Live Aid

It was the mother of all benefit gigs and it took place on this day in 1985. “The day the music changed the world” was what they called it and consequently stamped on the commemorative DVD.

It was one of the largest television broadcasts/satellite link-ups ever, reportedly viewed by more than 1.5 billion, in 60 countries, around the world.

As well as raising awareness of the plight of the starving in Africa, some say that a kitty holding somewhere in the region of £150 million was raised for famine relief as a direct result of the concerts, which saved between a million and two million lives.

David, of course, was at Wembley (with Bryan Ferry), but whose performances do you remember as being special? I thought U2 were excellent that day.

If you don’t already have it, there is an official four-disc set of the Live Aid concerts, which was released in November 2004. Proceeds go to the Band Aid Charitable Trust, which continues to support projects across Africa.

The spot where international focus was most firmly fixed following Michael Buerk’s harrowing news report, Ethiopia, today remains one of Africa’s poorest and most populous countries. Only 10 percent of its land is arable, its dry climate dictating that the cruel cycle of drought and famine does not come as a great shock. Ethiopian life expectancy, according to the UN, is a depressing 52-54 years, but that’s hardly surprising when you consider that 46% of the population are under-nourished, only 22% have access to safe drinking water, and there are three doctors per 100,000 potential patients.

23% of Ethiopians live on less than $1 a day and, even in an ‘average’ year, six million have to be fed by the outside world. Twice as many are hungry today than during the “biblical” famine of 1984/5 that spurred Bob Geldof to act.

Hold that thought.

I recently read a strongly-worded article by Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, entitled “Band Aid and ‘self-obsessed, angst-driven Western do-gooders'”.

You might care to do the same, but the following paragraph in particular made me stop and read again. If it has a similar effect on you, I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts, if you’ve got time to share them.

It has always intrigued me why the conscience of the West can only be pricked by degradation of other peoples. The process of getting westerners to part with their donations end up dehumanizing and degrading Africa. Instead of creating the much needed understanding and solidarity it creates an unequal power relation with psychological hang-ups about superior and inferior peoples; one is a permanent donor and the other is a permanent supplicant. That one-way street does not lead to understanding, rather it institutionalizes a ‘we know best’ attitude on the part of the humanitarian industry. It also makes the humanitarian agencies married to bad news from Africa, thereby becoming professional merchants of our misery.

Author: FEd

Features Editor of David Gilmour’s official blog, The Blog (‘Features’ previously being its rather naff title), affectionately – or lazily – shortened to ‘FEd’.

39 thoughts on “Live Aid”

  1. And so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Of course, until the leaders on their own continent bring themselves out of poverty, which would they rather have: us helping them or us ignoring them?

  2. Wow, that paragraph was an exercise in patience. The “we know best” attitude was really irritating. A little of “is this morally right or wrong?” happened but then I realized it was an opinion from someone who really has a agenda against the West.

    I know I will get a lot of flack from this but next to seeing PF reunite, the next favorite bit about Live Aid was Queen doing “Rock On” and “We Are the Champions”. They really had it that day.


  3. I was there in Philadelphia, on the field, in the heat for the entire show from 7AM till 11PM. There were so many memorable moments including Judas Priest, the Led Zeppelin reunion, Mick Jagger/Tina Turner (that was just a hot performance all around), Queen (even though the live feed from the UK failed during that performance as it also failed during the Who right in the middle of Won’t Get Fooled Again), and many others.

    As for the other half of the statement above. One could easily just say, “don’t ask the West to do anything, we do have our own issues to resolve.” Fact is that politics always get in the middle, be it Western politics or Third-World politics.

    I read that much of the food that was sent to Africa was left rotting on the tarmac. Is the West to blame for that? But if the West sent people over to also distribute, they would be guilty of meddling. So you never f-ing win.

    So sometimes it feels like the answer would be for each nation to just deal with their own issues and don’t get involved with anything having to do with another country. Figure it out on your own.

    What kind of world do you think that would be??



    1. So sometimes it feels like the answer would be for each nation to just deal with their own issues and don’t get involved with anything having to do with another country. Figure it out on your own.

      But how would we – and by that I mean the enriched, bloated West – then get our hands on the resources that ‘poor’ countries have and we want – nay, need – to allow us to keep living comfortably in extravagance beyond a ‘poor’ man’s wildest dreams (or nightmares, as the case may be)?

    2. But how would we – and by that I mean the enriched, bloated West – then get our hands on the resources that ‘poor’ countries have and we want – nay, need – to allow us to keep living comfortably in extravagance beyond a ‘poor’ man’s wildest dreams (or nightmares, as the case may be)?

