July 13, 1985: Live Aid

Live Aid was a dual-venue benefit concert held on 13 July 1985, and an ongoing music-based fundraising initiative. The original event was organised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for relief of the ongoing Ethiopian famine. Billed as the “global jukebox”, the event was held simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in London, England, United Kingdom (attended by 72,000 people) and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States (attended by about 100,000 people).

On the same day, concerts inspired by the initiative happened in other countries, such as the Soviet Union, Canada, Japan, Yugoslavia, Austria, Australia and West Germany. It was one of the largest-scale satellite link-ups and television broadcasts of all time; an estimated global audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations, watched the live broadcast.

The 1985 Live Aid concert was conceived as a follow-on to the successful charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” which was also the brainchild of Geldof and Ure. In October 1984, images of millions of people starving to death in Ethiopia were shown in the UK in Michael Buerk‘s BBC News reports on the 1984 famine. Bob Geldof saw the report, and called Midge Ure from Ultravox, and together they quickly co-wrote the song, in the hope of raising money for famine relief. Geldof then contacted colleagues in the music industry and persuaded them to record the single under the title ‘Band Aid’ for free. It stayed at number-one for five weeks in the UK, was Christmas number one, and became the fastest-selling single ever in Britain and raised £8 million, rather than the £70,000 Geldof and Ure had initially expected. Geldof then set his sights on staging a huge concert to raise further funds.

The idea to stage a charity concert to raise more funds for Ethiopia originally came from Boy George, the lead singer of Culture Club. George and Culture Club drummer Jon Moss had taken part in the recording of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and in December 1984 Culture Club were undertaking a tour of the UK, which culminated in six nights at Wembley Arena. On the final night at Wembley, Saturday 22 December 1984, an impromptu gathering of some of the other artists from Band Aid joined Culture Club on stage at the end of the concert for an encore of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”. George was so overcome by the occasion he told Geldof that they should consider organising a benefit concert. Speaking to the UK music magazine Melody Maker at the beginning of January 1985, Geldof revealed his enthusiasm for George’s idea, saying, “If George is organising it, you can tell him he can call me at any time and I’ll do it. It’s a logical progression from the record, but the point is you don’t just talk about it, you go ahead and do it!”

It was clear from the interview that Geldof had already had the idea to hold a dual venue concert and how the concerts should be structured:

“The show should be as big as is humanly possible. There’s no point just 5,000 fans turning up at Wembley; we need to have Wembley linked with Madison Square Gardens and the whole show to be televised worldwide. It would be great for Duran to play three or four numbers at Wembley and then flick to Madison Square where Springsteen would be playing. While he’s on, the Wembley stage could be made ready for the next British act like the Thompsons or whoever. In that way lots of acts could be featured and the television rights, tickets and so on could raise a phenomenal amount of money. It’s not an impossible idea, and certainly one worth exploiting.”

Broadcaster Richard Skinner opened the Live Aid concert with the words: “It’s twelve noon in London, seven AM in Philadelphia, and around the world it’s time for Live Aid.”

The Coldstream Guards opened the show in London playing “God Save The Queen”.  Status Quo were the first band to perform. Other artists and groups on the Wembley bill were The Style Council, The Boomtown Rats, Ultravox, Spandau Ballet, Sade, Sting & Phil Collins, Bryan Ferry, U2, Queen, and David Bowie. In Philadelphia, an unknown Bernard Watson (who had persuaded concert promoter Bill Graham to let him perform in the spirit of charity, after sleeping outside the stadium for a week) opened proceedings. He was followed by Joan Baez and the rest of the bill included The Four Tops, Billy Ocean, Black Sabbath, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Judas Priest, Bryan Adams, The Beach Boys, Madonna, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins (who travelled by Concorde to be able to play at both venues) Duran Duran, and Bob Dylan.

Celebrity presenters on both sides included DJ Tommy Vance, Noel Edmonds, Jack Nicholson, John Hurt, Chevy Chase, George Segal, Bette Midler and Dionne Warwick. [Wikipedia]

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