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 US 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 totalled over £110m. What was disappointing was the lack of donations from 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, the name suggested by Linda Valentine of the Press Dept. of Phonogram Records, to whom The Boomtown Rats were signed.
Released on Phonogram in December 1984, with a sleeve by Sgt. Pepper designer Peter Blake, the track became the UK’s biggest selling single of the time and raised £8m, although it took a while to persuade the then Conservative UK government to waive the VAT. They subsequently gave an equivalent sum (around $1 million, or £750,000) to charities working in Ethiopia and Chad.
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 13 July 1985 at London’s Wembley Stadium 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.
Each act had around 20 minutes, and while some struggled (understandably) with technical problems, some acts gave blistering performances. Queen were outstanding, even though singer Freddie Mercury was suffering from a throat infection and went on stage against doctor’s orders.
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.
Much later it was revealed that Bono hadn’t intended to take so long getting back onstage, and the band had planned to perform another song, but, in fact, the extended “Bad” allowed the band to establish themselves as something completely different from everyone else on the bill. Apparently, the rest of the band saw their careers vanishing even as they kept playing, and gave Bono a hard time about it after the show.
Phil Collins appeared with Sting at Wembley before getting on the 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 onstage Zeppelin’s set was regarded as disappointing, so Zeppelin have never allowed the footage to be used on the official DVD.
In Philadelphia, the celebrities turned out in force. Jack Nicholson came onstage to introduce Joan Baez and Bryan Adams, while other stars who graced the stage included Bette Midler, (who brought on Mick Jagger) and Chevy Chase.
David Bowie and Mick 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, England and Jagger in Philly in the US 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.
Here is the full lineup of that momentous day (times are BST):
12.02 Status Quo
12.19 Style Council
12.44 Boomtown Rats
13.00 Adam Ant
13.06 INXS (video from Melbourne)
13.34 Loudness (video from Japan)
13.47 Spandau Ballet
13.51 Bernard Watson
14.02 Joan Baez
14.07 Elvis Costello
14.10 The Hooters
14.15 Opus (video from Austria)
14.22 Nik Kershaw
14.32 The Four Tops
14.38 B.B. King (video from The Hague)
14.45 Billy Ocean
14.52 Black Sabbath
15.12 Run DMC
15.27 Rick Springfield
15.35 Phil Collins
15.45 REO Speedwagon
15.50 Howard Jones
15.58 Autograph (video from Moscow)
16.03 Bryan Ferry
16.15 Crosby, Still and Nash
16.24 Udo Lindenberg (video from Cologne)
16.26 Judas Priest
16.38 Paul Young / Alison Moyet
17.00 Linkup between Wembley in the UK and JFK in the US
17.02 Bryan Adams
17.40 The Beach Boys
18.00 Dire Straits and Sting
18.26 George Thorogood and the Destroyers / Bo Diddley / Albert Collins
19.03 David Bowie / Mick Jagger ( video)
19.07 Simple Minds
19.22 David Bowie
19.41 The Pretenders
20.00 The Who
20.20 Santana / Pat Metheny
20.50 Elton John
20.57 Ashford and Simpson / Teddy Pendergrass
21.05 Elton John / Kiki Dee / Wham!
21.48 Freddie Mercury / Brian May
21.51 Paul McCartney
21.54 McCartney / Bowie / Pete Townshend / Alison Moyet / Bob Geldof
21.56 UK finale from Wembley
22.14 Tom Petty
22.30 Kenny Loggins
22.49 The Cars
23.07 Neil Young
23.43 The Power Station
00.21 The Thompson Twins
00.39 Eric Clapton
01.04 Phil Collins
01.13 Robert Plant / Jimmy Page / John Paul Jones
01.47 Duran Duran
02.15 Patti LaBelle
02.50 Hall and Oates / Eddie Kendricks / David Ruffin
03.15 Mick Jagger
03.28 Mick Jagger / Tina Turner
03.39 Bob Dylan / Keith Richards / Ron Wood
03.55 US finale
We have a book! David Bowie – I Was There which contains over 350 eyewitness accounts from fans who saw Bowie live in concert and worked with him including Live Aid. Available in print and all digital formats.