Help! arrives at last for War Child charity

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The Independent Online
DECCA AITKENHEAD

"I wouldn't have bought it if it was any old crap. But I'd probably still have bought it even if it wasn't for charity." Aron Summers, 27, was one of the first in HMV music store on London's Oxford Street buying Help! on Saturday morning. The much-hyped compilation album for Bosnian charity War Child was selling fast, but the shoppers' motives were mixed.

"If I buy it, it's because of the people who are on it. Not necessarily for Bosnia. I'm a bit cynical really - there are important causes closer to home, quite honestly. It's just great publicity for the artists," shrugged Tim Harrison, 31.

The album's instant success was always assured. Contributions from Blur, Noel Gallagher of Oasis, Paul Weller and other pop heavyweights afforded it a credibility rare in a charity record.

But the album, like every Bosnian charity project, has faced some obstacles. Sympathy fatigue hampers all modern appeals, but the complexities of the Yugoslav conflict have strangled any earlier efforts to rouse a Band Aid- style momentum.

War Child, which provides medical relief and mobile bakeries in Bosnia, was on the verge of closure through lack of funds a year ago.

Last year's joint Former Yugoslavia Appeal, a major effort involving high-profile agencies, scarcely raised pounds 1m.

A The Red Cross spokesman explained: "We have to capitalise on times when the humanitarian crises are high profile. They are what people respond to. A major reason why Help! has succeeded is because it was done quickly, before people forgot about the latest atrocities."

Rob Partridge, one of the organisers, added: "It's not a begging bowl record. We want people to buy it because of it's own worth, not to make them feel better about themselves."

The path between offering a desirable commodity and appearing to profit from human misery, acknowledged Mr Partridge, is a fine line for philanthropic pop stars to dance.

"This is not the same concept as Live Aid," Mr Partridge insisted.

"This is not about appearing live on TV. There's going to be no big concert. We don't even have a photograph of the bands together."

Charities like War Child have clearly learned a lot since 1985. A Svengali- style figure like Bob Geldof has been conspicuously absent from this project, and the album's strong emphasis on younger bands helped deflect criticism in HMV on Saturday.

"If it was all people like Phil Collins who are multi-millionaires, it would be a bit insulting. But these bands aren't mega-rich," said Jamie McDuell, 19.

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