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Live Aid & The 20 Minutes That Changed The World

13 July 2020

“I won’t be a rock star. I will be a legend”  – Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury broke down the barrier between the artist and the audience. Not just a singer or an artist, Freddie Mercury was a performer. He adored his audience as much as they idolised him. But, by 1985 Queen his band had become public enemy number one. Unlike what is documented in the Bohemian Rhapsody  movie, Queen had not broken up. The truth was, the band took the controversial move to play Sun City in South Africa in October 1984. At that time both the United Nations had asked for a boycott from the entertainment industry, and the British Musicians Union had banned any of it’s members from playing there. All this centred on the movement against apartheid, which was systemic in South Aftrica between the 1940’s until 1994. Queen’s decision to play the country at this time almost derailed their career. When the band eventually came off The Works 48-date-tour in May 1985, things were at a low, again unlike the movies representation, and they needed something to win back the public. 

Looking at rock music in general, a wider picture of the eighties begins to build. By 1985, the seventies giants were finding it difficult to crossover to this new decade and new audience. Zeppelin were no more, inhouse fighting in both The Who and The Stones meant any creativity was hampered. Queen also found themselves slightly in limbo also, the 1982 album Hot Space was neither accepted by critics or fans. The number one collaboration from the previous year with David Bowie “Under Pressure” was included on the album but still couldn’t save it. The disco-funk sound was a little too far out for the fans. The 1984 release The Works faired better, with a return to a rock sound also a more effective use of synthesisers. The high charting “Radio Ga Ga” may not have been similar to the work ten years previous but broke them all the same to a new audience.

Something was needed in the mid-eighties to put Rock Music back on a pedestal, enter The Global Jukebox. The much touted Live Aid concert, organised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, kicked off at 12:19pm on July 13th, 1985. Seventies legends Status Quo ironically kicked it all off after a small piece, the humanitarian angle of why this day was happening. It did not seem like it was broadcast from London, it was more like a broadcast from another planet. U2, Dire Straits, David Bowie, all present, and playing amazing sets. Then at about 6:40pm that evening it was announced Queen were up next. In truth the band were still fresh in people’s minds from their last bunch of singles including the aforementioned ‘Radio Ga Ga’. And so it began.

The charisma, and the confidence Mercury had, was a far cry from the well spoken and shy character during interviews. His vocal ballet with the crowd, involving them, drawing them in even more to the performance. Queen had a mere twenty minutes to perform, but they squeezed a concert into that brief moment, merging the old and new hits seamlessly. “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Radio Ga Ga,” “Hammer to Fall”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and the finale of “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” Brian May was quoted years later stating “It was the greatest day of our lives” along with the obvious, “The rest of us played okay, but Freddie was out there and took it to another level”

Everyone remembers the performance of “Radio Ga Ga”, Freddie centre stage, the crowd shadowing his clapping, a sea of hands in sync. His marching round the stage with the sawed off microphone stand, commanding an army, breathing fumes of pure energy from his soul. The relentless hunger of the band, finding their way back to the top of their game. 

Reports have stated that 1.9 billion people watched Live Aid that day, I am sure it is not overreaching to say over a billion jaws hit the floor with that performance. It is like that first guitar power chord in “We Will Rock You”, the music vibrated around the world. We were young, we were new to rock music, none of us considered we would never see another moment like this again. Like so many, we took it for granted, without realising there would never be another like Freddie Mercury. In that brief time we felt as if these moments would last forever. 

As sources state, Mercury was already aware he was in the grips of a disease which would end his life a short six years later. Then again, the year after Queen would storm Wembley again, have a number one album in – A Kind Of Magic and reach the heights not seen since the seventies. On the 9th of August, 1986, Queen played their final concert at Knebworth, they had rebuilt what had lay in ruin.

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