My Live Aid Day Remembered – Freddie, George and “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”

“It’s twelve noon in London, seven AM in Philadelphia, and around the world it’s time for Live Aid”

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Those were the words that kicked off probably the most memorable fund-raising event in rock and pop history, and this week was its 35th anniversary. On Monday morning, after being reminded of the date, I decided to revisit my DVD boxset of the event and over the course of the week I’ve watched it all, and taken notes. Sadly these notes fill 12 pages of my shorthand notebook, so I have absolutely no chance of condensing my thoughts into a format suitable for a blog post. I do however remember how I spent the day, so before my aging memory lets me down, I think I’ll approach it that way.

You have to be of a certain age to remember Live Aid at all, mid 40s or older I suspect, but if you do, you’ll probably remember it was held on a glorious, hot summer’s day, the like of which doesn’t often fall on a Saturday in Scotland. I was a big music fan, but the concert would go on all day, so what did my flatmate and I do just before 12 noon on Saturday, the 13th July, 1985? – We went to the local park of course!

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Aberdeen’s Duthie Park

I was prepared however and had brought a small transistor radio with me, so although we weren’t watching the action live on telly we did hear the opening act, Status QuoRockin’ All Over The World. Had I been watching on telly, I would have known that Paul Weller, who was next up with his Style Council, was looking very summery and dare I say healthy that day in his white trousers, but we only had this crackly radio. By 1 pm it was obvious we should head back to our cool, granite, second floor flat – The day had become just too hot and we were missing out on all the action.

Over the next few hours we watched the following artists perform on stage at Wembley in front of an audience of 72,000. Everyone that day was hot and bothered, there is no doubt, but also having the time of their lives.

The Boomtown Rats, Adam Ant, Ultravox, Spandau Ballet, Elvis Costello, Nick Kershaw, Sade, Sting, Phil Collins, Howard Jones, Brian Ferry and Paul Young

Watching this segment of the concert now, 35 years on, it was a veritable Who’s Who of mid ’80s chart toppers (with organiser Bob Geldof included of course). The dress code of the day seemed to be either black leather or baggy white clothing depending on your musical leanings, but those who opted for white definitely suffered less in the baking heat. There were mullets of all persuasions too, even amongst those who were thinning on top (Phil Collins?). The quality of the singing was less than perfect, but hey, there had been little time to rehearse or prepare for this massive event so hats off to them for committing, as some did not and later regretted it. Final observation – So many saxophones! The instrument of choice for the mid ‘80s it seems.

And here is where the day was punctuated with another break from the telly, as the oil company I worked for at the time was hosting a barbeque for its staff that very evening. The flatmate and I duly got ready to head along Queen’s Road to the spot overlooking Rubislaw Quarry (from which Aberdeen was built) where many of these corporate HQs were based. Before we left however we caught the performance by U2 which is often cited as having elevated them to superstardom. Bono was tiptoeing around in his tight black leather trousers and long boots, but after spotting a girl in the crowd, jumped down into the mud at the front of the stage and helped save her from being crushed. They missed out on playing their third song but it was a sign of things to come from him, for sure.

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My workplace on the left

So, we arrived at my workplace in the early evening, but bowing down to pressure from their staff, it had been decided to install a big screen in the underground carpark so we could watch the concert whilst eating the fine barbequed food only an American company could serve up. My workmate was there with her new boyfriend, so was on a bit of a high. As was often the case however with these office romances in Aberdeen, it later transpired he had a wife who lived elsewhere whom he’d conveniently omitted to tell her about. They were slippery characters some of these chaps we worked with who often broke our hearts.

But back to the concert, we were now lined up on chairs watching scenes coming live from Wembley on the big screen. I’m not going to describe the Philadelphia concert here as would get far too bogged down, and anyway, it just wasn’t a patch on our set-up. Wembley, with its enclosed stadium, twin towers and greenery all around, looked beautiful on that hot summer’s day whereas the JFK Stadium in Philadelphia looked like a makeshift set of scaffolding surrounded by carparks and interstate highways.

As the day wore on the stakes were raised and artists of more legendary status started to appear on stage. First up we had Dire Straits but then we had the band who is generally thought to have stolen the show that day, Queen.  I have written about their Live Aid performance around here before and it’s my second most visited post ever (link here) so won’t repeat myself, but Freddie was on especially fine form that day and owned the stage, encouraging the crowd to sing along in unison. His sustained “Aaaaaay-o” during the a cappella section came to be known as the note heard round the world. The last time I wrote about their set on Live Aid day I shared Radio Gaga, but having watched them again this week, the song they finished with was We Are The Champions which was almost as perfect. They certainly were champions that day.

It’s obvious watching this footage that Queen’s set took place just as the sun had gone down, but it wasn’t yet dark. This is my favourite time of the day for any outdoor event as there’s a certain magic about it – No harsh sunlight but not a total absence of light either. In Scotland it’s called The Gloaming and a very special time of the day. Up in Aberdeen it wouldn’t be gloaming for a while yet, so we sat tight and carried on watching the big screen.

