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Interview: Bob Geldof: Live Aid, Live 8 & Me

groove amadaOn the evening of October 23, 1984, rock singer Bob Geldof, amongst millions in Britain, was watching the 9 o'clock news on BBC1. What he saw - Michael Buerk's report on the heinous human toll of the latest famine in Ethiopia - appalled him.

"We were seeing something palpably unnecessary," Geldof tells MOJO, "a crime in my view. 30 million people are dying. Meanwhile in Europe we're spending tax to grow food we don't need. We spend more tax to store it. We pay further tax, most disgracefully, to destroy it."

This month, on the eve of the release of his fifth solo album - How To Compose Popular Songs That Will Sell - Geldof submits to MOJO magazine's career-spanning MOJO Interview, proving astonishingly frank and engaging on everything from his rollercoaster music trajectory to his volcanic private life. What follows here is an exclusive online addendum: the revealing back story of Band Aid, Live Aid and Live 8. Your interviewer: Danny Eccleston

When you saw Michael Buerk's report how much time did you spend thinking, 'I can't do anything about this, I'm only a musician.' It seemed a massive leap to presume that you could make a difference.

I go back to when I was 11. I wasn't interested in sports. The personal conditions of my life were awful. And into this non-world comes rock'n'roll, this liberated racket, which completely defines and articulates what I was thinking. A couple of years later I started an Anti Apartheid thing with my mate Mick Foley. I was 13. I was reading Steinbeck, Studs Terkel, Woody Guthrie - so I was led to poverty by popular culture in a way. At 15 I couldn't be arsed going home, so I wandered around Dublin all night with a crowd called the Simon Community, making soup and serving it to homeless people and hookers. That was me. So when you get to Live Aid it's not that mad that I would reach for the one thing that I could always rely on - rock'n'roll.

Take us from there to the Band Aid single, Do They Know It's Christmas...

So I thought, What can I do? I have a platform. I can write tunes but the Rats are not having hits. It's embarrassing - if I write a tune and the Rats do it, it'll look like we're trying to exploit the situation. Meanwhile [Bob's wife] Paula [Yates] bumps into [Ultravox singer] Midge [Ure] on [legendary TV pop show] The Tube - he's having hits. So we decide to write a song together. In the taxi over to see my mate I write the words to Do They Know It's Christmas and the chords: the basic C, F, G thing. Then of course it was clear I had to gather some people together. Through The Tube we'd got to be mates with Duran [Duran], so I rang [Simon] Le Bon. I saw [Spandau Ballet guitarist] Gary Kemp in an antiques shop at the end of the King's Road. Sting shares my birthday. Called Sting. So by lunchtime I had a band and most of the words. Then there was this little kid who came to see the Rats in Dublin - he turned out to be Bono.

And then you met up with Midge...?

Midge wrote a melody. I said it was like the Z Cars theme and he said, [Clydeside accent] 'Better than the shite you write.' I adapted this thing called It's My Life: "It's my life, and there's no need to be afraid..." I wrote it for the Rats but they didn't like it. Then I went away and by the time I got back Midge had really constructed this thing. We just needed a middle and an end. "Here's to you, raise a glass to everyone...", we did that together. "Feed the world / Let them know it's Christmas time..." not sure which of us did that bit. Anyway, we finished it and I thought, Great, that'll be a hit. Put it out two weeks before Christmas, get 100 grand give it Oxfam, the end.

But it wasn't the end...

No. Then I went to Africa. I didn't want to go, but the press said, very coldly, that if I didn't go the story was over. I was the story. So I went to Africa, saw the situation, realised how awful it was. Harry Belafonte called me, said, 'Why are the Brits doing this? Why aren't we doing this?' So I said, 'Call Quincy Jones." They do USA For Africa. Joining the two together seemed to make sense, do a concert 'cos that's what musicians do. I know it sounds odd but it didn't seem weird. Even the satellite thing didn't seem new to me, 'cos I'd seen the Beatles do All You Need Is Love. So I thought, 'I'll just do what they did.' Then George Harrison called me and said, 'Don't make the mistakes of the Concert For Bangladesh - the lawyers fucked us.' And I said, 'There's no lawyers.' He said, 'Wow.' The idea was: no recordings, no films, no videos, just 15 minutes of your hits, then goodbye.

