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I think it's OK to be serious as long as you're not boring. -- Bono

The Great Leap of Faith - Part 1

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Saturday, July 13th, 1985 will go down in history as Live Aid Day, the extraordinary culmination of Bob Geldof's attempts to mobilise the international music industry behind urgently needed famine relief in Africa. Among the stellar cast performing for 72,000 people at Wembley Stadium, London, are U2, a band determined to rise to the occasion. Report: Neil McCormick.


From a distance Wembley Stadium looks like a leftover from a Hollywood film set, dream architecture somewhere between The Thief of Baghdad and Metropolis, its rolling, smooth, carved stone oddly out of place at the end of a long, bare, modern road. Huge crowds of people were filing towards it -- happy and colourful in T-shirts, shorts, jeans, summerwear. What a day!

What a glorious day! Not only was the sky a rich, cloudless blue with a bright, hot sun beating down, but these people were going somewhere special, clutching tickets to (at long last, after centuries of extravagant, boastful circus posters) THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH!

Touts moved wearily through the masses, enquiring cautiously: "Anyone need a ticket?" Rumour had it that the police, visible at every juncture, were taking the unprecedented step of arresting these mercenaries. "We're not doing anything illegal," said one tout, quickly returning his wares to his pockets as three members of Her Majesty's Constabulary strolled by. "We're just discussing tickets between ourselves, aren't we? You can go anywhere with this ticket, it's not seated...it says Gate B, but once you're inside you can sit or stand where you like. Look -- there's no seat number, see?"

The ticket was an attractive and complex affair, worthy of any mint. "Of course it's not a forgery," insisted the tout. "It'll just be stupid to sell forgeries. Then you could really get nicked!"

The touts' asking prices varied astonishingly, depending presumably on the gullibility of the purchaser. "I managed to pick up a couple of tickets last week for 80 quid a shot," someone from a record company told me proudly. His companion turned to him and said nonchalantly, "They're selling them over by the gate for 35."

To the respectable purchaser a ticket was £5...plus a £20 donation to the Band Aid charity. 72,000 of these had sold out in a matter of hours. Nobody had thought the asking price steep. Outside the stadium official stands sold Band Aid videos, Live Aid posters, T-shirts and programmes, David Bailey's book of Ethiopian photographs Imagine -- everything bearing the legend..."This Saves Lives." People thronged around the stands, keeping the volunteer helpers on their toes, most people buying a number of items, some buying as many as ten programmes at £5 each. THIS PROGRAMME SAVES LIVES...

And you were there. That was the main thing, as your ticket stub was torn at the turnstile, you were there, in person.

The size of the crowd really hit me as I stepped into it. Not just enormous but...bustling with life -- it was momentarily frightening, the mood so raucous and jubilant that it seemed any small movement onstage could trigger a crazy stampede. But I soon realised the atmosphere was probably a little bit more picnic than carnival in most of the stadium. I had walked straight into the most manic area -- directly beneath the celebrity seating.

"It's f**kin' Bowie, man, f**kin' Bowie," exclaimed a half tanked, beer bellied, sunburned man with (believe it!) a handkerchief tied to his head and a north of England accent. He was pointing at the stand and nudging his slimmer but similarly naked and burnt companion. "See -- the first row -- grey suit...fuckin' Bowie, man, fuckin' Bowie!" Another young man his friend's attention to Bowie with the more sedate "There's David -- can you see him?" sounding for all the world like an old friend of the rock star.

A bearded George Michael appeared amidst the screams of those girls close enough to recognise him. People climbed up the stand as close as they could get to the celebrity area, passing programmes over to be autographed.

Someone was announcing the start of the concert as Prince Charles and Lady Di took their seats to a roar that drowned out the PA. Photographers, amateur and professional, jostled for the closest position. "Did you get the picture of Diana?" yelled a girl at her boyfriend as he and his Instamatic were elbowed away by very serious looking paparazzi. Bob Geldof, in denim and bristle, followed the immaculate heirs to the throne, and was as much a recipient of the standing ovation, from celebrities and crowd alike, as were the Royals.

On stage, a small military band played what seemed about 2 bars of the national anthem for which nobody remained still. People who had started to sing were caught out when the music stopped, and they began to shout instead...

