In 1984 Bob Geldof and Midge Ure got together a collection of popular British and Irish musicians, under the name of Band Aid, to release a single for charity. The song was called 'Do They Know it's Christmas' and the proceeds from the sale of over three million copies were used for urgent work to combat the famine in Ethiopia.
The song was one of those sung at the famous Live Aid concert, which was watched by three billion people using 95% of the world's television sets. It was remade in 1989 by a different group of artists, again with the proceeds going to charity. This new version might not have been as popular as the original with music fans, but it still became the Christmas Number One. The original song has been played on the radio in the UK every Christmas since, and features on many Christmas song compilation albums.
20 Years On
In November 2004, 20 years after the original release, the song was remade again by a group of artists described at the time as 'a who's who of contemporary British rock, pop, R&B and urban music1.' The song was rewritten slightly to involve piano and guitars rather than the bells of the original, and included a couple of extra lines sung as a rap by Dizzee Rascal. Nigel Godrich was the producer of the new version, and the one constantly worrying on the actual day.
The song was mainly recorded on Saturday 14 November, 2004, when all the artists got together at Air Studio. Two exceptions were Dido, who recorded her part from Australia, and Robbie Williams, who pre-recorded his part. Bono, who had sung on the original Band Aid record, had also pre-recorded his part in a studio in Dublin. But as news headlines began to stir up controversy over who would sing the lines he had sung 20 years earlier - 'Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you' - Bono decided to settle the debate by turning up on the day to re-record his part. When he'd taken part in the original, he had always felt uncomfortable with that line, thinking it was callous to 'thank God it's them'. It was only when Geldof told him that the discomfort he was feeling was exactly what the line was written for that he felt in some way appeased. In approaching the 20th anniversary remake however, Bono chose to replace his original roar of the line with a calmer, less fierce interpretation. He explained that 'Revenge is a dish best served cold', meaning that although Band Aid was originally set up to see what they could do in the short term, they now aimed to cause change in the long term, as they now understood the power of music. The 'revenge' would be served on those who had allowed the problems of the Third World to continue.
There was a nervous atmosphere as the artists arrived. Many of the artists weren't even born when Band Aid began, and some of them were unaware of the need for the project; Joss Stone joking that she couldn't even remember Bob Geldof's name, apparently confusing him with Gandalf. However, Bob Geldof was aware that he needed to make sure everyone taking part understood the task ahead. He had prepared a video of footage from Ethiopia in 1984 accompanied by 'Drive' by The Cars, which had been shown at Live Aid in 1985. This clearly moved the artists, and to add further weight to his message Bob pointed out a starving, emaciated child in the video, then introduced them to her - she had survived with the help of Band Aid, and was now working as an agronomist, using her education to find solutions to the continued starvation which still kills thousands of people every day.
The artists can be seen watching her on a television during the music video to the song, and the effect is visible. Neil Hannon from the band The Divine Comedy, who took part in the new version, noted in a magazine article that '… the room went from all beer and jollity and "aren't we all famous" to quite serious in a couple of minutes.' The message Bob Geldof was putting across was clear - Band Aid isn't just a short-term reaction to the problem, but a long-term effort that will change lives.
Recording the New Version
The main music track was laid down in advance, with Paul McCartney providing the bassline on guitar, and Fran Healy2 adding a guide vocal for the other singers to work around. Several artists sang in pairs, and everyone got together at the end to sing the line 'Feed the World', with Joss Stone's ad libitum part, which had been recorded earlier, being added over the top afterwards. Other artists were encouraged to ad lib during the chorus, but Keisha from the Sugababes commented that she and her friends were stood next to Beverley Knight, who has an extremely strong Gospel voice, and each time Keisha thought of something to do she was drowned out by Beverley's own freeforming. All the artists in the 'chorus' at the end were given percussion instruments such as shakers and sticks to play while singing, giving the ending a different, almost celebratory feeling from the original.
The video of the new version was shown simultaneously on all five UK terrestrial channels at 5pm on Tuesday 16 November, drawing an audience of over 13 million. The video was also shown on digital channels at the same time. The single was then played at 8pm on the following Thursday on many large radio stations. The single was released on Monday 29 November, 2004, and sold over 72,000 copies on the first day, making it to number one in the UK singles chart by the end of the week. The single was released as a CD with the original version and the 1985 Live Aid version as well as the new version. The single also topped the UK downloads chart and the UK ringtones chart. At the time of writing it is unclear whether the single will be the UK Christmas Number One - by selling the most copies during the last full week before Christmas.
The Artists Who Took Part
Chris Martin (Coldplay), Dido, Robbie Williams, The Sugababes, Fran Healey (Travis), Bono (U2), Will Young and Jamelia, Beverley Knight and Ms Dynamite, Dizzee Rascal, Tom Chaplain, Justin Hawkins, Busted, Joss Stone and Justin Hawkins.
Those singing in the ensemble4:Padraic McMahon, Kevin Horan, Daniel Ryan, Ben Carrigan, Conor Deasey (The Thrills); Gary Lightbody, Nathan Connolly, Mark McClelland, Jonathan Quin, Tom Simpson (Snow Patrol); Justin Hawkins, Dan Hawkins, Frankie Poullain, Ed Graham (The Darkness), Katie Melua; Neil Hannon (The Divine Comedy); Skye Gordon (Morcheeba); Tom Chaplin, Tim Rice-Oxley (Keane); Roisin Murphy (Moloko); Fran Healey, Dougie Payne, Andy Dunlop (Travis); Nigel Godrich (producer); Bob Geldof, Grant Nicholas (Feeder), Damon Albarn; Shaznay Lewis; Midge Ure; Ms Dynamite; Joss Stone; Beverley Knight; Daniel Bedingfield; Mutya Rose Buena, Heidi Range, Keisha Buchanan (Sugababes); Matt Jay, Charlie Simpson, James Bourne (Busted); Lemar; Rachel Stevens; Estelle; Will Young; Jamelia; Natasha Bedingfield; Olly Knights, Gale Paridjanian (Turin Brakes).
Paul McCartney - Bass guitar
Danny Goffey (Supergrass) - Drums
Thom Yorke (Radiohead) - Piano
Fran Healy - Guitar
Justin Hawkins - Guitar
Dan Hawkins - Guitar
For more details about the single and how to obtain a copy, see the Band Aid 20 website.