A Beautiful Day: Great music, massive crowds, but was anybody listening?

Half the world watched yesterday as the biggest names in rock music performed in London, Philadelphia and other cities to speak for Africa. Here Cole Moreton reports on Live8 and its impact on world leaders
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The Independent Online

Half a mile away from the stage where the former Beatle was opening the London leg of Live8 at 2pm, nine men and women were meeting. Their job was to hammer out an agreement that their bosses ­ the leaders of the richest countries and the European Union ­ could announce on Wednesday at the G8 summit.

Those negotiators were together in secret at Lancaster House, on the edge of the same park where so many people were demanding that they change the world. They may even have tapped their feet as Sir Paul sang, in the distance, "It was twenty years ago today ...". He was resurrecting his old Beatles song, "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", because the first line made sense as the first line of London Live8, 20 years after Bob Geldof responded to the Ethiopian famine by holding an unprecedented gathering of stars .

Back in 1985 Geldof wanted your money. Yesterday Sir Bob, as he is now, put on an even bigger show - not to raise money for charity but to convince the G8 that an awful lot of people want to help Africa again, and this time in a way that lasts. By cancelling national debts, ensuring trade is fair and letting African countries compete in the market place without being crippled by unfair rules.

That's how Bob sees it. And so does Bono, and Sting, and Madonna, and lots of other people who have only one name. And yesterday, as U2 did what they do best and opened up their sweeping majestic sound to thrill a huge audience, it felt as if the tide of opinion was too strong to resist.

"Eight of the most powerful men in the world are meeting on a golf course in Scotland," said Bono, staring at the crowd through his wraparound tinted glasses. "There's a lot at stake." His message to them was: "This is your moment."

Confounding fears that he might be unable to attend, Nelson Mandela told the Johannesburg concert: "Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity, it is an act of justice. It is a protection of a fundamental human right."

But the stars were not the point yesterday. The crowds were. The cynics could say they only turned up for the thrill of seeing Dido sing or Snoop Dogg strut. The politicians could claim that the message ­ Make Poverty History ­ was simplistic, and all those people waving their white wristbands didn't understand the issues. But Geldof, back to his crap-cutting ferocious best, didn't buy all that. Look at the people in London, Paris and Rome, he said. Look at the people in Tokyo, Ottawa and Johannesburg. Look at them in Moscow and Philadelphia. People power was what Geldof hailed yesterday ­ if you tuned in, whatever your doubts or questions, he claimed you as part of the biggest political mandate in history.

That was why almost all the African performers on yesterday's bill appeared in Johannesburg or the more minor stages like the Eden Project in Cornwall. Only the biggest-selling artists would do for Geldof, fixed on using the concerts as a weapon to demonstrate immense popular support. And you don't get bigger than a Beatle. There were rumours beforehand that Sir Paul had demanded top billing, opening and closing the show, to the chagrin of Bono, whose band are arguably the biggest in the world just now, and who has unquestionably done more to campaign for the alleviation of global poverty than Macca. In the end they appeared together in harmony (and, thankfully, not dressed in satin psychedelic Sergeant Pepper-style uniforms as had also been rumoured ­ only the brass players wore those). Actually, they weren't quite in harmony, both uncomfortable sharing the spotlight.

When his elder had gone, Bono relaxed and eased into "Beautiful Day". Nobody plays to huge crowds like U2, and after busking with the Beatle his band now provided the first genuinely uplifting music of the day. Björk had just been weird in Tokyo. Die Toten Hosen didn't make much sense out of Germany, although 220,000 people in Berlin seemed to like them. But U2, with their biblical imagery ­ "after the flood all the colours came out" ­ lifted the spirits.

Perhaps that was what broke the deadlock inside Lancaster House. In PR terms it had seemed like a pretty bad choice of venue, since this was where the deal was brokered that led Robert Mugabe to power ­ the perfect example for those who say the problem with Africa is that African despots keep stealing the money. That was why Bob Geldof wrote in the Live8 programme that he was after justice, this time, not charity: "Charity is the impulse of one human being, saying in sympathy to another 'Let me help you.' ... Now it's time to deal with the structure of poverty."

The nine negotiators emerged wearily as U2 gave way to their acolytes Coldplay, and they claimed a deal had been done. We shall see on Wednesday, when a million people are expected to fill the streets of Edinburgh as the G8 leaders meet at Gleneagles. Agreement is unlikely, but it may be possible, if the unlikely alliances reached on stage yesterday made any impression. Richard Ashcroft singing "Bittersweet Symphony" with Coldplay made some sense; Sir Elton doing T Rex's "Children of the Revolution" with ex-Libertine and druggie boyfriend of Kate Moss Pete Doherty possibly less so.