Noise and excitement filled the air in the stadium. It was shaking. It took a moment to realise that Status Quo were onstage, barely visible through the ranks of arms held high, barely audible through the belly roar of the thousands present. You could bear a snatch of that familiar, loping sound..."Rockin' All Over the World."

It was the first of many songs that bands pulled out of their personal hit parades as appropriate to the occasion, the huge video screens on either side of the stage showing the pictures that were being beamed out to the invisible satellites. The crowd sang along full throat, delighted by the familiarity and friendliness of Quo's short set, the masters of 12 bar repetition packing a punch in three songs that they had probably never achieved before in their long (long, long) gigging career.

A couple of Status Quo banners were held high as the band left the stage. While most people were indistinguishable in their shorts and Live Aid T-shirts as fans of one band or another, there were some visibly partisan elements in the audience. Denim jackets with QUO sewn in, several U2 banners, old leather jackets studded with the Who and, most strangely, one character with long hair and a headband who sported the name of Randy California on everything he wore and carried (including several copies of the same Randy California album). Did he know something we didn't? (Fortunately, the answer turned out to be NO).

A five-minute gap between the openers and the Style Council allowed the atmosphere to calm down considerably, and Weller & Co., through warmly received, did not deliver the kind of stadium set that would have kept people on their toes. Some stretched out amidst legs that earlier looked ready to stampede and crush.

"Shall we stay here?" a girl asked her boyfriend, mid-crowd. "At least we can see the video!" "I didn't come to Wembley to watch TV," he replied, pushing forward.

At the very back there wasn't much else you could do, the dots on the stage being so unrecognisable that your eye was naturally drawn to the large screen close-ups. By the time the sound reached the back, however, it was out of sync with the picture. Some found those stands ideal, however. "There's just about room to sit down," said a 30-ish denim-clad man, "hear some music, watch all the people enjoying themselves and" -- he patted a wooden box with six plastic pint cups of beer -- "drink up some atmosphere."

The three stages-in-one system had revolved once again, and, although Ultravox were next on the programme the Boomtown Rats were announced. There was a hefty cheer that grew and grew in volume as Geldof ran onto the stage. Even in the seats where no one had stood thus far, people stood for a moment to applaud the man who made the day possible...

Despite being, in terms of international success, the most dubious band on the bill, there only because of 15 minutes of fame which had long-since ticked out, the Rats acquitted themselves superbly. Their sound was full (the best so far) and their hits memorable enough to have a crowd that (in an odd role-reversal) wished to please -- more than be pleased by - its hero. They sang along noisily, waving arms and applauding when Geldof paused meaningfully on a line from "I Don't Like Mondays" -- "and the lesson today is how to die!"

During "Rat Trap" the first sound problem of the day manifested itself when the lead vocal vanished completely, causing some confusion as Simon Crowe's harmony lines interrupted what many took to be an extended instrumental introduction, while Geldof cavorted about the stage, hearing himself on his monitor and looking rather ridiculous on the video screens, as he silently mouthed the words of the song.

His voice, it must be conceded, was not sorely missed, the crowd doing a sterling replacement job, the vast majority of the 72,000 proving themselves to be better singers than Geldof (I sometimes wonder how someone could be dumb enough to think he could become a pop star with a voice like that and yet smart enough to do it!). And anyway..."I've just realised today is the best day of my life," he said before he lost his voice, and no accident of the PA could take that away.

The video screens went dead as the Rats left the stage, and failed to come back on when Adam Ant and his band ran on to play "Vive Le Rock," his current single which no one seemed to recognise (despite the presence of lead vocals). He immediately ran back off after his one song set, leaving the stadium a little baffled.

Most of the press corps, however, could not have been the slightest bit confused, their seats (which probably for the first time in reviewing history had been paid for, at a cost of £100 each) remaining conspicuously empty throughout his set. In a stadium overflowing with life, packed out with partying people, the press and VIP (£250) areas were starkly, deserted for much of the gig. The same could not be said of the private bar.

"We got ten tickets into the office," moaned a record company representative sitting at the very back of the stadium, "and the bastards that grabbed them didn't give a damn about the gig. They just wanted to hang out at the bar. I wanted to hear the music! "

"So? You can hear the music all over the stadium," I observed.

