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Reliving magic of Live Aid 30 years on... the concerts that made history

Two shows brimming over with stars at Wembley and in the US became legendary. For some Northern Ireland people it was a day to cherish

By Kerry McKittrick

Published 11/07/2015

Live Aid at the Wembley Stadium in London
Live Aid at the Wembley Stadium in London
Show stoppers: Bob Geldof is carried along by Pete Townshend from The Who and Beatles legend Paul McCartney
Queen’s Freddie Mercury on stage
George Michael

Thirty years ago, on Saturday, July 13, 1985, music changed the world with one of the largest concerts ever staged. Live Aid was spawned by the Band Aid single Do They Know It's Christmas?, released at Christmas 1984, with dozens of artists involved.

It was Boy George who had the idea to turn the single into a concert, an idea that Bob Geldof took and ran with. The result was one of the biggest music events ever seen - one that even spanned the Atlantic Ocean.

The concert started at noon in London's Wembley Stadium and was wrapped up at John F Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia 16 hours later.

It featured some 70 artists, old and new. Bands such as The Who, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath reformed for the event. Others, such as Madonna and U2, had their reputations cemented by the event.

For several hours, the two concerts were performed simultaneously on either side of the Atlantic.Phil Collins made history with a transatlantic sprint. After his appearance in London, he hot-footed it to Philadelphia to appear at the American show, playing drums for Eric Clapton before his own set.

The aim of this massive event was to raise funds for those suffering from the famine in Ethiopia. Now famous, are clips of Bob Geldof swearing at the TV cameras as he instructed viewers to, "Give me your money - now"!

Since the original Live Aid, there have been a number of events which tried to emulate the original. Self Aid, in Dublin, raised funds for the unemployed, with Farm Aid the same year being organised by Bob Dylan. Geldof replicated Live Aid with Live 8 in 2005 - a series of concerts in G8 member countries as well as South Africa. However, none has ever held a candle to the mighty Live Aid.

We spoke to five Northern Ireland people about their memories of the day that history was made ...

Harry Hamilton (50), aka Flash Harry, fronts one of the most-popular Queen tribute acts in the country. He lives in Lurgan with his wife, Heather, and their daughters, Brooke (18), Lucy (17) and Tianna (13). He says:

When Live Aid came around I would have been around 20. I was 19 when the first Band Aid single came out.

It was wonderful to see people from the music industry coming together - nothing like either the single or the concert had been done before and it was very ambitious. I think it opened a window up on show business, and I thought it was a wonderful thing.

I remember the build-up to it. A new act was announced every day and, of course, I was over the moon to hear that Queen were playing. Sadly, however, with work and finances, it wasn't an option for me to go over to London.

I saw the beginning of the concert in the house - being 20, getting up at noon was early for me. I remember Status Quo coming on to the stage for their first song, Rockin' All Over The World. It was fantastic.

I remember we then went off to Bangor - I think it was just a day trip with some friends. We were all big Queen fans, so we all had to be back in the car for 6pm so we could hear their set. We were also recording it on video at home.

We've actually recreated Queen's set from Live Aid with Flash Harry. We were once booked to play a set at a friendly match between Northern Ireland and the then World Cup winners, France.

We only had a short time to play, so we chose Queen's set from 1985. It was one of the most surreal moments of my life, standing there singing in Windsor Park with world-famous footballers warming up all around me.

Queen did a 17-minute set at Live Aid and they played a short version of all their greatest hits. They started with Bohemian Rhapsody, but cut it short, and so on. No one else did it like that; they would play a recent single, or a whole song.

After we'd got home and watched Queen, we stayed with it to the end. I loved seeing Phil Collins play in England and America. He did simple versions of his songs, with just him at the piano. I thought that was great.

I think I watched the concert a couple of times and I had cassette tapes of it for a long time afterwards. There were a lot of global acts involved, like The Who. Led Zeppelin reformed and Phil Collins was as big as it got.

People have tried to achieve the same heights since, but I don't think there has ever been the same resonance around the globe as the original."

Stuart Bailie is a writer, broadcaster and CEO of the Oh Yeah Music Centre in Belfast. He says:

London beckoned me with a typewriter under my arm to seek fortune and fame as a music writer not long before Live Aid. I can remember being overwhelmed about the whole thing.

I thought that the Band Aid single was the ultimate and that they couldn't possibly top it. The next thing, I saw Paula Yates on Channel 4's The Tube talking about this amazing idea her husband had and it grew and grew from there.

I remember watching U2, and Bono pulling a girl from the crowd to dance with. I thought that performance put them into the super league.

Bono went off-script and the rest of the band hated what he had done and thought he had blown it, but, of course, he hadn't. It carved out a future for them.

I begrudgingly watched Queen - I was a punk rocker and didn't approve of such dinosaurs, but they did what they did very well. People talked about it for weeks afterwards and the music Press was full of it afterwards.

I was an indie kid and we felt old acts were thrust into the limelight at a time when we were moving into a future of new and exciting music. Then, all of a sudden, people wanted to listen to Queen and Status Quo.

