Alright! Queen at Live Aid
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On July 13, 1985, the world tuned in to watch Live Aid beamed in from Wembley in London and John F Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. The massive event was spawned from Bob Geldof’s idea six months earlier to raise money for Ethiopian famine victims through the release of the charity single, Do They Know It’s Christmas?.
The iconic performance on that day came from Queen, a band that had been considering calling it quits just months earlier. Performing in front of an estimated audience of 1.9 billion people, the fourpiece stole the show and revitalised their career.
Alright takes a look back at Queen’s performance on that day as well as revisiting the origins of the Band Aid single and the logistics behind getting Live Aid off the ground.
Read an excerpt of Alright!
They take to the stage early on a summer’s evening to the roar of the crowd that sounds like a single beast rather than a collection of thousands of voices. The roar could well be because they figure anyone will be more exciting than the snore-inducing Dire Straits who had left the stage not too long ago, after inflicting upon the audience an 11-minute version of Sultans of Swing.
There are four of them who take the stage, two run to the far side – one with an exaggerated stride. The other two are only spied in the wide shot, bowing to the crowd before moving to their respective spots on the stage.
There are four of them, but the camera has already worked out who the star is; the one with that exaggerated stride, the one who shadow boxes with the crowd. The one wearing the runners, tight jeans and equally tight singlet – all of which he had been wearing as he made his way to the gig.
Like everyone else, the camera has figured out Freddie Mercury is the star of the show, the magnet for your attention. And it’s still the case on the Live Aid stage, even though John Deacon’s impressive afro deserves far more camera time than he gets. Mercury walks back across the stage, waving to the masses with a big grin before taking a seat at the piano located at the front of the stage. He plays a few recognisable notes – well, they’re recognisable if you know what’s coming – before tweaking a knob to improve the sound. Then his fingers start the song, the left hand crossing over to the high notes, which is the moment the crowd squeals (yes, that’s the word for it), because the penny has dropped. They know the song – and they know the words.
This is where Queen’s show starts. But it’s not where the story begins; for that we have to go back eight months. Which seems such a short amount of time to allow for these things to happen…
It’s the night of October 24, 1984, in a home in Chelsea, a district not all that far from the home of the British PM. There sitting in that Chelsea home is a man by the name of Bob Geldof. Sure, the name is immediately recognisable now. These days everyone has heard of Sir Bob. But it wasn’t the case back in 1984. Back then he was a fading rock star, the frontman of The Boomtown Rats, who hadn’t had a top 10 hit in the UK for the last two years. Their latest album had been released in May that year and hadn’t set the charts on fire. Had the events over the coming eight months never happened, he’d be best known for singing I Don’t Like Mondays, the song FM radio DJs love to play at the start of the working week. That night, Geldof sits down with his girlfriend Paula Yates and switches on the TV to the BBC to watch The Six O’Clock News. That night he sees a seven-minute news story that puts his struggle to get radio to play the Rats new single into perspective, a story that shocks him. A story that changes the trajectory of his life.