"Yeah, but it would be nice to be to get into the bar as well," he grinned.

Between sets the wide corridor that ran around the stadium filled up with people buying beer, coke and burgers (and more programmes and posters). One bar was so swamped it ran out of beer by 1 o'clock and someone had to stand shouting "Only Coca-Cola here!" to disperse the rapidly forming and potentially belligerent queues. "We should do the business like this everyday," said a sales woman. "No bleedin' thanks," said another, pouring Coke out as quickly as she could get the cap off another litre.

A strange guitar sound filtered in from the stadium. "U2?" said one guy, torn between losing his place in a beer queue and rushing out to see the band whose name he bore on his back. Eventually he ran off to find Ultravox playing "One Small Day." I wonder if Midge Ure would take that as a compliment?

The heat in the crowd was intense -- the sun beating down with a directness we hadn't experienced all this English summer. Somebody stripped down to his loose Y-fronts. "We could throw you out now," joked a steward.

Ultravox's playing was at first ham-fisted for a major rock group, though it finally came together in a rousing "Vienna." "It's just like Top of the Pops, isn't it?" said a young girl who had hitched her top as high as it would go and removed her trousers. "Top of the Pops in the sun. It's lovely!" She had never been to a big live gig before. Perhaps, accustomed to seeing rock stars on fast moving TV shows, this was what she expected all live concerts to be like...

The stage revolved once again, bringing with it a new set-up and more roadies testing microphones. A heavy metal band played on the video, Kerranging its greetings from another part of the world to the apparently total disinterest of Wembley. The sound did not have the full weight of the PA and was (mercifully) constantly interrupted by the road crew thumping drums and counting up to two. It cut out completely mid-solo, to be replaced by a voice welcoming Spandau Ballet.

An extremely obese girl, stripped down to her bra and underpants with a T-shirt tied round her waist to act as a crude loincloth, pointed excitedly at wide boy Martin Kemp. "My sister's boyfriend looks just like him!" she informed her companions. Kemp, in his regency finery, smiled benignly out at the crowd. "He's horrible," said one of the girl's friends.

Spandau, the first real heartthrob showbiz glitter act of the day caused a female surge to the front. Their first song ended amidst a few screams and wide, appreciative applause. Gary took the mike. "This is a brand new song, written especially for you. It's about any boy or girl that's born today -- wishing them luck, 'cos they're gonna need it. It's called -- 'We Are Virgin'," he announced.

"Speak for yourself, sweetheart!" the girl in the bra shouted out.

The repartee of the bands we had seen thus far had not been particularly memorable, amounting mostly to a few "y' alrights?" and a couple of "Have a nice days." Spandau, perpetrators of revolutionary chic turned smooth boyos, even let loose the hoary old chestnut: "You're looking beautiful, every one of you!" They obviously couldn't see the section of the crowd I was standing amidst: overweight, underdressed and sweating profusely. The rest of the stadium and the viewers at home could not plead the same ignorance. A television camera swung round in our direction. Arms went up excitedly as people appeared on the video. "Wave to your mum!" shrieked the fat girl as she saw herself and her companions in the middle of the picture. Astonishingly, they all waved frantically at the screen nearest them, not at the camera.

Close by someone was demonstrating greater media experience by holding aloft a hand-painted sign that read "Nicky & Sarah & Jason & Steve. Hello Mum & Dad (x4). Jill Mary Lesley Bob Class of '77 and TORBAY."

Despite the stadium seething wall-to-wall with bodies, movement through the crowd was quite easy. The mood by now was relaxed with a total absence of belligerence on anyone's part. At the front, although there were various appeals from the stage for people to move back and make room, it was not dangerously jammed. Stewards sprayed water over the first few rows but nobody seemed in danger of collapsing and, between sets, there was a constant and unimpeded stream of people filing back and forward to the corridors.

Elvis Costello took the stage to a clamorous, welcoming cheer. A tiny figure on the huge stage, he strummed his guitar and said, "I want you to help me sing this old northern English folk song," before pre-empting the rumoured Beatles reunion by delivering a lovely, personalised, singalong version of "All You Need is Love." The crowd sang lead, harmonies and even the horn parts without any bidding.

