It’s a reliable guide that the more worthwhile the cause, the worse the accompanying charity record will be. But War Child, the charity which bucked the trend by encouraging Radiohead, Damon Albarn and Coldplay to record some of their finest work, will tomorrow be honoured with a special Brit award.
Launched 20 years ago as a response to the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina which left thousands of children starving, War Child has since brought relief to 800,000 children caught up in some of the world’s worst conflicts.
The charity is currently engaged in providing “Safe Spaces” for Syrian children and their families who have fled over the border into Lebanon to escape the conflict.
But as much as its charitable achievements War Child, which forged a close relationship with musicians from the start, is being recognised amid the glitzy excess of the Brit Awards, for bringing credibility to the charity record.
Asked to provide a song for the 1995 Help compilation album, for which all the songs were recorded and mixed in a day, Radiohead produced "Lucky", which subsequently became one of the band’s most acclaimed tracks. Paul McCartney, Paul Weller, Noel Gallagher formed a supergroup, the Smokin' Mojo Filters for a cover of the Beatles’ "Come Together".
Lily Allen, Oasis, Gorillaz and Coldplay are among the stars included in a new compilation album of War Child’s finest moments. Coldplay, Bono, The Killers and Gary Barlow once joined forces for a War Child concert.
Last night, Muse, who contributed a cover of "House of the Rising Sun", played an intimate show at the O2 Shepherd's Bush for War Child, attended by Rita Ora, Harry Styles and fashion model Carla Delevingne.
The charity’s musical history stirs artists to up their game, said Muse bass player Chris Wolstenholme. “People want to be involved with it. They do great work for children in war-torn countries but it’s also a great charity because it’s got such strong ties to music,” he said.
“When artists are approached to do things they want to give something of quality back. You know if a CD is going to raise money for this charity, you want to give something that’s worthy of being on it. It has to be something people want to listen to rather than other charities where people might do something a little half-arsed.”
Ben Knowles, Fundraising Director for War Child, said: “There is cynicism about celebrities supporting good causes. Since the Help album showed we’ve had a real commitment to quality from musicians. It shows in the standard of gigs we put together. They want to contribute something remarkable.”
The charity works on long-term projects in strife-torn countries once the bigger charity relief agencies have left. It is currently active in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Uganda and Afghanistan.
“Charities move out but unfortunately the impact on children is generational,” Knowles said. In Syria, War Child is giving children a break from living around traumatised adults and trying to give them some form of regular education.
Wolstenholme, whose band are nominated for two Brit awards and will play live at the show, understands the cynicism some people have towards musicians-turned-social activists. “I’m sure there are people who do things for charity but don’t necessarily shout about it. I understand why some people think maybe people use charities to boost their own profile but I certainly don’t think that’s the case with Bono,” the bassist said. “We know U2 fairly well and having spent time with him, he’s just a passionate guy who wants to help people.”
War Child also claims to be different in that it asks the children it works with what kind of help programmes they want to participate in. “We formed as a response to Bosnia,” Knowles said. “Children were starving to death in the streets, lives were devastated by the conflict. We got in there without massive amounts of bureaucracy.
“We got disused bread-making trucks and drove them from Hammersmith to Mostar. Otherwise they’d have been starving on the streets. No matter how terrible the conflicts seem you can radically change lives of people who through no fault of their own get caught up in them.”
- War Child receives the first Special Recognition Award at the Brits – The Brit Awards, ITV, Wednesday 8pm. To assist the Syria appeal text PROTECT3 to 70444 to automatically donate £3