I realised while working on something else that 30 years ago this month Live Aid happened which is extraordinary. Not because of all the fantastic performances because really, you can count those on the fingers of one hand but because it seems to have sailed through the media with barely a ripple, and the media like doing these sort of anniversaries.
All those years ago though it was exciting to see all these megastars come on stage for 20 minutes to smash through some well known songs through a terrible sound system, and the brilliantly shambolic BBC coverage throughout the day was fantastic. Really though in hindsight it’s one of the reasons I ended up falling in love with the festival because seeing those crowds of people on my telly all crammed into the old Wembley Stadium was (and still is) an awesome sight. Musically though for an 18 year old that’d just started reading the NME and was into punk this should have been something to avoid but I’ve always been upfront about my love for pop so for me Live Aid was about David Bowie from the UK end, and this new act called Madonna on the American end. The rest of the bands were either washouts like Status Quo or The Boomtown Rats or just shite like Spandau Ballet.
I remember the build up for this being simply enormous. Simply everyone took time off on Saturday the 13th of July 1985 to sit in on a warm summers day to glue themselves to the TV. The streets of Glasgow were bare, and the same was the case all over the UK, but the entire thing was there to make money for famine relief so it wasn’t just about Elton John’s wig.
As for the acts something weird happened. Status Quo played a great opening. U2 showed they were a great rock act. Bowie played a set and a half. Queen did that set and Madonna showed she was something else. It is though looking back at the BBC footage of the event that’s a fantastic bit of archive as this video shows. My particular highlight is a drunk Robbie Coltrane (there’s also a drunk David Bowie) having a rant that charity and debt relief has been privatised, something incredibly prescient to say as this is what Live Aid actually did.
For an 18 year old this was all just spectacle but Coltrane hits the nail on the head, albeit drunkenly. Live Aid privatised aid. It was seized upon by right wing governments as an example of what could be done by people which gave successive governments reasons to absolve themselves from actually doing anything productive.
I can’t stop looking at the BBC continuity footage and marveling at the analogue nature of how the entire event managed to raise money, and indeed, the entire pre-internet era was when the most advanced bit of communication you had was a landline phone and Ceefax on the telly.Mentions of sending cheques, or going into offices and paying by trans-cash will be lost to most people not over the age of 40, or seeing Adam Ant’s career implode in front of billions, or being told that a couple gave their first house deposit of a grand, or seeing the dreadful dress sense of various BBC presenters is fantastic bits of living history.
The legacy of Live Aid is privatised aid. It’s governments using organisations live Live Aid as a beard to hide their own agendas to asset strip third world countries, and now Geldof isn’t that angry figure raging at the establishment as he’s now very mush a supportive part of the UK establishment. Yes it saved lives, lots of them, but there needs to be a thoughtful reappraisal of the effects of that day 30 years ago as it seemed so simple, so easy to save the world by just having pop stars perform for 20 minutes chunks but life and international politics isn’t that easy.It just seemed that easy for a day in 1985. Pity everything we thought then was wrong.
This two part BBC documentary from a decade ago is also something that helps put the event into some sort of historical context.