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Live8 - London, Hyde Park, July 2nd 2005 Print E-mail

A GREAT DAY FOR... A GREAT CAUSE

Live 8
Live 8
"We're Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, we hope you will enjoy the show..."

So launched ten hours of music and message - billed as "the biggest and best rock concert the world has ever seen", Live 8, on 2nd July 2005, was a collection of some of music's greatest acts from the past and present, with concerts held in countries worldwide. The shows were in aid of a message, not money - the message being that poverty and death in Africa is avoidable if just eight men, gathered in a room in Edinburgh in July, make the right decisions.

Twenty years previously, the world was witness to a unique event - the original Live Aid. Sadly, present day conditions in the African continent forced the hand of Bob Geldof to act again, to raise the profile of the problem, with the hope that, once and for all, the situation is resolved for good. As we were shown on the video screens, 50,000 children die a day from extreme poverty.

As a father to two small boys, the message hit home on a very personal level. From the atmosphere in London's Hyde Park during the day (where the UK show was), many of the other 205,000 felt the same.

The day began with good natured streams of people converging on the park, which is right in the centre of the capital. An optomistic vibe travelled along the streets, a flutter of excitement and wonder.

Standing halfway along Park Lane, looking at the preparations for the event (and for the Gay Pride March taking place around lunchtime, next to the park), we heard some last minute rehearsals. It was very strange to be in London, at 10:30am on a Saturday morning, hearing Paul McCartney and U2 going through their set!

Despite long queues (stretching some three kilometres around the perimeter of the park) the crowds waiting to go in seemed very good natured, and the British spirit of queuing showed itself in its best light. Matters were helped by the Live 8 signs dotted along the route, giving encouraging messages to those waiting.

Fast forward a few hours - the gates are open, people are streaming into the park, getting into position for what promises to be a fascinating show (and a longer one than anyone suspected). A predictable scrum surrounds the merchandising, with t-shirts and programmes being snapped up, and tempers start fraying as the concert start looms and the harried staff, overstretched, struggle to serve their customers.


U2 & Paul McCartney
U2 & Paul McCartney
All this is forgotten as 2pm strikes - under a grey sky, cloud heavy with the threat of rain - we are taken back to 1985, and scenes from the original event hit the screens that pepper the venue. Then, following a curiously brief fanfare from a military band, on comes Paul McCartney and U2...and a foursome on brass wearing gaudy-coloured uniforms.

It was the first time that Macca had performed the full version of "Sgt Peppers", and with U2 as his backing musicians, a great way to start the show. Into the U2 set proper, and "Beautiful Day" sets the mood wonderfully. What could be seen as cheesy, watching at home on TV, hits exactly the right chord in the park, when a flock of doves are released midsong, to wheel over the crowd. At one point, Bono reminds the crowd: "This is our chance to stand up for what's right".

Elton John
Sir Elton John
The song "One" completes their set, to tumultuous applause. A hard act to follow, but Coldplay are helped by the very tardy stage changes which are experienced through two-thirds of the show (and contribute greatly to the overrun). "In My Place" and "Fix You" go down well, and a big cheer met Richard Ashcroft (The Verve) who performed "Bitter Sweet Symphony" with them. Coldplay's Chris Martin echoed the feelings of many when he said "Geldof is a hero of our time". He also threw in a bit of the Quo's "Rocking All Over The World" for good measure, making up for their absence.

Sir Elton John is introduced (no doubt to utter bewilderment worldwide!) by Lou and wheelchair-bound Andy, characters from the BBC's popular comedy series "Little Britain", and gives the crowd a couple of his livelier tracks - "Bitch Is Back"/"Saturday Night's Alright", before introducing "one of the best new talents of the moment, Pete Doherty".

The Babyshambles singer staggers onto the stage, and gives his carcrash performance of T Rex's "Children of the Revolution". Mouths are agape as the song comes to an end...

Female singer Dido runs through a well-judged, calm set, with Youssou N'Dour guesting on "Thank You" and "7 Seconds", which was received extremely well. This was followed by the Stereophonics, who got a good but not ecstatic reception.

REM
REM
REM completed the first main chunk of the show with a great performance. Singer Michael Stipe, wearing his customary face paint, which co-ordinated well with the colour of his shirt, got the crowd bouncing up and down for "Man On The Moon", one of the big, memorable moments. This followed from an emotional "Everybody Hurts", which sent a shiver down the collective spine of the audience.


Despite her best efforts, Miss Dynamite failed to grab much attention, and provided a good time for many to head off for the burger vans and dubious portable toilets, being around three hours into the show.

Bob Geldof
Bob Geldof
Keane gained a number of new fans with a couple of songs - an impressive, dynamic performance that proved you don't need a guitar amongst your instrumentation. Travis furthered the reasonably mellow late-afternoon feeling, with their catchy brand of music hitting the spot for many. With the audience nervously eying the skies, "Why Does It Always Rain On Me?" was well timed, and a number of umbrellas were waived and twirled during the song.

