Live Aid: The Day That United The World Through Music
On July 13, 1985, Live Aid, the dual concert at Wembley Stadium and JFK Stadium featured some of the greatest musical performances in history and I was there to witness it.
It still seems like madness that Bob Geldof and Midge Ure announced their audacious scheme for a live concert to aid the Ethiopian famine effort. And not just one concert, but two, one at London’s iconic Wembley Stadium and the other at Philadelphia’s John F Kennedy Stadium on July 13, 1985. There were 72,000 at the London Live Aid concert and 100,000 at the Philadelphia Live Aid show, but these numbers were dwarfed by the estimated 1.9 million people watching on TV from 130 countries around the world.
I was one of the 72,000 in Wembley and arrived early, determined not to miss a single thing and at midday, the first thing was the Band of the Coldstream Guards playing “God Save The Queen,” which seemed not at all out of place – it was that kind of day. Follow that! And follow it Status Quo did with appropriately, “Rockin’ All Over The World.”
Following Quo was a series of bands that were very much of the moment – there was The Style Council, Paul Weller’s band, Bob Geldof’s Boomtown Rats got an enthusiastic welcome and a great version of “I Don’t Like Mondays” in which he purposely stopped after singing the line, “The lesson today is how to die.” It brought everyone up with a jolt and reminded us why we were there.
Adam Ant, Ultravox, Spandau Ballet and Bernard Butler had played and it was still only 2 pm. Elvis Costello singing “All You Need Is Love” was another poignant moment and then it was Nik Kershaw, followed by Sade who was one of many highlights.
Shortly after 3 pm Sting took to the stage and had Phil Collins with him on drums. Their set was a mixture of Police and Collins’s solo songs. As soon as they finished Collins was whisked to Heathrow to catch Concorde (remember that iconic aircraft?) because he was to appear on stage in Philadelphia that evening.
In the next hour there was Howard Jones, Brian Ferry, with Dave Gilmour on guitar, Paul Young and U2. At 6 pm Dire Straits did “Money For Nothing” with Sting on vocals and finished with “Sultans of Swing” – a real crowd-pleaser, and never sounding better.
And then it was Queen. I had not seen the band play live since the early 1970s at Ewell Tech. in Surrey at one of their very earliest gigs where they were supporting Kevin Ayers, Flying Fortress (they were supposed to be the next big thing at the time?) and Genesis – to be honest, Queen had lost me somewhere along the way. Of course, I loved “Bohemian Rhapsody” but that was about it. It all changed that day in Wembley, I finally got Queen. like everyone else in the stadium I was word perfect on “We Are the Champions.”
I knew David Bowie would be great and he was, particularly on “Heroes.” The Who were far from polished, but it did not matter. Their set was typically barnstorming and by the time it closed with “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” everyone was on their feet and loving it.
It was all beginning to reach its climax and there was much talk in the stadium as to whether we would see the remaining three Beatles perform. Just before 9 pm Elton John took to the stage and was in brilliant form. His duet with Kiki Dee on “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” pleased everyone as did “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” on which he dusted with George Michael.
Shortly before 10 pm Freddie Mercury and Brian May did “Is This The World We Created.” It was another one of those moments that made us all think. Then it was the finale. It turned out to be Paul McCartney with not George and Ringo, but Bob Geldof, David Bowie, Alison Moyet and Pete Townshend. The concert was then closed with everyone joining in to sing “Do They Know It’s Christmas.” It couldn’t have ended any other way.
Probably like many I rushed home to see the TV coverage from the USA. The first thing I saw was Phil Collins with Eric Clapton. They were followed by Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones, with Collins on drums. Their set closed with “Stairway to Heaven” – what else? Then in quick succession, there was Duran Duran, MTV had made them huge stars in America, Patti Labelle and Hall & Oates. It was Duran Duran’s last performance for nearly 20 years.
Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin from The Temptations had joined Hall & Oates on stage and all four of them were joined by Mick Jagger and Tina Turner during which Jagger did “Miss You” and “It’s Only Rock ’N’ Roll.”
Rather than the Stones performing together, Keith and Ronnie Wood accompanied Bob Dylan; all three have had better days at the office, particularly after his Bobness broke a guitar string and Ronnie had to give him his guitar; while he waited for a new one Wood played air-guitar in the style of Pete Townshend. Just as in the UK the show closed with the charity song that had kick-started the whole affair, for America this was, “We Are The World.”
I’ve relived Live Aid by watching the DVD, seen some of those that I missed from the US performance, and like with every live show there were things that seemed better on the day than on the TV. I am reminded that it really was a case of the 80s meets rock royalty, and I cannot help thinking that for some of the artists, whose star has waned a little, it must feel surreal. For me, it was a long day, but a great day and I still feel privileged to say – I was at Live Aid.
