Do you remember what you were doing 30 years ago today? I know what I was doing: flitting in and out of Live Aid. Fading rock star, Bob Geldof, had already assembled a stellar cast to perform the smash hit “Do they know it’s Christmas?” in order to raise money to help people who were starving death in Africa. “Tonight,” sang Bono, “It’s them instead of us.” Bono, it turns out, always hated that line but I can reveal, exclusively, that I hated it the very first time I heard it and could not believe a super-rich rock god would actually sing it.
Geldof had noble motives. He told us on live television to “Give us your fockin’ money!” and so we did. Thousands of lives were saved, some long-term projects were set up and we all felt much better about ourselves, and quite right too. But did it really change anything? In the bigger picture, over the long term, I don’t think so. I didn’t care for Geldof’s music and judging from his record sales after the event, the massive worldwide event had no effect on his career, but he reinvented himself into someone completely different.
I was always slightly cynical about the motives of many of the acts. Some used it as the opportunity to debut their new records, others, like Queen, used it for self-promotion. Recall the words of Roger Taylor: “It’ll make a pot of money for a wonderful cause, but make no mistake, we’re doing it for our own glory as well”. And in the case of Queen, one of my least favourite bands of all time, it sent them soaring into the stratosphere.
I watched it mainly for the music and naturally found myself thrilled and disappointed in equal measure. I wanted to see the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, most of Led Zeppelin, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Neil Young but they all performed in America. In between greatness – Bowie, The Who, McCartney (not that you could hear his voice) – I had to endure Nik Kershaw, Spandau Ballet and Adam Ant (“And this is my new single”). In the early evening, I decided to go to the pub and I was not alone. In fact, my local was far more packed than usual. The general consensus was “It was okay, but nothing special. Queen were good”. But time loves a hero. Live Aid, which at the time seemed a bloated, overlong, over-running ego trip, has assumed near legendary status. Honestly, I don’t think it was that good, certainly not musically.
But it did raise a lot of money and I suppose it made more of us aware of the world’s problems. That, above any amount of money raised, was its major legacy. 30 years on, there is still starvation and poverty and the world is in a far worse state than it used to be.
We’ve had lots of similar events since, with varying degrees of success. Raising awareness, as well as raising money, is what it is about so I suppose Geldof did do something worthwhile.