturday 13th July 1985 at London’s Wembley Stadium London with a fanfare for Prince Charles and Princess Diana and then it was over to veteran rockers Status Quo who opened the with their hit “Rockin’ All Over The World” in front of a global audience.
U2’s performance established them as a pre-eminent live group for the first time. During a 14-minute rendition of “Bad”, Bono jumped off the stage to join the crowd and dance with a girl. In July 2005, the girl with whom he danced revealed that he actually saved her life at the time. She was being crushed by the throngs of people pushing forwards; Bono saw this, and gestured frantically at the ushers to help her. They did not understand what he was saying, and so he jumped down to help her himself.
Phil Collins appeared with Sting at Wembley before getting on Concorde and flying to the U.S. to play with Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. Due to a bad sound on-stage Zeppelin’s set was regarded as disappointing, so Zeppelin have never allowed the footage to be used on the official DVD.
Bowie and Jagger first wanted to make a live duet between the two continents, with their cover of “Dancing in the Street” with Bowie singing his lines from London and Jagger in Philly, but this wasn’t technically possible, due to the slightly delayed satellite sound feed. They then switched to a video clip idea – which was later released as a single with all proceeds going to the cause.
Following Bowie’s set, a video was shown to the audiences in London and Philadelphia, as well as on televisions around the world (though notably neither USA feed, from ABC or MTV, chose to show the film), showing starving and diseased Ethiopian children set to the song “Drive” by The Cars. The rate of giving became faster in the immediate aftermath of the moving video. Ironically, Geldof had previously refused to allow the video to be shown, due to time constraints, and had only relented when Bowie offered to drop the song “Five Years” from his set as a trade-off.
Geldof and his team had originally thought the concert might raise £5 million, but the current estimate is around £150 million ($200+ million), raised as a direct result of the concerts. On that very special day, they achieved something quite amazing and touched the hearts of millions of people resulting in saving and improving the lives of hundreds of thousands in Africa.
It didn’t make poverty history – but Live Aid made a difference. The key thing it did, which utterly dwarfed the event, was to force a change of policy in the EU and particularly in the UK and America. Public opinion and people’s perspective of charity changed on that day, when they realised that a small personal contribution could collectively make a big difference. Rocking all over the world, indeed.
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