Many people see Bob Geldof as a hero, and who would therefore deny him a turn on the stage to run through "I Don't Like Mondays"? The expected pause came with "...and the lesson today, is how to die", and even if the impact felt at that moment in the original Live Aid concert was lesser, 20 years later, it still sent a shiver down the spine.

The poignant "Why" started Annie Lennox's emotional performance, with video footage of AIDS-ridden little children - especially poignant when the footage ended, telling us that a large number of the children in the film had since died. "Sweet Dreams", the Eurythmics classic, concluded her set, to tumultuous applause.

For many, another lull in the acts followed, with UB40 running through a competent if rather tired set of their better known singalongs, Snoop Dogg and his cohorts throwing in lots of unnecessary swearwords, and Razorlight, a new band out to make an impression. As one of my friends said during their act: "If they are half as good as they think they are, they are absolutely fantastic!" The lead singer, Johnny Borrell, did both the standard media attention grabbers of taking off the shirt, and jumping off the stage to get closer to the audience. Or was it the cameramen?


Bob returns to the stage while the crew do the changeover for the next act. To the eventual accompaniment of The Car's "Drive" (a technical glitch had Geldof bellowing at the crew to sort out the sound), we see the 1985 footage that shocked the world into action. Bob stood in the middle of the stage, watching the footage, and at the end, dared anyone to applaude. With tears in most eyes, the film had obviously lost none of its power.

Birham Woldu & Madonna
Birham Woldu & Madonna
The film concluded with a shot of a near-dead girl. Geldof explained, "See this little girl? She had 10 minutes to live 20 years ago, and because we did a concert in this city and Philadelphia, and all of you came and some of you weren’t born... because we did that, last week she did her agricultural exams... She is here tonight... Don't let them tell us [aid] does not work." He then introduced her - Birham Woldu - who is now studying at a university in Ethiopia. Deservedly so, she got an even bigger reaction from the crowd than Madonna, who shared the first number - "Like A Prayer" - with her.

Madonna went down as one of the best received acts on the day, getting the crowd clapping along with "Ray Of Light" and "Music". Dressed all in white, along with her band and large choir, Madonna caught the attention and despite not dancing as vigorously as she might have done in the past, she still showed her command of an audience.


Five artists followed - all of which of smaller stature, and keeping the crowd going until the heavyweights arrived on stage later on. Hamstrung by most of the audience being unfamiliar with their work, the bands still gamely plugged away, making an impression on many, if not for the music, for the effort they put in.

With time moving apace, it certainly felt like the first of these - Snow Patrol and The Killers - had their sets chopped down (indeed, The Killers even used some of Snow Patrol's instruments). Joss Stone hit the stage some seven hours into the show, and her impressive vocal talents nudged a weary crowd into life.

Next up, the Scissor Sisters. Presumably in deference to Pink Floyd, there was no airing of their biggest hit, but "Laura" and "Take Your Mama" got the crowd bouncing up and down, as the clouds parted for the first time that day, giving a glorious sunset over the back of the crowd.

 
Sting
Velvet Revolver, made up of ex-members of bands such as Guns'n'Roses, provided a heavy rock interlude to a largely bemused (and to be honest, bored) audience. However good their performance might have been, it failed to grab people's attention and few were upset when their three songs had concluded. A shame for them, and their fans, on a day such as this.


Sting

With time cracking on, it was getting on for 9:30pm when Sting reached the stage. The ex-Police frontman had the crowd singing along with "Message In A Bottle", delivered a powerful "Driven To Tears", and changed the lyrics to "Every Breath You Take", putting a new focus on the G8 leaders - who appeared on the screens behind him.

Certainly, many of us in the audience were feeling very twitchy when Mariah Carey appeared at around 10pm. The show was already half an hour over it's extended finishing time, and looking at the running order, there were still many artists to go. Would they all appear? Would they have their sets curtailed?

Mariah Carey
Mariah "Diva" Carey
And then Mariah starts wandering around the stage, in finest Diva mode, demanding a flunky appears on stage so that she could take a couple of tiny sips of water. Then, to compound matters, she starts asking for a micstand. "I don't need one, I'd just like one. Is there one there backstage? I'd like a micstand..."

Alternately booing and laughing at her, the audience, in my section at least, seemed aghast at her behaviour. With the clock ticking, no-one was interested in her fancies. To make matters worse, Carey then, cynically, performed her new single.

Thankfully, with the schedule dramatically askew, and public transport services close to their nighttime end, the stage crew were starting to get a lot snappier, and the transition for the final acts was much better (even if The Who took their time reaching the stage).