Although the video had now arrived in Austria, it was, once again, largely ignored by the Wembley crowd. Many filed out to the toilets between sets, causing huge queues outside every Ladies sign. A toilet set aside for Physically Handicapped was filled with girls whose only handicap was an uncomfortable bladder. Some avoided queues by stepping furtively into a toilet whose entrance was partially blocked by a sign reading "Out of Order. No Entry." Such was their desperation that a large queue of embarrassed girls formed inside one Gents, where they waited for cubicles to come free while lining single-file alongside the urinals. This was the cause of a very strange phenomenon -- next door was a Gentleman's convenience that boasted only a large number of urinals (no cubicles) but which was curiously devoid of urinating gentlemen, while in the Gents filled with ladies, men queued to use the latrines, presumably for the privilege of exposing themselves legitimately to blushing female strangers.

Nik Kershaw took the stage on schedule to play a neat trio of bits. The efficiency of the stage management was stunning given the complexity of the task (and the usual propensity of shows -- especially festivals -- to run late). Backstage, shabby mobile cabins served as dressing rooms, with each performer allowed only a half-hour of privacy before and after the gig, the cabin then being handed over to the next star. For once there were no ridiculous riders or extravagant extras and no complaints about the dull decor, peeling lino or missing luxuries.

Sade, onstage only five minutes late, wondered "Why Can't We Live Together?" her low-key operation sounding remarkably convincing in this huge stadium. Oddly, she was the only black star -- a fact that doubtless accounted for, in an unusually mixed ragbag of an audience, the very small presence of black people. She was also the first female star to make an appearance -- causing the mass male ranks to cheer loudly when she removed her jacket and even more loudly and boorishly when she turned to reveal a backless top. "The best thing about these festivals," confided a young man with a predictably thin moustache, "is the girls." He and his friend went on to discuss someone they had seen in fishnet stockings and not much else. "You paid £25 for that?" I asked incredulously. "You could go to picture shows in Soho for 50p!" "It's for Ethiopia!" he replied honourably. I pointed him in the direction of some near-naked flesh.

Noel Edmunds delivered a lengthy build-up to Phil Collins and then had to run back on stage to shout rather sheepishly over the anticipatory veils of the crowd, "But first...Sting!" Sting and Collins alternated solo guitar arid piano songs, winding up with duets on two of their finest moments -- "Long, Long Way to Go" and "Every Breath You Take." Without the slightest touch of bombast these two completely captivated the stadium. This is what people really wanted to see and hear -- the rare, historical, magic moment when two superstars meet.

This was the main element of the whole gig, of the whole Band Aid phenomenon. It wasn't just the chance to see all your heroes in one (nay, it was a chance to see all your heroes together, hobnobbing. An excuse to believe the rich and famous really were different, living in another world, a world of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTETS...

Howard Jones was delighted to be part of this world, grinning from ear to car as lie sat down at the piano to play "Hide and Seek." For the newer and younger stars this must really have been the time of their lives, meeting people who were as much heroes for them as for the audience. The hippy in Howard, never too far from the surface, was brought right to the fore by the occasion -- the Woodstock he never knew! "It's a great pleasure to be here with you sharing this experience," he informed everyone, smiling.

At least one person was totally prepared to share his experience with the preposterous Mr. Jones. A young man who somehow combined an outlandishly jet black Mohican hairdo with a furry blond disco hopper moustache, leaped up and down screaming "Howaaaard!" and waving frantically at the stage. Howard, caught up in his own rapture, failed to notice.

The Russians invaded his set with a satellite broadcast of Autograph, which sent people scurrying back in search of beer and toilets. A 4-ft. girl standing close to the stage complained vociferously that she hadn't seen a thing so far. 'I've forced my way right up here and I can't even see the video!" she said. "There's always someone in the way." "Try growing," somebody suggested unhelpfully. "They should let the short people stand at the front and make all the tall people stand at the back, staggered by height," another diminutive girl was heard to suggest. "I don't think even Bob Geldof could organise that," her 6-ft, boyfriend replied.