      That’s really the point, you can’t. It’s an idealistic thought.

      Further to that, when I say each country deal with its own issues, I should have added and live off their own resources.

      Imagine that for a minute, no imports, no exports. Live off your own land and resources. Fact is that even in that kind of idealistic world, man would still ravage and destroy the land. That’s because power struggles have existed from the beginning of time.

      Just try to relate the concept to DG. He records a new song but the song is only available in the UK and he will only perform in the UK. Hmmm… certainly wouldn’t make his fans happy, probably won’t make him happy either.

      Fact is that life on this planet will eventually implode. It is possible that someday, humans will be living on spaceships and encapsulated bubbles on other planets. The Earth’s life is finite albeit it will still be around for another 1.5 billion years but it is estimated that it will not sustain human life for more than another 500 million years.



  4. We finally have an administration that is sensitive to African and world poverty issues. Out with Bush fascism and in with a fresh voice, a new beginning for America. But don’t forget where Britain came from. Colonialism and all was repressive as well and didn’t end until after WWII. Britain was the West before American Independence and with all its good and bad qualities.

    What we need to do is exactly what Live Aid is doing. Have well known and popular musicians put out product (CDs, Docu-DVDs and the such) that us working folk can purchase with our dollars which will go to stamping out poverty in Africa.

    What Americans need to do is keep going to the polls and keep voting out Republicans who are hell bent on fascism, war and some sort of elitist society. But when you point a finger, remember there are three fingers and a thumb which point back the other direction.

    Hell, I’d like to be out of poverty, myself.

    1. But don’t forget where Britain came from. Colonialism and all was repressive as well and didn’t end until after WWII. Britain was the West before American Independence and with all its good and bad qualities.


      Although the real debt owed by Britain to Africa is obviously incalculable, the modern world as we know it wouldn’t have been built were it not for Africa: both its peoples’ (slave) labour and mineral-rich continent’s precious resources.

      Was it not built by the hands of slaves from the profits from stealing Africa’s sugar, coffee, cotton, cocoa, tobacco, gold, silver, copper, diamonds…?

      I find this 1924 article quite staggering.

  5. I guess you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

    Six million Ethiopians have to be fed by the outside world every year, so how can anyone on the receiving end complain about aid? Six million Ethiopians would probably die every year without the outside world giving them aid.

    To the music… The best performance was U2 by a country mile. The girl from the audience that Bono danced with was actually being crushed in the crowd. He saved her.

    1. Six million Ethiopians have to be fed by the outside world every year, so how can anyone on the receiving end complain about aid? Six million Ethiopians would probably die every year without the outside world giving them aid.

      The point is that the aid has corrupted and fosters dependency. The Chinese help with commercial investment, rather than aid.

      To quote Zambian economist, Dambisa Moyo: “The corruption has contaminated the whole of society. Thanks to foreign aid the people in power can afford not to care about their people; but the worst part of it is that aid undermines growth.”

      Dominic Lawson has written about this, and quotes Dambisa Moyo, in today’s Independent, if anyone’s interested.

    2. The point is that the aid has corrupted and fosters dependency. The Chinese help with commercial investment, rather than aid.

      See here what the Chinese do.

      Is it better for the Africans? No. It’s the new form of colonialism. India and South Korea are now doing the same.

      Didn’t Zimbabwe’s (corrupt) president/dictator say, “We must turn from the West and face the East”? 😉

  6. Hi Dear David,

    I couldn’t find your email address, and have to write down here.

    I am from Iran, maybe you have heard about recent events in my country, we had a presidential election, and there was fraud. We, the green movement of Iran, want to spread our voice to the world, and I think you can help us by having a live concert in support of us.

    Our symbol is the green belt in our arms.

    We really appreciate if you echo our mute voice to the world.

  7. Watch “Darwin’s Nightmare”.

    It’s about the fish business in Tanzania and how planes from Europe come in to collect the fish. The fishermen are struggling to make a living and can’t afford to eat even the scraps that the planes leave behind. The girls have to prostitute themselves to the pilots. It’s horrible.

    1. Watch also “Blood Diamond” (about diamond mining and trading in Sierra Leone). It’s a very powerful movie.

  8. Dear FEd,

    Let the children across the land be heard. I wonder if polled, what these innocent creations of God would have to save about this.

