IT WAS that kind of day. The sun shone most of the time, the performances were spectacular and the audience of 70,000 or more loved every minute of the ten-hour marathon. Well, could Bob Geldof describe the Live Aid concert in Wembley and Philadelphia on Saturday as the greatest day of his life? Through sheer determination he had turned an ambitious idea into a great event.
The Dublin-born singer was greeted with applause everywhere he went in the giant football stadium but, not surprisingly, he looked tired. For the past few weeks he has worked almost non-stop to get his "global jukebox" to succeed in its aim of raising £10 million for famine relief in Africa. A few hours after the Prince and Princess of Wales launched the concert at noon, it was clear that this target was modest indeed.
Yet Geldof never stopped pleading for more donations. He took money at every opportunity and from every source. At one point, he was talking to his father and some friends in the VIP enclosure for £100 and £150 ticket holders. A man leaned across with two £50 notes. "Bob, sign one and I'll give you the other,' he said. Geldof pocketed both and gave the man his autograph on a piece of paper.
Geldof was undoubtedly the hero of the day, but his enormous supporting cast of musicians, organisers, sound and stage crews also deserve to take a bow. The promoter Harvey Goldsmith said that the Wembley operation had cost £200,000 to stage, a third of what it would cost to set up a normal event of that size. The cost of the acts alone would run into millions.
There had been fears that the technical demands of such an enormous bill, with- the need for rapid changeovers between acts, would be too great. In the end there were relatively few hiccups, though it seemed a cruel twist of fate that Geldof's mike went dead during the Boomtown Rats' final number, Rat Trap.
The other Irish act, U2, also had sound problems, though they still managed a dramatic performance. They were forced to extend their second number Bad, when their singer Bono jumped into the crowd in his usual attempt to forge a physical link with the audience. Although there were anxious faces backstage, all turned out well and Bono eventually embraced a young woman, inspiring huge roars from the audience who saw the incident on the giant Diamond Vision screens on each side of the stage.
It was one of many ovations from an audience which radiated warmth, enthusiasm and good humour. This sunshine atmosphere was evident throughout the stadium. Even the performers shelved their egos along with their fees and there were no reports of backstage bickering over who plays when and for now long.
Earlier in the week, there had been reports that the Philadelphia concert was suffering from such disagreements, but all seemed rosy there when the giant screens showed the JFK stadium concert - which started five hours after Wembley. In general, the US acts made little impact on the admittedly sated London audience.
However, we were rightly not allowed to forget the less happy side of our modern world. After his excellent, stylish set, David Bowie introduced a film of starving children. It was harrowing and there was an embarrassed silence in the stadium. The incongruity of the happy event and the tragedy of famine must have struck home, though the use of a Cars song as a soundtrack was clumsy.
After Status Quo had started the day's rocking all over the world in typically party fashion, there were a number of memorable performances. The Who, reformed for the occasion, stormed through a biting set, including My Generation. Elton John and Queen had the stadium jumping, while earlier Paul Young and Alison Moyet had the audience singing. Sting and Phil Collins played a delightful low-key set, as did the tasteful Sade. And then there was Elvis Costello, appropriately singing The Beatles' All You Need is Love.
Collins was particularly busy. After his London set, he flew by Concorde to Philadelphia, where he appeared solo and also played with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, and with Eric Clapton.
He was one of the few performers who missed the Wembley grand finale. There was no Beatles reunion. But somehow it didn't matter as Paul McCartney, after a short technical delay, launched into Let It Be, with Alison Moyet, David Bowie, Pete Townshend and Bob Geldof in support. Afterwards, McCartney and Townshend carried an embarrassed Geldof on their shoulders, an act greeted with wild applause. Then the rest of the performers came onstage for an emotional rendering of Do They Know It's Christmas? - the song which launched the Band Aid project. Everybody sang. It was that kind of day.
– First published, July 15, 1985