Live8 : Annie, REM and the BBC’s worst decision

By Myles Palmer


Annie Lennox and REM were fantastic on Saturday.

And the moment when Bob Geldof brought out famine survivor Birhan Woldu was really emotional and memorable

I was surprised to be there. My free tickets came by messenger on Friday afternoon.

If I had turned the offer down I would have had to read a load of guff about the event and still never known what it was like.

Jan said I should take our son Michael, as Caroline was collecting the keys for the house where five girls will live in their second year at uni.

She had seen Kasabian and some other bands in Hyde Park on Thursday at the Wireless Festival, a 20,000-capacity gig using the same stage.

So I called Michael in Sheffield to see if he fancied it and he did. But he got down to London very late.

While he was having a bath we watched the gig kick-off on TV with Paul McCartney playing Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and then U2 did Beautiful Day

When I saw one BBC blonde interview two other BBC blondes, I said, “I told you that’s what it would be like, I’m so glad I’m not watching this on TV.”

Disc-jockeys and presenters just love to toss each other off, but do they have to show it on my screen?

Why do I pay a £120 license fee to watch a global event presented in the language of a Saturday morning kids programme? Because this is President Blair’s age of populism.

U2 and REM are groups I respect but they don’t excite me. Only reviewed U2 once, never seen REM.

However, Bono is a giant who speaks with authority,

He has changed what we think a rock star can be.

We see Mick Jagger as a narcissistic socialite, Rod Stewart as a showbiz veteran who weds younger wives regularly, Robert Plant as a decent geezer who supports Wolverhampton Wanderers. Would you trust them to save a continent ?

By not shagging Brazilian models, by not being an Al Jolson fan who marries blonde after blonde, by not supporting Wolves, Bono has left himself time to do things that have never been done before. And he does them with such ambition and perseverance.

More power to Bono. I never listen to his albums but I like him.

Michael grabbed some breakfast and we jumped on a 98 bus to Marble Arch and walked in very easily through the police and stewards (everybody was already inside) and we were suddenly ankle deep in tabloid newspapers.

A vast field containing 200,00 punters was littered with thousands and thousands of Suns and Daily Mirrors.

The stage was 500 metres from us and there were ten hydraulic arms with six speaker stacks on each arm, five arms down each side of the field.

Elton John was just finishing Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting.)

Pete Doherty trying to sing Marc Bolan’s Children of the Revolution was pitiful.

On the stage a huge sponsor’s sign said GENEROUSLY SUPPORTED BY NOKIA N-SERIES. Nokia put in £5 million, a smart move which earned £50 million worth of goodwill and publicity.

Then we saw Bill Gates introduce Dido, who was better live than I expected.

She did Seven Seconds with Youssou N’Dour,whose voice came over strongly on an epic song.

Sadly, the screens and the PA were not in synch. The pictures were one second ahead of the sound all day !

A shaven- headed guy from Belfast kept talking to me. He said Stereophoncs were the best band ever to come out of Wales and a bit of guitar boogie was certainly welcome.

But so far only one song – Seven Seconds – had been worthy of the event.

Then REM came on and Stipe was wearing a black suit and a blue mask. And then we saw that it wasn’t a mask. It was facepaint.

REM oozed expertise on Imitation of Life, Everybody Hurts and Man On The Moon. They were taut and powerful with precise guitar phrases.

We had moved forward twice but we were still standing 250 metres from the stage. The size of the crowd seemed to have been mathematically calculated according to the size of the enclosure, so we were not uncomfortably squashed. That worked well.

Just behind us was the Louma crane compound and when the camera swooped down people waved their arms, as you would expect.

Kofi Anan looked like the Quincy Jones of politics in his grey sports jacket.

Miss Dynamite did Bob Marley’s Redemption Song, which deserves better voices. But it was OK and included a guy who rapped about third world debt.

Travis did a Bee Gees pisstake by singing Stayin’ Alive in falsetto. That put a smile on the face of everyone who wasn’t smiling already.

Then he took off his underpants and held them up and they were MAKE POVERTY HISTORY Y-fronts.

Geldof came on and did Mondays. He said, “I know it’s a cheat, but I just had to play on this stage.”

By then it was 5.30 and we sat down for the first time. The ground was dry and covered by pulverised straw-like grass. The weather was overcast all day, but warm.

“Geldof can even stop the rain,” I said.”It didn’t rain on Live Aid either.”

“Luck of the Irish,” said Michael.

A lot of people sat down around us but when somebody said, “Please welcome Brad Pitt!” everyone except us jumped up and three laughing girls shouted : “Get ’em off !”

Brad said, “Let’s do whatever it takes…And now I’d like to welcome the great Annie Lennox.”

Annie’s voice was electrifying on her piano ballad Walking In Broken Glass. She did Sweet Dreams, maybe the greatest synthesiser pop hit.

An awesome talent, so gutsy, so passionate, so compassionate, so compelling, so wholly musical, one of the greatest rock vocalists ever, man or woman.

