Sunday 16 June 2019

Geldof live on BBC Radio 1: 'F**k-up and gimme a pound'

USA For Africa at the recording session for 'We Are The World'
USA For Africa at the recording session for 'We Are The World'

Thirty years ago, Dubliner Bob Geldof pulled off a memorable coup when he press-ganged the planet's biggest pop-stars into a recording studio and detained them until they'd recorded a song that would become an all-time best seller.

Weeks earlier, Geldof had been reduced to tears by harrowing TV footage from famine-hit Ethiopia. His Boomtown Rats were on their last legs, but Geldof gamely mustered what clout he had left and put it to spectacular effect. First, he roped in Ultravox frontman Midge Ure to jerry-build a suitable vehicle - the workman-like 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' - and then, in a fury of begging, cajoling, moral blackmail and playing one bloated ego off another, miraculously pulled together a stellar line-up at a moment's notice.

The monster MTV pop acts of the day were Culture Club, Duran Duran, Wham! and Frankie Goes To Hollywood. The first three readily answered the call, along with Phil Collins and Sting. Those making up the numbers included Paul Weller, Spandau Ballet, Paul Young, Status Quo, Shalamar, Bananarama and half of U2.

U2, in late 1984, had been bubbling under for two years, building audiences on both sides of the Atlantic without quite hitting the stratospheric heights they believed to be their manifest destiny. Husky Paul Young delivered the opening line - "It's Christmas time ..." - in the doleful knowledge that he was a stand-in for David Bowie, who couldn't make the session but would take the lead at Live Aid eight months later. An even huskier Boy George dropped in his vocal last, having been roused from his sleep in New York by an angry Geldof screaming down the phone, ordering the living doll to hop on Concorde and get there.

Bono was horrified to learn Geldof had selected him to sing the song's most thorny line, which taunted: "Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you!" Having wrestled with his conscience and won, Bono delivered the song's killer line with a searing passion that raised the exercise above the back-slapping jamboree the nay-sayers tried to paint it.

The next morning Geldof went on BBC Radio 1 plugging his mantra: "F**k-up and gimme a pound! Because that pound will keep somebody alive, and your useless meanderings and your useless f**king third-rate philosophising achieves nothing!"

In pledging that every penny would go direct to Ethiopia, he picked a fight with the Thatcher government which stated there would be no waiving of VAT. In the mainstream Irish media of 30 years ago, pop music rarely rated a mention, so the Band Aid project was broadly ignored until Thatcher was dragged in. When Geldof embarrassed the Iron Lady into turning on the VAT issue, the Irish Independent cheered 'Well Done Our Bob'.

Over the coming year, largely thanks to the expansion of Band Aid into the global jukebox that was Live Aid, youth culture would find a place in Ireland's mainstream media.

Two weeks afterwards, arguably, the most stellar recording session in pop history, 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' shot to No 1 in Britain, outselling every other single in the Top 40 combined.

The UK's biggest-selling disc of all time sold a further two million copies in the US, where, thanks to a bizarre chart compilation process, it failed to make the Top 10 despite outselling the official No1 fourfold.

Ireland responded with an enormous sense of pride in not one, but two of its own, and the disc sold by the truckload here, on its way to raising some $10m in total.

But quite apart from its record-breaking sales, and the millions raised for hunger, 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' would make its mark on pop music history in other ways, spawning a slew of pale, if well-intentioned, imitators right down to the present. The first of those was an Irish counterpart which followed within weeks.

The brainchild of Mark Venner - manager of The Blades - and Gerry Ryan - co-host of RTE's MTUSA - 'Show Some Concern' was a reggae disc to aid Concern's work in Ethiopia. Produced by pre-Riverdance Bill Whelan, the members of The Concerned included Christy Moore, Pat Kenny, Linda Martin, Twink, Dave Fanning, Those Nervous Animals and Light A Big Fire.

'Show Some Concern' was toppled from Ireland's No 1 by another Geldof-inspired charity disc which featured him on vocals, although this time relegated to the chorus. Penned by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, 'We Are The World' by USA For Africa quickly notched sales in excess of 20 million copies. The front-line included Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen and Diana Ross.

By the time Hear 'n Aid arrived (led by Judas Priest and Iron Maiden) with their song 'Stars', the critics were in full cry against 'compassion fashion' and the unseemly business of pop stars 'adopting' Amazonian tribes, but to blame Geldof for all that would be like blaming Jimi Hendrix for Judas Priest and Iron Maiden.

Featuring One Direction, Adele, Ed Sheeran, Elbow and Bono, the latest version of 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' will be recorded today and, as Geldof would doubtless say, eff the begrudgers.

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