I covered Self Aid in Dublin the next year and you could see that Live Aid was the slow dawning on people that money could patch up a problem.

I think it's been done enough now, though. Even Bob Geldof has talked about 'compassion fatigue' since then."

Barry McIlheney (55) is the chief executive of the Professional Publishers Association. Born in Belfast, he now lives in London with his wife, Lola Borg, and their children, Frankie (23) and Mary (19). He says:

I went to London in 1983, because I wanted to be a music writer and I ended up with a staff job at Melody Maker.

I was asked to cover Live Aid, because we didn't really know what it was going to be and none of the older ones there really wanted to cover it.

So, I went along with my colleague, Carol Clerk, who sadly died a few years ago. We sat in the Press box, which was squeezed in right beside the Royal box.

It was a great day and it made U2, who had been knocking on the door of the big time. U2 and Queen both really wowed the crowd; they gave them just what they wanted - their greatest hits, not new singles. Adam Ant played his new single and it didn't go down too well.

There were all sorts of rumours - like the three surviving Beatles reforming - going round. I heard a few, because I took a couple of wanders around the crowd to do some vox pops. No one had really done anything like it before, so we didn't know what to expect.

After the concert finished, Carol and I had to speed back to her house.

Melody Maker printed on a Monday morning and we had to produce an eight-page spread. We pulled more than an all-nighter to get it done.

I remember people talking about the concert for days and weeks afterwards. Our spread went down very well - in fact, we won an award for it from the Professional Publishers Association, which is the organisation I'm now the chief executive of.

It was really Live Aid that started everything off for me. Thanks to the spread, I won the award and thanks to that, I got the job as editor of Smash Hits nine months later. It's all gone on from there for me."

Mark Bush (52) is a postman and lives in Newtownabbey with his wife, Lynda, and children, Amber (22) and Chloe (19). He says:

As a lifelong music fan I used to go to gigs and concerts. But, because of the Troubles, in the 1980s big names didn't tend to come to Belfast. When they announced the concert, my then-girlfriend, now wife, Lynda, decided that we would go. We found out that they were selling tickets here - I think only 30 were available.

I used to get the 5.15am bus to work, so one morning, about a month before the concert, Lynda got the bus into town with me so she could queue up to get the tickets.

I had to wait the whole day to find out if we had them - there were no mobiles or internet back then.

Lynda had never been on a plane before, so we decided to make a wee break of it. We arrived at the concert at about 11.30am - it started at noon - and we stayed right to the end.

I'm more into heavy rock, so I actually preferred the American line-up to the English one. But, in saying that, glam rock is the first era of music I can remember, so it was great to see Elton John and David Bowie.

There were rumours going round that The Beatles were to play, with John Lennon being replaced by his son Julian, so it was a bit of a disappointment when just Paul McCartney came on.

We were sitting - we hadn't known our tickets were seated - at about the half-way line of the Wembley pitch.

Some people had binoculars and they would lend them to you if there was someone you wanted to see whom they weren't fussed on.

It seemed to go quite quickly - we raced back to our hotel so we could watch the American show afterwards.

I have great memories of the day, but I've never met anyone else from Northern Ireland who was there."

Lynda Bush (49) is Mark's wife. She works as a civil servant. She says:

Don't ask me what shop it was that I queued up at for the tickets. It might have been Makin' Tracks, which I think was somewhere near Ann Street.

I think I was about 10th in the queue, but we didn't know how many tickets were being released.

We also didn't know if one person would buy all of them in one go, or if they would only sell one ticket to one person. In the end, they would only sell two to each person.

I remember that they only released 50 tickets, but Mark thinks it was just 30. I do remember they cost £25, which felt like a fortune back then; £20 went to the Live Aid charity, with about £5 each paying for the concert itself.

I think the flights to London cost us £120 each - you would get two flights for that price now, but it was the first time I had ever been away and we wanted to make an occasion of it. We liked going to gigs, but we normally went to places like the Ulster Hall, or the Maysfield Leisure Centre, so Wembley Stadium seemed absolutely huge.

The main reason I wanted to go was to see David Bowie and I remember being quite disappointed that he gave up one of his songs to have a charity video played.

I would say that, because they played late in the day when the crowd was hyped up, Queen stole the show.

I wouldn't be a Queen fan, but they were magnificent.

We went back to Wembley to see David Bowie play the next year and we do go over to gigs in London.

"We like to make a weekend of it there, rather than in Dublin."

A joy for 1.5bn TV viewers

The two concerts - in London and Philadelphia - were attended by 72,000 and 100,000 people respectively, but it's estimated that 1.5 billion people in 100 countries tuned in on TV.

Although Live Aid itself raised more than £40m, it's thought the final total was closer to £150m.

Although the concerts ran for 16 hours, start-to-finish, because of the dual performances, there were actually 27 hours of music.

The biggest single donation on the night came from the ruling family of Dubai, who generously pledged a whopping £1m.

There were also associated concerts in Sydney and Germany, as well as taped performances from Moscow, Japan, Austria and Norway.

Belfast Telegraph

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