FOR people of a certain age it’s an uncomfortable realisation that’s its 30 years since the original, ‘Do They Know it’s Christmas?’ It was 1984 and pop videos were at their zenith, with MTV USA a ‘must see’ on Sunday afternoons in two-channel Ireland. The collaborative effort by top pop and rock stars that was Band Aid was something that we’d never seen before.
Many of us remember sitting transfixed in front of teak-box televisions and scrutinising every last detail in that video, or learning the lyrics from Smash Hits magazine.
The Irish Examiner met up with Irish celebrities to see if they too remember where they were when they first heard the song or saw the video:
I was in secondary school when it was released. I was mini-obsessed with pop music back then and you couldn’t get it — you’d only hear bits of it on the radio, now and again, and all the bands I was into were on Band Aid, especially Wham! And, as much as I was happy for Band Aid, it kept ‘Last Christmas’ off No 1. A trivia fact is that ‘Last Christmas’ was the only million-selling single that never made No 1. Both singles were re-released for Christmas ’85 and both made the Top 10. Here’s a question: Who is the pop star who sings his own name in the Band Aid song? “The only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears.” I could probably list 90% of the artists from the video: Bananarama, Heaven 17, Kool & the Gang, Duran Duran, of course, Spandau Ballet, Phil Collins playing the drums, George Michael — my hair wasn’t pliable enough at the time to go for the George Michael/Lady Diana look. Paul McCartney and David Bowie were on the B-side.
I was 16. I remember the video well. This is going to sound so obvious, but I thought Boy George was the best. He has a great voice. Everybody says Bono gets the big line before the break, but George had that deep, soulful voice that I always loved, and that early line, “Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time”. Around that time, George was first starting to get into trouble for drugs and stuff. Normally, you saw George very glamorous, but in the video there is no glamorous lighting and he’s just standing there, unadorned, and you’re thinking, ‘oh, is George partying a little hard’?
I know that people have complicated views about the concept, that it’s patronising, but in 1984 it seemed really simple: they were doing a good thing. They were raising money for starving people who were on our TV screen. It was the first time that pop music was taken seriously. Even my mother could get on board. Before that, pop musicians were seen as feckless and useless. It caught everybody’s imagination.
Rory O’Neill’s Woman in the Making: A Memoir is published by Hachette.
I was in fifth class when it came out. I was a huge Wham! fan, at the time. I used to rewind the George Michael bit on my VHS to see as much of him, and his soft hair, as I could. Phil Collins looked as if the real drummer didn’t turn up, so someone’s dad had to fill in. He looked like a guy who drove a truck that was double-parked outside. At that age, we were all mad into the charts, getting Smash Hits magazine to see all your favourite pop stars, all those egos, in one place — no-one had seen that before. I don’t think anybody knew what was going on in Africa, until Bob Geldof piped up. It was a great thing. No doubt about it.
I have a very nostalgic feeling about the original Band Aid. It’s not exactly the most extraordinary piece of song-writing, but it had a feel to it, a vibe, kind of an energy and optimism to it. I was 18 when it came out and living in Dublin, unemployed and struggling. I was volunteering, along with a couple of pals, in the Oxfam shop on George’s St. That song was playing in the shop all of the time. It was very much part of the soundtrack of that Christmas. I remember it being this incredibly feel-good, positive thing that happened. It captured the imagination. It was the first time you saw that huge response to a humanitarian crisis from the entertainment industry, but also something that ordinary people could get behind in a really dynamic way, and they did. We know that there’s a huge gap in the funding to deal with the Ebola crisis in West Africa, so if Band Aid 30 raises anything like the money from the first one that will be pretty dramatic.
My musical consciousness would have awoken during that period. You had great bands, like U2, Simple Minds. When this single came along, we all made a virtue of singing it a little bit louder than normal when Bono’s piece came on, and what immediately springs to mind is Siobhan Fahey, from Bananarama. I did have a little thing for her.
Thirty years on, I never thought I’d be a minister with responsibility for overseas development aid. I never thought I’d be visiting Sierra Leone, where the Ebola outbreak is taking place, and Ethiopia, within eight weeks of each other. It does tie it back to the 30th anniversary.
I have to say I’m not too impressed with the current version of it. I’m not entirely convinced by the talent pool. It’s a good gesture. Fair play to Geldof, but they could have picked an edgier crew. Sin scéal eile.