Seven Decades of Song (4)

My latest series of monthly strolls down memory lane is Seven Decades of Song, reflections on music through the years. So far we have visited the 1950s, the 1960s and the 1970s. This month, we have reached the 1980s.

For me, the 1980s was all about one musical event. On 13th July 1985, the BBC broadcaster Richard Skinner said these words: “It’s twelve noon in London, seven am in Philadelphia, and around the world it’s time for Live Aid.”

Nine months previously, Michael Buerk’s shocking news report on the BBC had brought the Ethiopian crisis into our living rooms, describing it as “a biblical famine in the twentieth century.” The response from Bob Geldorf was to write Do They Know It’s Christmas, a song recorded collaboratively by a whole range of rock and pop stars under the name Band Aid. The record shot to number one, staying there for five weeks, and raised £8million towards the relief effort.

Bringing musicians and celebrities together to put on events in aid of charities was not new. Children in Need had been running their annual telethon since 1980. But the impact of the Band Aid single made Geldorf realise just what could be done if they thought big. Boy George suggested they put on a huge live concert. And the rest is history.

The concert ran simultaneously in the UK and in America; with parallel events going in other countries including the Soviet Union, Australia and Japan. Nearly two billion people across 150 countries watched the live broadcast.

The event was controversial for a number of reasons, not least Geldorf’s on-air swearing when he thought not enough money was being donated. But for all that, it raised £30m across the world.

I have many memories of that day: being blown away by the magnificent set from Queen; seeing newcomer Madonna bouncing across the stage; Phil Collins performing at the start of the London concert, before flying across the Atlantic on Concorde to appear at the end of the one in Philadelphia.

But my best memory came at the end of a very long day. We’d watched all ten hours of the UK concert, stayed up for some of the ongoing US one, and then fallen asleep. It was July; the windows were wide open. At around 1.30am I woke to the instrumental from Layla, wafting across the street from a neighbour’s house. Clapton’s playing was so haunting, we just had to get up, switch the television back on, and start watching once more.

[Photo attribution: By Squelle [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], from Wikimedia Commons]

By Elizabeth Ducie

Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.

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