    While starvation and illness slowly take away the lives of His people, some dare to point fingers and say it is not good to accept help or to be dependent on other countries. That will help to fill a starving belly now, won’t it? I think not. Put aside false pride and think of the future leaders of our world.

    Let the Bible be our guide when soul searching whether or not to feed the starving or to heal the sick. What would Jesus do?

    May I also add that on every back step across this land lies the same problem to one degree or another. There is need of this kind in every direction you turn.

    Love the world, its people and its children. Turn your back to political injustices and know that you are marching as a soldier of God.

    Given all the riff-raff surrounding the topic, may I add a Thank You to all of those who do care and give so generously of their time and talents to raise money and donations for this more than worthy cause.

    Thank you for listening.

    Love to the world.

  9. I both agree and disagree with this author’s opinion.

    I think he’s right when he says that western countries’ donations are an easy way to clean their conscience. It’s obvious that charity is not enough to solve the problems of the third world, but I don’t think we should blame the humanitarian agencies for that.

    Western Governments are to blame.

    For me, the reality is that no one of them is actually interested in helping Africa’s development, they are more interested in keeping them supplicant and poor, in order to go on with their exploitation.

    A real and long-lasting development process should be based on the acquisition of knowledge, technologies and education, not only on money. Western Governments give the poorest countries (little) money, instead of a chance to use their own abilities and so they make them slaves.

    Politics is the problem, not charity. Humanitarian agencies (the honest ones, at least) do what they can, but politics should be made by politicians.

  10. About western Governments’ interest in helping the third world, I think this could be a good example.

    I had a Sociology teacher at University, who was directly involved in some European Union development projects and went frequently to Africa, especially Tanzania and Mozambique, as a supervisor.

    He told us, one day (I don’t remember where he was exactly) the new irrigation system, made with the money of the European Union, stopped working. They tried to solve the problem, but they couldn’t, because no replacement for the damaged part was available. More than this, the instructions were written in Chinese and no one there could read them.
    Maybe, no one had predicted the possibility of damage, or maybe no one had been interested in doing it.

    So, there was nothing they could do, so they only could leave the fields without water, watch the vegetables die and the project fail.

    1. That’s tragic, Alessandra.

      It must be so frustrating for those that really want to make a positive difference if they are being let down constantly by people who do not care or think or plan as thoroughly as they should.

    2. That’s exactly what I wanted to say.

      There are lots of people who spend their time and their capacities in the third world, because they firmly believe in what they’re doing, but all their work can be destroyed in a while by the political system which works behind them, often with completely different purposes.

      Look at the G8. Isn’t it only a great shop-window for the world leaders? I think who actually works to help the third world (instead of talking about it) could never believe a single word of what they say.

  11. I thought U2 were excellent that day.

    Apart from Bono’s shoes, I hope. :))

    I think my favourite were Crosby, Stills and Nash and Eric Clapton with Phil Collins.

    Queen’s performance was also great, even though I don’t like very much their music.

    1. Apart from Bono’s shoes, I hope. :))

      And what about his hair?!

      Fashion certainly has an awful lot to answer for.

  12. It’s very difficult to make any sort of argument and discussion on a sensitive subject in 1500 characters.

    I’ve just drafted a response to the paragraph that makes me look like a one eyed Alf Garnett – which I’m not, there just wasn’t room for balance – so I’ll preface it with this one!

    My main problem is that there’s nothing constructive said and it’s full of generalisations which are sweeping to the point of absurdity. I also think there are basic problems of logic… conclusions just don’t follow necessarily from the premise.

    Sure it’s provocative and sure it’s good to point out the moral ambiguity of the situation. But I simply do not accept that charitable movements make the situation worse in some way, that they do not also foster understanding and solidarity and I do not accept that “doing nothing” would be any less morally questionable.

    Of course he doesn’t say what he thinks “the West” should do so it’s rather difficult to make constructive comments because I suspect we are already damned if we do or if we don’t.

    1. I don’t know about Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem’s mind, but to mine, making trade fair – genuinely fair – seems to be the only thing that outsiders can do which would be acceptable. Yet everyone knows that there will always be opportunists and chancers looking to exploit circumstance to advance careers and line pockets no matter which continent they hail from.

      Do you remember when Starbucks got their knickers in a twist because Ethiopian farmers decided to trademark their speciality beans, which would have given the growers the upper hand for a change and significantly increased their earning potential? This sort of thing simply shouldn’t be allowed to happen.