Next up, the irrepressable Robbie Williams, someone who easily won over the crowd and had everyone singing along. Never taking himself seriously, he's a great entertainer with great songs - the perfect combination for big gigs. Starting with "We Will Rock You", a tribute to the absent Queen, he ran through "Let Me Entertain You", "Feel", and an emotional "Angels" which was THE singalong of the whole show.

The Who, looking older and not in the best of moods, thundered their way through "Who Are You?" and a blistering "Won't Get Fooled Again". They may be not as young as many of the other artists (and the black and white used throughout their set on the videoscreens certainly added to the years on their faces), but they still showed just how powerful they could be. One curious thing though... part way through their set, the screen behind them showed a green heartbeat for around 10 seconds. A bit of a giveaway of what was to follow!


"Home, home again..."

Almost on the dot of 11pm, came the only band that didn't have (or didn't need?) an introduction. The stage shrouded in darkness, with the heartbeat showing on all the screens this time, and the sound of that vital organ thudded around Hyde Park. I spot the backstage curtain being moved, stage right, and see David Gilmour, with a huge smile on his face. This bodes well...

A hushed anticipation gripped the crowd. Even the non Floydheads were aware of how big a moment this was - and the atmosphere was electric.

On walk the band - Gilmour, Nick Mason, Richard Wright, Jon Carin (who is stationed in the dry ice and darkness, behind Richard), and Tim Renwick. Oh and Roger Waters... Us fortunate ones down the front send up a roar of appreciation, which spread like a wave to the back of the park, adding to the cheers for the start of Speak To Me. An incredible reception - the biggest of the show?

 

Pink Floyd at Live 8

Whilst we all knew that Roger was appearing with them - after all, it was THE story of the event, for a couple of weeks beforehand (following those momentous phone calls on the night of Friday 10th June), it was still a very strange, but wonderful, sight to see him on stage next to David. After all, most Floyd fans in the audience were either too young, or not even born, the last time that happened!

With the heartbeats in the air building, and the trace on the screen slowing disolving to a moon, the lights around the stage died, leaving everything shrowded in darkness. The scream builds, and "Breathe" starts with no indication that the four of them had ever been away, or apart for all those years. The tightest of starts, fluid and beautiful, and setting the scene for their whole set.

In a nod to the location, and the history of the band, the screen behind showed Algie the pig floating between the chimneys of Battersea Power Station. (I was later to discover that a BBC cameraman panned across to the REAL building, to the right of the stage in the distance. Nice!)

As David moved from his slide guitar to take the vocal, faces within the band were still pretty serious. The occasion seemed to be impressing itself on them; maybe not the 205,000 in the park, nor the 2 billion-plus worldwide audience, but the occasion of being back after some 24 years, playing a song they last did as a team back in 1975.

First line over, and faces relaxed. This was going well - very well indeed. Roger mouths some of the lyrics, turns and exchanges a huge smile with Nick. Richard, along with Nick and Roger, looks around too - David is the only one faced forward throughout - concentrating on delivering the words. A powerful bridge between "Breathe" and "Breathe Reprise" is a nice touch. "Breathe Reprise" commences with a great run down the fretboard from Roger, during "Home, home again...", taking the mood down again from the dynamic bridge.

David still looks pretty nervous at this point, but seems to calm a little after exchanging a brief smile with Roger. A wonderful start to proceedings...

They bring the song to its conclusion, and a "Thank You!" from Roger leads to the sound of coins jingling. The familiar bass refrain of "Money" kicks in, and despite a slight timing issue at the start (the looped sound effect running at a different speed to the instrumentation) the band soon fell into the groove of a song that they've played so many times before.

This was the first time I'd seen them so visibly enjoy running through it, though. The tiredness seen on the umpteenth performance, as part of a long tour, was nowhere to be seen. And neither were backing singers, adding in a tired "woo-hoo" throughout. This was a stripped-back-to-basics performance - how the song should be heard. With Dick Parry coming on to provide sax duties, and a great reading from all the musicians, this was a joy.

Missed on the TV broadcast was the way that messrs Gilmour and Waters delivered the final, crashing note of the song - facing each other, bringing the almost vertical necks of their guitars down decisively and in unison.

Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd
Confusion on some faces as the radio gets tuned in at the start of "Wish You Were Here" - no, the radio mics aren't picking up bogus signals! Tim Renwick kicks off the acoustic guitar strumming, and, for the first time ever, Roger then uses this as background for an introduction, his voice cracking with the emotion: "It's actually quite emotional, standing up here with these three guys after all these years. Standing to be counted with the rest of you. Anyway, we're doing this for everyone who's not here, particularly, of course for Syd."

It is Syd who's face appears on the screen behind them, and provides the focus for the vocal, shared between David and Roger.

And so, onto the song that was to conclude this most remarkable and unexpected reunion. With a matter-of-fact "Here we go" from Roger, the band launched into one of the tightest, and certainly the most memorable, versions of "Comfortably Numb" I've ever heard.

