30 years ago today, millions and millions of people witnessed one of music’s most spectacularly ambitious events ever – a dual charity concert held in both London and Philadelphia, with names such as David Bowie, U2, Mick Jagger and David Bowie joining forces to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. Here, in their own words, is the story of Live Aid…
After the success of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’? in December 1984, Geldof – with some initial encouragement from Culture Club singer Boy George – decided to stage an event to raise further money for the Ethiopian famine relief. As promoter Harvey Goldsmith remembers: “I didn’t really get a chance to say no. Bob arrived in my office and basically said, ‘We’re doing this.'”
Live Aid would take place in both London and Philadelphia, with each event broadcast simultaneously, and featuring A-list names from Bowie and Queen to Madonna and The Rolling Stones. “People say, how could an artist refuse to be on a show like that?” says Live Aid production manager Andy Zweck. “But Bob and Harvey Goldsmith struggled to get the artists and struggled to get the show in America.”
Zweck: “Bob had to play some tricks to get artists involved. He had to call Elton and say Queen are in and Bowie’s in, and of course they weren’t. Then he’d call Bowie and say Elton and Queen are in. It was a game of bluff.”
After intense negotiations, Geldof and co finalised a line-up, and Live Aid began on July 13. “I was shitting myself. If the bands didn’t show up, 17 hours of the Boomtown Rats would have been a little too much for anybody.”
Status Quo were one of the first bands to play in London. Francis Rossi: “There was something totally unique and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt it since. They weren’t just people paying to see a show, they were part of it. There was such a euphoric feeling in that arena. It went in such a flash. We came off stage and got pissed real quick.”
But there were two bands who really stole the show in London. First up were U2, who took to the stage at roughly 17.20pm. Bono pulled a female fan who was being crushed by the audience onto the stage with him. Kal Khalique, who was 15 at the time, remembered years later: “The crowd surged and I was suffocating – then I saw Bono. Security helped him pull me out, then he held me and we danced.”
But U2’s lengthy performance of their track ‘Bad’, which saw Bono enter the audience, meant the band didn’t have time to perform their signature song ‘Pride (In The Name Of Love)’. “He was gone for so long I started to think he had decided to end the set early and was on his way to the dressing room,” said guitarist The Edge.
Bono had a strange experience earlier in the day, too, when he met Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. “He pulled me aside and said, ‘Oh, Bono… Is it Bo-No or Bon-O?’ I told him, ‘It’s Bon-O.’ I was up against a wall and he put his hand on the wall and was talking to me like he was chatting up a chick. I thought, ‘Wow, this guy’s really camp.'”
Queen’s set was another of Wembley’s best-received performances. Guitarist Brian May: “I remember a huge rush of adrenalin as I went on stage and a massive roar from the crowd, and then all of us just pitching in. Freddie was our secret weapon. He was able to reach out to everybody in that stadium effortlessly, and I think it was really his night.”
Other duets from Live Aid included Elton John and George Michael, who teamed up for a version of ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’.
Over in Philadelphia, meanwhile, Madonna had a tongue-in-cheek response to the recent early nude photos of her that had been published by Penthouse and Playboy. Despite the sweltering heat, she told the crowd: “I’m not taking shit off today!”
Phil Collins was tasked with playing in London, and then flying to the US to perform in Philadelphia, too. “We took off in Concorde. Cher was on the flight, just heading back the States. I told her about Live Aid and she asked whether I could get her on. I told her to just turn up.” She took his advice: she was among the artist to take part in finale song ‘We Are The World’.
Ozzy Osbourne: “I came here to play music, and I didn’t really realize the full extent and magnitude of what it is all about. Now I’m here, it’s the greatest event ever.”
The Who had been on bad terms for a while, but buried the hatchet to play at Wembley. “We always said we’d never play together again,” said guitarist Pete Townshend. “We always meant it. But it would have been kind of difficult not to get together again for this day.”
One of Live Aid’s biggest coups was convincing Paul McCartney, who hadn’t performed live since the assassination of John Lennon five years previously, to appear at Wembley. “I wrote to Paul McCartney at home and asked if he would sing ‘Let It Be’,” said Geldof. His message was simple: “If you do, the world will cry.”
Goldsmith: “Our target until the week of the show was £1million. That was our target. The night before the concert Bob and I thought we might actually make £5million. Little did any of us realise just how much would come in. I think we raised in excess of $140m. We don’t advertise, but it still comes in.”