      We should never forget that the wealth of the West was built on Africa’s exploitation, to borrow Richard Drayton’s essay title, and until the likes of Starbucks and all the rest of them are forced to treat Africans with nothing short of complete respect (if they can’t do so of their own accord, and let’s face it, racism and snobbery is rife in the West), I should think that many Africans will always feel sickened by Western interests, no matter how well-intended they may sometimes – but not always – be. I can’t say I blame them.

      Forget your one-eyed Alf Garnett impersonation, it’s hard not to sound patronising at times, isn’t it? Sorry about that.

    2. Incredible, Lorraine. Rich people buying up poor people’s farmland. Makes you sick.

      “The investors are exempt from tax in the first few years and may export the entire crop back home.”

      You’d think they could at least leave a McDonald’s for the locals… :/

  13. Some specific comments.

    1) What exactly is “the West”?

    2) “Conscience can only be pricked by degradation”? Not true. But surely conscience implies blame, doesn’t it? If it’s conscience we are talking about it can only be in response to damage done, can’t it? And what about “fellowship, sympathy, pity, concern…”?

    3) “The process of …” . I disagree. It just doesn’t follow.

    4) The unequal power relationship already exists – it’s not created by events such as Live Aid – which, by the way, make great efforts to emphasise individual, human stories… that’s what prompts giving and action, not statistics which overwhelm and are not easily perceived.

    5) The “we know best” attitude? I think more typical is the “what the hell can we do?” attitude. I don’t think anyone even pretends to know what is best for Africa.

    6) Agencies married to bad news? That statement means nothing. They want bad news? They somehow prosper from it? They wouldn’t celebrate good news? Let’s face it, the bad news is already there, otherwise what are we talking about?

    I fear that this guy doesn’t want understanding and solidarity, much needed or otherwise. Whatever long term solutions might dictate, refusal of aid is cutting the noses off the desperate to spite the faces of those who I suspect would rather do the supplication for themselves.

  14. As for Live Aid itself, I remember several performances, in particular:

    – The Quo kicking it all off
    – U2 were probably the stand-out performance… with Queen a close second
    – Elvis Costello sacrificing some of his slot to keep to time and doing a simple “All You Need Is Love”
    – Geldof doing “I Don’t Like Mondays”

    1985… where did the time go?

    1. 1985… where did the time go?

      I don’t know where it went, but it left bloody quickly.

      Bob Geldof’s very long pause and raised, clenched fist during that song stands out for me, too.

  15. Is it possible that I am the only one in this blog community that actually attended Live Aid?

    Here’s a few other moments I remember from the Philly side.

    – Joan Baez coming out on stage declaring “This is your Woodstock.”

    – Billy Ocean lip-synching to Carribean Queen.

    – Madonna declaring that she was not taking anything off on stage. This was a reference to the first nude pics of Madonna in Playboy. It is possible she made that comment because a few feet from the stage a guy was waving the Playboy issue at her.

    – Bob Dylan being joined by Ron Wood and Keith Richards on stage but it was quite obvious that all of them were a bit tipsy to say the least. There certainly was a rift at the time with the Stones as three of them were at the event but they did not perform together on stage.

    – The Cars forgetting some of the lyrics to their song.

    – Santana picking some of the most obscure songs to perform.

    – Phil Collins performing on both sides of the Atlantic. R.I.P. Concorde.

    – Of course the Led Zeppelin reunion. I know Plant and Page were less than pleased with the sound and performance but the fans couldn’t tell the difference. Note that the Zep portion is not on the DVD as Page/Plant requested that it be omitted.

    – Eric Clapton was as smooth as ever.

    Next, some of the stuff that was not on stage.



  16. JFK Stadium in Philadelphia was very old. The seating area in the stands were concrete benches. So imagine the people sitting on concrete slabs for 15 hours. In a way, I was lucky to have had field seats which was general admission.

    We did bring in a blanket but at the end of the day all that was left was a tattered rag.

    We were there when the gates opened at 7AM and positioned ourselves about 25 feet from the stage. By the time 9AM came around it was very challenging to move around and you had to stand to see anything. So the folks in the stands had to sit on a hard surface for 15 hours, we had to stand for 15 hours.

    Also it was extremely hot that day. On the way in, AT&T gave out painter’s hats and I wore mine all day even though I never wear hats. At various times during the day they would hose down the crowd so people were walking around soaking wet. We were too close to the stage so we didn’t get wet.

    Bathrooms were interesting. Ladies room line was so long that many of them gave up waiting and joined the men in the mens room.

    Souvenirs. Due to the conditions I decided I wasn’t going to get anything until the end. I did get a shirt but there was no selection as everything else sold out.