Next up was David Bowie, looking very dapper in a powder blue suit and pointy black patent shoes. Another great performance and quoted as being “his last triumph of the 1980s”. He was followed by The Who who hadn’t played together for three years. No powder blue suit for Roger Daltrey, oh no indeed. As ever he had his shirt open showing off his hairless, suntanned torso. Roger must be doing something right in terms of looking after himself, as at the grand old age of 76 he still looks pretty good today, and I imagine the bare-chested look is something he still favours.

But this was Saturday night in the big city and one by one people were drifting off. The hostelry of choice for 20-somethings in 1985 was the Dutch Mill on Queen’s Road, so leaving the concert behind for a while, my flatmate and I headed in that direction. In those pre-mobile phone days, it was highly likely you would bump into most of your friends on a weekend evening, but when we got there on the evening of the 13th July, it was dead, as everyone was at home watching Live Aid. We had a quick drink then walked the short distance back to our flat in the city centre.

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The Dutch Mill, Aberdeen

Once home we settled back into our large beige and brown sofa (it was the ’80s) and turned on our Radio Rentals telly. I can’t be sure, and I would be lying if I said I was, but the artist following on from The Who was Elton John so if we did get back in time for his set that’s who we would have watched next. Having viewed the boxset this week, Elton had the longest time on stage of anyone and he performed a couple of duets, first with his old mucker Kiki Dee, and then joy of joys, with the person I have written about most around here, George Michael.

I have mentioned the making of the Band Aid single before, and how the Wham! boys George and Andrew weren’t treated with much respect that day by the other artists, being proponents at the time of feel-good pop tunes. But here we were just six months on and Elton John saw fit to ask George to sing Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me with him. He said he was “a great admirer of his musical talent” when introducing him, and I have to say he gives an impeccable performance here. Also, unlike many others that day, he was dressed simply in jeans, white T-shirt and black leather jacket which is kind of timeless (we’ll ignore the fact it was dark and he’s wearing shades). His Live Aid appearance has stood the test of time and he went on to great things whereas those who had laughed at him are perhaps long forgotten.

Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me by George Michael and Elton John:

The Wembley concert finished off with a set by Paul McCartney who had been persuaded out of retirement for the event. Sadly he was the only artist on the night to experience microphone failure, so the audience missed out totally on one of his songs. It was fixed quite quickly but typical it had to happen to him. Once finished, he and Bowie raised Bob Geldof up on their shoulders, and then, along with the rest of the performers from the day (and a few others it seems) they launched into a version of Do They Know It’s Christmas?, the charity single that started the whole thing off. The first two lines were a bit ropey, sung by Bowie and Bob, but then they wisely handed the mic over to a safe pair of hands in the form of George Michael, who very confidently took over.

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I think we spent a good few hours in front of the telly that night as we then watched the rest of the Philadelphia Live Aid concert, which would go on for a fair while yet due to time differences. The programmers also revisited “the best bits” of the day, so by the time I went to bed in the early hours, I’d pretty much seen everything.

So, “What’s It All About?” – I’m not going to get into the whole criticisms and controversy aspect of Live Aid. All the money may not have got to the right places, at the right time, but around 1.9 billion people watched the concerts that day and over £150 million was raised. There is no denying, the publicity generated meant that western governments could no longer ignore humanitarian crises. Through rock ‘n’ roll, the common language of the planet, an issue that was not hitherto on the political agenda, became so.

As for this post, it was for my own benefit really, as I have never documented My Live Aid Day and always wanted to. The flatmate I spent it with FaceTimed me the other day and is coming up to visit next month (as long as that pesky virus is kept under control) and the workmate with the broken heart soon got over it, and we still keep in touch via Christmas cards. The boyfriend of the time chose to spend that summer travelling round France with a work colleague, so missed out on Live Aid totally. Needless to say he soon became the ex-boyfriend upon his return, and we are definitely no longer in touch.

How did you spend your Live Aid day? I have met a few people over the years who were actually at Wembley for the concert and I love hearing their stories. If you have any, I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time….

Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me Lyrics
(Song by Elton John/Bernie Taupin)

I can’t light no more of your darkness
All my pictures seem to fade to black and white
I’m growing tired and time stands still before me
Frozen here on the ladder of my life

It’s much too late to save myself from falling
I took a chance and changed your way of life
But you misread my meaning when i met you
Closed the door and left me blinded by the light

Don’t let the sun go down on me
Although I search myself, it’s always someone else I see
I’d just allow a fragment of your life to wander free
But losing everything is like the sun going down on me

I can’t find the right romantic line
But see me once and see the way feel
Don’t discard me just because you think I mean you harm
But these cuts I have they need love to help them heal

Oh, don’t let the sun go down on me
Although I search myself, it’s always someone else I see
I’d just allow a fragment of your life to wander free
Cause’ losing everything is like the sun going down on me

Don’t let the sun go down on me
Although I search myself, it’s always someone else I that see, yeah
I’d just allow a fragment of your life to wander free baby, oh
Cause’ losing everything is like the sun going down on me