Live Aid

Live Aid
Official Live Aid poster.jpeg
Official Live Aid poster, artwork by Peter Blake
Dates13 July 1985; 34 years ago (1985-07-13)
Location(s)Wembley Stadium in London, England, United Kingdom
John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Founded byBob Geldof

Live Aid was a dual-venue benefit concert held on Saturday 13 July 1985, as well as an ongoing music-based fundraising initiative. The original event was organised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for relief of the ongoing Ethiopian famine. Billed as the "global jukebox", the event was held simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in London, England, United Kingdom (attended by 72,000 people) and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States (attended by about 100,000 people).[1]

On the same day, concerts inspired by the initiative happened in other countries, such as the Soviet Union, Canada, Japan, Yugoslavia, Austria, Australia and West Germany. It was one of the largest-scale satellite link-ups and television broadcasts of all time; an estimated audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations, watched the live broadcast,[2] nearly 40% of the world population.[3]

The impact of Live Aid on famine relief has been debated for years. One aid relief worker stated that following the publicity generated by the concert, "humanitarian concern is now at the centre of foreign policy" for western governments.[4] Geldof states, "We took an issue that was nowhere on the political agenda and, through the lingua franca of the planet – which is not English but rock 'n' roll – we were able to address the intellectual absurdity and the moral repulsion of people dying of want in a world of surplus."[5] He adds, Live Aid "created something permanent and self-sustaining", but also asked why Africa is getting poorer.[4] The organisers of Live Aid tried, without much success, to run aid efforts directly, channelling millions of pounds to NGOs in Ethiopia. Much of this, however, went to the Ethiopian government of Mengistu Haile Mariam – a regime the UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wanted to "destabilise"[6] – and was spent on guns.[4][7]


The BBC News reports of Michael Buerk (pictured) on the Ethiopian famine sparked the aid relief movement.[8]

The 1985 Live Aid concert was conceived as a follow-on to the successful charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" which was also the brainchild of Geldof and Ure. In October 1984, images of hundreds of thousands of people starving to death in Ethiopia were shown in the UK in Michael Buerk's BBC News reports on the 1984 famine.[8] The BBC News crew were the first to document the famine, with Buerk's report on 23 October describing it as "a biblical famine in the 20th century" and "the closest thing to hell on Earth".[9] The report shocked Britain, motivating its citizens to inundate relief agencies, such as Save the Children, with donations, and to bring the world's attention to the crisis in Ethiopia.[8][10] Geldof also saw the report, and called Ure from Ultravox (Geldof and Ure had previously worked together for charity when they appeared at the 1981 benefit show The Secret Policeman's Ball in London) and together they quickly co-wrote the song, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" in the hope of raising money for famine relief.[8] Geldof then contacted colleagues in the music industry and persuaded them to record the single under the title 'Band Aid' for free.[8] On 25 November 1984, the song was recorded at Sarm West Studios in Notting Hill, London, and was released four days later.[11][12] It stayed at number one for five weeks in the UK, was Christmas number one, and became the fastest-selling single ever in Britain and raised £8 million, rather than the £70,000 Geldof and Ure had initially expected.[8] Geldof then set his sights on staging a huge concert to raise further funds.[8]

The idea to stage a charity concert to raise more funds for Ethiopia originally came from Boy George, the lead singer of Culture Club. George and Culture Club drummer Jon Moss had taken part in the recording of "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and in the same month, the band were undertaking a tour of the UK, which culminated in six nights at Wembley Arena. On the final night at Wembley, 22 December 1984, an impromptu gathering of some of the other artists from Band Aid joined Culture Club on stage at the end of the concert for an encore of "Do They Know It's Christmas?". George was so overcome by the occasion he told Geldof that they should consider organising a benefit concert. Speaking to the UK music magazine Melody Maker at the beginning of January 1985, Geldof revealed his enthusiasm for George's idea, saying, "If George is organising it, you can tell him he can call me at any time and I'll do it. It's a logical progression from the record, but the point is you don't just talk about it, you go ahead and do it!"[13]

It was clear from the interview that Geldof had already had the idea to hold a dual venue concert and how the concerts should be structured:

The show should be as big as is humanly possible. There's no point just 5,000 fans turning up at Wembley; we need to have Wembley linked with Madison Square Gardens, and the whole show to be televised worldwide. It would be great for Duran to play three or four numbers at Wembley, and then flick to Madison Square where Springsteen would be playing. While he's on, the Wembley stage could be made ready for the next British act like the Thompsons or whoever. In that way, lots of acts could be featured and the television rights, tickets and so on could raise a phenomenal amount of money. It's not an impossible idea, and certainly one worth exploiting.[13]

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