    There is a photo in a Live Aid book showing a woman standing atop a dumpster and holding up an American Flag. We were positioned about 5 feet in front of that and just missed being in that pic.

    It was a very long and memorable day.

    Anybody have a perspective from the Wembley side?



  17. I’ve enjoyed reading this topic. There are so many very eloquent writers here, you said a lot of stuff I would have liked to have said.

    I have to say, I felt rather indignant at first at what Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem said about the west and our consciences. I was aware of Africa’s starving from the age of five, I was deeply affected and wanted to help. I have all my life since had the images in my mind and I have despaired of ever seeing the situation get better. I only found out very much later about the slave trade and other exploitative practices. I have never felt guilty about causing the problem. I wasn’t even born when slavery was happening, knew nothing about it for many years past five but I did care about the plight of Africans. It wasn’t my fault I was born in a so called affluent western country (it’s a jungle in its own right!). No, I don’t feel guilty.

    I recognise that he was seeking to rally Africans to find the strength and will to demand better/more appropriate help from their governments. (They have to be kept alive though before they can do that and if food aid is the way, then so be it!)

    This gentleman and others like him are at risk of alienating friends because not everyone will recognise that he probably had an agenda of his own.

    As for Live Aid, a big group of us got together, all brought a dish we’d cooked/prepared, clubbed together to buy drinks, took our children with us and had a great day watching it all on TV.

    ash X

  18. I don’t know what to say about the quote from Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem. I’m offended by it.

    I thought Live Aid was awesome and did make a difference. It’s not out fault if African leaders are corrupt.

  19. I remember it vividly… I watched most of it on television. I do have the DVD set now which came in a presentation box and included a miniature Fender Strat with the globe painted on it… nice set.

    I remember it vividly because of what I was doing that afternoon… can’t go into too much detail other than to say, “Angela, if you’re out there… It was fantastic.” 😀

    Highlights for me were Quo opening with Rocking All Over The World, Queen stealing the show… Geldof swearing on live television telling everyone to “send us your ****ing money”, Phil Collins hitting the bum note on Against All Odds, some of the Stones playing with Bob Dylan, which was pretty awful…

    1. Sounds like Rudders and Angela where “Rocking All Over” something and it wasn’t pretty awful either.



  20. only 22% have access to safe drinking water

    But look at this, the West did give a community in Africa a way to safely drink piss.

    The amazing thing is that all of us are actually drinking urine and more. It is all naturally recycled anyway. We pee, it goes off to some treatment facility or body of water and then it evaporated to the sky and comes back down as rain.

    Actually I read another article that discussed all the drugs that are in drinking water. They get there either from the urine of people taking the drugs or when people flush them down the toilet.

    There really is no such thing as pure drinking water and anyone who believes there is, is fooling themselves. The plant in Africa is just one that actually converts it purely.



  21. Hi FEd, Hi everybody,

    About “Live Aid”, I think that THE performance was due to Queen that night. Freddy was particularly great, in connection with each person of the last row of the Wembley stadium… But I had great pleasure to see Dire Straits, U2, Phil Collins (who took the Concorde to perform in London, then in Philadelphia on the same day), David Gilmour joining Bryan Ferry, the Mick Jagger & Tina Turner “hot number”, Bob Geldof and his band, David Bowie (even if that artistic period wasn’t his best), the both reformed “Who” and “Led Zeppelin” for the event.

    Such a great event it was.

    Have a good day,

  22. In 2001 a gospel choir I do sound for travelled to Uganda. Other charitable groups established links to the new Catholic diocese we visited, and I saw first hand how charity works and fails.

    Communication and persistence determine EVERYTHING!!!

    It’s essential in this shrinking world that we make the virtual distance between African and donor groups shrink, especially in this new age of fiber linked servers, video on demand, and unfettered telecom though IP based systems like SKYPE.

    O3B satellite (a Google sponsored network making broadband far less expensive for users who are too far from the main trunk lines to benefit from fiber channels) is coming in the first quarter of 2011. That could help in reaching the most remote parts of the developing world if (if and only if) we lose the tunnel vision approach to what’s needed. With reliable electricity and IT infrastructure, needed services like preventing violence, catching epidemics in the initial phases, and properly targeting aid become real time activities, based on evidence, testimony and communication that entrusts responsible people.

    I want to record and develop resources with a retired audio engineer and indigenous music transcriber I met there. We’ve worked together since 2001, and maintain communications. Anyone interested in working with us is welcome to check in. Moderator is welcome to Email me.

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