A righteous drop in the bucket: The Artists for Rwanda benefit in west London last weekend should have attracted stars, crowds and cash. In the end, just 200 people came. Is this the the last gasp of Live Aid? Angela Lewis reports

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The wiggling, 40-ish gent in the blue pinstripe shirt and red tie is a peculiar sight on the dancefloor. He flaps about, jerking to booming dub reggae while the sharp-looking trendies of Notting Hill's rave set keep their distance. Several hours and many lagers away from the rigmarole of the day's Most Important pen-pushing routine, he seems not to care that he looks daft.

This shuffling figure is the lone representative of the corporate world at this Artists For Rwanda benefit night at the Tabernacle Community Centre in Powis Square, west London. It's a small scale fund-raiser, a far cry from the sexy global link-up extravaganzas that the caring, sharing music industry initiated for Ethiopia,

Nelson Mandela and the Kurdish refugees.

Estimates put the Rwanda death toll at more than a million, but this time around there's been no sign of collective breast-beating on the music scene, no great charidee spirit that pulls in the rock and pop glitterati and crowds of 70,000-plus at Wembley. Rwanda appeals get the community centres, not the stadiums.

The most famous names on tonight's bill to raise cash for the Red Cross are soulster Don E, jazz-tinged funky chart stars Oui 3, with Smiley from Naked City acting as compere. Oh and Curiosity, formerly known as Curiosity Killed The Cat.

Since the Whitneys and the Quos and the George Michaels of this world are otherwise engaged, and the tickets are pegged at pounds 11, people are not exactly queuing around the block.

At 7.30pm, when the first artists, the Ebony Steel Band, are due onstage, no one except security, organisers like Eon John, and musicians, are present. By the time their melodious drummings have died away at 8.45pm (the second band, Hog Heaven, were due on at 8.10pm), there are around 25 people in a hall that the organisers hoped would hold 500 paying music-lovers, ready to party. Agony. If there was a punter for every breezy grin that masks a worried grimace among the organisers, the place would be crammed. Welcome to the unpredictable, but genuine world of benefit concerts, 1994 style.

Backstage, Curiosity's Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot sits with members of Wee Bee Jammin, Eon's group. 'Have you tried the pizza?' one of the Wee Bee chaps asks, surveying abandoned slices on nearby tables. Negative. 'Well, don't. It's all right, but you know when you go to Pizza Hut you can have all the toppings you want? Well, this stuff has everything on it.'

Among the early birds are 16-year-olds Perran Wells and Becca Ellis from Teddington. 'We were in Portobello Market when we got a flyer about this,' enthuses the dreadlocked Becca, a budding member of white counter-culture youth. 'The music's good - I've heard of Oui 3. But I thought there would be more people.'

Have they been following the Rwanda crisis on television?

'I haven't known about it at all,' says Perran. 'I just saw a big poster on my way here.'

'Yes, it's been horrible, the images you get of starving children and the dying,' Becca butts in.

Why does she think there haven't been big benefit concerts to raise money for Rwanda?

'People are just getting more middle class these days, they don't care any more,' she says flatly.

Smiley ambles onstage to introduce Hog Heaven. He has a hard job rousing somewhat dispirited arrivals, now numbering around 40. Initial greetings are met with faint cheers. 'You can do better than that]' he urges. 'Say 'Hello Smiley', c'mon. That's better.'

Hog Heaven lays down smart, moody and hard-edged funk, but it's too introspective, to lift the cloud of gloom hanging over the evening. They pour out their Bohemian blues to a near empty dancefloor as people view proceedings from their seats.

But not so when Curiosity - or rather, as it turns out, Ben with a DAT machine - takes to the stage. The backstage lurkers file out en masse to watch him. Ben goes at it like a pro. 'Hey, howya doin'? Sorry you can't get through. Why don't you leave your name and your number, and I'll get back to you . . . ' Faded Top of the Pops memories flood back, even if the names of the songs don't.

