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Memories of Live Aid 35 years on in Norfolk and Suffolk

The Live Aid concert at Wembley stadium Picture: PA.

The Live Aid concert at Wembley stadium Picture: PA.

It’s now 35 years since Live Aid took the world stage on July 13, 1985, but the memories are still vivid.

Nik Kershaw, who grew up in Ipswich, as he looked in 1985 Picture: PANik Kershaw, who grew up in Ipswich, as he looked in 1985 Picture: PA

The fundraising concert, organised by Sir Bob Geldof, captured the public imagination, raising awareness of the worst famine to hit Ethiopia in a century.

There has been discussion and controversy over the decades, with changing views over how just much difference it all really made to Africa.

Bob Geldof at Wembley Stadium during preparations for Live Aid Picture: AP Photo/David CaulkinBob Geldof at Wembley Stadium during preparations for Live Aid Picture: AP Photo/David Caulkin

But there is no doubt that many lives were saved as a result of the estimated £150million which was donated.

A global audience approaching two billion watched the simultaneous concerts in Wembley and Philadelphia via TV.

Freddie Mercury, lead singer with Queen, during the Live Aid concert Picture: PAFreddie Mercury, lead singer with Queen, during the Live Aid concert Picture: PA

Status Quo started things off with Rockin’ All Over the World, while Queen’s set was considered to be a highlight

Iconic stars like David Bowie, Paul McCartney, The Who, U2 and The Pretenders appeared at Wembley, while Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder and a reformed Led Zeppelin, with Phil Collins on drums, were among the line-up in the US.

Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, left, and Jimmy Page, reunited at Live Aid in Philadelphia Picture: AP Photo/Amy SancettaLed Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, left, and Jimmy Page, reunited at Live Aid in Philadelphia Picture: AP Photo/Amy Sancetta

Phil Collins actually appeared in both concerts, crossing the Atlantic on Concorde.

Nik Kershaw, who grew up in Ipswich, was on the Wembley bill. His 20-minute set included Wide Boy, Don Quixote, The Riddle and his most famous hit, Wouldn’t It Be Good – where Nik has admitted forgetting some of the words, although nobody else worried!

Tina Turner and Mick Jagger performing together at the Live Aid concert in Philadelphia Picture: AP Photo/Rusty KennedyTina Turner and Mick Jagger performing together at the Live Aid concert in Philadelphia Picture: AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy

His performance looks great in the clips on YouTube, but he later confessed just how nervous he felt.

“Terrified would sum it up quite nicely. I don’t remember much about it,” he has said.

People queued all night in Ipswich to buy their Live Aid ticket when the Gaumont Theatre opened Picture: ARCHANTPeople queued all night in Ipswich to buy their Live Aid ticket when the Gaumont Theatre opened Picture: ARCHANT

“I didn’t enjoy the performance which is a real shame. It’s all a bit of blur. I just wanted to get on and get it done really.”

Nik, a former pupil at Northgate, was approached by Geldof (not yet Sir Bob) and asked to take part when he was at an airport, flying to a pop festival in Germany.

All the bands on stage at the end of North Walsham Live Aid in January 1986 Picture: NWLAAll the bands on stage at the end of North Walsham Live Aid in January 1986 Picture: NWLA

“At the time, nobody knew where it was going to be. They were talking about Wembley, but everyone thought ‘Wembley Arena‘. Then it became Wembley Stadium, and then Philadelphia as well. It just got bigger and bigger and bigger.”

Suffolk musician and producer Thomas Dolby also took part, as one of the musicians appearing with David Bowie.

A poster for North Walsham Live Aid in January 1986 Picture: NWLAA poster for North Walsham Live Aid in January 1986 Picture: NWLA

He has told of his vivid memories of the event, saying: “I just remember staring at Bowie’s back in his light blue suit and beyond him thousands of fans. I didn’t have to look down, my fingers did the walking and I was channelling the teenage me playing Heroes in front of all of those people. It was amazing, a transcendent moment.”

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Queuing all night for tickets

While most people from our region were watching on TV, a lucky and determined few snapped up tickets for Wembley.

There were long queues outside venues which had allocations of tickets, with about 1,000 people camping out overnight outside the Gaumont (now the Regent) in Ipswich. They got soaked but were thrilled to grasp a precious ticket.

Memories of watching Live Aid on TV are also vivid for many who weren’t lucky enough to be there.

Twitter user Susan, who now lives in Yaxham but then lived in London’s Docklands, said: “We had been married for two months and spent the weekend in our new garden singing along with all the neighbours.”

Andy Crouch from Norwich said: “I was working for Holburn Tyres and we watched it on the TV at the depot then I watched the rest at The Pickwick pub. I remember the Who’s set – the signal went.”

How one Norfolk town staged its own Live Aid – and it’s still going strong

Many people were inspired to arrange their own fundraisers in the wake of Live Aid, but North Walsham went further.

A group of music lovers in the town got together in 1985 to arrange their own concert, with 10 bands playing for free, which they christened North Walsham Live Aid.

They aimed to raise £8,000 to buy two Bedford trucks, fill them with aid and send them to Eritrea. In the end they raised more than £10,000 via the concert and an auction.

NWLA was later started up again following the tsunami in 2004, and went on to become an annual event, although sadly this year’s had to be cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Barry Holden, one of the organisers, said: “I watched the Wembley concert on TV, like everyone else did, and it was the first of the really big fundraising festivals. Everybody got behind it.

“We decided it would be great to do something locally. A lot of people said: ‘you can’t do something like that here’, but we did, and it was an amazing night.”

That first concert was held on January 4, 1986, with a line-up of local artists including Guns For Hire, Lost Garden Band, Murphy Bros./Pinto Reunion, Rebel Truce, Stormtrooper, Street Life, Stripes, Underground Zero and Yare Beats.

Bob Geldof sent the organisers a letter to congratulate them and say their event was the most successful spin-off in the country.

“We got a nice letter from Bob. We had sent the information to him to say what we were doing, but we were really surprised when he wrote to us himself,” Barry recalled.

The organisers went on to organise local participation in the Run the World appeal, and since January 2005 they have held an annual North Walsham Live Aid concert, helping many different charities over the years. As well as the concert, each year there is an auction of unique memorabilia.

Like so many other events, this year’s concert has had to be cancelled, but Barry said they are hoping to make it bigger and better than ever in April next year, in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust.


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