It Was 35 Years Ago…

A look back on Live Aid benefit concert – Part 1

“In late October 1984, I came home at about six o’clock in the evening and turned on the television to watch the television news. And I saw something on the screen that put my pathetic personal problems into a horrifying perspective. There in front of me were elegant men and women, moms and dads, holding their children. But they were hardly recognizable humans at this point. They were just about alive. They had the swollen heads and the bloated stomachs of children who are dying of starvation.”

“The thing is you don’t actually die of hunger. You die of a collapse of all your immune system, so you catch all sorts of diseases, but your muscles are so weakened you can’t even make a noise. And all these children were silently screaming at me in agony to die. To die of hunger is to die in complete agony. And here were these mothers and fathers in the last seconds of their children’s lives in utter despair as to what to do. And these people stared at me in my pop star live in Chelsea in London.”

The above is an excerpt from Bob Geldof’s introduction to Live Aid 35, which you can watch in its entirety on a dedicated YouTube channel, along with plenty of footage from the actual benefit concert that took place on Saturday, July 13, 1985 – just a little over 35 years ago. I’m envisaging to commemorate the 35th anniversary in a two or three-part series over the next few days – not sure yet how much time I will have to write.

Organized by Geldof, lead vocalist of Irish rock band The Boomtown Rats, and his friend Midge Ure, frontman of Britsh new wave outfit Ultravox, to raise funds of the famine in Ethiopia, the event featured concerts at London’s Wembley Stadium and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. It was attended by an estimated 72,000 people in London and close to 89,500 folks in Philly. The live broadcast was watched by an estimated 1.9 billion people in 150 countries. I was one of them and still remember it pretty well.

Queen’s performance at Wembley Stadium was one of the highlights of Live Aid

The concerts are believed to have raised around £150 million for famine relief, though the initial numbers included in news reports the day after the event were significantly lower, putting the total between £40 and £50 million. There was also some controversy over the distribution of the aid, including allegations funds had been diverted to the Ethiopian government for the purchase of arms – a truly disgusting thought!

In 2010, the BBC apologized for statements made in a previous investigation, saying there “was no specific evidence [money had been diverted to buy arms] and we’re apologising today to the Band Aid Trust and we’re also apologising personally to Bob Geldof.” I’d like to leave it at that and get to some music.

Live Aid kicked off at Wembley Stadium on July 13 at 12:00 pm British Summer Time. The first act were British boogie rockers Status Quo. Here’s their rendition of John Fogerty’s Rockin’ All Over the World, the title track off their 10th studio album from November 1997, and one of their biggest hits. Perhaps the ideal tune to start a rock & pop marathon!

Of course, in addition to organizing the event, Messrs. Geldof and Ure also got to perform. Here are The Boomtown Rats with I Don’t Like Mondays, their biggest hit, initially released as a single in July 1979 ahead of their third studio album The Fine Art of Surfacing, which came out in October that year.

I’d like to wrap up part 1 with Sting and a great stripped back version of Roxanne, featuring jazz saxophone player Branford Marsalis. Written by Sting, the tune first appeared as a single by The Police in April 1978. It was also included on their debut studio album Outlandos d’Amour from November 1978.

Source: Wikipedia; BBC; YouTube

9 thoughts on “It Was 35 Years Ago…”

  1. I remember it well. I was excited by the Who performing because it had been a while. Also there were the Beatles rumors that Paul, George, and Ringo would appear together but we would have to wait 10 more years for that with the Anthology.
    I do remember seeing Queen and Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, and Ronnie Wood close it out.

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  2. Wembley funktionierte einfach am besten, wenn vorne Freddie Mercury „Ay-ro“ machte. Was heute mehr auffällt als damals: „Live Aid“ war eine verdammt weisse Veranstaltung: Menschen mit dunkler Hautfarbe waren fast nur auf den Einspielungen zu sehen, mit denen den Leuten daheim an den Bildschirmen die Hungersnot in Äthiopien vor Augen geführt wurde.

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    1. Queen waren sicherlich der Höhepunkt der Veranstaltung, zumindest in London.

      Im amerikanischen Konzert sind ein paar schwarze Künstler aufgetreten wie z.B. The Temptations und The Four Tops. Allerdings kann ich mich nicht erinnern ob deren Auftritte in Europa ausgestrahlt wurden. Es gab ja erhebliche Überschneidungen zwischen beiden Konzerten.

      Gleichwohl ist es schon auffallend, daß große Interpreten wie Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Smokie Robinson und Diane Ross, die bei USA for Africa mitgewirkt haben, nicht bei Live Aid waren.

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      1. Das Konzert fand ja parallel in London und Philadelphia statt und brachte auf die Bühne, was damals Rang und Namen, im Fall von Dylan und Bowie allerdings nicht seine beste Phase hatte. Begeisternd fand ich damals neben Queen auch den Auftritt von den Simple Minds.

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  3. Thanks for the great article. I still remember watching it in the middle of the day/night. Over time (and at the time) thoughts were more towards Freddie and Queen stealing the show, I thought Bowie was incredible, and he followed Queen. And U2. Simply marvellous.

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    1. Part 2, which I just published, includes Queen, who were definitely the highlight, at least of the Wembley show. With so many great artists playing in London, it was hard to pick and choose.

      I also feel the American portion of Live Aid wasn’t quite as compelling as the British concert. Though with The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson, Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osborne and CSNY, it saw various big name reunions. And there was of course Led Zeppelin’s less than stellar appearance!

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