"Bryan's Main Vocal, Bryan's Main Vocal," repeated a roadie with a civilised voice and a vocabulary that took in more than the first two digits and the word "hello." Trust Bryan Ferry to have an educated road crew. The man himself looked as smooth and sensational as always, leading a smooth and sensational band on stage. With exaggerated trademark dips and shoulder shuffles he sucked the crowd into a set drawn largely from his new album, but delivered with such elan they sounded like family favourites. The PA faltered occasionally, cutting out drums and bass at certain points and almost fatally wiping out the vocal during the high point of the set, "Imagine." The loss of Ferry's vocal was a far more severe crisis than the loss of Geldof's had been, but once again voices rose from the crowd to fill in the gaps: "Imagine all the people living life in peace..." He closed the song by leading the entire stadium in a mass chorus of the worst whistling ever heard by man or beast, and received, upon his parting wave, one of the loudest responses of the day.

A Scotsman with a stutter listed "F-F-F-F-Ferry, Paul Young, U2 and the Who" as his reasons for traveling all the way to Wembley. "I just want to see everybody," said another, "so I'll be able to namedrop in conversations, you know. Bowie? Oh I've seen him live. The Who? I've seen them live! Status Quo? Queen, Elton John? I hate to bore you, but I've seen them live too! Nobody will be able to hit with that 'I was at Woodstock' line again. I was at Live Aid, man."

Paul Young's band did more stirring sing-a-song work and thankfully there were no vocal problems as another MILLION DOLLAR DUO brought the house down, Young dueting with Alison Moyet, a marriage made somewhere close to pop heaven and with a kiss on the cheek. Matchmaker Geldof made an appearance at the end of their set to welcome America to the proceedings.

Bryan Adams came live but not very loud on the video from Philadelphia as in the thick of the crowd U2 flags were appearing. There were banners for that day from "Nik Kershaw" to "Hello, Grimsby," but there were more for U2 than anyone else. Perhaps U2 just have a flag-waving audience, for they inspired the loudest welcome since Quo as they launched into "Sunday Bloody Sunday."

Bono, as ever, connected with the audience, leaping down an embankment to pull a girl from the crowd during an extended version of "Bad" that swept into "Ruby Tuesday," "Sympathy for the Devil," "Walk on the Wild Side" and all of rock 'n' roll. There was something strangely manic and disturbing about the performance but, more than any other of the day, it transcended crowd pleasing while succeeding in utterly pleasing the crowd. "I w-wish they'd played m-m-m-more songs," said the stuttering Scotsman. Well, you can't keep everyone happy.

The Beach Boys, on video from America, were the first band to break down the boundary of distance, inspiring the Wembley audience to sing and dance and applaud as if they were on the stage in front of them in two parts of the world crowds sang "Good Vibrations" -- a hippy dream come true through the wonders of technology.

Dire Straits, with Sting on backing vocals, kept the stadium rolling. The crowd, since Ferry, had been getting louder and more agitated as star was heaped upon star and the compound excitement of the day mounted, and the appearance of vast arrays of invisible guitars, their players whining along to "Sultans Of Swing" added considerably to the pandemonium. But all hell broke loose for Queen, who contributed the most brilliantly constructed greatest hits set of the day, 20 minutes into which they packed "Bohemian Rhapsody," (cleverly cutting away before the complex vocal harmonies), "Radio Ga Ga" (inspiring the ranks at the front to behave like extras in the video), "Hammer to Fall," ''Crazy Little Thing Called Love," "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions" -- jerrybuilt crowd-pleasing anthems for every occasion.

The band's sound was crystal clear and Mercury led the crowd like a true showman...I may sound like the converted here, but I saw punks dancing and applauding those hoary old pomp-rockers.

Queen even outdid everyone in the programme, tastefully printing the words "Is This the World We Created" where other bands had badly written biogs filled with the kind of extravagant claims that seemed out of place in the name of charity. The ads in the programme were another testing ground of sensitivity and cleverness. While some simply sold their products -- cigarettes, make-up, stereos, clothes - presented colourfully and a little appallingly after horrifying photos from Ethiopia, many wisely and tastefully pushed the theme rather than themselves. "Please think of the people for whom one hour seems an eternity," said Seiko. Ford Trucks had a cartoon of a packed family transit van on one page under the line "Suffer Little Children," while the page opposite stated "But Don't Let the Children Suffer" and elsewhere an otherwise blank page simply bore the line, "this space has been donated by Imperial Tobacco Limited."

