Saturday, 26 May 2018

Review: The Beatles at Live Aid

It is just before 9pm at Wembley Stadium in London 13th July 1985 when Elton John, moments after revisiting his 1975 chart topper, Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds, walks to the centre of the now pitch black stage behind him

'I introduced a member of this band on a stage in New York on Thanksgiving' he beams ' and guess we have to thank Geldof for making this happen as its my and your pleasure to see and hear....The Beatles'

The crowd erupts, the sheer force surprising even an artist like Elton who is used to such wild adulation. He quickly exits stage right as the world waits just a little longer for something that has been absent for almost 20 years - John, Paul, George & Ringo on a stage.

It's in no way been easy to get to this point and few were sure even as the sun rose on The Global Jukebox that a last minute disagreement wouldn't blow the whole reunion apart. Apart from the highly anticipated but poorly reviewed 'Starting Over' tour with Yoko, John was no more comfortable with playing live than George who had virtually sworn off being a live performer outside jam sessions at local Henley pubs. Paul's 'World Peace' tour had culminated in West Berlin by the Brandenburg Gate as nearly a million East Berliners stood mirroring their comrades in the West -all singing along lustily to Back In the USSR. The East Berlin authorities had prepared for the day with tanks, soldiers and teargas but miraculously the day passed with little incident. Ringo is now more famous for narrating the Thomas The Tank Engine cartoon series in the UK than for his musical exploits of late.

John's fractious relationship with Paul still entertains the weekly music papers as they snipe at each other like the Waldorf & Stadler of pop. Lennon was particularly scathing of Paul's recent #Broad Street' film and album project "He's still trying to make out that The Beatles was all him and that he can do the old songs without us. He's fooling no one but himself. Gilmour's playing was good but apart from that was all about Macka's ego" Macca shot back that John was jealous of the press the film got whereas Yoko's films were ignored by everyone, particularly the public.

Geldof admitted that he thought he  had more chance of getting Buddy Holly to play than the Fab Four when he began contacting managers and artists for the Live Aid shows. A call to Neil Aspinall at Apple had received a sardonic "The Beatles are not currently taking bookings" which seemed to dash any hopes. However the spark of the reunion seemed to have come from nine year old Sean Ono Lennon who along with his private schoolmates in England were all well informed about the Ethiopian famine. He had asked his father if he was going to perform and when John replied that he hadn't been asked, Sean said that John could probably get Bob Geldof's number if he wanted to.

John made the call, Geldof seized the brief glimmer of hope and played his luck. Phoning Paul McCartney he informed him that John was in and would be open to doing something with the other Beatles if they were available. John had said no such thing even insisting he could go on early and do a couple of rock n roll numbers with a scratch band. Paul was apprehensive and asked if Yoko had been mentioned which Bob truthfully replied that she hadn't. The derision and mass exodus to toilets and bar during her songs on the 1981 tour was probably best avoided. Easy going Ringo was a shoe-in but as ever the Quiet One grumbled loudest. Memories of Kampuchea and Bangladesh benefit snubs crossed with his involvement in Handmade Films made it the last thing on his mind. For whatever reason he threw his hand in with the others

Four silhouetted figures emerge as the crowd's roar reaches its zenith, cameras picking out the Beatle families in the royal box - Dhani, Julian, Sean & the McCartney clan with little James shielding his ears.

Clearly nervous, John and Paul exchange glances and there is much coughing and exhalations as the sound of the crowd changes from hysteria to expectancy. Gritting his teeth, Lennon steps to the mic and merely says 'Ok' 

The tumbling bass and drums of  'Come Together' is almost drowned out by the crowd but as soon as John starts his tale of old Flat Top there is a kind of hush as if no one wants to miss a note or word. John, feet wide apart, fair snarls and spits the lyrics, Harrison's guitar brittle and sinister - this version smokes. The final chord is held until "beep beep yeah!" kicks us into the rock n roll section. In rehearsals the band had decided to hit the audience with upbeat numbers to answer critics sneering and the forty something 'Flab Four'. For original fans of the band the years must have slid back as they pulled off better than expected versions of classic tracks. Naturally their sound was boosted by additional players including (inevitably) Ray Cooper but when it came to tracks like I Saw Her Standing There they needed no other. Paul still able to count on his best Little Richard scream for a quick visit to Kansas City.

Next came the surprise, Paul said later than John was keen to play something from his post Beatles career but actually suggested that they do 'Maybe I'm Amazed' as it was one of his favourites. So each Beatle got a chance to take centre stage, perhaps to soothe egos and make things easy. As we know before 'All Things Must Pass' George sardonically told the crowd 'When I first played this to the others they didn't like it but I guess they must have come around to my way of thinking' which elicited smiles and laughs from Lennon and McCartney. 'Imagine' bought Wembley Stadium to a serene silence as footage from the Ethiopian famine as well as that of aid workers bringing in Band Aid food and water played out on the big screens.

For 'Get Back' the band invited two keyboard players up - Billy Preston and a beaming Elton John who had a little electric piano duel in a more funky rendition than usual. Paul announced the next song as "our version of a pub sing-a-long" and the climax of Hey Jude saw many of that day's performers taking the stage to surround the Beatles by hastily placed mics. 

"I suppose this is what it is all about" John exclaimed as the massed throng gathered around him for the last song of the night "Thanks to Bob, love to our families and yours, keep sending the money and thanks from all of us"

Humphrey Lyttelton steps forward from the throng, trumpet raised and gives us his best Marseilles and love fills the air. Its a little ragged, a bit out of time and tune but it barely matters. The crowd and musicians alike are united in that moment of celebration, nostalgia and hope. As the tune reaches its umpteenth chorus Lennon is heard to shout "how do we end the fucking thing?" and they all come to a rattling chaotic conclusion. The crowd continue to sing the refrain as The Beatles take a bow centre stage before waving goodbye, leaving us asking 'Did that really happen' and hope it isn't some crazy dream  


The Beatles 
9.03-10.00pm 13th July 1985
Wembley Stadium, London
Come Together
Drive My Car
A Hard Days Night
I Wanna Hold Your Hand
I Saw Her Standing There \ Kansas City
Back Off Boogaloo
Maybe I'm Amazed
All Things Must Pass
Get Back
Hey Jude
All You Need Is Love

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