The single for Ethiopia: “We thought there must be something more we can do.”
Three weeks ago, Bob Geldof saw a television report on the famine in Ethiopia and felt “outraged”. He rang Midge Ure and suggested they make a record to raise money. Midge agreed. Then he rang Sting, Gary Kemp and Simon le Bon. They agreed too. Then he rang a lot of other people—
9.15 am Sunday, November 25 and something’s stirring outside Sarm West studios. The road’s being blocked off, police are everywhere. Passers-by stroll up to see what’s going on. Local residents lean out of windows just in case they’re missing anything. The air’s heavy with anticipation.
A clutch of rather chilly-looking photographers are milling aound the doors of what’s come to be known as the ZTT building: it houses the studio where Trevor Horn helped Frankie make “Relax”. Clearly something of a big deal is about to take place.
Inside the speckledy-blue building there’s even more commotion. No less then seven camera crews are setting up cameras, lights and tripods. There are five British crews ranging from The Tube to the BBC news team and two American crews. Frantically they rush into action as a rather lanky, unshaven, bleary-eyed bloke arrives. It’s Bob Geldof, showing signs of strain from ten solid days of organizing today’s events. So what’s it in aid of and why has he done it?
“I was outraged after seeing the first shots from Ethiopia, but rather than just put my hand in my pocket I thought there must be more I can do. So I just phoned up everybody I knew, starting with friends like Midge Ure, Sting, Gary Kemp and Simon le Bon and they all agreed to help. Hopefully this event will raise a substantial amount of money.
“And then to cut out administrative costs I’ll just phone Addis Ababa direct and ask them what they want, buy it, charter a cargo ship and try and get various sections of the music industry to sponsor jeeps to take the stuff out there. That way everything will get through and no money will be wasted.
Also all the people involved today are doing it for free, from the musicians to the technicians and even down to the people in the factory who’re going to press the record.”
Out of every £1.35 spent on the single, £1.00’s worth of food should reach the starving people of Ethiopia.
Next through the door is Midge Ure who’ll be producing “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (which he actually wrote along with Bob). In fact he’s already recorded the synthesized backing-track ready for the musicians and singers to do their bits over.
“It’s just like my bedroom,” he quips, pointing at the large Roman pillars inside the recording room. Behind him is Jon Moss, assuring all and sundry that Boy George will be arriving later (the pair of them have specially flown back from their American tour by Concorde). It seems he’s thrilled to bits to be working on the record with his “hero” Phil Collins.
Now, it appears, the floodgates are open. For the next two hours a constant stream of the world’s most famous pop stars pour into the building, ready to be filmed, photographed and recorded. Sting’s just arrived in his jet black Range Rover. He looks very much the family man these days with his comfy, casual clothes and straggly centre-parted hair. Paul Weller’s turned up on foot and spends most time in the corner, minding his own business. “I’m hardly everybody’s favourite person. They just seem to ignore me—
Next in are Duran Duran who, like Spandau, have just got off the 6.30 am plane from Dortmund, Germany. Nick is fully made-up and sporting ski-goggles while, quite frankly, John looks a bit of a wreck: “Actually I’m on another planet.” Suddenly the place is choc-a-block. You can’t move for pop stars. You can’t even go into the toilet without bumping into someone like Simon le Bon.
Trevor Horn arrives and offers to mix a 12" version. The offer is accepted immediately. Then he asks for three weeks to do it in. “You’ve got a night,” smiles Geldof. After all, the 7" will be recorded today, mixed tonight, mastered tomorrow (when it will receive its first radio play from a tape), pressed in the factory on Wednesday and will be in the shops on Saturday. By the time you read this it should have been on sale for four days and hopefully be on its way to raising the hoped-for £1½ million pounds for the Ethiopian Famine Trust. And, due to Geldof’s persistence, the record company Phonogram and main stores like WH Smiths and John Menzies have agreed to forgo profits.
