◼︎ TODAY WAS THE DAY IN 1984 THEY RECORDED the song that became, for 13 years, the biggest selling UK single of all time. Do They Know It’s Christmas was released four days later, stayed at No 1 for five weeks, sold over three million copies and raised significant funds for famine relief in Africa. The project lead naturally the next year to Live Aid, the biggest globally televised rock concerts ever, viewed by two billion people in 60 countries, who coughed up still more dollars. It is estimated that Live Aid raised £150m (about $283m). Last year a poll of 5,000 people, who were surveyed across Europe, named Live Aid as the most important music event of the past 30 years. The hit single sold for £1.35, of which 96 pence went to the fund. Rerecordings of the song charted again in 1985 and 1989.
The idea for Band Aid was proposed by one man, Bob Geldof, since granted an honorary knighthood but in 1984 a musician down on his luck, who enlisted the much more successful go-getter, Ultravox’s Midge Ure (who remains unknighted for no good reason), to bring the dream to fruition as its producer. They created a megagroup from 45 of the biggest hitters in British music, who included the supergroups dominating world charts at the time — Culture Club, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Wham! — plus AOR giants Sting, Genesis and U2, plus Kool and the Gang from the States. In a sea of mullets and bleached highlights, rival musicians united under the name Band Aid in a daring act of charity that was unprecedented in the competitive commercial arena.
The enterprise marked the end of an era, as this website documents. The Band Aid collaboration signalled the final chapter of the innovation which Shapersofthe80s believes defined the Swinging 80s as six dynamic years of subcultural initiative between 1978 and 1984. Britain’s visual kaleidoscope of cults was exactly what fed MTV from its launch in 1982 and loosened the stranglehold that music radio had previously enjoyed in the USA. The unlikely Band Aid scrum of Britain’s rival image bands who had risen on the same new wave substantially defined a new show-business elite who had come to epitomise mainstream tastes.
Nobody can doubt the uniqueness of the pop fraternity’s gasp of altruism through Band Aid. Geldof had been genuinely distressed by the now landmark teatime TV report broadcast on October 23, 1984, by Michael Buerk, a popular BBC journalist. It still makes for grim viewing. In Ethiopia 7m people were threatened by famine, and 40,000 refugees had converged on the town of Korem in the hope of finding food and medical aid.
The film footage shocked the world and Buerk’s opening words still resonate today: “Dawn, and as the sun breaks through the piercing chill of night on the plain outside Korem, it lights up a Biblical famine, now, in the 20th century. This place, say workers here, is the closest thing to hell on earth…”
CONTRARY VERDICTS ON BAND AID
Morrissey, 1985 — “I’m not afraid to say that I think Band Aid was diabolical. Or to say that I think Bob Geldof is a nauseating character. Many people find that very unsettling, but I’ll say it as loud as anyone wants me to. In the first instance the record itself was absolutely tuneless. One can have great concern for the people of Ethiopia, but it’s another thing to inflict daily torture on the people of England. It was an awful record considering the mass of talent involved. And it wasn’t done shyly, it was the most self-righteous platform ever in the history of popular music.”
The World Development Movement described the Band Aid lyrics in 2004 as “patronising, false and out of date” and regretted it did not “provide a more accurate reflection of Africa and its problems”.
❏ IN THEIR RESPECTIVE AUTOBIOGRAPHIES, Ultravox’s Midge Ure and Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp provide entertaining and detailed accounts of the Band Aid venture, spiced with the frankness that comes from hindsight . . .