Two other old Queens of Rock, Jagger and Bowie made an appearance on the video screen, singing "Dancing in the Streets". They were cheered but not as loudly as the arrival on stage of the real thing -- David Bowie, immaculate in a suit, surrounded by backing singer beauties and a stunning band, playing "Rebel Rebel."

"It's him! It's him!" yelled a girl close to tears. Presumably, elsewhere in the crowd a young man was informing his friends: "There's Dave on stage." "Modern Love" would have raised the roof if there'd been a roof, but Bowie's show-stopper was "Heroes," where he clearly celebrated the crowd and the watching world: "We can be heroes just for one day..."

The song, written so long ago, finally found its place on this stage just as Quo's "Rockin' All Over the World," Nik Kershaw's "Wouldn't It Be Good," Sade's "Why Can't We Live Together?" Sting's "Driven to Tears," Phil Collins' "A Long, Long Way to Go" and Queen's "We Are the Champions," all had.

Bowie departed to long cries of "more," returning a moment later, not to play an encore but to soberly introduce a video made by CBC. "The subject speaks for itself," he said. "Please send your money in."

The video -- appalling, heart-rending pictures of the Ethiopian tragedy backed by the Cars' aching "Drive" ("You can't go on, thinking nothing's wrong") -- went a long way towards sobering the crowd. Tears filled many eyes as in the midst of the euphoria you were reminded of the cause that drove it, the tragedy that started the party. "I've got £20 here," said a girl. "Who am I supposed to give it to?" "Go and buy some programmes," suggested her friend. "I've already got five," said the girl.

There was a large shift of people at the front of the stadium, as the Bowie fans went in search of nourishment, and Who fans took their places. The sky was growing dark and cloudy above. In the corridor, a guy who had queued for five minutes for a burger, spat out his first mouthful. "That's not cooked," he complained loudly. "I'm not getting food poisoning for anyone, not even starving Ethiopians." Those close by laughed guiltily.

Harvey Goldsmith was onstage trying to make an announcement, but he was totally drowned out by Jack Nicholson on the screens from Philadelphia, attempting to introduce the next band in London. "I want you to think about who you'd like to see. Who?" he teased the crowd, his famous grin causing whoops of delight in Wembley. "I wonder if he can hear us screaming over there," asked a girl, "before emitting an ear piercing "Ja-a-a-a-a a-a-ck."

The star continued unabashed. "A working class image...legendary..." The crowd had their answer in seconds -- "back from the dead -- the Who!" Entwistle, Townshend, Daltrey, Jones and keyboard player Rabbit ran out onstage to have their intro totally blown by sound problems. When they eventually launched into "My Generation" (3 generations on) Daltrey's vocals were inaudible and Townshend's guitar poses looked half-hearted at best. And yet still, despite their obvious unhappiness at playing together again, as the sound came together, the old magic came alive. This was the Who! For the last time anywhere. Daltrey mike-spinning, Townshend arm-windmilling, the band going through motions that had greatness honed right into them, singing "We won't get fooled again," and pulling the wool over everyone 's eyes.

Santana followed the Who onto the huge screen. (What festival would be a festival without them? Don't answer that). The clouds were growing black and ominous above. "I think it's going to rain," said a fat Liverpool man, naked from the up. "I hope it rains!" he added, holding his arm aloft. "I could do with a bath." Norway's Band Aid song appeared on the video, as dismal as their usual Eurovision entry, and only made bearable by a ham-fisted roadie checking a piano through the PA. The organisers were testing fate showing this -- and sure enough fate gave. The clouds burst and the rain came pouring down.

Since no one had come dressed for this weather, few even bothered to shelter themselves. Many, including the fat Liverpudlian, whooped with delight. "Don't bother covering yourself," he told his companion, "we've got to kip in a train station tonight. We're gonna get wet anyway -- so we might as well get wet now!"

(continued in Part 2)