The screens fade to black, and the lights on the stage dim. A solid red screen fades up, which is repeated throughout the concert arena (meaning only those close to the stage can see what the musicians are doing - but then I guess this echoes the original 1980/81 shows with the band behind The Wall) as Roger takes up the vocal. Another lovely duet with David, who has his vocal augmented with Carol Kenyon, providing added depths to his tender delivery.

The first solo starts, Nick takes off his headphones (worn just for the first part of this song), and the red screen turns into a white wall. Next verse, and the wall has turned blood red again; Nick looks lost in the moment, eyes shut, taking it all in.

The final solo sees the white wall again, and Gerald Scarfe's red pen slowly and deliberately writes MAKE POVERTY HISTORY over the left, middle and right hand stage screens...as David rips out one of the most blistering solos ever on his black Strat. And then it was over, with the final crashing chords echoing into the London night sky.

Instruments get put down, and the foursome convene at the front of the stage. Then came the moment we never thought we'd see - the four of them, arm-in-arm, revelling in the moment and thanking the crowd for the incredible reception. Any doubts they must have had before going on, surely were swept away.

At almost 25 minutes long, Pink Floyd had the longest set in the show. And they made the most of it - a remarkable, moving, unforgettable performance...and with the songs stripped back to basics, with little of the (in some cases) unneccessary frills added in later years. Each member of the band appeared at various point to be lost in the music, the angst and anger of the preceeding years stripped away and forgotten, to leave a band, together, playing its heart out - standing up to be counted for what they believe in, and showing an awareness of what is really important in this brief thing we call life.

Throughout their set, the electronic message board above the stage was unchanged: "NO MORE EXCUSES" it read. Referring to the G8 summit, it made a fitting message from the band, even if it was unintentional. It might well have proved too much of a distraction to cycle round the messages that it was displaying the whole day.

Macca and George Michael
Paul McCartney & George Michael
One final thought uppermost in many minds: if they could play this well after just two days of rehearsal, wouldn't it be wonderful if they sat down together and thought about what the future might hold for them as a unit again?


Some fifteen minutes later (if you're going to overrun, you might as well do it in style!) on comes the man who started the show, some nine and a half hours earlier. Beatles legend Paul McCartney was a great choice to finish the show... and launched straight into "Get Back". "Drive My Car" sees George Michael come on to sing with Macca, George's excellent vocal proving the perfect blend.

I was astonished to hear "Helter Skelter" performed next - this Lennon and McCartney song from "The White Album" is rarely heard performed or on the radio, so many of the audience, whilst enjoying it, didn't seem to know it. It's one of their rockier tracks (and indeed, at the end Ringo screams "I've got blisters on my fingers!") and went down a storm. Wonderful to hear this!

"The Long And Winding Road", as promised, finished the concert proper. The idea of the concert, was to start the journey to Edinburgh to present the people's views to the G8 leaders - and it would indeed be a long and winding road for many.

All that was required, was the big singalong finale. On comes Gilmour, one of the first, who plonks himself down next to Macca on his piano stool and takes his microphone. Stationing himself behind the grand piano, Gilmour is joined by many of the artists for "Hey Jude". Amongst those was Nick and Rick - but, curiously, no sign of Roger for this last song.

Finale
All-star finale
Midnight strikes, and the last word goes to Geldof: "It has been a day full of hope, possibility, and life for those who have none".


Streaming out of Hyde Park, virtually everyone is in a tired, but exhilerated mood. The now-finished public transport for most preys on the mind, but fails to dampen the spirits. When you are faced with a once-in-a-lifetime show, it is very difficult to leave before the end. A number of people had to make that incredibly difficult decision, and their sadness was written all over their faces as they made their way through the crowd, while the headliners were still to make their appearance.

With hindsight, there was plenty the organisers could have done to improve the situation, and stop the show from overrunning some two and a half hours. The stage changes in the early stages were painfully slow, and the antics of some performers, either taking too long to reach the stage (The Who) or spending too long on stage, not doing much (Mariah Carey), had a huge impact.

Still, it was a wonderful, memorable, emotional day, with a hugely important message that made itself felt throughout the crowd - and nothing on this scale could ever have gone totally smoothly. The many highlights thoroughly outweighed minor niggles, and made them seem almost insignificant. On a mixed bill, too, there will always be parts of the show less interesting than others.

It was clear though, that whilst most artists were content to just come on and play some songs (and in many cases, did so extremely well), it was only the Floyd that really made the most of it, and put on a proper show to stick in the memory. There were no tricks - no elaborate fireworks, no shirts taken off - just the music and the emotion. And much of this, sadly, could never be captured by television cameras.

As someone said to me in a text message in the morning: "We are part of history. Enjoy it." And boy - we certainly did!

 
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