Looking for more? Discover Queen’s Live Aid Performance: How Rock’s Royalty Stole The Show.
July 17, 2014 at 1:22 pm
My cousin Pete was the event Director, Live Aid and has a book in the works telling the story. Look out for it, it tells the behind the scenes story of the Live Aid concert, and is a great story.
August 29, 2014 at 9:23 pm
I was there great event loved it I want to know how to get it on dvd
July 14, 2016 at 10:11 am
I was at the Philly show. The hightlights for me was Eric Clapton w/Phil Collins, a Colllins set then Collins with Zepplin. Jagger and Tina Turner were good and so was Hall & Oates. The video and sound from the London show was very good. The low lights? The temperature. It was a sunny day, no shade, and in the mid 90’s and water was scarce. The extracurricular substances did not help alleviate that misery and perhaps made it worse. Toilets were broken off and flooded the few bathrooms that JFK Stadium had with water up over my ankles. Most fun I ever had at a concert.
July 14, 2016 at 4:43 pm
I went to the Live Aid concert in Philadelphia 1985, All by my self from Toronto Canada Cause there is no way I would have miss it for the world. The Greats Concert I have ever been in my life time.
July 13, 2017 at 9:40 am
I had to go to a wedding that day and I got my parents to record the whole day! Much to my surprise they did!
Susan Ann Austen.
July 13, 2017 at 11:41 am
I was there, unforegettable.I also got to meet
” Queen “
July 13, 2017 at 4:54 pm
What a great experience for you. Thanks for sharing this. I wish i was also at Live Aid that time
July 13, 2017 at 5:31 pm
1.9 Billion not Million
Other than that, great article
July 14, 2017 at 7:35 pm
Honestly, there was QUEEN’s performance and then everyone else. They were far and away the best!!!
July 14, 2017 at 11:09 pm
Loved it at the famous old Wembley stadium and took my wife, daughter and friend along for the whole amazing day! We still talk about it every year (around July) and bore our younger friends stupid with accounts of that fab day!!! – My wife and I are now 74 yrs old btw- but still rocking on!!!!
July 17, 2017 at 3:24 pm
Don’t forget that Tony Thompson (drummer in Chic as in Le Freak) was also drumming with Led Zep that day.
July 13, 2018 at 6:46 pm
Best day in the history of rock imo!still watch the DVD set. Inspired my teenage son to learn to play guitar, and he is playing Dire Straits, Zeppelin, Clapton, etc. Most of the teens I know who play guitar focus on this era.
July 14, 2018 at 3:53 am
a big deal for the time….unfortunately it lead a string of charity concerts that didnt give very much…at the time a few days afterward the total of 5000000 was raised for african relief…sadly the real amount was under 2000000….so yea the gluttony of rock and roll starved alot of our brothers and sister….sad that a specticle is more important that a life of a child that is hungry..just hungry
July 16, 2018 at 6:43 pm
I was at JFK. Eric Clapton and Tom Petty were superb. You don’t often hear about the seats deteriorating and shards of fiberglass stuck in you ass for days afterwards. Or how the men’s bathrooms were coed (even the urinals) because of the long lines at the women’s bathrooms. And how you had to walk through raw sewage that poured over the walkways from the bathrooms. And that damn hot sun was a killer. But the music was great and I would do it all over again.
August 10, 2018 at 2:12 am
Phil Collins didn’t play drums on Stings set. Nobody played drums on Stings set.
August 30, 2019 at 9:49 pm
IMHO, there’s Dire Straits and then there’s everyone else. An awful lot of talent in Wembley Stadium that day, but I think Dire Straits’s performance stands the test of time better than the others. Don’t hate me; just my opinion!
Chris O Sullivan
September 3, 2019 at 6:56 pm
I was in London on holidayChris the day of Live Aid but unfortunately couldn`t attend the concert. The standout band was of course Queen. Other great performances on that day came from U2, David Bowie, The Who and Dire Straits. Truly an unforgettable day in music history.
September 26, 2019 at 5:36 pm
I recall driving to Wembley around 7am that day, I think they opened the turnstiles at 10 and it was a sprint to the front. We were a few feet from the stage for around 13 hours. An incredible day of joy and emotion which I frequently re-live watching videos with my kids who weren’t born then. The one thing the videos cant give you is the incredible INCREDIBLE atmosphere that day. Far and away the most memorable day of my life.
December 28, 2021 at 4:22 am
As a native Philadelphian it took me a half an hour to get there down highway 95. Still have my $50 ticket stub