The point about Live Aid was of course the money, the 30 million. But it galvanised way beyond that. I hadn't fully anticipated the number of people watching. The number of people watching became a political lobby. Thatcher agreed to put poverty on the G7 agenda, accepting the argument that poverty is a destabilising influence on the global economy. From July 13, 1985, I understood this to be a political lobby. And the success of it proved demonstrably that things really could change. The individual is not powerless in the face of monstrosities. There's tripartite agreement on this now. The Tories are going to put 0.7 into law [ie. a commitment of 0.7% of the UK's GNP to Official Development Assistance], uniquely in the world, and that's a direct result of Live Aid.

What lessons did you learn from Live Aid that you applied to Live 8?

There was no correlation. Put it in purely financial terms. Live Aid: 150 million. Live 8: 50 billion, per annum. But Live Aid had the 'give me your fuckin' money' moment. And Bowie introducing the famine film. I showed that film to David at Harvey Goldsmith's about 7.30 at night. Let's remember for a minute that Bowie is an absolute God. I got to know him when I was a kid. I hitch-hiked to see him in Belgium on the Station To Station tour, told him I was in a band and showed him pictures of the Rats. I blagged backstage and he was so nice. Don't forget he launched Band Aid pre-Top Of The Pops, he wore this lame T-shirt, Feed The World, looked like a doofus. But he's the sweetest man. You just never think about David Bowie like that.

We showed him the film, famine footage cut to the Cars' song Drive. He sat there in tears and said, 'Right, I'm giving up a song.' I said, 'Hang on...' I didn't want David Bowie giving up a fucking song. I mean, hello? But of course he was right. That was the moment that people said, Fuck everything, take whatever you want from me.

Live 8 though... people never really got their head around the fact that all I needed was for you to be either there, or on the street, or watching it on TV. Just so I could say to the world's leaders, 'There they are, they're watching you, answer to them.' Now Blair and Brown watched Live Aid, they say it influenced their whole political thing. Clinton says he saw it. Bush even says he saw a couple of hours... [pause] course he didn't. But these were Live Aid babies. And numbers are political. A million kids on the streets is political

So why did Live 8 get so much stick?

I don't think punters got it even though there were millions of them. That romantic resonance wasn't there, although I imagine Floyd freaks will remember it as the last time the band could be together on stage. The critics were saying, where were the blacks? Hello?! Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Fuckin Snoop, Will Smith!? And - who are those fuckers? - oh yeah, Black Eyed Peas.

'They're all old guys,' the press said. Oh yeah? Fuckin' Pete Doherty, Ashcroft, fuckin' The Killers, Razorhead - er, ...lite - who the fuck else? [Heated] It was bollocks! It was so huge, they might as well dis it. But actually, If you look at the tapes, arguably it's a better concert. [Calms down, pauses, thinks] OK, Live Aid is a phenomenal concert. Outside of the obvious U2s and Queens, who deliver their defining moments in my view, there was Elvis Costello doing All You Need Is Love looking at the lyric on his cuff. Bowie giving it mega... McCartney, not having played solo for years, nervous as fuck and his mike breaks and Townshend comes out to help him. It was rock'n'roll being amazing. Turns out all you do need is love after all.

At both events, you had co-operation from some notably unco-operative people...

For Live 8, Pink Floyd let us have total access to the rehearsals, let us film it and let us use it for whatever purpose we liked. These are supposedly the most curmudgeonly people in rock. Zeppelin and Sabbath got back together for Live Aid. And when we found the tapes at the Beeb to do the Live Aid DVD, I showed them to Jimmy. Planty said yes, we could use it, but Jimmy said he couldn't: 'I can't Bob, it's so shit.' I said, 'It's not shit Jim, it's really not shit. It's a pity people can't see it. But you're the only fucker who's refusing.' 'I can't... I can't.' A week or so later, I get a letter from Jimmy. 'Tell you what, we have a new Zeppelin Live DVD out. Take all the money. Take all the money.' Amazing generosity. I hate it when people diss rock'n'roll. Hate it! Twats, you know?

Music, culture, politics: you never really saw the divide...

All of it makes complete sense to me. Everything I've done has been through the lens of music, the opportunity it gave me to articulate that, FUCK OFF, THINGS DON'T HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS. There are other universes that are possible to be made. And that all comes from being 11 years old and listening to John and Paul and Mick and Bob and Pete.

source: MOJO

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