More than 25 years later, Live Aid remains possibly the single most remembered concert in history. Those who claim it wasn’t really a good show probably are too young to remember Mick Jagger’s steamy duet with Tina Turner, or the later Freddie Mercury’s electrifying “We Will Rock You.”
Founder Bob Geldof, who also penned the classic song “Let them Know it’s Christmas (Feed the World)” which directly led U.S. musicians to record “We are the World” and then to Live Aid, recently did an interview with Britain’s Mojo magazine.
He shared some fascinating anecdotes about Live Aid and the follow-up concert that came twenty years later, Live 8.
His theme… music really can change the world.
Here are some gems from the interview:
The point about Live Aid was of course the money, the 30 million. But it galvanised way beyond that. I hadn’t fully anticipated the number of people watching. The number of people watching became a political lobby. Thatcher agreed to put poverty on the G7 agenda, accepting the argument that poverty is a destabilising influence on the global economy. From July 13, 1985, I understood this to be a political lobby. And the success of it proved demonstrably that things really could change. The individual is not powerless in the face of monstrosities.
As it relates to Live 8 – the show organized to encourage leaders of the world’s 8 largest economic powers to address African poverty and debt – Geldof laid out how it really did strike a chord with those in power.
[P]eople never really got their head around the fact that all I needed was for you to be either there, or on the street, or watching it on TV. Just so I could say to the world’s leaders, ‘There they are, they’re watching you, answer to them.’ Now Blair and Brown watched Live Aid, they say it influenced their whole political thing. Clinton says he saw it. Bush even says he saw a couple of hours… [pause] course he didn’t. But these were Live Aid babies. And numbers are political. A million kids on the streets is political.
Of course, it wasn’t just world leaders who got caught up in the spirit of things. He shared how David Bowie, who was at the height of his career in 1985, set the bar for all the mega-musicians at the time.
We showed him the film, famine footage cut to the Cars’ song Drive. He sat there in tears and said, ‘Right, I’m giving up a song.’ I said, ‘Hang on…’ I didn’t want David Bowie giving up a fucking song. I mean, hello? But of course he was right. That was the moment that people said, Fuck everything, take whatever you want from me.
It followed with Led Zeppelin.
Zeppelin and Sabbath got back together for Live Aid. And when we found the tapes at the Beeb to do the Live Aid DVD, I showed them to Jimmy. Planty said yes, we could use it, but Jimmy said he couldn’t: ‘I can’t Bob, it’s so shit.’ I said, ‘It’s not shit Jim, it’s really not shit. It’s a pity people can’t see it. But you’re the only fucker who’s refusing.’ ‘I can’t… I can’t.’ A week or so later, I get a letter from Jimmy. ‘Tell you what, we have a new Zeppelin Live DVD out. Take all the money. Take all the money.’ Amazing generosity. I hate it when people diss rock’n’roll. Hate it! Twats, you know?
This carried through to Live 8, when the famously hostile members of Pink Floyd laid down their arms and reunited for one final performance with all four band members (keyboardist Richard Wright has since passed away).
Pink Floyd let us have total access to the rehearsals, let us film it and let us use it for whatever purpose we liked. These are supposedly the most curmudgeonly people in rock.
To relive some of the magic, check out these clips…