Friday, 14 January 2011

Ramshackle prophet

It is easy to forget how extraordinary some events were when we first experienced them. Last night I watched When HarvLive Aid logoey Met Bob a BBC film about the events leading up to Live Aid in 1985. The 1985 concert was amazing.  I had just graduated from university, dad had got hold of a video recorder and I still have the original tapes (VHS not Betamax thankfully). We’ve had a steady stream of these jukebox charity concerts since Live Aid, including Live 8, but none match the magic of that first event.

The film depicts the unfolding relationship between Bob Geldof, who had the vision for the concert, and Harvey Goldsmith, the concert promoter who helped Geldof make the vision a reality. Domhnall Gleeson’s portrayal of Geldof is superb; he nails the accent, the slouch, the haunted look, the bloody mindedness and the hair. It seemed to me the hair was a visual metaphor for Geldof’s emotions. The more upset and frustrated he became, the wilder his mop of hair, until by the day of the concert when it was completely out of control. Gleeson gives us the ramshackle prophet, not the plaster saint, raging against the plight of millions facing starvation while the world shrugged its shoulders in apathy.

geldof I wasn’t as sure about Ian Hart’s portrayal of Goldsmith. The concert promoter is no shrinking violet and he didn’t convey the force or energy of the man, nor the character required to make such an event happen and reign in Geldof’s wilder notions. It was a pity that Midge Ure didn’t even get a mention, apart from a snatch of his hit Vienna, given that he was Geldof’s partner in the recording of the Band Aid charity single which kicked the whole thing off.

The most striking aspect of the film is the reminder of just what a seat of the pants enterprise Live Aid was. Geldof, blustering and blagging his way through press conferences, promising performances from artists who’d never heard of the concert, making commitments without a clue how they would be delivered. The interviews and documentaries I’ve seen about Live Aid over the years confirm that this is an accurate picture. Even at the last moment, with Live Aid well under way in both London and Philadelphia, it looked like the event would fail in its purpose. People were watching the bands but weren’t committing their money and so in a desperate effort to drum up donations Geldof did a live interview. Part way through he loses his temper and makes an expletive ridden demand for money. I remember the jolt of electricity hitting me as I heard his words at the time and I remember the response as the cash began to flood in.

Geldof has plenty of critics and I’m sure he’d be the first to admit his faults, but there are many people alive today because of what he and Goldsmith achieved with Live Aid.

No apologies for showing one of my favourite clips…

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