By noon all but Boy George have arrived and been leisurely ushered upstairs for a grand photo session. Like any good school assembly picture the tall ones stand at the back, trying their best to conceal their fags and cans of lager; the middle-sized ones stay in the middle and the smaller ones perch down the front. A Kop-style football chant breaks out in the John Taylor/
Then it’s time to sing. Lyric sheets are handed round, choirboy positions are assumed and the backing-track is set in motion. “One, two, three, four. Let them know it’s Christmas time again/
After an hour’s worth of takes Trevor Horn moves in. Setting up one main microphone he gets the throng—
All disperse into little groups. The naughty ones like Status Quo and John and Andy Taylor sneak round the toilets for a smoke. Paul Weller, Marilyn and Bananarama plonk themselves in front of the telly (with the sound off). Spandau and Heaven 17 go for a cup of tea. Nick Rhodes has a go on the Asteroids machine. And people like Paul Young, Bono and George Michael keep shooting upstairs to do their ‘solo bits’.
“Female vocals upstairs now,” is the call. Bananarama trot off but not before Keren shouts, “Coming, Marilyn?” Eventually a lot of people start to leave and a nucleus of people start to congregate in the small studio console for the evening’s recording. Jon Moss is there, impatiently waiting to do his bit of percussion with Phil Collins. Bono’s chatting to Simon le Bon while they wait to do their vocals. Then in comes Sting with his girlfriend Trudi, his baby daughter, and two small dogs which keep sniffing around in every nook and cranny. Downstairs John Taylor’s scoffing some chilli con carne, when neil from The Young Ones meanders through with the unit from The Tube. “Typical,” splutters John,” I wait all day to have something to eat and then they turn up.” neil stops for a minute, asks if anyone knows how to make herb tea, and then slides off to hear an acoustic rendition of the song by Paul Weller, Bob Geldof and Gary Kemp.
It’s about time for the band video. Everyone is gathered round and put into position. John Taylor (who did his bass part on Wednesday because he thought “playing in front of all these posers would be a bit unnerving”) and Sting sit next to each other, both with basses (Sting doesn’t actually play on the record). Midge stands behind the keyboards. Phil Collins sits behind his huge drumkit (he’s also just “laid down” his part) while Jon Moss coolly stands behind his drum and cymbal. Then in the background stand Bob Geldof, Paul Weller and Gary Kemp, all with acoustic guitars. They do it in two takes. It strikes everyone that combined, the total sales behind that “supergroup” would amount to a staggering 200 million records.
Then who should walk in but Boy George? Strangely for him he looks quite phased and waves his arms in the air shieking: “My God, it’s so trippy seeing all these faces in one tiny room!” He sits on the arm of the couch next to Jon Moss who’s chatting to Simon le Bon. On his left are Trudi (plus baby) who’s talking to Paula Yates (plus baby Fifi Trixibelle) and Bono who’s talking to Sting. George just sits there and smiles in mild disbelief. Being there all day it seems quite natural the way everyone has got together, “working for the cause” as it is. But to someone who’s just come in from the cold the scene must appear rather odd. I mean Simon le Bon sharing experiences about ‘life on the road’ with Bono? Paul Weller getting on famously with Marilyn? Dogs and babies in a studio? Surely some mistake?
Understandably in the circumstances, George asks for some brandy before he does his vocal. Within minutes it arrives, as does Marilyn. “Hello Doris!” yowls George and he gets up to give him a hug and a kiss. And then he’s off in the studio to do his bit. After about six takes—
“It was very important that people were here and seen to be here,” reckons Sting. “We all go round making records and touring the world and we never meet—
Now all that’s left is a night’s mixing by Bob and Midge.
“They all did their parts incredibly well,” smiles one extremely weary-looking Midge Ure. “With all those potential prima donnas out there it was surprising but there were no ego problems. It made a pleasant change.”
Bob meanwhile peers at the television screen and sees a playback of events that took place earlier today. “You know, when you see it like that it looks like ancient history. In fact it looks like you weren’t even there at all.” And with that he rubs his eyes and strolls off back to the studio.
No matter what you think of the song or the feelings behind it, it struck home that there is more to pop music than total insincerity, naked ambition, blind profit, a lot of hot air about all things ‘positive’ and useless social comments made through crummy ‘post apocalyptic’ videos.
Today proved once and for all that pop music can still be a force.
