Band Aid is a charity supergroup featuring mainly British and Irish musicians and recording artists.
It was founded in 1984 by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise money for anti-famine efforts in Ethiopia by releasing the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” for the Christmas market that year. On 25 November 1984, the song was recorded at Sarm West Studios in Notting Hill, London, and was released in the UK four days later.
The single surpassed the hopes of the producers to become the Christmas number one on that release. Two subsequent re-recordings of the song to raise further money for charity also topped the charts. The original was produced by Midge Ure. The 12″ version was mixed by Trevor Horn. In November 2014, a new version of the song was recorded by artists under the name of Band Aid 30.
The supergroup was formed by Bob Geldof, former lead singer of Irish Band The Boomtown Rats. The BBC played a major role in capturing the poverty affecting Ethiopian citizens and thereby influenced Geldof to take action. Paula Yates, Bob Geldof’s partner, is considered to have been the brains behind the original Band Aid. It was she who became the driving force that inspired (and helped) Geldof to rally the most famous pop stars of the Eighties to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia.
The group was composed of forty artists to raise awareness and funds for the Ethiopian famine in 1983-1985. The group’s name stemmed from the idea that the musicians were providing aid to the less fortunate and suggested that their project was likened to putting a band-aid on a wound. Geldof was looking for support from all nations for Africa beginning in the United Kingdom.
To do so, the artists recorded a hit single titled “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” depicting the poverty stricken African scenery of the time. Lyrics of the song included description of the country saying, “where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow, do they know it’s Christmas time at all?” Ethiopia follows the Orthodox calendar where Christmas is celebrated on the seventh of January.
Geldof was so moved by the plight of starving children in Ethiopia, that he decided to try to raise money using his contacts in pop music. Geldof enlisted the help of Midge Ure, from the group Ultravox, to produce a charity record. Ure took Geldof’s lyrics, and created the melody and backing track for the record. Geldof called many of the most popular British and Irish performers of the time, persuading them to give their time free.
His one criterion for selection was how famous they were, in order to maximise sales of the record. He then kept an appointment to appear on a show on BBC Radio 1, with Richard Skinner, but instead of promoting the new Boomtown Rats material as planned, he announced the plan for Band Aid.The recording studio gave Band Aid no more than 24 free hours to record and mix the record, on 25 November 1984.
The recording took place at SARM Studios in Notting Hill between 11am and 7pm, and was filmed by director Nigel Dick to be released as the pop video though some basic tracks had been recorded the day before at Midge Ure’s home studio. The first tracks to be recorded were the group / choir choruses which were filmed by the international press. The footage was rushed to newsrooms where it aired while the remainder of the recording process continued. Later, drums by Phil Collins were recorded.
The introduction of the song features a slowed down sample from a Tears for Fears’ track called “The Hurting”, released in 1983. Tony Hadley, of Spandau Ballet, was the first to record his vocal, while a section sung by Status Quo was deemed unusable, and replaced with section comprising Paul Weller, Sting, and Glenn Gregory, from Heaven 17. Simon Le Bon from Duran Duran sang between contributions from George Michael and Sting. Paul Young has since admitted, in a documentary, that he knew his opening lines were written for David Bowie, who was not able to make the recording but made a contribution to the B-side (Bowie performed his lines at the Live Aid concert the following year). Boy George arrived last at 6pm, after Geldof woke him up by phone to have him flown over from New York on Concorde to record his solo part. (At the time, Culture Club was in the middle of a US tour.)
The following morning, Geldof appeared on the Radio 1 breakfast show with Mike Read, to promote the record further and promise that every penny would go to the cause. This led to a stand-off with the British Government, who refused to waive the VAT on the sales of the single. Geldof made the headlines by publicly standing up to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and, sensing the strength of public feeling, the government backed down and donated the tax back to the charity.
The record was released on 3 December 1984, and went straight to No. 1 in the UK singles chart, outselling all the other records in the chart put together. It became the fastest- selling single of all time in the UK, selling a million copies in the first week alone. It stayed at No. 1 for five weeks, selling over three million copies and becoming easily the biggest-selling single of all time in the UK, thus beating the seven-year record held by Mull of Kintyre.
It has since been surpassed by Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind 1997” (his tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales) but it is likely to keep selling in different versions for many years to come. In 1986 the original music video from “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” received Band Aid a Grammy Award nomination for Best Music Video, Short Form.
After Live Aid, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was re-released in late 1985 in a set that included a special-edition ‘picture disc’ version, modelled after the Live Aid logo with ‘Band’ in place of ‘Live’. An added bonus, “One Year On” (a statement from Geldof and Ure on the telephone) was available as a b-side. “One Year On” can also be found in transcript form in a booklet which was included in the DVD set of Live Aid, the first disc of which features the BBC news report, as well as the Band Aid video.
Live Aid inspired a number of charity events, such as Media Aid that raised money for Save the Children.