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:: Spotlight :: Live Aid / Band Aid 20

By: Mike Gee

Sometimes there are issues that are bigger than those that fill the usual run-of-the-mill mag or paper. They are issues where we as people have to step up and think beyond our own small bubble and, for once, see the big picture. Be part of the world. This is one of them. This time 20 years ago, Sir Bob Geldof - Bob as he was back then - assembled an extraordinary cast of fellow musicians to record a single to raise funds for the starving millions in Ethiopia after being appalled by British journalist Michael Buerk's BBC News report showing millions of Africans at death's door, hundreds of whom were dying daily.

He called the project Band Aid.

“It had a devastating impact on me and pushed me to start Band Aid,” Geldof said of the time. “I'd just had a kid myself. And like millions who saw it I felt a great sense of rage, anger and shame. These were fellow humans - mums, dads and kids.”

Do They Know Its Christmas? and the associated American effort, We Are The World, topped the world's charts and catalysed a 19-year journey that has seen the Band Aid Trust and Live Aid Foundation spend more than $144 million on the relief of famine in Africa by supporting projects in Burkina Faso, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Niger and Sudan.

Do They Know It's Christmas? featured Bono, Paul Young, Sting, Bananarama, Boy George, Paul Weller, Status Quo, and many more. It raised more than $20 million for the famine victims.

But it was only the beginning. Geldof was determined to do more.

On July 13, 1985, the world virtually stopped as Geldof and his fellow workers staged Live Aid - just a few weeks ago it was defined, in a consumer poll, as single greatest moment in the 50-year history of rock‘n'roll, beating not only the launch of MTV and Elvis’ first record but also topping the poll ahead of the seminal 1960s festival, Woodstock. The Smithsonian Institute in America has a Live Aid satellite because it considers the event a key moment in television technology.

Held at Wembley Stadium in London, and Philadelphia's JFK Stadium in Washington, Live Aid starred U2, Queen, Sting, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Elton John, George Michael, The Who, Madonna, Queen, Paul McCartney, Phil Collins, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Duran Duran, Neil Young, Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath, Spandau Ballet, Dire Straits, Paul Weller, Sade, Paul Young, Adam Ant, The Boomtown Rats, The Cars, Bryan Ferry, Bryan Adams, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Crosby Stills & Nash, The Beach Boys, Judas Priest, Simple Minds, Thompson Twins. Nile Rodgers, Hall & Oates, Status Quo, The Pretenders, Elvis Costello, Howard Jones, Teddy Pendergrass, Alison Moyet and Kenny Loggins.

Now 19 years later, the entire concert - at least all the tapes of it that remain; some of the US tapes were destroyed - has been released as a 10-hour, 4 DVD Box Set. Virtually simultaneously, Geldof has again pulled together a group of musicians to record and release a new version of Do They Know It's Christmas as Band Aid 20.

The obvious question is why? There are two answers: Sadly, the African people are still starving, and bootleggers.

At a recent press conference, Sir Bob, explained: “I returned from Africa yesterday. In the [nearly] 20 years since this concert, Africa has been the sole continent in inexorable economic decline. More people die of hunger in Africa than war, AIDS, TB, malaria and polio combined. Every year. It is commonplace for the majority of Africans to feel hungry …

"Twenty years ago, I promised the people who played on that day that it would be a one-off - no films, no records, no videos - there was no DVD then.

"And because of the bootleggers, the pirates selling this on eBay - and I know it's corny and saint Bob-ish - we had to act because what they are doing is is literally taking whatever food is available out of the mouths of the hungry. Whatever hypodermics they can get out of the arms of the sick.

"These f**king pukes had to be stopped.
“That was the initial imperative of the release of the DVD.”

With the exception of a couple of acts who felt their performances were awful (Led Zeppelin is one - but Robert Plant and Jimmy Page are giving all the royalties from their own forthcoming DVD to Band Aid), everybody who appeared at Live Aid at the two shows gave their blessing to the DVD's release.

They realised the need for aid then was the same as the need for aid now.

Geldof, who visited Ethiopia with British PM, Tony Blair, for the Commission for Africa summit, told Britain's The Sun newspaper: "When you go back to Tigray [in Ethiopia where the people queued for food handouts in 1984] and see feeding stations with, say, 40,000 people and compare it to the million people I saw in 1985, it is progress of a kind.

“But is it enough? No, it's despicable. The reason we used the pun Band Aid is that you can't put a sticking plaster on a gaping wound. But there is a lack of response from our end politically … Europe is stuffed with food and the US is stuffed with food.”

Band Aid 20 is no less splendid a project than its predecessor and features Bono, Keane, Paul McCartney, The Sugababes, Skye (Morcheeba), Robbie Williams, Dido (who recorded her part while in Australia, recently), Jamelia, Justin Hawkins (The Darkness), Chris Martin (Coldplay), Fran Healy (Travis), Beverley Knight, Busted, Ms Dynamite, Danny Goffey (Supergrass), Katie Melua, Will Young, Natasha Bedingfield, Snow Patrol, Shaznay Lewis, Joss Stone, Rachel Stevens, The Thrills, Roison Murphy (Moloko), Lemar, Estelle, Neil Hannon (Divine Comedy), Feeder and Dizzee Rascal.

The CD single includes a copy of the original 1984 version. It seems fitting and proper that it should be the #1 at Christmas. Hopefully, it will. All proceeds from the sales of both single and the DVD box set will continue the work of Band Aid Trust in Africa.

On July 13, 1985, I - like hundreds of thousands of other Australians - got home from work, had dinner, put a mattress in the lounge room and settled in for an all-nighter watching Live Aid. It was tremendous. The hairstyles - post-new Romantic - sucked; the mullets blow-dried and coloured; the clothes weren't much better, but there was a sense of achievement and oneness knowing that 2 billion people were joined in watching and helping save the lives of people we would never know and see. Today, that may seem rather sappy and unnecessarily emotional but in a world where men earn political points by killing others it's hardly so.

Live Aid, the DVD box set, is worth it for the event alone. It is also worth the price of entry for Queen‘s stunning performance - if you have never understood why Freddie Mercury was regarded as one of the great singers of all-time, watch this; See Ozzy, fat and frumpy, belt out Paranoid with the Sabs; Paul McCartney alone at the piano for Let It Be; Bowie make Heroes of everybody watching; U2 prove how much more class and attitude they had than most of the other acts of the time; Dylan go Blowin’ In The Wind with Ron Wood and Keith Richards; Madonna get Into The Groove; Neil Young define The Needle And The Damage Done; remember all the reasons why you hated the '80s thanks to the majority of the American show; and find a very good reason to love the '80s.

And consider this: the Howard Government does very little for the starving African people - something Sir Bob made strong comment about recently - but you can by helping ‘feed the world’. It's more than a catch cry, it's a necessity.

The last words belong to Geldof: “If this actually does become the phenomenon over Christmas of being the greatest selling DVD you will keep people alive. You will force politicians to deliver next year. And you will set up 2005 as the year when we finally address the criminal negligence that we afford to billions of dying people in That is what it is. It is not a DVD of a concert. It is a lifeline.”

Photos of Sir Bob Geldof, Phil Collins and Status Quo are courtesy of Rex Features.

A 10-hour DVD set is available for sale at Australian retail outlets now.