The most surprising appearance came when Geldof announced "one of the great businessmen of our time" and "certainly the greatest philanthropist". Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, wearing a fiercely blue shirt, demonstrated a firmer grasps of the issues than of rock chic. "Some day in the future all people no matter where they are born will be able to lead a healthy life We can do this and when we do it will be the best thing that humanity has ever done."

Then he went and ruined his new credibility by introducing Dido. Every IT consultant's favourite soft bopper was lost in Hyde Park. At least she was joined on stage by Youssou N'Dour, the Senegalese superstar with whom Dido would travel to Cornwall and Paris to perform later. "The cancellation of debt is OK. But open your markets to Africa," he said, before duetting on "Thank You". After an hour and a half, Live8 London had finally heard from an African.

Live Aid gave pop a heart in 1985 and engaged a generation with the struggles of Africa. But it was just a bunch of performers prancing in a football stadium until David Bowie cut short his set to introduce a film from Ethiopia. To the incongruous backing of "Drive" by the Cars it showed starving children looking straight into the camera, and into the living-rooms and hearts of people on the sofa drinking beer.

Live8 appeared to be heading for exactly such a defining moment yesterday when Coldplay's singer Chris Martin finished his set by introducing " the most important film you'll see today", adding: "If the BBC switches it off then it isn't doing its job properly." The film would show why the concert was happening. It would remind viewers that a child dies from hunger and preventable diseases every three second.

The BBC, clearly, was thrown into panic. It started showing the film, then switched it off. Jonathan Ross, in a lemon and lime suit, promised we would be seeing it. Instead the political editor of the BBC, Andrew Marr, who had been "rocking out" with his shirt out of his trousers, waffled about how "we used to have movements now we have moments". Then the director cut to a children's television presenter encouraging members of the crowd to say woah, yeah, they were having a great time, wooh!

When Coldplay appeared for post-performance interview, their lead singer was unusually lost for words but managed, "Who were all those people in the front?" "Special people," said the interviewer, the DJ Jo Wiley.

Wiley meant "the golden circle", where a £1,000 each had bought 5,000 corporate clients champagne and canapés and the best view. The fans who had camped out, travelled far and run across the field when the gates opened had found themselves about a quarter of a mile away from the stage. Even before the music started some had to be lifted out with exhaustion.

''I came here at midnight and slept on bubblewrap,'' said Emma Pentith, 19, a student from Manchester at the front of the barrier. "They let us in at noon and we sprinted all the way to the front. We were shattered but it was worth it.''

Meanwhile the VIPs visited Portaloos or snoozed on their picnic rugs in front of them occasionally dipping a hand into a hamper. Some missed large parts of the concert as they sat drinking at the bar behind the stage where a bottle of Dom Perignon cost £99, a large Pimm's, £6.50.

Victoria Gould, 19, a student from Cardiff, said: "It's a class system. They are the first class and we are the standard class. It feels like they are mocking us. I arrived at nine last night. It's completely hypocritical, we are trying to save people from poverty and they are here having bought the privilege. If we had wanted to watch it on TV we would have stayed at home.''

Back on the television the BBC had decided to ignore Chris Martin's comments, presumably on the grounds of avoiding politics. So instead of showing the kind of heart-rending films that put the original Live Aid in context and that continue to move so many viewers during Comic Relief, it chose to broadcast insensible interviews with celebrities who seemed dumbstruck to be in the presence of rock gods. The first sensible thing to be said in the BBC's pod studio all day came from a highly unlikely source, Jeremy Clarkson, Top Gear presenter. "Live Aid was about buying Ethiopia lunch. This is about refurbishing an entire continent."

The world's biggest musical event had begun with a whimper. The turnout at the Tokyo leg of Live8 struggled to top 10,000 thanks to a late decision and the indifference of the local media. It did, however, feature the first performance in two years by the Icelandic superstar Björk.

The crowd was also disappointing in France where only 65,000 were at Versailles. Judging by badges and clothes, many were fans of the British group The Cure, who closed the concert. Bob Geldof had originally pressed for

a venue in Paris, but accepted Versailles, 20 miles west of the capital, as symbolically appropriate.

Only 15,000 people gathered in the shadow of St Basil's Cathedral to see the Pet Shop Boys headline Moscow, another concert arranged in a hurry and with a lack of publicity. People were bussed in specially by councils and government-owned businesses.

Rome's mayor, Walter Veltroni, was inspired to make the city's concert possible by a personal visit to Africa in which he saw "things no human being should accept".

More than 230,000 fans were in Berlin to see Germany's best join Faithless and Roxy Music. Will Smith hosted Live8 at the Museum of Art in Philadelphia, which started as the London event was due to end. Destiny's Child and Stevie Wonder were among the headliners.

