80s Highlights- Live Aid 1985


Dateline- 13 July 1985; 33 years ago

Live Aid was a dual-venue benefit concert held on Saturday 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 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 audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations, watched the live broadcast,[2] nearly 40% of the world population.

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.[4]

The BBC News crew were the first to document the famine, with Buerk’s report on 23 October describing it as “a biblical famine in the 20th century” and “the closest thing to hell on Earth”.[5]

The report shocked Britain, motivating its citizens to inundate relief agencies, such as Save the Children, with donations, and to bring the world’s attention to the crisis in Ethiopia.[4][6]

Bob Geldof also saw the report, and called Midge Ure from Ultravox, and together they quickly co-wrote the song, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in the hope of raising money for famine relief.[4] Geldof then contacted colleagues in the music industry and persuaded them to record the single under the title ‘Band Aid‘ for free.[4]

On 25 November 1984, the song was recorded at Sarm West Studios in Notting Hill, London, and was released four days later.[7][8] 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.[4] 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!”[9]

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

Among those involved in organising Live Aid were Harvey Goldsmith, who was responsible for the Wembley Stadium concert, and Bill Graham, who put together the American leg.[10]

The concert grew in scope, as more acts were added on both sides of the Atlantic. Tony Verna, inventor of instant replay, was able to secure John F. Kennedy Stadium through his friendship with Philadelphia Mayor Goode and was able to procure, through his connections with ABC‘s prime time chief, John Hamlin, a three-hour prime time slot on the ABC Network and, in addition, was able to supplement the lengthy program through meetings that resulted in the addition of an ad-hoc network within the US, which covered 85 percent of TVs there.

Verna designed the needed satellite schematic and became the Executive Director as well as the Co-Executive Producer along with Hal Uplinger. Uplinger came up with the idea to produce a four-hour video edit of Live Aid to distribute to those countries without the necessary satellite equipment to rebroadcast the live feed.

The rest, as they say, is history.

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