( Full disclosure : I discovered Annie doing a free lunchtime concert at the LSE. Her bass player Andy Brown, a mate, asked me to check out The Catch, which became the Tourists, which became Eurythmics )

Then UB40 did singalongs with Red Red Wine and I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You

SNOOP DOGG came on and said, “Put your hands together, y’all.”

Michael likes Snoop and said one the tunes was an early Dre number.

Then Michael left to go and see Tobias, his pal, who is recovering from a shoulder operation.

Razorlight, like Keane, were more like a solo act than a group.

The biggest moment of the day came when Geldof told us not to listen to people who say you can’t make a difference.

We saw a picture of a dying girl from 1985 and Bob brought on the lovely Birhan Woldu, and said she had just taken her agricultural exams.

“She had ten minutes to live 20 years ago, this beautiful woman.”

Birhan had been saved and my eyes filled up. It was deeply moving moment and one I will remember long after I’ve forgotten which bands were on.

MADONNA sang well. In 1985 she made a conceptual leap by bringing her songs out of the disco and into a football stadium. She has improved since Live Aid but her stuff still comes over better to a camera than it does to a festival crowd.

By then my neck was aching and I was bored.

Should I stay and see five acts I don’t care about – Snow Patrol, Joss Stone, Scissor Sisters, Velvet Revolution, The Killers – in order to see two songs by Sting, whom I’ve seen many times?

And then wait another hour to see Robbie Williams from a distance of 250 metres ?

I walked back, zigzagging slowly through the crowd, looking at faces : 65% of the crowd were women and girls. And the women were enjoying the show more than the blokes.

I had seen 12 acts and most had been soft pop. I wanted much more guitar,more rhythm.

The structure of the show made the day like Sunday Night at the London Palladium. Pop music had gone full circle in 40 years and we were back in 1965 : Do three songs and get off.

Music works best in clubs with eye contact. Small is beautiful and good music can sometimes transport you to another place, another zone.

With 4,000 people in concert, it becomes something else. With 20,000 in an arena, it becomes something else again. With 200,000, it’s like watching television, but you are not so near.

But of course media demands big events to get big viewing figures and footage they can re-show for the next 50 years.

Pop music is about catchy tunes, pretty voices and pretty faces and that’s not my favourite kind of music, especially outdoors, where I want to hear music that is built up from rhythms and riffs. REM are a bit like that, but I didn’t feel I had seen REM.

UK and Africa ?

We can teach Africa about health and education, but Africa can teach us about music because music began with a circle of drums and dancers inside the circle.

Having said all that, Annie Lennox was phenomenal and REM were superb for 15 minutes.

Bottom line, Live8 in Hyde Park was NOT a balanced or interesting line-up of artists. It was slapped together in six weeks.

Musically, it was unsatisfying and I would never again go to a gig where each act played three songs.

Live8 left me wanting to put on a free concert with six great rock and funk bands playing for eight hours.

To show people what live music can be in a concert that is NOT televised and does not have a gigantic VIP area backstage.

GOT HOME at 8.20 and Joss Stone was on TV romping barefoot in a sweet apricot dress. Being a soul man, I like her records, but she needs better songs.

Jan said she was really enjoying REM when the BBC cut away from their third song to a backstage interview with Razorlight.

“I was seething,” she said.

“Jesus Christ ! Who made that decision? That has to be the worst decision in the history of outside broadcasting !”

I got a cup of tea and put my feet up on the coffee table and we watched Sting.

Dominic Miller played such a tasty guitar solo on Message in a Bottle that I almost wished I was back there. Nothing galvanises me quite like an electric guitar..

Sting did “Every Breath” and I said, “I’d rather be here with you than in a big crowd in Hyde Park.”

“You’re so romantic,” she said, not sarcastically

Sting is marvellous : solid Amnesty man, pro band, good sense of humour, voice holding up well. He has survived success for 25 years. So many musicians don’t survive success.

ROBBIE WILLIAMS proves that the British love a cheeky chappie

It’s not easy to come on at 10pm and get it on with 150,000 people who have been in a field for nine hours.

Our champion pop star was generous, funny, able to jump down and kiss a woman in the front row without missing a beat. He vaulted back onto the stage, risking injury to his groin. You knew that if he hurt himself he would finish the song on a stretcher.

“It’s a Robbie audience,” said Jan.

“I’ve gotta do it, haven’t I?” said Robbie, before singing Angels.

Later on Jan said, “Pink Floyd and the Who are blokes bands. I’d love to see their record sales by gender.”

“Without Moon and Entwhistle, it’s NOT the Who,” I replied.

“It’s Bob’s old mates, isn’t it? The show should have ended with Robbie.”

I had to agree. Too many old farts. Who gives a toss that Roger Waters played with Dave Gilmour and company for the first time since 1981?

PAUL McCARTNEY was joined by George Michael for a punchy Drive My Car and then it was Helter Skelter and Long And Winding Road and Hey Jude finished at midnight.

And that was that.

Verdict : 200,000 pop fans were happy extras in a global TV spectacular.


THIS WEEK sees some big decisions.

Will Seb Coe nick the Olympics from Paris ?

Will the G8 leaders make changes on trade to help African agriculture ?

July 4th 2005.