In the event, the London gig ran more than three hours overtime. Yet, as The Who, Pink Floyd and Paul McCartney built towards the finale, there was no sign of the vast crowd leaving. And then came the crescendo ­ the assembled stars joined McCartney on stage for a rendition of "Hey Jude" at the stroke of midnight.

As all this happened, what did Africa think? Abdullah Rahim, a 15-year-old in Somaliland, found himself listening in an orphanage wearing a worn and torn Pink Floyd T-shirt, as the reformed Floyd prepared to take to the stage in London.

"All I want now is to get an education so that I can get a job," he said. "What are the musicians going to do, will they send us their money?" asked Queen Amene at a Make Poverty History rally in Nairobi. Kenya was deemed too successful to qualify for debt relief at the last meeting of G8 ministers last month.

"We are not beggars so we don't need to be treated like that," said Evans Konya, an insurance broker. "There is so much corruption here that funds from overseas often go straight into the pockets of politicians. We must find a way to give aid money directly to the people on the ground."

The Make Poverty History campaign has done that, and its detailed proposals reflect African thinking too. The organisers of Live8 might have tried harder to do so, rather than relying on the rock star network. They might have invited more African performers, just as the BBC might have shown some of their performances for more than a few seconds and relied less on bombastic stadium rock.

The politicians may dismiss the arguments of Geldof, his friends and supporters as simplistic. But despite all this it is simply and powerfully true that yesterday some of the richest and most famous people on the planet said the state of Africa was wrong and that something must be done. They attracted the attention ­ and agreement ­ of an estimated 5.5 billion people.

So far, so pop. Only the leaders who meet in Gleneagles on Wednesday can change the world. And as Sting implied last night with his rewritten version of "Every Breath You Take" ­ "we'll be watching you" ­ the world now waits for an answer to the crucial question: have they been listening?


Most outrageous moment

Multi-millionaire rock stars performing in Philadelphia in aid of making poverty history getting a goodie bag loaded with high-fashion trinkets worth as much as $12,000 (£6,800). Second most outrageous moment: local ethics professor describing this as a "grey area".

Most deluded rock star

Sir Elton John, right. When asked how he had fought through the crowds to get to the concert, he replied "I came in my helicopter". Revenge was delivered as Little Britain's David Walliams introduced the ageing knight as "Mr Sir Elton John". He was later seen using a backstage Portaloo - while wearing sunglasses.

Most embarrassing celebrity

The least convincing "with-it" dad performance came from the BBC's Andrew Marr. His idea of a studiedly casual look was shirt hanging out of trousers, and his other attempt to get hip consisted of ostentaciously brandishing the word "bopping".

Most enjoyable technical hitch

A bleary-eyed Graham Norton in Philadelphia staring into the camera for a full 10 seconds before realising that he was on.

Ill-informed celebrity

When Roger Federer, the defending Wimbledon champion, was asked about Live8, he seemed uncertain. "Is it for Africa?" asked the man who today could earn £630,000 for playing one game of tennis. Once it was explained to him, he approved: "Well, obviously it's good," he said.

Patronising, moi?

"I wanted to look a little bit colourful, like an African might. I said give me a mango-coloured suit." So said Jonathan Ross, right, his head perched atop a canary-yellow two-piece that made him look like a rep from the Banana Marketing Board.

Best tribute to old rockers

Coldplay frontman Chris Martin sang a bit of Status Quo's "Rockin all over the World", which had opened the original Live Aid. No one sang any Phil Collins.

Most dumbed-down moment

Fearne Cotton, presenter of Top of the Pops, cut off a concert-goer talking about poverty in Africa to ask another which act they were looking forward to seeing. Good to see the BBC concentrating on what was really important about the day.

Most improved haircut

Bono, below. His classic mullet of 1985 - spiky at the front, long at the back - has been replaced by a swept-back mane topped off with green shades. All that and no sign of a writ.

Steve Bloomfield



Where: Makuhari Messe, Tokyo

Crowd: 10,000

Acts: Björk, McFly, Good Charlotte, Dreams Come True, Def Tech, Rize

Lowpoint: Half-empty hall until Dreams Come True and Björk.

Highspot: Björk's spine-tingling wail, which seemed to soar above the less-than-ideal surroundings.

Verdict: Publicising African debt in the most politically apathetic of G8 countries was never going to be easy, and so it proved. But teary faces around the hall during the screenings of video testimony from Africa was a sign that some got the message.