THE BAND AID LINE-UP
Back row (left-right): Adam Clayton (U2), Phil Collins (Genesis), Bob Geldof (Boomtown Rats), Steve Norman (Spandau), Chris Cross (Ultravox), John Taylor (Duran), Paul Young, Tony Hadley (Spandau), Glenn Gregory (Heaven 17), Simon le Bon (Duran), Simon Crowe (Boomtown Rats), Marilyn, Keren (Bananarama), Martin Kemp (Spandau), Jody Watley (ex-Shalamar).
Middle row (left-right): Bono (U2), Paul Weller (Style Council), James Taylor (Kool & The Gang), Peter Blake (the artist who designed the record sleeve), George Michael (Wham!), Midge Ure (Ultravox), Martyn Ware (Heaven 17), John Keeble (Spandau), Gary Kemp (Spandau), Roger Taylor (Duran), Sarah (Bananarama), Siobhan (Bananarama), Francis Rossi (Status Quo).
Front row (left-right): Robert ‘Kool’ Bell (Kool & The Gang), Dennis Thomas (Kool & The Gang), Andy Taylor (Duran), Jon Moss (Culture Club), Sting (The Police), Rick Parfitt (Status Quo), Nick Rhodes (Duran), Johnny Fingers (Boomtown Rats), Pete Briquette (Boomtown Rats).
- George Michael: “I just thought it was a nice gesture and something really worthwhile.”
- Sting:” Everyone I know, including myself, has sent money to Ethiopia but the feeling that’s common is that it’s not enough. Whether you send £100, or £10,000 or even 10 quid it’s not enough. You just go back to having your dinner and watching the telly. So when the chance came to do something extra I had to say yes because: 1) we make records and it’s probably our only talent and 2) if it sells we might get a bucketful of water for the ocean as opposed to a raindrop.”
- Paul Young: “I couldn’t have been anywhere else today.”
- Sarah from Bananarama: “I’m just disgusted by the whole situation over there—
especially by the fact that people are starving and we’ve got huge silos of surplus grain.”
- Adam Clayton from U2: The fact that hunger is a permanent thing—
you give a bowl of rice in the morning, you need another later on in the day and the next day… so I think the important thing about the whole project is that it will help to keep public interest turned on this problem and that can only be a good thing. Front page news changes daily and it’d be criminal if people forget about what’s going on over there.”
- Paul Weller:”I just done it for the same reason as everybody else. Bob rang me and I thought it was a great idea. The cause is the only one common thing between us, otherwise you’d never have gotten all these bands together—
especially with me here.”
- Simon le Bon: “I’m doing it for people who need it. Continue »
- (cont.) This whole thing just shows that people can do something about things if they want to—
that’s the whole point really, it’s as obvious as that.”
- Nick Rhodes: “I’m doing this mainly because it’s a great cause and it will raise a lot of money and draw a lot of attention to this problem. I just hope it doesn’t stop at this record. Certainly if we get the chance we’ll do more in the future.”
- John Taylor: “The whole thing serves a dual purpose—
it can raise a lot of money and I’m really proud of it because it’s a celebration of British pop music. I’ve always wished something like The Beatles’ ‘All You Need Is Love’ could happen now.”
Do They Know It’s Christmas? BAND AID
It’s Christmas time
There’s no need to be afraid
At Christmas time
We let in light
And we banish shade
And in our world of plenty
We can spread
A smile of joy
Throw your arms
Around the world
At Christmas time
But say a prayer
Pray for the other ones
At Christmas time
It’s hard but when you’re having fun
There’s a world
Outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is
The bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells
That ring there
Are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight thank God it’s them
Instead of you
And there won’t be snow
This Christmas time
The greatest gift
They’ll get this year is life
Where nothing ever grows
No rain or rivers flow
Do they know
It’s Christmas time at all
Here’s to you
Raise a glass for everyone
Here’s to them
Underneath that burning sun
Do they know
It’s Christmas time at all
Feed the world
Feed the world
Feed the world
Let them know
It’s Christmas time again
Repeat to fade
Words and music Bob Geldof/Midge Ure
Reproduced by permission Chappell Music Pubs Ltd
On Phonogram Records