The other musicians sway, the teenagers, now sozzled (five empty beer and three cider bottles strewn on their table) bop unselfconsciously. Cynics aren't quite so won over. 'Did Curiosity kill off the rest of the band, that's what I want to know,' someone laughs, uncharitably.

'It wasn't as painful as I thought it was going to be,' mumbles a relieved Ben afterwards. 'It's not been as painful as some of the things I have done for charities.

'I got involved because I knew Eon through mutual friends, and it's easy for me to get here. I knew other bands couldn't show up and stuff. To see this on a small scale is encouraging - better than one big concert, after which most think they can forget about it. People have to know this might go on for a long time. People are just starting to arrive now, which is nice. But I must say, in this area charging pounds 11 . . . '

Out front, Mr Naked City Smiley is barking abuse. 'Anyone not bought a raffle ticket yet? If not, get your middle-class arses in the bar and BUY SOME]' he yells.

Like most of those on tonight's bill, he was roped in because he was both an entertainer and a resident of Portobello. 'It's as chaotic as I thought it would be,' he says later in the bar. 'It's good, it's not something that should be slick and all that. It should be: collect some money, show people a good time, let them chill out and enjoy themselves, y'know?

'Slowly but surely the crowd will build up,' he adds 'Portobello is very lax until after 11 o'clock.'

By now, however, the mood is one of acceptance rather than dismay about the numbers. In the hit-and-miss arena of benefit shows, poor turnouts are the rule, rather than the exception. Many wingdings are organised by people unused to the hustling essential (for perhaps months in advance unless you have some very powerful friends) that will ensure confirmed artists turn up and their fans pay up. We've seen the ultimate success story. It was called Live Aid. Unfortunately, never again will a music charity event come close. And all concerts, even the April 1992 Freddie Mercury bash, are destined to languish in its shadow.

'There have actually been quite a few Rwanda fund-raisers on a local level by people who run dances,' says Brixton DJ Maxi Jazz, rolling up his post-peformance cigarette. 'Tonight is typical. But benefits . . . people are suspicious of them. I can't really criticise that because a lot I have been to are badly run. Caring people are putting them on, rather than professionals. If you get professionals, you get a great dance, everything goes according to plan. But you can't expect that same vibe at things like this. But I like tonight. It's about humanity, people giving their time and energy.'

After 11pm, Oui 3 appear and the atmosphere is, at last, warm to medium hot. The female singer shrieks ecstatically while lead vocalist Trevor Miles puts aggressive heart into their soul-pop proceedings.

The crowd, now making its way up to 200, is comfortably loosened up. A thirtysomething man in a pink pullover sings along noisily while his partner flings her hips. The pinstripe shirt man puts in an appearance on the dancefloor, trying, without success, to get the favourable attention of Japanese girls twitching in their shoes.

It's taken three hours to reach this point. Three long hours to attract just 200 people. It was clear before the event that the bill, while not hopeless, did not have the pulling power to justify an pounds 11 ticket price, especially outside central London. Half that would have been about right.

One of the organisers, Maggie Perry, defends the price and choice of artists. 'I haven't a clue why more people didn't turn up,' she sighs. ' But there's a lot of conflicting things on Friday night, aren't there? Plus there were a lot of people who expected to come in for nothing - 'we work here, we're on the guest list'. . . I don't think the price made a difference. People knew it was a charity event, but are so used to crashing things without paying, so many were turned away.'

On reflection, would she have organised things differently?

'Perhaps if we'd had more time it would have been better,' she admits. 'Eon only had four weeks. We couldn't get the posters printed until we had confirmed with the Tabernacle.'

However, the posters only went up two days before Friday's event. 'But it had been on the radio and in the press, plus Eon had spent the weekend before leafleting,' Maggie adds. She remains determinedly upbeat about the whole affair. 'I just feel impressed at how kind everyone's been, how positive. They are really lovely young people who really do care.

'We raised around pounds 2,500. Which is quite good for somewhere like the Tabernacle, people tell me.'

From the heart of Portobello, to Rwanda, with love.

(Photographs omitted)

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