Where: Siegessaule, Berlin

Crowd: 110,000

Acts: a-ha, Brian Wilson, Chris de Burgh, Crosby Stills & Nash, Roxy Music, Katherine Jenkins, Die Toten Hosen, Söhne Mannheims, Bap, Audioslave, Wir Sind Helden, Juli, Green Day, Silbermond, Sasha, Renee Olstead, Joana Zimmer, Juan Diego Florez, Reamonn, Herbert Grönemeyer, Faithless

Lowpoint: The measly backstage media revolt when few stars turned up to be interviewed.

Highspot: The performance by Germany's pop poet Xavier Naidoo.

Verdict: Better than Love Parade.


Where: Mary Fitzgerald Square, Johannesburg

Crowd: 8,000

Acts: Lucky Dube, Oumou Sengare, 4Peace Ensemble, Jabu Khanyile and Bayete, Lindiwe, Mahotella Queens, Malaika, Orchestre Baobab, Vusi Mahlasela, Zola

Lowpoint: Lack of a global name in line-up.

Highspots: Being beamed live across the continent to the limited number of Africans who have televisions, plus expected appearance of Nelson Mandela.

Verdict: Success, given it was staged in just 14 days, reportedly in reponse to criticism of lack of African acts at London gig.


Where: Circus Maximus, Rome

Crowd: 30,000

Acts: Faith Hill, Duran Duran, Tim McGraw, Pino Daniele, Claudio Baglioni, Irene Grandi, Jovanotti, Laura Pausini, Nek, Articolo 31, Gemelli Diversi, Le Vibrazioni, Max Pezzali, Negramaro, Povia, Noa, Tiromancino, Negrita, Ligabue, Antonello Venditti, Velvet, Biagio Antonacci, Elisa, Francesco De Gregori, Piero Pelu, Renato Zero.

Lowpoint: Low turnout for venue that holds far more.

Highspot: For the crowd, the water cannon cooling them down in intense heat.

Verdict: Superbly organised. Nearly every major Italian act there.


Where: Palais de Versailles, Paris

Crowd: 25,000

Acts: Andrea Bocelli, Dido, The Cure, Craig David, James Brown, Calogero, Kyo, Shakira, Placebo, Youssou N'Dour, Pascal Obispo, Sheryl Crow, Florent Pagny, Kool Shen, Yannick Noah, Disiz Lapeste, Axelle Red, Raphael, Tina Arena, Muse, Zucchero, Cerrone/Nile Rogers, Faudel, David Halliday, Louis Bertignac, Amel Bent, Matt Copora

Lowpoint: Absence of aristocracy of French pop.

Highspot: Top-class international line-up.

Verdict: Nice gig, good artists, but a poor turn-out. Perhaps the French public was distracted by their capital's Olympic bid.


Where: Red Square, Moscow

Crowd: 10,000

Acts: Pet Shop Boys, Bravo, Moral Code X, Spleen, Valery Sutkin, Agata Kristy, Aliona Sviridova, Jungo, Linda, Red Elvises

Lowpoint: The wet and grey weather. Who'd be a sound engineer?

Highspot: Pet Shop Boys performing against the backdrop of St Basil's Cathedral.

Verdict: That it was happening at all was an achievement, after it became the last concert added to the Live8 rota. It needed a leading TV journalist to lobby the Kremlin to get the go-ahead.


Where: Museum of Art, Philadelphia

Crowd: 500,000 at the outset and rising

Acts: Bon Jovi, Destiny's Child, Stevie Wonder, Jay-Z, Def Leppard, P Diddy, Alicia Keys, Black Eyed Peas, Dave Matthews Band, Josh Groban, Kaiser Chiefs, Keith Urban, Linkin Park, Ludacris, Maroon 5, Rob Thomas, Sarah McLachlan, Rita and Stephen Marley

Lowpoint: American showbiz doesn't do lowpoints.

Highspot: Will Smith leading audiences around the globe in three-second finger clicks, each symbolising the death of a child in Africa.

Verdict: Star-studded, powerful... Were you watching, Mr Bush? watch?


Where: Park Place, Barrie, Canada

Crowd: 35,000

Acts: Bryan Adams, Neil Young, Deep Purple, Celine Dion, Mötley Crüe, African Guitar Summit, Barenaked Ladies, Blue Rodeo, Bruce Cockburn, The Bachman Cummings Band, Doba Caracol featuring K'naan, Gordon Lightfoot, Great Big Sea, Jann Arden, Les Trois Accords, Our Lady Peace, Sam Roberts, Simple Plan, The Tragically Hip, Tom Cochrane, Jet, DMC, Tegan and Sara

Lowpoint: Small town venue.

Highspot: Last-minute appearance of Young, Canada's favourite.

Verdict: Not a great turn-out, but it was an hour from Toronto.